Cooking for Mom

My mother may not have been the world's most adventurous eater, but she knew what she liked and what she liked she made well. Growing up I was often in the kitchen because I was always hanging out with my mom, and she was almost always hanging out in the kitchen. I liked to cook and my sister, Jen, liked to bake. Mom could do both well which was always a source of exasperation for me. Things just seemed to come naturally to her.

But that's because Mom grew up cooking. She grew up on a farm and that meant there was always hard-working folk who needed meals. Mom and her sisters not only worked the farm, they were in charge of the kitchen and I will readily admit my siblings and I benefited from it.

We recently lost my mother to cancer, but I'm gratefull the majority of her family was able to spend the last couple of weeks with her. I was lucky enough to benefit from my sister coming down from Seattle to help me take care of Mom. We did the one thing we knew we could do well and that she would enjoy. We cooked for her.

Jen is a phenomenal baker. Don't even get me started on her pie crust. I have never had the patience for all the measuring and attention to detail, but as I watched her bake loaf after loaf of bread the week she was here, it became apparent to me that she didn't really pay attention to detail either, and measuring seemed hit and miss. Some people just have a gift.

The last week we spent with Mom was tough on everyone, but obviously on her. She wasn't able to do much but watch all of us bustling around trying to keep her comfortable. But when we mentioned Jen was pulling out the flour, yeast and baking powder, her eyes lit up and she demanded to be wheeled in to the kitchen so she could watch all of the action.

I'm including Jenny's bread recipe below - she uses it to make loaf bread, bread braids (I made that word up) and cinnamon rolls. The recipe is totally Jenny style: no mundane list of ingredients and boring instructions. The recipe was given to me step-by-step as she made the bread, so that's how I've shared it below.

Jenny's Bread

Warm a Kitchen Aid Mixer bowl under warm water, dry, and put in 2 cups warm water. To the water add 2 1/4 tablespoons of yeast. Stir to incorporate. Add one tablespoon of raw honey, preferably locally sourced. Let this sit for 5 minutes covered with a towel. Using the paddle attachment, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, 3 more tablespoons of honey and two cups flour. Mix together using the paddle attachment until it all comes together, then switch to dough hook. Add up to 3 more cups flour, one at a time to see how the dough feels before adding another, but don't add more than three.

At this point, you want the dough to be somewhat sticky still because you're going to be adding flour to the dough when you knead it and you don't want the dough to become too dry. Dump the dough onto a floured work surface. Have a pile of flour handy to dip the heels of your hand in while you knead the dough. Knead for at least ten minutes. You'll know it's ready when an indentation you make in the ball of dough springs back.

Wash out the mixing bowl and wipe the inside with butter. Let the ball of dough rise in the bowl (turn the ball over and over in the bowl to cover it with the butter). Cover the bowl with a towel and let it double in size. Keep it warm.

Punch the dough down. At this point, you're ready to make two loaves of dough, or one loaf of dough and some cinnamon rolls. Or one loaf of dough and one bread braid. Or one bread braid and ... you see where this is going ...

For the loaves, cut the dough ball in half and place each half  in a buttered loaf pan. Cover and let the dough rise again for 30 min to hour. You want it to double.

Bake at 375 for 25 min. Remove from pan immediately and cool.

To say we went on a carb overload that week would be an understatement, but I don't believe Mom would've wanted it any other way. I think Jen will admit there are things we make of hers (biscuits and gravy, her fried chicken, "eggs-er-onious") that will never come close to how hers tasted, but more importantly, we will have the best time ever remembering her as we try our darndest to make this next batch taste half as good as hers ...

I tried and tried to get Mom to try all the oddball food I've gotten into the past few years: fish tacos, dim sum, anything hot and spicy. I'm proud to say she never turned anything down. She always tried everything once - then honestly told me she didn't like it and asked me to pass the plate of ripe tomatoes which she generously dusted with salt and pepper.

Love you Momma. Always and forever.