Wine. Food. Reviews. Recipes. Lap it up.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


When I visited my parents shortly after my birthday in March, they gave me a tiny jar of truffles that had been intended as a Christmas present but arrived too late for that. They're sitting on a shelf over the kitchen sink now, waiting to lend their earthy flavor to some yet-to-be-determined dish.

We mentioned the truffles to my parents when we visited them on Easter Sunday, and I jokingly said that I'd have to acquire a truffle slicer so that I could use them.

"I have one of those," my mom said, to my great surprise. "In the middle kitchen drawer. If you can find it, you can have it."

After rummaging around in the drawer briefly, we found it. She had bought it at a bargain price at Big Lots or some similar place on one of the hunting-and-gathering expeditions she used to entertain herself with, and had only used it a time or two to slice mushrooms. Mom's always been full of surprises, but a truffle slicer? Laughing, I accepted it.

I just never associated my mom with truffles. Now, morels, yes -- when I was a kid she taught me how to hunt and identify them, and she, my father and I would sometimes spend time on warm Spring days in late April or early May looking around decaying logs and under May Apples in a nearby woods for the spongy delicacies, sometimes coming home empty-handed, but often taking home grocery sacks full. Upon returning home, my mom would clean them, soak them in salt water for a while, then batter and fry them, filling the house with a wonderful aroma. Then we'd feast.

Years have passed, and all of our old Morel-hunting spots have been paved over. Every now and then a morel or two will pop up in our yard and offer itself up to us, but as delicious as they always are, they're never as good as the ones Mom used to make.

There are many things that Mom used to make that I just can't duplicate. Her wonderful baked lemon chicken. Her custard. Her eggnog. The open-faced bacon and cheese on hot dog bun sandwiches, made in the oven so the bun was toasty, the bacon crisp and the cheese melty. Pork roast that made me hungrier as I ate it, and the roast beef that I requested every year for my birthday.

Mom taught me the basics about cooking -- and, for that matter, a lot of other things. And years later, when I was living on my own and learning how fulfilling cooking could be, she was my pre-Google one-stop kitchen information source. On those rare occasions that I stumped her, she delighted in ferreting out the requested information out and getting back to me.

She quit cooking after her stroke several years ago, and after she developed heart problems and diabetes her diet was controlled for her health's sake. But on special occasions she'd briefly throw caution to the winds, and go ahead and have a grilled cheeseburger or a dish of vanilla ice cream. It has been a great pleasure of mine to be cook for my family on Thanksgivings and other special days, and to try to make my mother proud of what she taught me. No matter how plain or fancy the meal, they're always a success if I use the same magic ingredient my mom did: Love.

On the Sunday after Easter, my mom went into the hospital, then to Marquette Manor for a few days, where she raved about the food. Now she's in the hospital again, and her next move will either be back to Marquette Manor or to a hospice. If we reconfigure my parents' home a bit, we might be able to provide hospice care there.

I wish I could use the power of food to bring back her health; I wish I could use the power of red wine to vanquish her cancer. I hope I can take her some home-cooked meals -- there are so many things I want her to try! I hope she can have vanilla ice cream every day for the rest of her life, and that for the rest of her life she is comfortable and free from pain.

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I think the truffles will end up in scrambled eggs some Sunday morning. And the truffle slicer my mother gave me will forever have a special place in my kitchen, and in my heart.
M. Zane Grey, 4:52 AM