Different memories have been stored away of when my mother passed away. Memories of how I adjusted—different compartments that I placed her within my 13-year-old self—different memories that sometimes seem to barley scrape the sides of each other as though they are fractured, yet whole.
What really brings me to a standstill is when I realize that 13 years is such a short time when it begins at birth—to know someone. But when the bond is between mother and child, daughter in this case, the bond seems to bend time into something more profound. Some of my memories include trying to get a sense of who she was to me—who was this person—this woman—my mother? I have many memories, some stronger than others but to wrap my mind around it—the best that I can do is continue knowing my mother through my own self, through the flickering memories; and through the ways in which I think about her and continue to nurture her in my living life.
I always enjoyed being in the kitchen when my grandmother cooked and I helped out by making the tortilla dough into balls, but I didn’t help her cook anything else. My mother wasn’t a very good cook—at least I don’t think she was. She never prepared any Mexican meals. She made a potato soup that I loved. My stepfather seemed to do most of the cooking and some of his meals were from his days in the Army. Shit on the Shingles is one I remember because of the name, of course. He cooked a lot of pork and beef dishes, and oh how I adored his scalloped potatoes. I’ve never tasted anything so heavenly. My aunt, who lived next door at the time, cooked and baked. I would help her bake cookies. She didn’t make them from scratch, but I enjoyed the process of going to the store with her to select a cookie mix and go back to her kitchen and get to work.
When my mother passed away, I had what must have been one of her paperback sized Betty Crocker cookbooks, and in the inside cover I remember writing the date of her death. I didn’t visit her in the cemetery for a long time and when the cookbook disappeared, I lost the date and as odd as it may sound, no one seemed to remember the exact date either. I knew it was October—we all did— but couldn’t remember the day.
I’m not sure when exactly; a strong sense that it was sometime after her death, I would watch cooking channels like they were cartoons. I loved Julia Childs; Yan Can Cook with Martin Yan; “The Frugal Gourmet” with Jeff Smith. I started looking in cookbooks and trying out recipes. I would cook a meat meal for my grandfather and I could tell the meat was too tough by the way he was slicing into it. I made cream puffs, cookies, and cakes. I even tried to make a dessert that looked so beautiful but it involved gelatin and I really didn’t have a clue. It was a circular form and had white wine it in, layers and layers of grapes cut in half would set into the gelatin. I don’t think it ever worked out, but I still remember the picture in the magazine. I also tried my hand at candy—divinity, penuche, taffy. As I dig into these candy memories, I wonder was it the names that got me. The letters side by side are enough to entice a young girl, the sounds of the words taking me into another realm. I don’t know. I do know that I did not have a candy thermometer, so I ended up with a bad mess. I didn’t care. I just wanted to be in the kitchen, experimenting, losing myself. No one helped me. I think this is one way that I felt complete and I’ve always loved food.
Food has been there for me—in my grandmother’s wonderful Mexican dishes and her love; my aunt’s cookies and her kindness; my stepfather’s interesting concoctions and his sugary sweetness because he worked in a large bakery; and even my mother’s potato soup, ah dear mother—especially her soup because it seems to be one memory that connects me to her through cooking. Now I see even more so why the potato is one of my favorite foods. I will eat anything potato—the gracious, versatile, nourishing potato.
I’ve mostly cooked and some baking here and there, on and off, through my adult years. I’m nervous to use our small oven in the apartment because it’s gas and because it seems to get so hot. I don’t fully trust it.
Now I have the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, which I love consulting and searching through.
Recently I prepared a recipe from the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites: Flavorful Recipes for Healthful Meals. On Sunday I made one of the recipes: Southwestern Hominy Stew. It reminds me of Posole, a pork and hominy type soup, my grandmother used to prepare and that I know my mother loved. I enjoyed it very much and my significant other gave the thumbs up as well. Last week, I made a chicken curry with peas and spinach and coconut milk. It was pretty good, but I feel like it needed some heat to counterbalance the sweetness of the coconut milk. I used an already prepared curry powder from World Market.
Here is the recipe for the Southwestern Hominy Stew:
1 cup chopped onions
3 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 medium potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2 ½ cups)
2 cups frozen lima beans
2 teaspoons ground cumin (I used a lot less so that the cumin wouldn’t overpower the stew)
1 teaspoon salt (seemed to be enough sodium already, so I waited to salt my individual bowl)
3 cups basic vegetable stock. (I used an organic prepared container)
2 cups undrained canned tomatoes, chopped. (I used fresh tomatoes and added water)
1 roasted green bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 roasted red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 roasted fresh green chile, seeded and minced. (I used a jalapeno)
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
(I roasted the peppers on a flat cast iron skillet)
Combine the onions, garlic, potatoes, lima beans, cumin, salt, and vegetable stock in a 3-quart soup pot. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice. Stir in the roasted bell peppers, the roasted chile, and the hominy. Simmer the stew, covered, for about 15 minutes more, until the potatoes are tender. Add cilantro and serve.
For the condiments, I warmed corn tortillas until they got hard and then loosely cut them up for adding into the individual bowls. I also chopped onion, more cilantro, and avocado. I imagine cheese would be nice too, but I liked it this way. Because we like meat, I cooked up a small amount of pork tenderloin with onion and garlic as a topping.
In the words of the late Jeff Smith when he would close his “Frugal Gourmet Show,”
I bid you peace.