It's all about the food

Mary and Mom

In our house, it really is all about the food.

When I was growing up, we traveled to my grandmother’s most Sundays for homemade pasta and meatballs.

I’m not talking about the kind of pasta that comes from a machine-fed operation; I’m talking about the hand-cut stuff that got rolled into gigantic round sheets and cut with a knife—a dull knife. Grandma used to work that old knife through the dough, her gnarled fingers cutting with such patience. Such precision. No measuring, no fancy gadgets.

Grandma lived with my Aunt Marie and together they made cavatelli and something else we called “hats” and I still don’t know the real name for “hats”. When we visited, all four of us kids couldn’t wait to try making cavatelli. The trick was in the way you rolled the cut dough with your index and middle finger. By the twentieth one, I was ready to be done. Not Grandma. On and on she went, just like she’d done for a good part of her eighty-plus years.

But there was nothing like the smell of a good meatball frying in the kitchen. Have you ever tried brown meatballs? Aunt Marie fried them, no baking in those days, and she’d leave four out of the sauce, one for each of us kids.

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My Mother’s $125 Apple Pie

Yes, you read that right. I wrote an article about my mother’s $125 apple pie. And because I’m a middle child, would it not be fitting to tell you she made it for my oldest brother? The pecking order at work! In order to give this story the most impact, I have to also admit that when my brother requested the pie, Mom had just returned from an extended visit to California, where my two brothers live. She had plenty of time and loads of kitchen space to make ten apple pies. Big brother had only to ask, but he didn’t because he’d sworn off sweets, flour, and all things white. Fine by me. My husband hadn’t made this same pledge and a few days after Mom arrived in Ohio, he asked for his semi-annual apple pie. Mom was more than happy to get back into baking mode and when the pie came out of the oven, I could hardly wait to dig in.

“Send your brother a picture of this lovely pie. Look at the golden crust. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“It’s perfect, Mom. Great job.” I snapped a picture and sent it to my oldest brother. Seconds later my phone rang. It was brother #1 with a request: he wanted Mom to make him a pie.

“You realize she was just at your house…?”

“I know.” Laugh. “See if she’ll do it.”

“Of course she will.”

“Ask her if she’ll put a few blueberries in it, too, like she did before.”

“You mean when you were eating pie? Sure. Anything else?” Sometimes I just don’t know about my brother…

Pause. “Oatmeal raisin cookies, too.”

Was he kidding? I sigh. “Can she use white flour and sugar?”

“Yes.” Not a second of hesitation. “Tell her to make it just like she does and can she send it so it gets here Saturday?”

Now I have to say something. “You know, you could go to a bakery…”

“It wouldn’t be the same. I want Mom’s apple pie and her cookies.” Pause. “So, can you get them here by Saturday?”

“Yeah, well, you mean because today is Wednesday? How am I going to do that?”

“Next day delivery.”

“Now I know you’re crazy.”

“Come on. Can you just make it happen?”

Sigh. Big sigh. Of course, I can’t say no. He’s my brother. “Okay. Let me see what I can do.”

At eighty-something, Mom might be the brains and the know-how of this operation, but I’m the legs. Off to the grocery store to get more apples, then home to set out the ingredients, print off the oatmeal raisin cookie recipe, and prepare for tomorrow morning’s baking session. As my husband enjoyed warm apple pie and ice cream, I told him he was in charge of packaging the to-be-made pie and cookies. With his engineer-minded brain, he was the most qualified to get the job done.

Mom and I spent Thursday baking and I swear, my brother called fifteen times to see how we were progressing. Mom’s crust was even better than the one the other day and the cookies were golden and chewy. (Of course, I had to taste a few!) My husband wrapped the pie in rolls of bubble wrap, taped it closed, placed it in a Styrofoam container and then wedged it in a cardboard box. The cookies were easy. Oatmeal containers stacked to the top. We headed to the UPS store on Friday afternoon and Mom insisted on paying, saying this would be his early birthday gift.

“Mom, it’s going to be expensive.”

“I know, but I want to do this for him.”

“You gave him the gift by baking the pie and cookies. He doesn’t want you to pay.”

“I want to.”

Hmm. “How much do you think it will cost?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.”

“Take a guess.”

“Thirty or forty dollars.”

“Probably a little more.”

A little more turned out to be a lot more, like $125 more! Mom still wanted to pay, but I knew my brother would have a fit, and she must have known it too because she didn’t argue. The pie and cookies traveled over 2,000 miles and arrived the next morning intact, with only one small piece of crust broken off. When my brother called to tell us they’d arrived, he’d already eaten two cookies and dug a fork into the pie.

He said it was one of the best birthday presents ever. Well done, Mom!

My Mother and Technology

My mother hates technology. She doesn’t have a cellphone, doesn’t have a computer, doesn’t have a flat screen TV, no garbage disposal, dishwasher, or air conditioning either. It’s not that she hates technology; she detests the notion of actually having to use it herself. She does, however, know how to get everyone else using it to “get done what needs done”—code for do what our almost eighty-six-year-old mother tells us to do.

Let’s take a look at my mother and technology and see how she navigates through this unfamiliar maze and how she’s figured out a few tricks along the way. (That means, get your kids to do the work for you!) Take a simple recipe. Mom carries hundreds of them when she travels; either handwritten on index cards, or on 8.5 x 11inch paper, folded up, nice and neat. She also tends to clip recipes from magazines and puts a star by her favorites. These recipes are organized by most often used and are usually paper clipped, then placed in a recycled storage bag (that’s another story for another day.) All of these lovely and quite ancient recipes are then stored in a fashionable vinyl green zippered portfolio that she once used for banking papers and such—twenty-five years ago. (Again, the recycle idea.) Imagine how long it takes to locate a banana bread recipe that’s tucked in with twenty or thirty others? Yeah, don’t imagine that.

Several years ago, I convinced Mom to let me type her best and most often used recipes on the computer. (Okay, I didn’t actually do it myself; my 2nd daughter did.) I explained to Mom that I would have easy access to the files and all she had to do was call, no matter where she was, and I could either send the file on the computer, print and mail it, or read it to her. (I also made the unfortunate mistake of explaining what “scanning” meant.) Who knew she’d ask me to send my brothers and sister “interesting” articles from the local newspaper?

Most of Mom’s recipes are now on the computer, and when she calls about a chocolate chip recipe, I know to ask if she means the “extraordinary chocolate chip” recipe, not to be confused with the “impossible delicious chocolate chip” recipe, or any of the other variations in Mom’s portfolio. These recipes are very different and you have to know the difference. I happen to be one of the only people, aside from Mom, who knows which are which, and that makes me the “go to” person. Last year was the first time Mom had enough confidence in the computer to leave her lovely green zippered portfolio at home. That was a big win for me, almost as big as talking her into new sneakers.

This system has worked well for several years. However…it has also backfired, on occasion. When Mom is visiting my brothers in California, (she lives in Pennsylvania and I am in Ohio), we have a routine. She’ll tell me ahead of time if she needs a recipe sent to one of my brothers’ computers at work. Depending on where she’s staying, they’ll print the recipe and take it to her.

“Send your brother a message,” she’ll say. “Tell him to make sure he brings the recipe home because I promised his friend I’d make him a zucchini pineapple bread and I don’t know if I have all of the ingredients.”

Well, Mom did have everything she needed for the zucchini pineapple bread, but then she decided to make a banana bread because she had too many ripe bananas. Unfortunately, she’d run out of flour and sour cream…and what do you think she did? She got on the phone, called my oldest brother, who happened to be in a board meeting, and asked him to stop at the grocery store on his way home. He couldn’t wait to call and tell me that one! I can’t forget to mention my sister, who is in Virginia and luckily for her, out of the food loop. She is, however, included in scanned articles of local interest.

We love our mother and she knows we’ll do anything for her. As a matter of fact, I’m mailing her a package tomorrow…some Romano cheese, fresh bread, nut bars, vitamins, and a copy of this post. Rest assured, she’ll have a thing or three to say about it….

Next week, I’ll tell you all about the $125 apple pie my mother baked for my oldest brother. Yes, you read that amount correctly, and of course, there’s a story behind it!

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