All the ingredients for sweet reminiscing

Published May 13, 2007

She came to me in a dream last week, as only those who have passed on can.

It was one of those frantic dreams - the kind that launches you back to places like that dreaded high school math class or the job you had waiting tables when you were in your 20s. Try as you may, you just can't figure the answers on that pop quiz or get the food to the ticked-off customers fast enough.

As with those "harmless" night terrors, I woke up breathless from this one, heart pounding and trying to pull the foggy details into perspective before they slipped away with the breaking day.

REM had me making breakfast for a crowd of family and friends in my parents' kitchen with the dark walnut cabinets and red Formica counter that was the style all those years ago. The eggs were burning and I was spilling powdery pancake mix all over the floor.

Do a dream analysis and it could be a metaphor for the fear of failure I keep under cover in my waking hours.

But there in the foggy fray was the image of my mother telling me, "You can do this."

She died 22 years ago, on May 10, just a few days before Mother's Day. "What a gift, " I thought back then with relief, after witnessing the painful year of deterioration the brain tumor had rendered.

Now all these years later I find myself thinking the same thing - for a different reason.

While growing up, my sisters and I used to gripe that my parents didn't have children, rather indentured servants - particularly after Mom re-entered the work force and the bulk of the domestic duties landed squarely on us. But in the end, as these things often do, it turned out all right.

You see, one of the things my mother did well was to raise three daughters with a flair for the culinary arts. We all know how to feed a family - even on a limited budget.

It began at a tender age, when daily chores were laid out in her awfully handwritten notes left on the kitchen table.

For me it started with the simple tasks of setting the table, peeling potatoes or making the tossed salad that was a dinnertime staple. Growing older meant moving on to the responsibility of preparing the entree.

That was a little shaky at first, especially with the famed boiled ham debacle, which made me the butt of family jokes because I neglected to remove the ham from the plastic wrapper before cooking.

Even so, under my mother's instruction, I learned how to make a tomato sauce that is way better than the jarred kind, German potato salad, Yorkshire pudding and other family favorites that had been passed down through the generations.

Later I delved into cookbooks on my own to prepare things such as rhubarb pie from the tall red stalks that grew in our backyard garden and a rather tasty mustard-crusted roast lamb with zinfandel gravy.

The kitchen is now my comfortable foray - one I see encompassing a younger generation who have inherited their own daily chore list.

I'm a working mom, too, now.

So for the youngest daughter that means having to set the table, toss up a green salad or mash avocados, garlic and lime juice to make her signature guacamole.

And every Tuesday evening, on her dinner night, the 16-year-old has us eating with chopsticks as she ventures into the art of Asian cuisine all on her own.

The eldest - well, he's out of the house now - but on occasion he whips up a mean shrimp scampi, lays claim to making the "best chocolate chip cookies ever" and can make tomato sauce that's way better than the jarred kind.

So, yes, I'm thinking, "What a gift."

Michele Miller can be reached in west Pasco at 727 869-6251 or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6251. Her e-mail is miller@sptimes.com.