December 11, 2012 would have been my mother’s 91st birthday. I still miss my mom even though she died 18 years ago. Today I am going to dedicate my comments to my mother and the things she taught me about entertaining at the holidays.
My first real interest in cooking began in my sixth year. I went to find my mother in the kitchen and asked her if she would teach me how to cook. (My mother was always in the kitchen. With seven children to tend to, she rarely got out of that room. If she did, it was usually to go to the basement to do laundry or out to go to the grocery store. She was a hard working woman.) My mother was busy so she found a very easy way to complete my request. She just looked at me and said, “If you can read, you can cook”. She then went back to the project she was working on.
I took that one sentence as a directive. My next move was to crawl up on the pantry counter (which was a no-no) and open the cupboard. I pulled the bag of chocolate chips off the shelf and turned the bag around to the back. There was a recipe there for chocolate chip cookies. I realized I could read the recipe and the rest was history.
Chocolate chip cookies led to Christmas cookies, candies and more.
Now, back to holiday advice from my mom.
The biggest thing my mom did was set an example. She taught me early on never to be intimidated by a crowd. Everyday cooking was for a crowd. Remember I said we were a batch of seven kids.
But on top of that our holidays were always an expanded crowd. My mother thought nothing of having the boyfriends or girlfriends join us at the table. We might have one of the priests from our church. We had an adopted grandma, (a little old lady who lived down the block) and more.
To this day, I take in what I call the holiday orphans. If there is someone I come across who has nowhere to go celebrate the holiday I invite them to our holiday. There’s no limit to the number of people at my dining room table. Come one. Come all.
But then you have to cook for those people too. Again my mom led by example. She didn’t get frazzled by having to cook a lot or for a crowd. She just got up early, stayed organized and kept at it. I remember my mom always had a used grocery list in the pocket of her coat. Today I find grocery lists in my coats too.
For a few years my mother had a part time job cooking. She worked for a halfway house cooking for the residents. After school I’d meet her there and help. I might be the one to set the table or peel potatoes; whatever she needed.