Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day: Roast Turkey Wings

I remember seeing John Mortimer's A Voyage 'Round My Father when I lived in England, and the TV production ends with Mortimer saying in a voice-over. "How did I feel when my father died? Sad." The implication was: "don't invest all of these complicated meanings into your relationships with your parents--fundamentally the loss of the people who love you is just...sad."

I wonder if any woman could write that about her mother.

If my mother was still alive, I doubt I would have a food blog.  My mother supported me in all of my writing endeavors, even when no one else would do so.  I lived with her for the last few years of her life, before she passed away from lung cancer.

She never would have gotten rid of the oven that set off the smoke alarm every time we cooked. The oven was as old as the house, which was built in the 1950s. Several of the knobs were attached by scotch tape. Nothing remotely resembling real food had emerged from that oven since 1990, including a oddly puffy batch of Martha Stewart chocolate chip cookies I attempted, a year after my mother died. It was the first time I baked from scratch.  They resembled oyster crackers with chocolate chips . I got a new oven several months later.

After her divorce my mother took to microwaving her meat. Her chicken soup was boiled chicken, a carrot, celery, and no spices at all. "I like my food plain," she'd say.

Yet in so many ways my mother was right about food. She told me I'd function better if I ate lots of green vegetables and plain meats, rather than the sweets and processed foods I favored as a child, then embraced in their vegetarian incarnations in my late adolescence and 20s.  She told me that steak was best medium rare, as I chronicled in an earlier essay about her food habits here.  She knew how to pick out a great restaurant although she said that, more and more, it wasn't worth going out to eat because the quality of food was going downhill all over. She'd buy me ice cream as a kid even though it went against her beliefs because she loved me.

She did love pizza, and threw fabulous birthday parties with me when I was small, all of which featured pizza or McDonald's and Carvel ice cream cakes in some form.

She worked full-time, often overtime, while caring for my chronically ill grandmother. For the last five years of my grandmother's life, my mother slept about four hours a night, roused frequently by my grandmother's cries.  She fed my grandmother what my grandmother would eat, the cravings of an old woman: Dum-Dum Lollypops, Entenmann's raspberry strudel, coffee, tiny sandwiches.

Caring for others formed the structure of my mother's life. My mother went to work at sixteen to support her mother and two younger siblings, and had to get her GED rather than graduate with her class.  She got her associates degree from a local community college in her early 60s. She did everything around the house for my grandmother, including many stereotypically male tasks like cleaning the gutters. Fearless on a ladder, the was also nervous and anxious, and would freak out if I rode my bike outside of the driveway. She often caused me to fear more things, rather than to be more reckless, and I would take risks, hear her voice in my head, and then pull back.

She listened to my phone conversations and went through my garbage.  She painted everything white, including my room when I wanted it another color. She drove me to various crazy summer programs I wanted to attend and helped me financially through college. She wanted me to be the great, famous writer/actress/director I wanted to become but she was also jealous of the life and friends away from her. She couldn't understand why I wasn't more social, even though she chose to work at an office job where she could come in early and get her work done with minimal supervision and interaction with co-workers. She judged myself and herself by different standards--some of which were higher for me, others of which were not.

She bought me many, many toys, stuffed animals, and above all books to fuel my imagination. She helped me carry my computer many places. She never threw even her oldest computers out, and I do admit feeling good about throwing out the three full-sized monitors that she had dusted and kept pristine for years "just in case they come in handy." She never threw me out every time I came back to the house in my teens, no matter how much we fought.  I wanted independence, but it felt so hard-won because she did not fully desire that, subconsciously. Both she and I wanted my independence and dependence at the same time and that was confusing in my adolescence.

She told me I should cook rather than eat so much processed food, and she was right, although she didn't really cook herself.  My mother, even when married to my father, had completely different tastes from both of us. She liked cottage cheese, green beans, steak.  She put her own preferences second.  Dad liked half a box of pasta, red sauce, half a can of Parmesan cheese on top of that, a brick of Munster cheese and several apples for dessert.  Me, I would have been happy to eat birthday cake, McDonald's fries and chunks of pepperoni. 

But I've changed mother, since then, I've changed.  I would like to meet you again as the newly responsible me.  But if I did, would I fall back into bad, old habits?  You would look at the lawn and complain that I had gotten an electric mower, which, no matter how reliable, you would see as inferior to your thirty-year-old Lawn-Boy that often took the assistance of two men to start.  You would hate the new oven because it worked. You would be proud of some of the things I have done, though.

I did weed yesterday, mom, not nearly as well as you used to, but I did. I am trying new things, which both you and my father never liked to do. Although I'm on the record as not liking turkey, I saw these turkey wings on sale at Wegmans--antibiotic free and organic--and I couldn't resist the bargain.  I roasted them for an hour and twenty minutes (about 1.5 pounds) with thyme sprigs, oregano, sea salt, and paprika.  Covered them, took off the cover only the last ten minutes to minimize the fat splattering around. I'll give them a try today.


  1. I always like your posts about your mom. She's interesting and there's something I find admirable about her ascetic nature, and you write about her beautifully.

  2. @flurrious--thank you so much! She was a bit of an ascetic, without a religion, so she took care of her house and her own mother with a kind of zealous, secular faith.

  3. Mary this is such a beautifully written post. Only matched by the beautiful insights behind it.

  4. @Shannon--thank you so much! Mother's Day is a very special day--although I fight it, because of the fact my mother is no longer with me, I am still glad that it is there, so we can honor the mothers who are still with us and remember those who are not.

  5. That's my idea of Mother's Day!