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Motherʼs passion for cooking brings about fond memories

November 6, 2015

For me, all food is comfort food. Well, let me amend that. All food that comes from my kitchen is comfort food. My childhood memories are often tangled, like spaghetti clinging to a fork, around memories of food. My mother is an amazing home cook, baker and the official head chef presiding over our compact but efficient kitchen. I am merely a sous chef -- second in command -- I was told that in order to graduate to a higher rank I’d need to move out first, so sous chef it is. My mom’s journey with cooking began before she could even reach the counter. Being the eldest girl in a family of six, it came to be my mom’s responsibility to be a sort of second mom for the kids behind her from very early on, and Julia Child helped her do it. Mom would watch Julia Child religiously, taking careful notes of her recipes and techniques then taking those notes right into the kitchen with her. Standing on the edge of a battered kitchen chair, she would begin dinner with all the gusto an 8-year-old channeling Julia Child could muster and would actually yield almost identical results. As she began to get older she graduated from standing on kitchen chairs and even from needing the guidance of Julia. Mom began to turn out culinary masterpieces for her Ellsworth family of eight that would have, most likely, made her Sicilian ancestors weep.

Eventually my mom began cooking for someone else she loved: my dad, who fell head over heels for her and her food and didn’t mind the amount of cookbooks she owned and continued to buy. She had begun to collect cookbooks like other people hoard snow globes, and would sit down and read them cover to cover as if they were real books. A Hermione before her time. Today, we have piles of cookbooks for Mom and for me, all around our house that were given at birthdays and Christmas, from family members and as mementos from family vacations. From cookbooks written entirely in French, to a signed copy from a tiny restaurant in Girdwood, Alaska, and even the Culinary Institute of America’s own cook-text-book. I could barely even read when my mom gave to my brother and I a copy of the first cookbook she ever received; it’s full of bright ‘60s era colors and sketches of freckled kids eagerly eating the recipes their flowery apron-clad, bouffant-wearing mothers made them.

I can still remember when I would stand at the counter on our own kitchen chairs next to my mom as she would wrap my little hands around a whisk to beat eggs and around a heavy, wooden rolling pin to roll out dough for cookies and pies and around the handle of the pasta crank – you have to do a lot manual labor before you earn the right to call yourself the sous chef. My mom and I would stand in the kitchen with all the stove burners going, the oven door opening and closing, music going in the background and my mom’s voice in my ear educating me on the whole process like it was her own cooking show, while our hair would frizz out from the steam of draining fresh pasta and while red splotches of sauce would stain our aprons. One of my favorite memories of my mom and brother and I in the kitchen is when a whole bag of flour fell to the floor with a puff of white and a loud thud. My brother and I froze, turning to look at mom to see what her reaction would be. That was the moment when a burst of flour dust flew at us. Mom had stooped down as if it were snow, scooped up a handful of flour and the three of us has a flour-fight right in the middle of the kitchen until it looked like winter had come much too early.

These days it’s a little different. There are no more flour fights and, like my mom, I have graduated from needing demonstrations. But unlike my mom, I don’t think I’m quite ready to give up my own “Julia” just yet. I cherish the upcoming holiday season, which by now the two of us have down to a science; anticipating each other’s moves, we are a seamless duo in the kitchen with matching aprons and frizzy hair. Every holiday season the head chef and the sous chef are inseparable as we create large batches of holiday tradition together. With Thanksgiving approaching and Christmas not long after, every year I find that I am continually thankful for not only family and for food but also for kitchen chairs.

Lauren Simenson is a student at UW-River Falls.