Often when we think of “comfort” words all too familiar come rushing to our hearts – “home,” “childhood,” “family,” and perhaps most often, “Mom.” I admit, I am no different and it’s way past over due for a piece on the woman who taught me life’s greatest lessons around a kitchen counter.
You see, I was a bubbly eyed, chubby cheeked, puppy-stomached munchkin who had a vice grip on her mother’s back pocket. One thumb-sucking hand stuck to my mouth and the other kept me glued to my mother’s side – I nearly ripped the pocket off after years of hanging around. To this day, I tribute much of my love for food to my mother who let me stay by her side no matter where she was – depositing checks at the bank, picking up grandma from church, buying groceries at the market…and most notably in the kitchen.
Specifically, our kitchen counter. Yes, the counter, not the dining table and not the stove. Unlike many homes, the kitchen I grew up in doesn’t have an island. Instead it has a spacious counter that connects to the stove and separates the kitchen from the dining area. Extremely functional, we used this counter as a space to cook and to pass food over between the dining table and the kitchen. The counter also served many other purposes like a space to do our homework, talk story, and capture countless birthday photos.
First, I was a tiny three year old splayed out on this spacious Formica counter top, licking away at the leftover cake batter on a spatula the size of my face. This is how I learned, “bake with room temperature ingredients” and to “always mix the wet ingredients before adding the dry.” In other words, prepare in life, and don’t be lazy.
Then, it was me holding the spatula and learning how to count to thirty-two. Though it was dad who figured out that thirty-two stirs was the magic number for perfectly mixed brownie batter, nonetheless another lesson learned on the counter. Other than learning how to count, this one was a matter of focus and self-discipline. As much as I wanted to keep mixing away at the sticky chocolatey batter or “accidentally” let my tiny fingers get coated in batter only so that I could lick it off – I still wanted to have a perfectly fudgy brownie to dunk in my milk…yes, we dunked brownies too.
As I grew older, I learned how to cook dinners for my family. My older siblings were active in youth sports, and often mom would be driving them to practice or a game. I however, opted to remain home rather than wander around in the bleachers. One day, my mom left the ingredients for dinner out on the counter to prepare when she returned home. But one restless day, I decided to take matters into my own hands and cook dinner on my own. For years to follow, my mother trusted me with the task of preparing week night dinners. Surely it was no chore to me, and my mom was extremely grateful I took after her in the kitchen.
This is the lesson I remember the most, where my mom taught me the feeling of nourishing others with a meal prepared by your own hands.
To be able to see the grateful and content faces of my family after sipping on the soup I so lovingly cooked was nothing short of cozy.
Having learned all this from my mother, surely I wanted to dedicate a Comfort Food Diary to her. So when I asked my mom what her comfort food was, I was left in a gooey puddle of nostalgia.
No, it was not a food from her childhood or from her mother, it fact it is a comfort food she knew as a mother to her children. It is a comfort food my family grew up baking and eating on this magical, mystical, counter. The counter behind which we captured the countless family gatherings, celebrations, and birthdays. Where all the kids got to blow out a candle, no matter whose birthday it was.
Her comfort food? Chocolate Chip Cookies. Yes, the quintessential “teach your kids how to bake” recipes was the center of birthday celebrations, Christmas festivities, and simple Sundays in the kitchen.
Like many mothers, mine is a masterful multitasker and worshiper of multipurpose activities. You see, aside from being able to spend time with her kids my mom especially loved baking cookies for these specific reasons:
One: It’s quick, it’s easy, and this is what you need when dealing with kids and severely limited attention spans. Touché, mama.
Two: Baking involves accurate measurement and follows a recipe. She taught us fractions, math, and precision.
Three: There is a procedure to baking and she patiently walked us through each of the steps so we didn’t turn out with rock hard cookies at the end. Patience, careful reading of instructions, actually following the instructions, memory…she covered it all.
But most importantly, she loved to bake cookies because it gave me and my siblings choices. Whoever’s birthday it was got to choose what kind of cookie we would bake. We were given the freedom to be creative and express our own preferences, and everyone got their turn.We were always happy that it was someone’s birthday even it it wasn’t our own, because that meant, cookies! My brother’s favorite was a Mrs. Field’s Marble Cookie Recipe, my sister was a fan of oatmeal raisin, and I loved a good chunky, macadamia nut, chocolate chip cookie. And I still do really.
My mother’s nostalgia for cookies celebrates the joys of bringing up children and cherishing these precious moments together. And I don’t blame her for choosing cookies as her comfort food…just have a look at these smiles!