Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!

This story first appeared in the monthly column I wrote for the Falmouth Bulletin entitled: "Lessons from Val's Kitchen".  It was published in May 2009.

My Every Day, Extraordinary Super Mom

I have been wracking my brain, trying to recall an event or incident that fully describes the essence of my mother, Val; one that encapsulates how extraordinary she is.  Here in lies the problem: nothing in particular comes to mind.  Nothing stands out from the rest.  Sure, she has been there to fight for me when my sophomore English teacher did not want to let me out of 10th period early enough to make an away field hockey game.  She baked countless batches of chocolate chip cookies for school parties and bake sales.  Chauffeur, prom gown seamstress, brownie troop leader, the list of sacrifices goes on and on.  Still nothing.

I recently wrote in a letter to a publisher: “So, who is Val?  She’s my mother and I wrote the [cook] book about her.  It seemed there isn’t anything she can’t do.  She refinishes furniture, makes wedding gowns and farms her own organic garden. Then she takes a break to make dinner: quahog chowder with homemade bread or barbecued chicken with a cool and creamy cucumber salad and blueberry pie for dessert.” It’s all true, pretty awesome day in and day out.   If you know Val, you can vouch for me.

In my attempt to find that “nugget” of a memory that would tell the complete story, perfectly depicting my mother’s love, I’ve come to realize that the mundane stuff, the everyday, small acts of caring, are what is the most important.  I actually had this epiphany when I was rigging up a pair of adult sized headphones for my five year old daughter to wear on her tiny head. Sometimes, tying my son’s shoes for the tenth time in one day, can grate on my nerves, still other moments I cherish as I acknowledge the swiftly passing time.   The little things I took for granted from my own childhood have formed pebble by pebble into a mountain of memories. Crisp clothes fresh from the clothes line, going to the beach every day for swimming lessons during summer vacation, even when storm clouds threatened  (“You need to learn to swim in all types of weather!”), clichéd phrases: “You’re treading on thin ice!”, a favorite meal to celebrate my birthday, it was all Val’s way to say, “I love you.”

One day in these last few years (it has all run together for me ), an elderly woman stopped me in the grocery store while I was trying to control my unruly children who both wanted to push the carriage without the help of the other one.

“The days are long but the years are short…” she said with a wistful smile.

At that moment I was thinking about how incredibly long my day had already been trying to keep Ava and Declan from killing each other.  I smiled and nodded my head in agreement.

I think of that phrase often as my children are growing up so fast.  How did Ava get to be five years old already?  How am I forty?  Where did all of those moments go?  The ones that the parenting magazines tell you to put in a scrap book or a time capsule?  Just like kids do, it’s easy for moms and dads to take mundane life for granted, too. It makes me wonder if Val ever felt frustrated and too tired to make dinner or help with homework.  That’s when it hit me.  Of course she was tired and overwhelmed and sick of explaining fractions for the umpteenth time.  The thing is, I never knew it.

I can only hope to strive to be like Val: patient and loving even when it seemed like I didn’t deserve it.  She created a consistent life where it was safe to be a little naughty and “tread on thin ice!” because I knew she would still love me.  She has always been there to pick me up when I fall down or just to lend a helping hand when I feel like I’m failing.

I just got annoyed because I had to stop writing yet again to see why my son is crying. He has been fussing all afternoon over his sister’s teasing and a toy that won’t work the way he wants it to.  As I got out of my chair and stormed over to the door in disgust, I saw that he had fallen and scraped his knee.  Real tears ran down his cheeks as he said between sobs, “I-I want my m-m-mommy!” My feelings of frustration gave way to a desire to comfort when I scooped him up and held him close to shush his sobs and wipe his tears.  He nestled his face into the crook of my neck and took a long deep breath.  Just the kind I like to do when I hug my own mother and inhale her perfume. It may not seem extraordinary to anyone else, but it is always there when I need it.


Enjoy these breads toasted and smeared with butter and jam for breakfast, served with ice cream for dessert or like Val does, alongside a cup of hot cocoa.  They are versatile and understated.  She bakes a batch and puts a few in the freezer so there is always a snack at the ready for comforting a small child’s bruised shins or an adult child’s bruised ego.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

(Makes 3 small loaves)

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cup sugar, divided

3 eggs

2 teaspoons lemon extract

grated rind of one lemon

¼ cup poppy seeds

2 cups flour

1 cup buttermilk

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

½ cup lemon juice


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and dust with flour 3 small loaf pans (6”x3”x2”).

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and 1 cup sugar for two minutes, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one by one beating well after each addition. Beat in lemon rind, lemon extract and poppy seeds.

Add 1 cup flour, beat well. Add buttermilk, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat in remaining cup of flour until just mixed. Pour into prepared pans. Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and a knife inserted comes out clean.

While loaves are baking, in a saucepan, combine ½ cup sugar and lemon juice to make syrup. Heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let rest until loaves are done cooking.

Poke small holes in top of cooked warm loaves with a toothpick. Pour syrup over top of loaves reserving a small portion of syrup for the bottom of the loaves.  Let rest for 15 minutes. Turn loaves out onto a cooling rack and brush bottoms of loaves with remaining syrup. Cool completely, slice and serve.

*Can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen.



Holiday Cranberry Bread

(Makes 3 small loaves or one large)

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

grated rind and juice from one orange

2 tablespoons butter (very soft)

¾ cup boiling water

1 egg

1 ½ cups raw cranberries, cut in half by hand*

½ cup chopped walnuts


Grease 3 small loaf pans or one large one.

In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine orange rind, juice, soft butter, boiling water, and egg.  Add dry ingredients, cranberries and walnuts. Mix by hand (as not to crush cranberries) until combined. Pour into prepared pans and let stand for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake a large sized loaf for 60-70 minutes and the smaller loaves for 25-35 minutes until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes and turn bread out of pan(s) back onto rack to continue cooling for at least 30 minutes.  Slice and serve.

*Val cuts each cranberry in half to reveal star pattern in the middle of the fruit. It makes a better presentation and larger chunks than chopping them in the food processor. Do what you like.



Andrea Norris lives in East Falmouth, just a few miles away from a comforting hug and a warm slice of Lemon Poppy Seed Cake. Check out her blog:

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