Alex’s love affair with food began in the kitchen of her childhood as did mine, but for completely different reasons. Alex tells the story about sitting in her parent’s kitchen kneading bread while her mother made this amazing cheese soufflé, which included an entire wheel of Camembert cheese. Watching her mother prepare this was mesmerizing and when this gift from the heavens was finally in the oven, she would sit in this chair like a security guard protecting a fine piece of art in a museum. Eventually, this soufflé would be unveiled and presented to the family and at some level, with the first bite of this creation, something within her changed forever. Eating this soufflé was a multisensory experience, like listening to a finely tuned quartet.
My earliest recollection in the kitchen involved a pot of water, a spoon, and me. Somehow, my mother knew this was the way to keep me distracted. She would set me on the floor with a pot of water and a spoon and have me stir. This was what I did while my mother whizzed around the kitchen whipping up one of her “creations.” Like the cheese soufflé Alex writes about, my mother also had dishes she created that were multi-sensory and life changing. Which direction depended on whether she was cooking or baking. If my mother was cooking, there really was nothing like it. Eating my mother’s cooking was enough to warp your sense of what something was supposed to taste like forever. There were times it took every ounce of courage to finish your plate, praying with every bite that you did not get sick, and looking for every opportunity you could to share it with our childhood dog without my parents catching us. Puggy was the one member of our family, besides my father, who seemed to enjoy her cooking. My most memorable dish of my mothers was her spaghetti sauce, which she made with catsup, water, oregano, and cream cheese, served over spaghetti, which was not al dente, and meatballs, which could have knocked down 10 pins in a bowling alley. While I miss my mother dearly, I do not miss her cooking.
I do however miss her baking. You knew when my mother was baking because you could smell the aromas drifting out the windows to you wherever you were playing outside. It was as if they grabbed hold of you and dragged you into the kitchen. There was nowhere I wanted to be more in life then in the kitchen when my mother was baking. I experienced that same experience of being mesmerized by her every move, as she would begin by preparing the dough for her rugelach and the songs she would sing as she rolled out her door. Then there were the scents that wafted up from the bowl as she combined the myriad of spices, which would become this unctuous filling that my mother would then delicately place and wrap in each piece of dough. Like Alex, I would sit like the security guard in front of the stove while the rugelach baked. I would sit in my chair, staring meditatively at the oven, envisioning these little bundles of deliciousness rise, the filling caramelize and overflow with loving goodness.
Then she would pull them out, and I can still remember the wave of aromas that escaped from the oven door and how I would take the longest possible inhales that I could trying to breathe in every ounce of those aromas. When it was time to eat them, I once again would close my eyes as I prepared to experience my mother’s rugelach. To this day, eating them is a spiritual experience. You wanted to savor the whole experience, which began as your eyes admired their glistening beauty. Then you would see the little places where the filling had oozed out and was crying out to you “come taste me.” Each bite was something to savor and was an explosion of textures, tastes, and sensations. I remember thinking as a child; this must be what it is like to ascend to heaven.
I am grateful I still have my mother’s rugelach recipe as it allows me to go back in time and experience her presence even though she is long gone. Unfortunately, Alex did not share her mother’s cheese soufflé recipe with us in her cookbook. I guess I will have to ask her for it on Facebook or go in search of a cheese soufflé recipe on my own with an entire wheel of Camembert
It seems as if being with our mothers in the kitchen taught us some fundamental basics, which have shaped our lives. Patience as we waited for soufflés to rise and rugelach to bake, traditions, which transcend time, and an appreciation for the love which flavors so many of the amazing things both are mothers created.