Being a mother, as the saying goes, is the hardest job in the world. But my Mom has always done it with such aplomb and such devotion to her kids and her family that she made it look almost -- almost -- easy. Since I can remember, my Mom spent a large portion of her time shuttling my brothers and me from school to activity to sport, to rehearsals and games and lessons and competitions. As grown adults, she's been our counselor and reference and moral compass, our confidante and friend. And as the only other female in our family of 5, my mother and I have had a special bond between us, planning girls' afternoons shopping or lunching, or nights at the ballet with just the two of us. I started ballet lessons at the ripe old age of 3, in part because my mother had studied throughout her youth and she thought I might love it too. (I did, and continued studying and performing dance over the course of 25 years).Dance turned out to be one of the longest-standing and greatest loves of my life. But not only. I share much more than genes with my mother: my tendencies come both from chromosomes and from shared experiences. The part of me that enjoys chemistry and math, that's inborn, and that's my Mom. My love of art and culture and travel comes from exposure to these interests, from my parents. A nurturing nature and fascination with flora and fauna...a positive outlook and aesthetic appreciation and a love of travel to foreign places...a cackle of a laugh, and a devotion to mint chocolate chip ice cream...they're all aspects of me that I can trace back to my mother.
Then, there's what my Mom taught me about cooking. Or rather, about feeding people. I loved cooking from a very young age -- mostly baking. Desserts. I am still a devout chocoholic, and I love making sweet treats for myself and for others. There's something so personal and heartfelt about a beautiful birthday cake, for example. My Mom and I used to bake together about once a week, either over the weekend or after school, making chocolate chip cookies and fudge and cupcakes.Her mother also had a sweet tooth, and was an excellent baker as well, so we were our own great audience and tasters. We loved baking. I remember some great dinner parties we'd host at our family home in New Jersey, and my mother always did all of the cooking from scratch. I loved to help her with this elevated dinner party fare, or for a family summer BBQ, or for a Thanksgiving feast. I remember sprinkling a chocolate glaze over a deep chocolate-mint dessert bar of some kind, thinking how elegant it was. I think I was 9 years old at the time. And so I learned not only about cooking, but about the joy that cooking for others can bring to families and friends. I learned from a young age how eating together brings people together, and I loved being able to have that positive effect on people. I found it intoxicating enough that I would one day make it my profession.
From a very young age, my Mom helped me to cultivate an interest in cooking, in culture, in nature, and in the plants and creatures that end up as our food. And so I thank my beautiful, sweet, intelligent, and loving mother for all that she's done for me, for our family, and for the many people whose lives she's touched over the decades. I thank her for her dedication and for her love. I thank her for letting me be my own person, even when I've taken paths in life she might not have taken, or made decisions she might not have wanted me to make for myself. I thank her for her support in all of my endeavors, for putting up with me when I was problematic or resisted her advice, and for giving me a shoulder to cry on when I needed it. And as much as anything else, I thank her for being my strong female role model.
I love cooking for my Mom now -- a little positive payback for all the meals she made for me over the years, all of those delicious grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, tasty dinner dishes, and decadent desserts. I recently made my first attempt at sauerbraten, one of her favorite all-time dishes. I am not terribly familiar with the dish, nor with German food in general (her favorite), but I pulled together what I thought would be the best ideas from many different recipes, and tried to combine them to make one great meal. I sauteed mushrooms with roasted potatoes, and I cooked red cabbage in apple cider vinegar, herbs, and spices. I'm not sure if I succeeded with this foray into classic German home cooking, but my Mom certainly gobbled up the food...for 3 nights in a row. I think it tasted better because she knew it was made with love. The perfect dessert afterwards? A cup of mint chocolate chip ice cream. With two spoons.