Are you known for something you bake or cook? I know a lot of people who have a signature item – homemade coffee cake, cinnamon rolls, caramel brownies, the best chocolate chip cookies, gorgeous cakes, macarons, sourdough bread, cranberry baked brie, cranberry pico de gallo, fresh spicy salsa, apricot chicken salad…are you hungry yet?! I have a friend who can feed the five thousand with a huge delicious salad with homemade dressing at a moment’s notice. I also call friends some women who can cook a whole buffet of signature dishes and make feeding 100 people look like a breeze. You have these people, too, don’t you? I hope so!
My signature item is an iced sugar or gingerbread cookie which I usually only make once or twice a year, unless specially requested. I have a friend who makes far more beautiful cookies and bakes them all the time. She taught herself to do it from YouTube videos while staying with family during her cancer treatment. She needed something to do in their house. Cookies were fairly easy and tapped her creative juices, and they could all enjoy them together. This back story only makes her cookies all the more beautiful, just like her.
I learned to make cut-outs from my mom. My recipe was clipped out of the Dallas Morning News many years ago, and it’s the best. My mom came up with a slight variation on the recipe that makes them really stand out. I’ve added my own slight variation to the glaze over the years. I like to roll the cookie dough really thin, and I also thin down the icing even though it sometimes bleeds and takes longer to dry. The delicacy of it makes it more delicious, I think.
I’ll never forget one Christmas when I had a friend over and we made Christmas cut-outs together. My sweet friend, one of the very best friends ever, had never made them before and she kept overlapping her shapes so her trees had no tops and her Santas had no feet. My mom displayed a remarkable amount of patience during this play date, and she packaged up most of the cookies I had cut out for my friend to decorate and show off to her mom. We at the headless Santas and amputated gingerbread men.
My mom is really creative in the semi-homemade sense. She could take a plain sweatshirt, felt, poster board, feathers, markers, ribbon and make almost any costume in the world. Don’t ask her to sew. She could cook a recipe from a magazine and know just how to punch it up. She could put fruit or candy on a plain cake and make it elegant and festive. I learned a lot from her about entertaining and making things special for people.
Mother’s Day makes me think of a lot of things, but special occasions are always at least partially about food. I’ve been resisting bugging my husband about brunch reservations for this weekend. He always does something really nice for me, but who doesn’t love a good glass of champagne with french toast? My mom, fittingly, usually entertains her elderly neighbor and her single son for Mother’s Day Brunch at her house.
I know Mother’s Day is not an easy day for so many people, so I didn’t want to make our prompt this week too sensitive. Everyone eats, so let’s talk about food! What did your mother or grandmother cook that you’ll always remember? What smell in the kitchen instantly transports you to her house? What skill in the kitchen did you get from the women that came before you? Knowing where to get the best take out is definitely a skill, by the way!
My mother cooked tirelessly for us most every day of the week, real food, homemade with a few exceptions like frozen cream chipped beef warmed up and served over toast. I loved this as a kid, but I can’t say I’ve missed this particular breakfast item in recent years. But as I thought about the foods I enjoyed the best at our little kitchen table on Inverness Lane, most of them were some of the simplest like…
Saltine crackers toasted under the broiler with a dab of butter.
Cinnamon toast, crunchy on top but soft on the bottom from being under the broiler.
Nachos during football games. Tortilla chips toasted under the broiler, each with its own little hand-cut square of cheese, probably longhorn cheddar, and a pickled jalapeño on top. We didn’t have a toaster or microwave for a long time growing up. My mom could work miracles under a broiler, and it didn’t heat up the house too much in the hot Texas summer.
My mom also made my favorite chocolate chip cookies, not under the broiler. She’d tell you it’s just the Nestle Toll House recipe from the back of the chocolate chip bag, but she makes a slight substitution that gives them the perfect crunch, and in my humble opinion, crunchy is the only way a chocolate chip cookie should be.
She rolled hot dogs in crescent rolls with cheese and mustard. Lots of people make this variation of pigs in a blanket, but she always got the perfect ratio of mustard to cheese and popped them out of the oven at just the right time.
Kahlua cake. I learned to love all things coffee from my mom. Coffee ice cream is still my favorite flavor. This cake is moist, smells heavenly, doesn’t deliver quite the hit that rum cake can, and it seemed to last forever, so I could always have another piece later.
One of my favorite little road trips with my mom and dad growing up was to Natchitoches, Louisiana. The Natchitoches Meat Pie is one of Louisiana’s state foods, and it’s so delicious. My mom went back with a friend recently and bought a meat pie seasoning mix while she was there. It was outrageous in price by her account, like $8.99 or something for a little packet. She was nice enough to save it and cook it while my kids and I were visiting. It’s been a long time since I sat down in that restaurant along the Cane River, but I’m pretty sure her meat pie filling baked in a Pillsbury pie crust was every bit as delicious as Lasyone’s. We’ll still have to travel for the red beans and rice, though.
I wonder what my kids will say reminds them of home? I’m guessing it won’t be the things I labor the most over. It certainly won’t be the time I took to individually top a whole pan of tortilla chips because I’ve never done that. Hopefully they’ll be able to say that special occasions were truly special, and guests were always welcome in our home. Thanks, Mom, for giving me that.
Tell me about your own kitchen! What did your mom (or grandmother…) cook for you? Email me firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below!