The Gene My Mother Didn’t Give Me (Now With Video)

(This is the story I read at the recent, amazing Listen to your Mother show)

Today I cooked for my family and nobody died.

It’s always a good day when my cooking doesn’t maim, injure or kill. Because every time I cook, I am convinced that someone will turn pale, clutch his or her belly, foam at the mouth and then sprint for the bathroom. Or just keel right over.

Needless to say, I am not a natural in the kitchen. I try. After all, I’m a Mom. This is part of the job description, right? It’s supposed to be part of my maternal DNA.

I definitely did not inherit the cooking gene from my Mom. She’s the world’s greatest cook. I yearn for her meatloaf and cheesecake. When I’m sick, her chicken soup is the only medicine that heals. Her trifle is legendary in England. I have fond memories of helping her measure and stir, as she’d prep and bake. Osmosis, however, failed me.

Like me, she wasn’t actually a natural-born cook. But once married, my Mom experienced a culinary metamorphosis, blossoming into this competent, fearless creator of deliciousness. Hoping to nurture similar qualities in me, my parents sent me to an all-girls school. Alas, while I did well academically, my grades for “domestic science” were well below average.

Fast-forward to my 30’s. One evening, I invited my soon-to-be-fiancé over to my place, intent on making a romantic meal. I prepared the only dish I really knew. He wanted to hang with me in the kitchen, sizing up my qualifications for future wifedom, motherhood and domesticity. But he quickly recoiled when he saw that every ingredient was either from a can, a carton or the freezer. Mortified, I banished him from the kitchen.

Did I mention he’s a professionally trained chef? No pressure, right? Well, despite his horror at my pasta mush, he still married me. Maybe he thought my culinary skills might emerge, like they had for my mom? Fortunately, our relationship is based on many other qualities, like good humor and forgiveness.

These days, I can be inspired by a recipe, game to give it a go and expose my family to something new. I’m all about Pinterest. My “recipes to try” board has more than one thousand pins of culinary delights. I’ve attempted about three of them. My success rate is, well, low. Usually the end result looks nothing like the picture. It might taste good but my kids usually turn their noses up when served something that looks, smells and tastes suspiciously different from chicken tenders or mac and cheese. My husband, bless him, praises my efforts, chews his meal with enthusiasm and makes all the right “mmmm” noises. He coaxes the kids to try at least a bite. The silver lining? Plenty of leftovers.

It wasn’t always this way. When they were infants, they ate everything I cooked. Yes, cooked. I was really really good at making purées. Because, boiling and mushing stuff, that I can do – like a pro. And, since I wasn’t able to nurse my kids when they were infants, preparing food this way made me feel like mother of the year, all wholesome and nurturing. I was an over-achiever in the purée department; my fridge filled with baggies of green, yellow, even purple frozen cubes of homemade nutrition. My kids willingly consumed vegetables that today are considered devil spawn. Beets. Parsnips. Spinach. Even black beans. It was good while it lasted.

I’m happy to tell you that one of my cooking adventures has in fact become the stuff of legend on social networks. Allow me to introduce you to the Hippo Cake.

It was Rosh Hashanah and like all Jewish festivals, it’s celebrated with food. A few days before, I called my mother and asked for her wonderful honey cake recipe, thinking it was my maternal duty to bake one for my family at this auspicious time of the year.

I’ll never know what really went wrong. Did I confuse the measurements? Maybe I omitted the baking soda? Perhaps the oven was the wrong temperature (after all, British recipes are in Celsius not Fahrenheit)?

Never has a photo posted on Facebook received so much attention. “What is that?” was the most frequent comment. “Um, it’s a honey cake,” I’d respond. “It looks like a hippo,” quipped someone and everyone resoundingly agreed. And so the notorious Hippo Cake was born. Every year now, friends and family clamor for me to re-post the Hippo Cake photo on Facebook, claiming that the holiday cannot properly commence until I do.

So this is what it comes down to. I can bake cakes that look like animals and purée like a champ. Evidently, as a mother, cooking is not my strongest suit. But at least I haven’t killed anyone. They say genes can skip a generation, so I’m hoping my kids will inherit their quick wits, good looks and self-deprecating humor from me – and their cooking skills from their grandmother.

The infamous Hippo Cake

The infamous Hippo Cake

LTYM cast

The wonderful cast of #LTYM Boston – May 9, 2015

 

A Love Letter to My Mother

Today, March 18th is Mother’s Day in the UK. It’s always struck me as weird that Mother’s Day is on a different date in the UK from the US – and it’s taken me by surprise often, finding me scrambling to get a card or flowers to my Mum in time. This year, I’m ahead of the game. Thanks to the wonders of the web, her flower were delivered in time.

Bouquets aside, I felt a blog post in honour of my Mother was well overdue. If you have the good fortune to know her, you’ll agree she is one-of-a-kind. If you haven’t, then this post describes why I think there’s no-one quite as wonderful as my Mum.

  • Family and friends are everything: Despite the miles between her and her offspring and grandchildren, the ties between us are deep and fierce. And her own siblings and their children are equally important. I know few families where the connections between close and extended family matter so much. What’s more, my Mother’s friends have been in her life for decades and decades and decades – in fact, since me and my brother and sister were kids. She’s the best friend you could have. She sticks with you through thick and thin.
  • No-one tells a joke like my Mum: With a sparkle in her eye, she spins a tale and you just know that the punchline is going to be a humdinger. Her jokes are not quick one-liners, they draw you in, take you on a journey, and then cause a mighty belly laugh.
  • She has style: Unlike me, my Mum is always presentable, always coordinated, always beautiful. Whether going to Marks & Spencers, to a friend’s house for a game of bridge, on the tennis court, at a fine restaurant, or simply sipping a cuppa at home, my Mum exudes style. It’s always classy, always true to herself, never over the top.
  • She stands by her man: This year, Mum and Dad will celebrate 48 years of marriage. As a kid, I always viewed them as a team. I loved how they laughed together. I rarely witnessed any discord. They truly enjoy being a couple, they take the time to be together, to travel together. They’ve been an inspiration to me.
  • Quiet ambition: My Mother has a law degree. She was a magistrate in the UK courts for a long time. She participated in community programs. She gives back. She always continually educates herself: computer classes, after Dad surprised her with a laptop; most recently, creative writing classes.
  • She is wicked good at table tennis: if you play her, you’ll see a different side to her – fiercely competitive complete with colourful language!
  • Her cooking is legendary: chicken soup, apricot chicken, yellow mush, chopped & fried, bakewell tart, cheesecake. And don’t forget the trifle.

So Mum, here’s to you. From me. Via my blog.

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