Mothers Day

michaelsMother's Day is a special time to appreciate our mothers and the mothers of our children. A leisurely meal in a pleasant surrounding is the perfect way to celebrate the women who are so central to our lives.

Brunch is the preferred meal for Mother's Day, when a sunny late morning adds to the celebration.

Michael's Restaurant (1147 Third Street, Santa Monica, CA 90403; 310/451-0843), located on Third Street in Santa Monica, half a block north of Wilshire, has an elegant dining room with the relaxed feeling of a private home. Surrounding diners at the rear of the restaurant, a lush patio garden obliterates all traces of the busy city a few feet away.

By staying focused on farmers market fresh, seasonal ingredients, owner/chef Michael McCarty has pulled off a magic trick, staying contemporary and innovative even as the culinary landscape changed. When the restaurant opened, market fresh produce was a rallying cry for a few talented chefs. Nowadays, just about every restaurant says it buys locally and seasonally.

The difference then as now is that fresh ingredients are a good beginning but to be something special, they must be prepared by a talented chef with a great palate.

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hotel-bel-airholly palanceTwice a year, (on Mothers Day and on her birthday July 7th), my mother used to pull out her favorite phrase and say, “Attention must be paid.”

Translation? She wanted to be celebrated, and that meant The Hotel Bel Air, Sunday best, family only, no friends or ‘strangers’ pulling focus on her closeup.

Her use of the phrase drove me crazy, because of course Linda Loman’s lament was about aging and the lack of human kindness shown her salesman husband Willie, not my glamorous complicated mother on the palm-­laden patio holding court.

But champagne in hand surrounded by at least two of her children with at least two of her grandchildren in tow, she got what she needed....a toast, “ To the Queen of the Day.”

Attention had been paid. Deep down I knew what Mom meant. And she knew I knew.

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wilhelmine_children.jpgFor the past few birthdays, Christmases, and really any occasion requiring a gift, my Mother has been wrapping up her own belongings and passing them off on her children.  It began the year that she divided old photos from her father’s side of the family among my brother, sister and me: huge stacks of ancient, scalloped-edged, sepia prints.  For Christmas my boyfriend got an indoor grill from his mother; I got a box of anonymous, sour-looking Germans from mine. 

Gift giving has never been particularly ceremonious in the French family household.  My father routinely forbids us to buy him anything, ever, preferring to get something for himself.  (Last Christmas my sister wrapped his present for him, attaching a card that read “To Dad: Only you know what you really want.  Love, Dad.”) And yet this new trend of giving away my parents’ belongings is beyond eccentric; it’s morbid, even by my mother’s standards.  The portrait of James Joyce and the highball glasses now residing in my kitchen aren’t examples of re-gifting.  “I’m getting rid of my stuff,” my mother explains, pronouncing “stuff” as if collectible paintings and vintage crystal was a dubious-smelling carton of milk, “before I die.”     

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asparagusgremolataA spring brunch just wouldn’t be complete without asparagus. Along with our grilled strawberry-brie sandwiches and brown sugar and pepper glazed bacon, we enjoyed a side of blanched asparagus spears with a garnish of gremolata at our Bass Lake Brunch.

Served at room temperature, the blanched asparagus was cooked just enough to retain some crunch. Plunging the cooked asparagus into a bowl of ice water gives it a shock that stops the cooking and helps retain the bright green color.

Traditionally, gremolata is a mixture of chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic, sometimes held together with a bit of olive oil. In Mediterranean cooking, it is often served with veal or lamb. My Bass Lake cooking friend mixed it up with some chopped olives. It would also be wonderful as a garnish for asparagus with chopped, toasted hazelnuts or toasted pine nuts added to the base of lemon, parsley and garlic. Leftover gremolata can be tossed into pasta, spooned over a bowl of soup, whisked into an omelet or stirred into rice.

Our hostess, who always has the perfect serving plate for any kind of food, had an asparagus plate and even asparagus tongs for serving.

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mrs-tennessee_sm.jpg Around our house in those days, if you didn’t clean up your room you went to bed without dessert.  Not just a mess in your own room, either.   If you left a mess anywhere and refused to be responsible for it—reasons ranging from recalcitrance to outright sloth—no matter!  There was NO EXCUSE FOR IT!   You hit the sack with a hole in your belly.  Tough patooties.  That was the law of the land.

In the great Southeast, no meal was complete without something sweet to finish it off. Round it out, take the edge off.  Such punishment then was tantamount to twenty lashes. While you might be able to stand fast, stay whatever course had to be stayed concerning your Mess and its necessity, it was you, the Messer, who teetered bedward in sugar shock, the withdrawal kind, not the law upholders of the land.

It was 1960, when our mother’s chums entered her in the Mrs. Nashville contest as a practical joke.  Not because she wasn’t up to muster in all things home ec, it just wasn’t something anybody from our side of town had ever “done.”  Nonetheless, she went right on ahead with it, jumped through the field trials, and sashayed home with the banner.  Mrs. Nashville, 1960.  Nice picture in the paper, everybody got a big kick out of it. 

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