A novel twist on Mother's Day is for a man in the family, husband or son, to prepare a meal. Give mom a day's vacation from the kitchen on "her" day is the theory. In practice, it may not work out that way.
As soon as mom eases herself into an easy chair, she's needed to find one ingredient or another. Mom becomes a yo-yo.
Stay out of the kitchen, she is told. But the smell or sight of smoke coming from the oven brings her on the run. Mom becomes a fireperson.
Dinner is to be ready at 6:30, but by 8 the final touches still aren't completed. Mom has a Big Mac attack.
Often, of course, the aims of the stand-in cook or cooks are modest, or at least suited to their experience and talent, and all goes well. These days, too, adult males are venturing into the kitchen with more in mind than raiding the refrigerator. Many become excellent amateur chefs. Boys are welcomed into cooking classes in schools (sometimes called "bachelor survival") and are quick (and hungry) learners.
But what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? When the male is supposed to be more expert in the kitchen than his wife or mother?
Take the case of a boy who left home with a finely honed appetite, but little visible interest in cooking; a boy who hid chocolate chips under his bed, whose favorite gastronomic treat was raw onion sandwiches and who was so impatient he ate cookie dough raw rather than wait for it to be shaped (and liked the dough better than cookies). He was educated in irrelevant fields such as history and journalism, then undertook a sojourn in France to learn the secrets of haute cuisine. Gravy became sauce. He whipped up souffles with aplomb. Then he came home to make a meal for mom.
My mother is a slender woman who often claims that she is virtually without appetite; yet whatever the size of the portion on her plate, it somehow disappears. She never seasoned the food she made for us (what used to be called American home cooking - baked chicken, roasts, potatoes in various forms and very good pies and cakes) very strongly, but with the exception of an aversion to chocolate, she was open to a wide variety of foods.
Iced tea or water suited her as beverages with meals. With the passion of a survivor of a waterless desert passage, I had wholeheartedly embraced the concept of imbibing wine and used it also for cooking, in ways and quantities not attempt before (or since).
In the first months of my return from France, I cooked a number of meals for my mother and her sister, my aunt. A soup made from Christmas dinner leftovers was a hit. I managed to catch her by surprise and win her approval of some sauteed potato pieces just before the she realized they were turnips. She took my advice one evening and before serving fried chops, deglazed the pan with wine, then added stock and seasonings to the pan and boiled them down to make a light sauce.
Not that I had become a flawless cooking teacher, or had won the blind respect of my "pupil." Too many sauces were too many, as were too many seasonings in a dish. Some things should be plain, my mother insisted. She was right. There were some notable failures as well, which I blamed on the differences between French and American ingredients, cooking equipment or weather. My mother knew better.
But she did enjoy variations on poached and sauteed chicken, a brisket boiled with vegetables in the French fashion. She ate, without objection, scallops well flavored with garlic and tomatoes in the fashion of Provence. An improvised dessert of apple crepes was given an accolade by the dessert master.
Then came an evening where I was to cook for company. Eight persons assembled for a meal that became a Ziegfeld production. As appetizers: pastry puffs filled with a spicy cheese sauce, scallops wrapped in bacon, chopped egg and cucumber on toast. Champagne. At table, we began with asparagus vinaigrette (without wine because the French fear the interaction of wine and asparagus, much less wine and vinegar). The main course was sweetbreads in a cream sauce (it was meant to be cream sauce with mushrooms, but the chef rediscovered the mushrooms only after the dish was served). A caramel mousse and cookies were served for desert with a fine sauterne.
Such elegance. Such sophistication. To the cook, surely, and to the guests, maybe. But the cook's mother, while announcing herself pleased, had one reservation.
Well aware of her son's theory that cooks, like matadors, leave the areas in triumph once the performance is over, she cast an eye toward the littered kitchen and observed: "It certainly takes a lot of pots and pans to make a French meal."
So the chef insisted on washing the pots that night, but next morning he discovered that his mother had risen early and done the dishes. Men will be boys, but why not when their moms insist on being mothers.