We walked into my parents’ house this past Sunday and were greeted not by my mom and dad, but the wonderful aroma that can only be produced when butter, flour, and sugar are mixed together. With that first breath, I let out a hearty sigh. This is what I connect to home, to comfort, to knowing that everything is okay in this world.
On that morning, four generations, which included my grandparents, mom and dad, my sister, her husband, and their one-month old daughter, gathered for brunch. We consumed heaping servings of blintz souffle and bagels with smoked salmon, and platters of sliced ripe tomatoes and cucumber.
Looking around the table, everyone was bubbling with joy. The women in particular seemed to be glowing. The week before Mother’s Day, it’s understandable why they would be. In past years, it was just like any other day. But this year is different. With Ayla, the new addition to the family, it seems just a bit more special.
Following the main meal, we all moved ourselves to the back patio, where we sat on wicker furniture and enjoyed our last sips of coffee. My grandmother held her great-granddaughter in her arms, just as she held me when I was Ayla’s age, and gave her a gentle kiss on the top of her head.
To end the afternoon, my mom made a gorgeous sour cream coffee cake, a recipe which came from Ina Garten. This is one darn good coffee cake. When I suggested to my sister that we split a piece (surprisingly, I was full… a rare occurrence), at first she said ok. After the first bite, however, that slice was hers. There was no way she was going to allow me anywhere near her plate.
It wasn’t until about six months ago that I started to purchase cookbooks. Prior to that, the only books in my collection were the few that my mother and Eric purchased for me; a limited selection of the essentials: The Joy of Cooking, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and The Cake Bible (which, shamefully, I have yet to dig into). There are plenty of cookbooks that I’ve flipped through at bookstores, that I look at merely for their drool inducing photos (which we aptly refer to as “food porn”). But there are others, like the ones I just listed, that I enjoy because of how eloquently they describe the cooking process.
What separates these books from others are how they inspire people to experiment in the kitchen. Those books— classics, if you ask me— can create cooks out of those who have never picked up a knife.
The books that I have acquired since then (mostly as birthday or holiday gifts) I hold dear to my heart. They range in region and themes, focusing on everything from baking to cocktails. There was Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, Joanne Chang’s Flour Bakery Cookbook, Abby Dodge’s Desserts 4 Today, John Besh’s My New Orleans and many others. All of these books have challenged me in various ways. On one hand, Flour has become my resource for more complex baking techniques, something I’m just beginning to dabble in. On the other, Abby’s book brings things to a more basic level and shows how, really, just a few ingredients are all you need for a wonderfully decadent dessert.
Overall, this is an incredibly exciting time in terms of cookbook writing. Voices are strong, the quality of production is exquisite, and the recipes speak volumes about the constant shift in how people cook.
Leaning over the kitchen sink, my mother and I would stand side by side, laughing and sharing stories from our day, as we trimmed big bags of green beans. I must admit that the painstaking process of going through all of those haricot verts, breaking off their woody ends, was not my favorite thing in the world. But spending time with my mom and having those memories of us bonding in such a simple, delightful way, is why I have a special place in my heart for green beans.
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been seeing a lot more of them in our CSA box. The experience of cleaning them isn’t the same without my mother standing next to me, but the process always reminds me of those wonderful moments.
When cooking green beans, I’m a firm believer (and I’m sure many would agree) that the crunchier they are, the better. When preparing them, I tend to toss the green beans into boiling water for just a couple of minutes and quickly throw them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.
This leaves the hue of the beans vibrant and does not result in them being limp, as you will often find them when dining out.