I didn’t realize it would be Mother’s Day (in the UK) when I organized the first Sunday dinner of the Nomad Chef Secret Restaurant. But when fewer people were reserving than I had imagined, I figured it out.
I woke up this morning, trying to figure out all of the timing for serving a dinner at 5 pm, earlier than usual, and was happy that the sun was shining and that for once the diners would have a view of the divine garden. I don’t normally fret about getting things done on time, and never when it is just one of my normal dinners for friends. But this was the first Secret Restaurant where me and my sous chef would be prepping and cooking without help and where I would be hostessing as well as cooking. We figured it might be easier without extras in the kitchen, but I wanted to make sure everything was ready in advance so I could serve the aperitif in a semblance of cool, calm and collected.
Last Mother’s Day was the same. It was my first time no longer having my son, wondering how it could be that I was no longer a mother. I didn’t know it was Mother’s Day last year when I went skiing with friends in Chamonix. I was only rudely awakened to it when my son’s friends started texting loving messages to me for Mother’s Day. And then when the friends with whom I shared the skiing weekend gave each other presents from their 2 year olds. Yesterday the wall of pain threatened to crush me when my little friend Lilly and her artist mom gave me a Mother’s Day card. And then this morning, when I was in the middle of making patties of the salmon and spice mixture, I received a text message from a friend, telling me that he couldn’t bear thinking of me not having a message telling me that I was such a great mother. I cried and the tears spilled into the Thai fish cake mixture.
But what else can I do. This is what I know how to do – cook myself out of my pain. And I am lucky to have people coming to share the evening with me, to let me share my food with friends and strangers on this second Mother’s Day of being without a child.
First things first: make the fish cake patties and put them back into the fridge so they firm up as cakes instead of just the mushy pink and white dotted with red and green chilies (recipes to come later). Bruno arranged the chairs and tables for yet another unknown number of guests (some people always reserve at the last minute!). Are we going to have 14 or 22? Who knows? Next, onto chopping onions for the Mrouzia (Moroccan lamb dish). I keep thinking about how my son would love this menu. And more than that; I can’t remember which of us first started cooking Moroccan. I remember buying him beautiful serving dishes for a dinner he was hired to cook on Long Island. I think he was flown from LA to do this dinner, and I remember meeting him in New York (I must have come from London) to go spice shopping and to buy better traveling spice containers so he could go anywhere armed with all of the spices he could ever need, and travel easily on airplanes (knives had to go into the hold!).
Tables look lovely with the sun streaming through the conservatory windows. How lucky I am to have such a sunny place to get through my dark moments surrounded by hungry, happy people.
First challenge: what to use an alternative to saffron? Better google it! No reasonable replacement. Off to the little store across the street! How funny is that I cook meat, when I haven’t eaten it since I was 10 years old. I cook by smell, maybe the most important sense anyway. But I need my sous chef to taste for saltiness…I replaced the smen (not something in my fridge!) in the lamb recipe with ghee. They are both butter based; more flavor in the marinade.
Onto the veggie prep. At this rate, I’ll be finished by 1. Plenty of time for a nap! Not! Had to run out for the wine. Tonight’s dinner has a wine tasting element, so of course I waited until the last minute to get the wine. New and old world! Will post our dinner guests’ favorite later. I’ve got to get the cheat sheets ready so that I can sound very well wine educated. Now it is a bit of a rush (2:30) to cook the lamb, prepare for the risotto, make the lemon mint drinks for non-drinkers and the Bloody Mary (NOT virgin) for the aperitif… and then for the pudding. I will assemble it now and put it in the oven when the guests arrive for the welcome wafting of my favorite aphrodisiac, chocolate!
Somehow, once again, we made it! Lovely evening with new people and some old friends. This time we moved all of the tables together so there was a single buzz, a single conversation that everyone participated in and complete dissonance in wine taste! Men and women have different tastes and families have similar tastes, but slightly different based on gender. But there is no perfect, best wine! It is all about our own tongue, experience, palette… we are all totally unique.
Mother’s Day has come and gone and my mother-self gave birth to a lovely night of eating, conversation, drinking and making new friends. I may no longer have my son, but I do have people who need to be loved. And I have way too much of that to give. So, while it was sad, it was bittersweet…. Kind of like the brownies I made tonight, the chocolate, mixed with the strong, deep, red wine. There is no light without darkness. Today I managed to cook myself out of my darkness… That is something I taught my son to do, something we did together and alone. He would be happy that I made it through the day with a little healing food.