Saturday, July 28, 2012

Scallops and Skin

I am a devout follower of Orangette--I must have made this banana bread (or some version of it) easily over a dozen times; I feel extremely lucky to have a sister who buys oats in cafeteria-worthy quantities to make and share this divine olive oil and maple granola; and I have recently added these bouchons au thons to my arsenal of quick dishes worthy of impressing both a certain French monsieur as well as two especially finicky little eaters.

Yet it wasn't until I read the chapter "Bonne Femme" in A Homemade Life, where Molly of Orangette describes a mother-daughter gastronomical trip to Lyon to discover the varied delights of bouchons, that I thought to connect the dots between food and my mother and this blog. I realize I've written plenty about my mother--her clothes, her style, her immortalized youth and beauty, and her huge influence on me--without really scratching the surface of who she was. The glaring omission being, of course, her love of food. And trying to describe my fascination with vintage and my mother's own sense of style without talking about the flesh and bone of our bodies is like staring at a tantalising parade of plastic sushi without ever getting a taste of the real thing.

But first--about those Lyonnais bouchons.... Restaurants of this variety still serve up dishes similar to that which their seventeenth and eighteenth century precursors did--a type of cooking called cuisine de bonne femme, hearty comfort food (think "lots of pork, lots of offal, and lots of wine") that goes by the motto, "Waste not, want not." I love that concept. It nicely sums up the way I feel about hunting for vintage treasures. When an undeniably exquisite pair of, say, size eight-and-a-half vintage brown suede shoes materializes before my eyes, it concocts a perfect storm of indulgence and practicality--it's vintage! It's my size! It needs a home!

My mother, too, could have lived by that motto. With seven kids, she was never one to waste. Moreover, she was never shy about her appetite. She seemed to have a special fondness for anything that called for slurping and sucking and smacking one's lips--needless to say she loved shellfish and tender meat falling off at the bone. She loved my father's cooking--especially his annual crab feasts, his barbequed pork, his "birthday" chicken, and his pork shoulder and winter melon soup. She relished in dim sum and banquets with large families at large tables with lazy Susans the width of a large kiddie pool. She proudly procured pink boxes of pastries to go with afternoon tea when relatives from Australia or Hong Kong were in town. She had a soft spot--as all her children do--for steaming bowls of won-ton noodle soup or fish congee on lazy Sunday mornings. And though she didn't herself cook much, she was the Queen of Eggs--achieving to the delight of her kids the perfect combination of crispy-edged and runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs, of fluffy and moist scrambled eggs, and of firm yet highly dunkable soft-boiled eggs.

When I think about the clothes she wore, it's hard to separate their form from the vivacious body that once inhabited them. She carried her blouses, her mid-length skirts, her occasional furs, even her shoulder-padded blazers with grace--not because they were expensive or extravagant items but because in my childhood eyes she was a gorgeous woman of the flesh. Her passion for life was as evident in her rapacious appetite as it was in her bursting closet. As a young girl I couldn't think of anything better than to observe my mother as she prepared herself for an evening out--an outing sure to involve meats and sweets and good things to drink. I loved to watch from her bed as she considered what to wear, dressed quickly, and settled at the vanity to brush her hair, spritz on perfume, and swipe on red lipstick.

Today, I occasionally catch my six-year-old daughter watching me in the same way. And although I'm far from perfect in her eyes, she still views her mum with some pretty heavily tinted rose-colored glasses. I often wish I could see my own mother without those glasses on--I'm sure it would ground me in many ways. But there is little time to regret, and so much to be grateful for and to take in. When I'm not too busy rushing myself or hurrying the kids, I like to spritz on a bit of perfume and swipe on my lipstick. Sometimes I even give Sonia's cheeks an almost invisible stroke of blush. It's gratifying to find nourishment--indulgence, really--in what we have, rather than dwell on what we lack. Yes, I think "Waste not, want not" truly is my new favorite motto.

(Photos: scalloped lace J.Crew top from Chris in Nob Hill; Sesto Meucci suede heels from Alameda Flea)