A former client of mine has just started a blog here, on WordPress. It’s called tea & tamarind, and you should check it out. In all the years we worked together, I never knew she was a foodie. I knew she loved to travel, but had no idea there was more to the story. See, you do learn something new, every day.
So it turns out her latest post is the inspiration behind this story of mine.
Yesterday she talked about how her mother’s life-long love affair with food influenced her. And how the fact her mother is such a wonderful cook, was responsible for her own interest in cooking. At the end of her blog she asked, “What’s your favourite food memory with your mother?”
As I thought about what my answer might be, I realized I had far too many memories to leave as a comment on her post. And so then and there I decided it would be the subject of my post today.
My mother was a stay-at-home mom, so we spent tons of time together. A lot of that time, it seems, involved food. So it was with my father, as well. Both my parents loved food, loved entertaining, loved trying new dishes and ethnic cuisines, loved eating out in restaurants and my mother loved cooking. My father loved shopping for food.
He thought nothing of driving for two hours to find the biggest, sweetest cherries or the ripest tomatoes or the freshest fish. They were a great team, my parents. And I was the beneficiary.
Dinner time was always unpredictable at our house. Ours was not a household where meat loaf (although my mother’s was delicious) was served on Monday and casseroles were on Tuesday and so on and so on and so on. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Our house was just different, in that regard. My mother would wake up and decide, more on the spur of the moment, what she’d cook that particular night.
She also had this real talent for figuring out ingredients. We’d go to a restaurant and, as she’d be eating, she’d be telling my dad and me how they’d made it. What was in it. My father had a favourite Italian restaurant in New York. La Scala. I have no idea if it’s still around. All their food was delicious, but the three of us loved their shrimp marinara. It became a staple in our house. I have no idea how she did it, but my mother nailed it. She got all the seasoning exactly right. You could not tell the difference.
I remember my father used to brag about this ability of hers, all the time. One time when we were in New York, he told the owner of the restaurant, with whom he’d become friendly. So he asked my mother for her recipe. When she told him, his chin hit the floor. She’d got it 100% right. Without ever asking for their recipe. He was astounded. As both my father and I were, each and every time she did it. Which was very often.
Her linguini and clam sauce, chicken cacciatore and veal piccata were every bit as good as theirs. She figured out how to make honey garlic spare ribs the same way as our favourite Chinese restaurant. There was a seafood restaurant in Montreal, Desjardins which closed years ago. They were famous for their house salad dressing. There’s no way you could have told the difference between theirs and my mother’s.
All she ever had to do was eat something once.
Even when she wasn’t trying to duplicate a restaurant recipe, she was a fabulous cook. I can still taste her chicken pot pie. She made everything from scratch, including the pastry and the sauce. The prep took a long time, but the end result was outstanding! I am still searching for some that’s as good as hers. Nothing comes close. It’s no wonder no one ever said “no” when my parents invited them to dinner. Or had a dinner party.
When we ate out, my father always encouraged me to go for the unknown. He introduced me to frogs legs and escargot. Oysters and clams casino and bouillabaisse. Lobster and chateaubriand. From the time I was very, very young. The only things my father didn’t eat were cheese, yoghurt or sour cream. His grandmother had a dairy farm when he was a young boy, and he said the smell put him off. No amount of convincing or coaxing would get him to try any.
What’s interesting, though, is he loved to buy cheese for me and my mother. He knew we liked it. One day he discovered a little cheese shop tucked into a corner somewhere. He and the owner became buddies. This man imported cheese from all over the world. If you couldn’t find it in his shop, it didn’t exist. And he had every kind of cracker and condiment you could think of, to serve with his cheeses. My father loved going in there. He’d stay for ages, listening to the stories of where each cheese was from, and how it was made; and how to serve it, at which temperature. And with what to eat it.
But he never, ever accepted any of the samples he was offered. It baffled the owner of the store, until he finally accepted that my father got a lot of pleasure out of buying the cheese for others, but had no interest in trying it himself. He’d bring us three and four different assortments every time he went to the shop. And while we’d eat, he’d tell us the stories he’d been told. He’d sit there with a huge smile on his face, thrilled because we were enjoying what he’d bought for us. It was enough for him. He was content with that.
Then when I was grown up, he’d shop for me as well as for my mother. And whenever I had dinner parties I always discussed my menus with my parents. Sometimes my mother would come and help me cook. We worked really well together in the kitchen.
You know that expression, “Too many cooks spoil the broth”? It never applied to us.