Mother’s Day. The holiest of the Hallmark holidays. Of course there is Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Grandparent’s Day and Administrative Professionals Day but none are as big or fraught with emotion as the Sunday in May that we celebrate mom. Florists, card shops and brunch serving restaurants make a small fortune. Should the weather be nice, parks, harbor walks and town centers are filled to the brim with strolling families. Women everywhere cheerfully breakfast on crappy early morning pancakes made by the kids. If I wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mom or grandmothers I would be doing so at a cemetery; thanks ladies for picking three different ones, so convenient! If that isn’t the biggest suckfest I don’t know what is. Of course I knew there would be a time when these very special, very important women wouldn’t be in my life, I just never imagined it would be before I turned 40. Last year was my first official motherless Mother’s Day, but coming only a bit more than a month after my mom passed away it didn’t seem real. In fact, most of that first year is a blur. So this year seems hard, really hard. Hulu commercials, card aisles at drugstores, displays at department stores, there are reminders everywhere. On Mother’s Day 2014 my sisters and I got together to divide up my mom’s stuff, some according to her written wishes, the rest according to what seemed right, fair. We didn’t fight, highly unusual if you know us, but instead did our best to do what we thought she would want. We also tried to find special necklaces, bracelets, pins and earrings to give them to her many nieces and friends to have something to remember her by. It was a long day. This year Sam, my dad, one of my sisters and I are getting together for lunch. Nothing big, just honoring mom by doing what she would want us to do, get together…whether we like it or not!
To honor those special women who have passed from my life, though never from my heart, I share with you these “recipes” from my mom, Nana Loughran (maternal grandmother), Nana Alice (paternal grandmother), Aunt Susan and Aunt Nancy (both my dad’s sisters).
Mom’s Apple Pie (Nancy J. McNeill)
Mom made this apple pie, with its very non-traditional method crust, once a year at Thanksgiving. She always made two, one to go with dinner and one for leftovers, mainly for my Cousin Jonathan. He is an apple pie fiend.
Nana Loughran’s Cranberry Nut Bread
It is my belief that certain tastes are acquired as an adult, mushrooms, Brussel sprouts, eggs, etc. I would include in that list Cranberry Nut Bread. Slightly sour, slightly sweet and a drier texture that goes amazingly well with coffee, especially if toasted and buttered. Nana made this at Christmas, my mom made it at Christmas, Thanksgiving, to share at work and as a gift. We also always, always make it as soon as someone passes away to give to the family of the dearly departed. It’s great in the morning or to put out for the unexpected, drop-in guests that inevitably accompany a white, Irish Catholic death. Nana Loughran gave me this recipe on an index card, one of several she contributed to the recipe box that I received at my wedding shower. Almost all of the ladies sent recipes, it is one of my most treasured possessions. Nana was a good cook and a wonderful baker. She ran a tight household, with seven kids, a husband, a large house and a bevy of relatives and friends always coming and going. Thinking back, her kitchen style could have been described as organized and working clean. That must be where I get it from as my mom’s style was more worry-about-the-mess-later, if ever. Amazing how different people come together in your life to mold your habits and tastes.
Nana Alice’s Sherbet Cones
My dad’s mom, Nana Alice, passed away from cancer when I was 11. She was 59, way too young. She was the world’s most fun grandmother personified, the kind that let you stay up late, eat 5 ice cream cones in a day, had a kiddie pool in her yard and gave you so many toys at Christmas you needed a trash bag to take them home. I loved to visit her. While she was an exceptional grandmother, she was from what I remember and what I have been told, not a great cook. Everything was done well and cooked in a lot of butter or oil. Seasoning beyond salt and pepper didn’t exist. I enjoyed eating at her house as a kid, a plethora of junk food and a lack of vegetables suited me just fine. I don’t know if she had any written recipes, never saw any in her kitchen and my mom never mentioned getting recipes from her. What follow is my favorite treat at her house, we enjoyed them together:
- Ice Cream Cones – Cup style
- Half Gallon of Rainbow Sherbet
Scoop as much sherbet into the cone as you can. Be sure to press down as you go so even the little spaces at the bottom are filled. Mound at the top. Serve with glasses of cold Hawaiian Punch.
Aunt Nancy’s Chocolate Cake
My dad had two sisters, Nancy & Susan. Both of them passed away before the age of 40 from cancer. Nancy was the older of the two girls and lived locally so she hosted many family functions on my dad’s side of the family, practically all of them after my nana died. Nancy was, from my memory, a good, basic home cook who tailored what she made to the simple, plain, overcooked tastes of my grandfather, dad and uncles. I’m pleased to say that the guys have come around a bit on expanding their palates, although exotic things like Indian, couscous and fish are still big no-no’s, at least for my dad. My favorite dessert that Nancy made was a chocolate cake, it’s super simple but really quick and delicious, everything made with love is, regardless of the ingredients or complexity of the recipe:
- 1 box chocolate cake mix, prepared as directed in two 8” layers
- 1 tub Cool Whip
- 1 box frozen strawberries in syrup, defrosted with syrup reserved
Place one layer of cake on serving platter, frost with ½ tub Cool Whip and top with second layer of cake. Frost sides and top of second layer with remaining Cool Whip. Spread frozen strawberries on top of cake, drizzle with some of the syrup. Serve with vanilla and chocolate chip ice cream, preferably Brigham’s.
Aunt Susan’s Toasted Tuna
My other aunt, Susan, was a few years younger than Nancy. They were very close, but very different. While Nancy was the more traditionally responsible older sister, Susan was more free spirited and adventure (trouble?) prone. She married a great guy and moved to Florida when I was in fifth grade. Before that, she and I spent a lot of time together. She was the cool young aunt who taught me how to roller skate, let me wear her Jellies shoes and showed me the wonder and magic of her all-time favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz. She also introduced me to rock n’ roll via The Clash and Tony Basil and read me my all-time favorite book, Old Black Witch. Her room was so messy she made me wear shoes when I came to visit for one of my many sleepovers. She succumbed to cancer while I was in high school. I often think that we would have had a lot of fun together as adults, two childless married ladies drinking Diet Pepsi and sitting in the sun. Susan was not a fan of food for the most part. She ate to live, where as I live to eat. She watched her figure and was extremely picky. Her diet consisted of Tab, grilled cheese, toasted tuna sandwiches, olives, pickles and Wise potato chips. Hey, whatever works for you. No judgment.
- 1 can tuna fish, drained
- 2 TBSP (approximately) Miracle Whip or mayo
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 4 pieces of white bread, toasted
Mix tuna with mayo, salt & pepper. Divide between two pieces of toast and top with remaining bread. Press together using old school cast iron bacon press. Cut in half. Serve with potato chips, dill pickle spears and green olives. Tab optional.