Mothers Day

stuffedartichoke.jpgI've been making stuffed artichokes with my mom since I was about 6 years old. When my hands were still too small to tackle the prickly, cactus-like leaves of the artichoke, I was in charge of making the stuffing. There was something indescribably satisfying about it: first I wet the stale Italian bread and squished in between my fingers, then I grated lots of cheese and added a slew of black olives (which, by the way, made lovely finger extensions). It gave "playing with your food" a whole new perspective.

When I got a bit older, I learned how to properly clean an artichoke (which is no easy task). Maybe that's why I appreciate them so much today.

Ironically, my mom never ate her stuffed artichokes. She always made them for my dad and me. After I moved away from Rhode Island, I didn't make artichokes for a long time. They'll never be as good as Mom's, I'd say. Then one spring day I asked my dad if Mom had made any stuffed artichokes lately. He lamented, "she doesn't like making them now that you're not home to have them." So strangely none of us was making or eating artichokes anymore.

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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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gigi2.jpg My mother’s name is Gladys, and the name just doesn’t fit her.

She’s felt that way all her life. So, years ago, she started coming up with new names and identities, as her inner spirit looked to break free from her outer Gladys.

The first time Gladys became someone else was at the start of her freshman year at the University of Illinois. She was among the ninety percent of the girls at school who were from Chicago, and Gladys wanted to establish herself as different and exotic. So she made up a story that her father worked for the diplomatic corps in India.

The response was phenomenal.

After passing herself off as an American living in Bombay, her phone was ringing off the hook. All the guys wanted to go out with her. Everyone wanted to get to know the girl from Bombay.

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apricotsconesPerhaps it's their association with English tea and ladies' garden luncheons that make scones so deliciously feminine. Since they're one of the easiest baked goods to make and are always well received, they're an ideal addition to your Mother's Day breakfast.

These Apricot, Ginger, and White Chocolate Scones are a new creation of mine -- the spicy ginger compliments the sweet apricots and white chocolate, while the slivered almonds provide just the needed crunch. They pair especially well with spiced coffee and, of course, hot tea.

For a pretty, unfussy presentation, serve scones in a linen or cloth-lined basket for your Mother's Day breakfast.

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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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