I’m gonna miss those fingers. Although let me tell you this, it’s not so much the pickled beets I’m missing, it’s talking about the pickled beets. The first thing you learn after losing a loved one is that they are not there. I mean, this sounds so obvious, dare I say stupid, putting it on (virtual) paper. What I mean, you want to say something, share something, and you cannot. It hit me hard when I finally visited the Northbrook Farmer’s Market, where my mom volunteered. I wanted to say, loved the farmer’s market. I couldn’t. It’s happened on a few other things. It will happen many times hence. One thing I do not need to say to my Mom was we share interests. She knew that.
It’s funny, put my Dad and I behind a scrim and get us talking. You would not know father from son. Plus or minus a few white hairs, we look pretty close. Still, get us talking about politics, and, well let me tell you this also about Mom, it was not the conversations she relished, because if nothing else him and I share tendency to explode. We are and are not like our parents. Are, with Mom, was a lot. I shall say the habits of disarray that my kids inherited from me go back to her. Let us, however not dwell there. Let us talk about how my Mom was a Chowhound way before Jim Leff anointed the tribe.
In fact, my Mom was a Chowhound a reader and occasional poster on the site. Being a very early adopter of the home PC and the home PC network (rigged up by my old college roommate as a side job), she had no problem navigating Chowhound or later LTHForum. I will say these days, her Instagram feed consisted of many dog pictures interspersed with my food shots. The extent of her food photography, is almost entirely within this post.
All that I love dear in food. All that obsesses me. Occupies much of my time. Bores those of lesser passions starts with Mom. Gifted in the kitchen, my youngest years were filled with delicious memories of the mundane and the grand. She had a way with Open Pit, her, what would get me murdered in certain circles for calling it this, bbq chicken, was my favorite dish for many years. I liked the meatloaf, the lamb chops, pizza burgers. Only the calves liver did not carry over to me (until I hit about 40). At holiday times she excelled in matzah balls, sinkers was her way; excellent gravy for the turkey; as I said, myself and the rest of the family did not like liver when she cooked it plain, but add soft, near burnt onions and lots of hard-boiled eggs, we were all of the school that our Mom made the best chopped liver. She was the keeper of “grandma’s tzimmes”, a recipe passed down from my Dad’s grandmother. Preserving heirloom recipes like that mattered to her and thus to me. Another tradition she strongly held, a Yom Kippur break-fast consisting of hard boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, whipped butter, herring and black bread. She eagerly ventured across cuisines and traditions too, her meatball tagine one of the reasons I once found myself in Morocco. When the family got wealthier she changed my favorite dish to rack of lamb with a Dijon mustard crust. Her effect did not end in the dining room.
My parents were adventurous and interested diners: chowhounds. About once a month they went with their friend Marv and his current wife to exotica like Miramar’s Serbian or something else bold. They took the initiative back to us, my sister and I. I know we were eating Korean food before anyone else. I think of this Mexican restaurant, in the back of a grocery, they would take us to in the then seedy area, yes! around Webster and Sheffield. Some meals I only experienced vicariously. Each year my Dad would get the “letter,” essentially permission from his boss to expense any, any meal they wanted. If they got it today, it would certainly be Alinea. In their time, it was Le Francais. I adored hearing of the many courses, the pates and terrines, game and all, the next morning. That’s not all when it came to influences.
Going into my senior year in high school, my mother opened a store in Niles. Originally, the store focused on storage and related, Container Store way ahead of its time, but gradually the housewares section expanded and became the focus. I worked there, learning the superiority of German knives and what the hell that little thing with the tiny round holes was for–zesting. I parlayed that job into a college job at a gourmet store in Washington DC. Amongst all the kitchen junk we have in the Bungalow, some of it came from the store in Niles, Sorting it Out.
Those years growing up, my Mom cooked a lot of great stuff. When it came to baking, her speciality was bundt cake from a box. Like me now, she did not enjoy the precision of baking. Boring. Likewise, she did not can. It scared her she said. Until she retired and had time on her hands. She became an baker, supplying her synagogue with treats all the time. I’m bias, but I love her challah. But canning. Let me wrap this up here. In recent years, there were two things most special at Thanksgiving. One, the breads my mother made, old timey things like anadama. Two, the elaborate relish platter she put together. some of the platter consisted of smart shopping a Roth Kase cheese or some good olives, the heart of the plate were the things she made: roasted peppers (2 ways!); chow chow; pickled tomatoes; the relishes needed their own plate. The relishes formed a symbiotic role for us. The more I loved what she made, the more she would make, and the more she would make, the more I’d love them. It was near the end of last summer, before an oxygen prescription shut down her kitchen that she made that batch of pickled beets shown, leaving her fingers stained. I’m really gonna miss those beets.