At my mother’s 70th birthday gathering earlier this year, in a swarm of laughter and tears and recollection over several dozen glasses raised, I toasted the woman “who made my life growing up in little Rolla, Missouri, very, very big.” Certainly, culinarily.
Homemade crusty French bread. Fondue with gruyère, when neither implements nor ingredients could be found within a two-hour radius of our hamlet in the Ozarks (and Amazon was still, simply, the most important waterway in the world). Spanakopita made with real filo dough obtained from God-knows-where. Volumes of fresh pesto from 5-foot basil bush-monsters she trod through in bare feet.
Perhaps it was the Army brat in her, her formative world constantly expanding and changing, taking her four children on every type of adventure and to every place possible, mostly without ever leaving our small town. Likely with Evita or Jesus Christ Superstar on the turntable, dinner plates arrived with Russian stroganoff, Spanish gazpacho, Italian bolognese, homemade salad dressings, tabouli, a multitude of creations-with-wonton-skins. All this in the 70s and 80s when Hamburger Helper and margarine defined the American kitchen.
This recipe of my mother’s exemplifies her adoration of the big, wide world, her love of mixing traditions. Yes to turkey at Thanksgiving, yes also (without a trace of Greek heritage in our veins) to this special New Year’s bread with its hidden coin for luck. No we weren’t Catholic either, but yes there would be King Cake. I recall a matzo ball or two, as well.
I hope my own children have come to know the “great ceremony” and delight that can emanate from a busy home kitchen with adventuring minds and loving hands at the helm. Happy birthday, ma, and thank you.