I’m not someone who feels particularly compelled to celebrate those greeting-card holidays, like Valentine’s Day, not to mention the patriotic ones, like Memorial Day or Fourth of July.
But there is one exception to my curmudgeonly attitude, and it’s Mother’s Day.
For more than a quarter-century, that second Sunday in May has been sacred to me. It’s a day when I expect to spend quality time with my daughters, Grace and Julia, enjoying their company and being indulged by them however they see fit. Good daughters that they are, they always come up with some elaborate plan that typically involves some creative activity and a meal.
The activities have included everything from taking a painting class to renting bikes for a day of tooling around Philadelphia to visiting the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. The meal usually involves going out to a restaurant of their choosing, and I so appreciate their consideration, not to mention their spending their hard-earned cash on me. But, truth be told, my greatest dream meal would be a home-cooked one that they cooked for me. Being two busy, young professionals, both now living in New York City and both tuned in to the trendiest restaurants, it’s unlikely they’ll select that path.
That’s not to say they’ve never cooked for me. They have, and even on the occasional Mother’s Day. Just not lately. It was some years ago that Grace insisted I stay in bed one Mother’s Day -- or at least out of the kitchen -- while she labored over eggs Benedict and an exotic fruit salad, which she laid out on a beautifully set table on the deck, complete with cut flowers. And Julia, a talented baker, has certainly made her share of cakes and pies, some for Mother’s Day, usually from her dessert bible, a dog-eared copy of Dorie Greenspan’s classic book, Baking.
Nor can I claim to have set any precedent myself by cooking up a wonderful Mother’s Day meal for my mother when I was younger. Like me, my mother didn’t measure her children’s love for her by their showy displays. On most Mother’s Days, she was happy to receive the six-pack of barely blooming marigold seedlings I had bought for her at the school fair. (She was less happy the year I won a goldfish at that same fair and presented it to her for Mother’s Day, only to have our cat scoop the fish out of the round glass bowl at the first opportunity.)
So rather than merely dreaming of a home-cooked Mother’s Day meal, I determined the best chance I'd have to actually eat it would be to make it myself. Which is exactly what I did last weekend, indulging in a pre-Mother's Day gift to myself.
For a starter, I sought out a sprightly salad that takes advantage of early spring produce and found just the ticket in the endive, radicchio, apple, and walnut salad offered up by QVC’s Meredith “Blue-Jean Chef” Laurence in her Comfortable in the Kitchen cookbook. The contrast between the bitter endive, tender radicchio, and crisp, sweet apple slices works well, all brought together with a tangy white wine and Dijon vinaigrette and shards of salty Parmesan cheese.
For the main course, I went straight for the most opulent cut of meat I could find: inch-thick veal rib chops, which, at $23 a pound, is far more extravagant than I would expect my daughters to finance, not to mention cook. My pescatarian daughter Julia grimaces whenever I try to order veal at a restaurant. But since I’m in charge of this fantasy, and fulfilling it myself, I’m diving in.
I turned to Greenspan's recipe for veal chops with rosemary butter, from her Around My French Table cookbook, an easy plan that lets the fantastic cut of meat do all the heavy lifting. In a skillet of hot olive oil seasoned with fresh herbs and garlic, the chops are quickly sauteed on each side (the recipe says two minutes, but I found four minutes produced a less-rare outcome). Then the pan juices from the meat serve as the basis for a sauce of white wine and chicken broth. The pat of rosemary-flecked butter may seem like overkill, but it adds a rich, earthy finish.
Accompanying the chops, I added two simple side dishes from internet chef Laura Vitale’s Laura in the Kitchen cookbook, which not only lent pleasing flavor and texture contrasts, but also made for a beautifully colorful plate. First is Vitale’s minty pea salad, which takes about 10 minutes to make, combining quick-cooked frozen peas with thinly sliced shallots and Belgian endive, and plenty of chopped mint and parsley, all tossed in red wine vinegar and olive oil.
Next up are balsamic roasted beets. Beets are another dish I like to order out, often resulting in my daughters’ rolled eyes — obviously not for the animal-rights reasons, but because they simply don’t understand my obsession with beets. This dish is particularly delicious, with the prebaked, peeled, and wedged beets paired with red onions and fresh rosemary, then drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and roasted until they are slightly caramelized.
For dessert, I turned back to the tried-and-true Greenspan’s Baking book. And why not go for the cover recipe: a triple-layered dark chocolate cake with billowy white frosting? The only problem is that those clouds of frosting are akin to marshmallow fluff, which is not only difficult to make but also not my favorite. Since Greenspan notes that the cake can be filled with “almost any thick frosting,” I opt for a rich buttercream icing instead, which nicely complements the deliciously moist chocolate-chip-studded chocolate cake.
Since my daughters have talked me into going up to New York on Sunday for a day full of surprises, I’m pretty sure this meal is not part of their secret planning. Which is really fine by me. I'm still enjoying my leftovers. Besides, Mother's Day is their day to celebrate, too, a chance to demonstrate their love in whatever way they decide.
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