If there's any one person I could ask for menu ideas--particularly for a menu designed with my mother in mind--it's Ruth Reichl. In her first memoir, Tender at the Bone, strong memories of her mother find their way into her vignettes as she reflects on how her love of food and cooking was born. Reichl returns to that period of her life in Not Becoming My Mother, not as much to explore her own origins, but to learn more about who her mother, Miriam, really was. In the telling--and it's told in the frank, funny, inquisitive style we've come to know and love in Ruth Reichl--she uncovers the roots of Miriam's lifelong unhappiness, but she also realizes how she forged from life's disappointments a remarkable strength. That force of will may be the exceptional way in which Ruth Reichl is like her mother, and she pays a worthy tribute to her life and love in this new memoir.
Anyone who reads Gourmet as religiously as I do should also be enormously thankful that what Miriam *didn't* pass on to her daughter was her devil-may-care culinary sensibilities (the description of "Mim's" ingenious chocolate pudding concoction in the opening pages is enough to send anyone running for the hills). Though of course, Ruth may not have developed her legendary palate were not for those regrettable childhood meals. As you head towards this Mother's Day weekend (perhaps scratching your head still for inspiration on what to do for the moms in your life), we're happy to share Ruth's favorite recipes for a delicious brunch to break out this Sunday, or any old Sunday you please. --Anne
Ruth Reichl's Mother's Day Brunch
Why does everyone think that every mother is longing to be served breakfast in bed? The last time my family regaled me with a lovely Mother’s Day tray, the cats pounced, instantly dousing me with hot coffee. As I scrambled away from the scalding liquid the vase holding the rose came crashing down, inundating the sheets. They promptly wound themselves around my legs, pinning me to the bed. As I struggled to extricate myself from the soggy sheets the plate of pancakes tipped over, tumbling them into the bed. Within minutes I had butter in my hair and maple syrup on my toes. Although this was many years ago, the egg yolk stain on my best silk nightgown is there as a reminder.
“Wasn’t that great Mom?” asked Nick. “Dad and I are going to bring you breakfast in bed every Mother’s Day.”
I looked around at the ruined kitchen, took a deep breath and said, “Fabulous!” And then I began thinking up ways to stave off this future treat. It was, after all, kindly meant. Pondering my options, I came up with the idea of holding an annual Mother’s Day brunch. “You can help me cook!” I promised Nick. That was a long time ago, but the Mother’s Day brunch remains a firm family tradition. The menu changes from year to year, but I find that planning the annual feast is great fun. This is what I’ll be serving this year.
Screwdrivers made with fresh blood orange juice
Blood oranges are suddenly everywhere, and they produce the most beautiful juice. They’re expensive, but how can you resist something that looks like sunrise in a glass? Simply squeeze as many blood oranges as you can afford, and add 2 ounces of vodka for each person.
Bacon and Cheddar Toasts
It’s always a good idea to have something ready for your guests to eat, just in case they show up while you’re still cooking. These absurdly decadent (and remarkably easy) bacon and cheddar toasts will keep your guests happy while they wait.
Breakfast Shrimp with Grits
I spent some time in Charleston, South Carolina this winter, where I developed an absolute passion for breakfast shrimp and grits. If there’s a better way to start the day, I haven’t found it. Tender shrimp are bathed in a gentle gravy and ladled over soft stone ground grits. This very traditional recipe, borrowed from my friend Scott Peacock, is made with grits that require a fair amount of stirring. Any other day of the year this might pose a problem, but it’s Mother’s Day, and you will surely have a few helpers to lend a hand.
Asparagus has now become a year-round vegetable, but they are never as good as they are in the spring. They serve as a perfect reminder of the great pleasures of eating foods in their season, and I can’t get enough of them. Early in the day this simple preparation--cold asparagus in a vinaigrette topped with a dice of hard-boiled eggs--is especially refreshing.
You could serve regular coffee, herbal tea, or cappuccino to your guests. But if you want to really wow them, try this unusual preparation, which is a specialty of the little coffee shops of Hanoi. Strong coffee is beaten into whipped eggs and sugar to create something that is halfway between a mousse and a drink, but totally delicious.
Berry Cake with Mascarpone
A simple buttermilk cake, filled with mascarpone and topped with mounds of sherry-soaked berries, has the odd ability to look exactly like an Easter bonnet. It’s gorgeous, it tastes wonderful, and as your friends sit eating the last of the crumbs, it will make them very reluctant to leave your table.