So help me, I’ll never get a poodle
I am turning into my mother.
Once more, with feeling:
I. AM. TURNING. INTO. MY. MOTHER.
The inevitable became alarmingly clear during Mom’s most recent visit. As we were scurrying — among other traits, I inherited her fashionable lateness — to Symphony Hall to spend an evening with the Boston Pops, I caught our reflection in the exterior of a Red Line train. We were both wearing cropped open sweaters, hers a grassy green and mine gray. So it begins.
As I resigned myself to an inescapable fate of loving the color fuchsia, using the internet only to forward chain emails filled with pictures of baby animals snuggling, and telling my life story to total strangers, she demonstrated what’s in store for me by striking up a conversation with the attractive lady sitting next to her on the subway. I stared into my iPhone and sulked.
“Her name’s Nadia,” Mom relayed to me.
“She’s from Russia.”
“She’s a twin.”
As if my apathy for Nadia and her ancestry weren’t already apparent, my combination eye roll and sighs really drove it home. But my intentionally labored breaths brought a sweet-smelling truth — Mom and I were wearing the same Marc Jacobs perfume. Glancing downward, I then noticed we had crossed our legs in the same direction. And, worse, that we were both sporting dark-wash Gap jeans, same size and all. One of us apparently doesn’t dress our age. Me, most likely.
If this trend continues and I keep adopting the scent and sensibility of my mother, who is nearly three decades my senior, attending my first Harry Connick Jr. concert can’t be that far off. No, wait. That already happened a few months ago. And it was awesome.
No matter how much we morph, I’ll never match Mom’s prowess in the kitchen. I should have paid closer attention when she’d attempt to give me cooking lessons. “Jessa, I’m making mandelbrodt. You’ll want to make this someday when I’m gone,” she’d beckon to my bedroom at the top of the stairs in our suburban center-hall Colonial, trying to bait me with guilt in a way only Jewish mothers can.
As a teen, I was much more interested in alphabetically organizing my CDs. As an adult, this is pretty much still the case. Thus, the extent of my culinary knowledge can be boiled down to boiling water. I don’t know how to braise or sautee or nicoise. I suspect that last Frenchy term might just be a type of salad, which — this might come as a shock — I don’t have the faintest idea how to make. I rely so much on my microwave that I’ve had to superglue the handle back on. Twice.
Pre-Pops, Mom and I stayed in for supper, and she set out to instill in me some basic baking know-how. She’d recently created a new dish that she coined a Jewish Calzone, or Italian Hamantashen, after its resemblance to the Purim pastry. We stopped at Whole Foods earlier in the day to purchase a few ingredients and raid the salad bar for roasted peppers, zucchini and eggplant. “It’s OK to cut a few corners and buy something pre-made. No one will know,” she sagely instructed, stripping down to her skivvies to cope with the unseasonable spring heat wave, made worse by a stove set to 375. And also because she missed her calling as a nudist.
Reaching for the whole wheat dough that we’d left out to thaw, she asked me where I keep my flour. It’s cute that she thought I had flour. “There’s pancake mix on the top shelf,” I said. “Will that work?” She shook her head in disbelief, probably pondering where she went wrong as a parent.
After wiping down my unfinished wooden kitchen table, she dusted the surface with pancake mix, explaining that it would keep the dough from sticking. “Rolling pin?” she asked, almost instantly realizing the error of her ways. I shrugged, wondered what MacGyver would do and grabbed a bottle of wine from the rack, pausing at the sink to rinse off a year’s worth of dust.
So there was Mom, dressed only in a nude bra and bright pink-and-orange underwear, which didn’t quite cover her appendectomy scar, kneading dough with a bottle of chardonnay on a table peppered with pancake mix, the white powder sinking into the grooves where my cat Teva digs in her nails to launch herself onto nearby cabinets. Channeling Pavarotti, Mom then cocked her head back, closed her eyes and at the top of her lungs belted out, “O sole mio … “
Instead of being mortified that my neighbors would hear her through the thin walls of my apartment or, worse, see her as she repeatedly sashayed in front of the open porch door showing no signs of modesty or embarrassment, I felt relieved. That sort of transformation cannot possibly happen overnight. I might have a few good years left. And, by the way, I would forward a chain email to 15 of my closest friends within the next 60 seconds if it meant I’d still be able to squeeze into the same size jeans in 30 years.
Jewish Calzone/Italian Hamentashen
whole wheat pizza dough
shredded mozzarella cheese
variety of roasted vegetables
extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle tabletop with flour or pancake mix, and thinly roll out pizza dough with a wine bottle. Or a rolling pin, if you want to be all fancy-pants. Transfer dough to Pam-coated large round pizza pan. Lightly brush dough with olive oil. Spread sauce. Add veggies, or contents of Whole Foods salad bar, on about 50 percent of the dough. Add mozzarella cheese. Then add more mozzarella cheese. You can’t take your arteries with you. Cover vegetables with remaining dough, pinching it at the edges to seal it. Brush with olive oil. Top with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly brown, or until your mom says it’s done.