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a mother and child reunion
Cook & Tell is a foodletter my mom created 40 years ago and I'm sharing her stories and vintage recipes in this digital reboot.
From the original Cook & Tell (December 4, 1980)
The female offspring I used to call The Kid arrived for a short overnight visit last weekend. All of a sudden, she was too attractive, too tall, too blond, too adult to be called The Kid anymore.
While turkey soup simmered on the back burner, Amie’s recorded music once again played through the house, filling closets, corners and the quiet places in our thoughts. From a perch on the kitchen counter, we sparred about politics. I was asked to explain my position on the ERA. She tried on my shoes, she washed the dishes, she borrowed the car.
My electric Brisker was admired, as well as the crackers therein. The pot of experimental blue cheese spread I had just made lost considerable ground. A quantity of peanut butter graham cookies was noted, duly approved and consumed forthwith. She didn’t even ask her usual, “Did you use whole wheat flour on these?” and seemed not to notice I had.
Shortly before Amie’s arrival, I had been tidying up the shelves of my studio, where miscellaneous files and clutter have reposed, unconsulted, for lo, these many moons. Somewhere between folders marked “Random” and “Do Something” I ran across the family archives, a collection of the written works of a very prolific small daughter and a notebook of jotted down conversations and monologues of the sort kept by most mothers during the toddling to grade-school years of the bairns.
There was the New Year’s resolution written on the widely spaced lines of a second-grade paper: “In 1972, I will set the table every night and not sulk.” There was the story I commissioned the seven-year-old to write to lift my spirits one day when I was overwhelmed by ironing pile-up. I gave her a title and she was to do a story, which follows in its entirety:
The Ironing Lady: Once there was a lady who loved to iron. She ironed from morning to night.
To this day, rumpled articles of clothing dating back to those unironed first grade days remain unironed, unsummoned, at the bottom of Ironing Mountain.
Those were the days of let’s pretend, which all mothers remember and most children forget. Perhaps the most charming line of all from the pretend time, is this one, recorded in my eavesdropping notebook. Speaking into the receiver of an unconnected but real-live telephone, the three-year-old repeats what she things she has heard her elders say time and again: “Hello, Mary? This is you.”
All families have their collected mementoes recorded in photos, notes, or indelibly impressed in memory alone. I remember Amie’s stuffed animal Valentine party, sailboat rides for dolls in the kitchen sink, a picnic with Pooh and all the bears, a birthday party for the beloved black dog, with a cake made of Milk Bones stuck together with peanut butter. These landmarks of an imaginative childhood bring a dimension of fantasy to the lives of the adults most closely involved. It’s a dimension that continues to enchant us long after the child has forgotten the ironing lady, the promise to set the table, the bears’ picnic.
Sunday afternoon came and Amie went. She left only cookie crumbs and the sweet smell of shampoo and bath powder in the upstairs bathroom. I sat quietly in the chair by the slow fire in the living room woodstove, remembering. Goodbye Amie, I said to myself. That was you.
PEANUT BUTTER GRAHAMS
Makes 3-4 dozen cookies
1 ½ c. whole wheat flour
(or 1 ¾ c. white flour)
1 c. finely crushed graham cracker crumbs—about 7 full cracker sheets
½ tsp. each of salt and baking soda
½ c. butter or margarine at room temperature
1/2 c. brown sugar
¼ c. dark brown sugar
¼ c. each of water and honey
1 c. chunky peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips, if desired
Combine flour, crumbs, salt and soda in a bowl and set aside. In separate bowl, beat butter, sugar and egg together until creamy. Beat in water, honey, peanut butter and vanilla. Stir into flour mixture; add chocolate chips. Refrigerate for 30 min.
Roll spoonfuls of dough into balls, criss-crossing with fork on greased cookie sheet or parchment paper, placing cookies an inch apart. Bake at 350 12-15 minutes. Cool on sheet 5 minutes before removing to cooling rack.
In my grownup game of “Let’s Pretend,” Mom is still alive. She’s just pulled these treats from our ancient Hotpoint oven to cool on the harvest gold countertop. On the glass-topped antique cart in the dining room, PG Tips steeps in her favorite teapot—part of her extensive King Henry VIII curio collection. Perky, the old gray cat, saunters between my ankles. Our picture window view of Love’s Cove is matched only by the vibrant blooms of hillside forsythia bushes. At this tea party—Pooh and his stuffed friends have opted to sit this one out—we’re celebrating the publication of our co-authored cookbook, Food Issues, in which we’ve revived the third generation of family foodwriters and artists—my grandmother.
In reality, another Mother’s Day without Mom seems lonely at first until I remember that she and all the family ghosts live on in this space. And in all our kitchens, real or make-believe, amidst the velvety aroma of chocolate, where memories melt the way these peanut butter crisps dissolve on my tongue, I say to myself: Hello, Mom. This is you.
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