I don’t think there’s anything we under-appreciate more than our parents, specifically our mothers. I think it’s human nature. Our mothers do everything for us: cook, clean, drive us places, help with homework, a shoulder to cry on, everything. It’s amazing, and how often do we thank them? Rarely, if ever. Maybe on mother’s day or on their birthday, but by and large we just take them for granted.
I didn’t realize this until I moved to university. For the first time I was on my own, and I suddenly realized what that meant. No mom to help me with anything. That’s fine, I survived and even thrived, but I learned right then and there just how amazing she was all those years.
I missed her in many ways, but I think the biggest loss, the biggest regret, was giving up her cooking. By the Goddess I missed her cooking.
When you’re a kid you don’t worry about cooking. Someone just magically makes a meal for you three times a day, plus you get snacks virtually whenever you want. Sometimes we just got pizza, but the best part, my favourite part, was always my mom’s custom meals. She could make anything tasty. Pizza is tasty, of course, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t hold a candle to my mom’s anything.
I was lucky. My mom is an amazing cook. She can make all the normal stuff, the chicken and the pastas and the meatloaf, but she’s also armed with a host of ethnic dishes, generally German but also some other delicacies, items I can’t get anywhere else. Two or three times a month I’d be treated to some type of soup or salad or dessert that I could never find anywhere else.
The classic would be essig knodel. The name literally translates to vinegar dumpling, which I admit doesn’t sound that appealing. Names can be deceiving. It’s a type of bread dumpling prepared in a special way, then served with a type of vinaigrette also prepared in a special way, plus other seasonings also prepared in a special way. No, I don’t know what they are, and no, I don’t know how to make it. I only know how to eat it, and it’s delicious.
I’m not the only one. My siblings loved it, especially my brother. Any friend’s that ever came over and were lucky enough to try it loved it. In fact, I haven’t met anyone who has tried my mother’s recipe and not raved about it. It’s both tasty and different, a winning combination.
I know this, because I recently had a bowl. I haven’t had essig knodel in, gosh, years, and I fixed that in a big way. My mom made me some and I devoured it. I normally eat slow, but I couldn’t stop myself. I was in culinary heaven.
This is why moms are awesome. I got a delicious meal and I had to do no work. That’s a big deal. As an adult, I’ve grown accustomed to the monotony of cooking and preparing food. I take no joy in this. Every meal is a struggle, and that makes ordering pizza or takeout an ever-present temptation. Having one meal out of the day I don’t need to make? There’s no greater blessing.
I didn’t appreciate that as a kid. I took it for granted. Now that I’m an adult, I fully appreciate my mother’s cooking. You know what they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. I returned home to my parents’ place during summers at university, and that’s when I first truly realized how lucky I was.
Some people don’t have mothers like mine. My one friend says his mom was a terrible cook. Her idea of a gourmet meal was kraft dinner with hot dog chopped up in it. Do you love that as a kid? Absolutely. Having that every day, or even more than once a week? Yeah, it gets old quickly. Other mothers are simply average cooks, and that’s fine, but it makes my mother all the more special.
I remember the exact moment I appreciated my mother’s cooking. It was my first or second week at university. I had a meal plan, so I could go to any campus eatery and get something charged to my account. I never had to cook, which I loved, and I ate at a different place every day. During the week I had lots of options, but on weekends only a few places opened.
I stopped at a home-style breakfast place, and after scanning the menu I decided on pancakes. I loved pancakes. Who doesn’t? I placed my order and waited patiently, and a few minutes later my name was called and I happily grabbed my … what the hell is this?
It was batter. That’s it. They had some sort of instant-mix pancake batter, or maybe they had one of those jugs that you just pour ready-made batter out of. They fried the batter and tried to call that a pancake. I guess to most of the world, that’s exactly what a pancake is. That’s not how I grew up, though.
My mom always made her own batter from scratch. It’s not that hard, but she did something to it that made it extra tasty. She tended to make many smaller pancakes rather than a few big ones. She always added fruit, blueberries or apples or bananas, and she drizzled cinnamon and brown sugar on the finished product. You didn’t even need to add syrup, though I usually put some on half the plate. Adding some yogurt on top made it perfect.
I suppose these are closer to crepes, or what most people call crepes. She made her own crepes in a slightly different way, but it doesn’t matter. When I ordered pancakes that day, that’s what I imagined. I wanted to eat that. I licked my lips in anticipation, ready to gorge myself on blueberry or apple pancakes, and then I got plain, colourless pancakes instead.
That was the exact moment I realized how amazing my mother’s cooking was, and I never longed for it more than that morning. I’ve had several similar moments, mostly at university. My first non-mom meatloaf was hilarious, as I was expecting something far … better than I received. I ordered a Caesar salad and then wondered why bacon bits were thrown all around. Mom used real bacon or none at all.
This is why, whenever I get a chance, I get a home-cooked meal. Yes, it’s easier for me, not having to cook myself, and yes, it’s better than my own cooking, but it’s deeper than that. This is the food I grew up with, and I never learned how to make it myself, not like mom makes it at least. Every bite is a reminder of a simpler life, of growing up, and that’s a treat of which I’ll never grow tired.