Cooking It Forward

How do you express your love? Some people rely on a Valentine’s dinner, or reveal their feelings with a supportive word and a tender embrace. Others show their affection by cooking a meal for those they care about. I am, unabashedly, one of the latter.

During my childhood, love was often overshadowed by my mother’s mental illness. Every day, my father tried to combat that darkness by coming home from work, stripping off his jacket and tie, and setting pots out on the stove. Unlike today, it was unusual for a man to don an apron, but Dad had resolved to create a happy family dinner table–something he hoped would give my sister and me the stability we needed so badly in the wake of my mother’s ups and downs.

His food was always simple, whatever he could manage between five and six o’clock. Unfortunately, once we all sat down, his effort was often swamped by tension. Love crept out of sight: my mother sometimes refused to eat at all, and Dad grew silent and angry. None of it was anyone’s fault. It was just the way it was.

Over time, I became interested in cooking with Dad, and he passed along his family recipes, complete with secret tips. I learned how to slow bake a chicken slathered in butter, or put together a tasty spaghetti sauce infused with garlic, or simmer beef stew till the house became redolent with the fragrances of marjoram and thyme.

By the time I was in high school, we were discovering together the joy of new recipes for increasingly elaborate foods, as we both grew more adept: oven-baked chicken morphed into Chicken Cordon Bleu, and soon there was an Al Sexton’s Never Fail Hollandaise sauce for the Eggs Benedict now listed on so many upscale brunch menus.

You can find the AL SEXTON’S NEVER FAIL HOLLANDAISE sauce recipe below!

When I had my sons, I became determined–perhaps unconsciously–to rewrite the history of those past childhood dinnertimes so filled with tension. Everything I made was a way of honoring my father and the emotional security he’d tried so hard to give my sister and me, symbolically, by cooking a good meal.

I made Dad’s old recipes, but also tackled the newer and more sophisticated ones that the 90’s introduced, with its fresh approach to home cooking. Goat cheese and Niçoise olives became familiar ingredients, and my kids learned to like Chicken Marbella and rotini Bolognese. In addition to bringing love, I was also having an adventure. Even with Dad no longer by my side, it was fun! Cooking is no different for me today.

Once the children were of school age and out of their high chairs, the dinner table became a place of peace, conversation and connection. The round oak table drew us close, after our hectic daily schedules were complete. I had triumphed over dinnertime silence.

I cherished our time together, and it appeared the feeling was mutual. The kids always said: “Thank you, Mom! This is really good!”–even if my culinary experiment had failed. Their appreciation buoyed me as I tackled the chore of supermarket runs, or peeling heaps of potatoes for latkes, or putting on everyone’s favorite cinnamon applesauce through the food mill. As the years passed, my happiness helped me, at least in part, to believe I was a “good enough” mother.

A while back, my son and his fiancé asked me to teach them to make the meatloaf Dad had invented, as well as the egg twist challah I’d begun baking when I converted to Judaism forty-two years ago. Now, the two of them occasionally send me a text photo of the meatloaf they have shaped so carefully. Dad’s love has been passed along.

To me, looking at their photo is a reward. A reward for those years of hovering over the stove when my kids were little and ensuring that the pot roast would be tender, as well as an affirmation of the love my father passed along during those years when we cooked side-by-side so companionably. A new generation has been touched by the legacy we created together. And so I say: “Thanks, Dad.” And to my son, my message is clear: “Please pay it forward.” That’s all any of us can ask–that the love be handed down.



 Place in Electric Blender:

4 eggs yolks at room temperature

¼ teaspoon salt

Dash of Tabasco

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Blend everything at high speed.

Meanwhile, melt 1 stick salted butter in saucepan. When hot and

bubbling, (but not turning brown), pour slowly into running blender.

It will thicken right away. Serve immediately.

N.B. If you need to increase recipe, do so in individual batches,

keeping the previous one warm in a double boiler or a small pan

within a larger pan that is set into warm water. 

Then combine the batches.


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