It’s amazing how much about my mom’s life I learned through her death.
I alwaysknew Mom was a very private person. Yet, her funeral boasted myriad outsiders
who were somehow touched by Mom; it was my window into her true depth of
compassion for others, even during her personal cancer struggle. The receiving
line represented grieving people from all walks of her life: the Russian manicurist
who looked forward to seeing my mom every week for the last eight years (even
during her marathon chemo infusion days), the dry cleaning lady who loved
receiving my mom’s crafty hand-written recipes each week, teachers from my
grade school (over 35 years ago) who worked with her as class mom.
As I lookedout across the sea of people congregated, I realized that many of them had, at
one point in their lives, sat around our dinner table and benefited from Mom’s
gourmet cooking. In fact, I’m certain that some friendships in the audience were
even kindled around our table, in our kitchen.
Our dinner table was effectively a communal table. As quiet and reserved as my
mom could be, my father is the polar opposite. He is a people-collector. Every
person that came into contact with my dad was, in one way or another, invited
over the house for a home-cooked meal (regardless if he informed Mom). To
this day, I have no idea how my mom put up with him. On many occasions,
she’d find herself cooking for people who didn’t even speak a lick of English
but whom my dad had met out: at the hospital, on the street, at the symphony.
Basically, there was no filter for Dad. Whoever seemed remotely interesting
would get the invite for dinner. Often, Mom would be told the morning of the
dinner and, without any hesitation, the table would be set and the kitchen would
be overflowing with savory smells with the stove and double oven in full swing.
Many of my memories from childhood revolved around our kitchen and the
conversations across the dinner table.
For the last five years of her life, Mom’s quiet strength prevented most people
from even knowing she was deeply suffering from a terminal illness.
She was always that pillar of strength to her friends, to her family and to cancer. She
would drive herself alone to her multi-hour chemo treatments at the hospital.
Devoid of emotion, she’d “plug into” her chest port and start reading her favorite
book or finish a crossword puzzle. Then, she’d shop for her groceries and come
home and start cooking like it was any other day.
Cooking became her form of meditation and a way to escape the cancer struggles she faced on a daily
When her hair fell out, she always had new wigs lined up ready to be
styled. When her eyebrows fell out, without hesitation new ones were tattooed
on. With the fifty -pound weight loss came new, vibrant zany outfits. She didn’t
outwardly pity herself.
She wasn’t willing to allow herself to give in.
And so, the meals continued to be cooked and people continued to gather around our dinner
table. As her illness started progressing, providing meals for people made mom
It gave her a sense of purpose when all else seemed doom and gloom.
In fact, it wasn’t until simple ingredients from her dishes (sugar, butter, etc) were
conspicuously missing, that we knew she was sicker than she let on.
After Mom’s funeral four years ago, I vowed that I would do anything I could
to preserve her memory and abundant culinary legacy. As we were cleaning
out the shelves in the kitchen, I stared in awe at Mom’s cookbook collection. It
boasts many celebrated books spanning decades: The French Chef’s Cookbook
by Julia Child, The Silver Palate by Sheila Lukins, James Beard’s Menus
for Entertaining. Each book shows signs of heavy usage – the pages are
earmarked, the recipes are marked up with notes along the sides. What was
even more intriguing and overwhelming were Mom’s own personal 3-ring binder
cookbooks and crafty recipe boxes, overflowing with handwritten recipes to her
own celebrated meals. Like a mad scientist it seemed she wrote these recipes
on anything she could find: post it notes, crumpled elementary school paper,
Dad’s script sheets.
The MyJudytheFoodie blog is my artful interpretation of Mom’s life through her
The emotional journey we will take through her recipes will create a
connection to Mom that will undoubtedly expose her strength and determination
as a wife, mother, friend, and, of course, celebrated cook!!
[Best of all, my father tells me my mother didn’t even know how to boil water
when they were married so, maybe there IS some hope for me too].
Come join me!