When my phone lights up with the text message from one of my kids that just says, “MOMFOOD,” I know exactly what thoughts and feelings are behind those seven letters: “I’m craving something that no restaurant serves. I’m hungry for your food. Please take good care of me.”
These days, the first step in any “Momfood” recipe may well involve getting in the car or hopping on a plane. Our children are grown; three are married with children of their own, and only one child lives nearby. When our Minneapolis son calls at 5 p.m. and asks me, “What are you doing for dinner?” I can say, “I’m cooking it! Come over!” Within five minutes he and his family are sitting around our table.
For his siblings, all in Chicago, our frequent visits include days that I happily fill with cooking their favorite dishes. “We could smell the brisket as soon as we entered our apartment building,” our daughter exclaimed last week. Nothing beats the blissed-out look on their faces when they come home and see the meal that awaits them. Or the meals stocked up in the freezer.
Does food equal love? Of course it does. It is also the repository of powerful memories of childhood, family, holidays, and ordinary days. Beloved, memory-laden food is more than mere sustenance. It traverses the invisible line between body and soul, nourishing both at once. Years ago, dear friends asked their 5-year-old daughter where she would like to go for her birthday dinner. They expected to hear McDonalds or Pizza Hut. Instead, she said, “I want to have dinner at the Abrams. The food tastes the best when it is made with love, and they love me.” Truth.
Some of my favorite “Momfood” memories involve cooking in kitchens that were, to put it mildly, inadequate. When one of our sons spent a semester at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, his apartment kitchen consisted of a hotplate, a few pans, and a big mess. Our daughter’s studio apartment during law school was not much better. The fun for me was in trying to turn out a good meal under such challenging conditions.
I was not a natural born cook. In fact, when I was a new bride at the age of 22, I had a repertoire of zero recipes. Years of daily cooking for my husband and children taught me how to cook food that people would want to eat.
Here’s the secret: You don’t need hundreds of gourmet recipes. You need to master about 20 dishes that will become your family’s treasured favorites. I still try new recipes all the time, and some of those have found their way into our family’s culinary hall of fame. Nonetheless, the familiar dishes have always been my go-to, even in the “hotplate kitchen.”
While I am happiest in the role of cook and nurturer, sometimes the tables are turned in a most unforgettable way. Ten years ago I was seriously injured in a bike accident. One memory stands out from those agonizing days in the hospital. On Friday evening, just before sunset, my wonderful husband and children brought an entire, home cooked Sabbath meal into my hospital room: the very dishes I had made for them on countless Friday evenings, complete with (contraband) Sabbath candles and wine. Although I was too sick to eat more than a bite, I felt nourished, loved, and cared for in the ways that mattered most.
These days I have the run of our kids’ well-equipped kitchens. I am especially grateful to my openhearted son-in-law and daughters-in-law, who give me, their mother-in-law, free reign. Our kids are in the midst of the busy, exhausting years, juggling demanding jobs and caring for young children. A day spent cooking for them is loving, practical help.
We only get so many days in this life. When I spend the day cooking “Momfood,” I feel that I have used my time for a high purpose. This may sound hopelessly old-fashioned. I couldn’t care less. Happiness and love are found here, around a table that overflows with children, grandchildren, and food.
Check out one of my favorite “momfood” recipes below!
Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup
This soup will warm you up on the coldest night! It features wild rice, which Minnesota is known for. And it freezes beautifully.
1/2 cup uncooked wild rice
4 tablespoons margarine
2 medium onions, chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms, sliced (white, baby bella, or a mix)
1/3 cup flour
5 cups chicken broth or bouillon
1 cup whole milk or plain soy milk
1 can sliced water chestnuts
toasted slivered almonds
Cook wild rice according to package directions until tender. Drain and set aside.
Place a large saucepan over medium heat, melt margarine, and saute onions, carrots and celery until soft. Add garlic and mushrooms, saute for a few more minutes.
Add flour to the vegetables, whisking until smooth.
Cook 2 minutes as flour gradually browns, whisking constantly.
Gradually add broth; cook over medium heat, whisking continually, about ten minutes, or until mixture is thickened.
Stir in wild rice, water chestnuts, and milk/soy milk
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle generously with nutmeg, stir, and add more to taste.
Cook over medium heat 5 more minutes.
Top with toasted almonds and serve.