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For Mum

[Strawberry ice cream, April 2008.]

The first fall after I graduated college, I went to hear a lecture by Isabel Allende, who was speaking to a packed crowd at a book signing in downtown DC. The summer before, on my first trip to Greece, I’d picked up “Daughter of Fortune” at a little Athens English bookstore two floors above a dirty side street, and read it on my various train trips as I criss-crossed Europe. I’d come to her late — the first time I tried to read “The House of the Spirits” I didn’t like it, but on the second attempt I fell in completely and read it in a few days — but once I did, she became a staple.

One of the things that most struck me when listening to her that afternoon, in addition to all of the writing-talk, was that she wrote her mother a letter a day. A letter a day. She also said she had her mother read all her first drafts of her novels and they would write back and forth about them; Allende said she was terrified of her mother growing older, because at some point she wouldn’t be there to read her work and give her the feedback she so valued (besides the obvious other things, of course). I loved the idea of this, and thought that if I ever got my act together to pursue a writing life, I might like to do the same (some day …).

Allende surely is not the first writer to have such a close relationship with her mother — the poet Edna St. Vincent Millary wrote to her mother, Cora, when she was concerned about her health: “I think about you all the time in the daytime, and lately I dream about you at night. There is nothing in all the world I love so much as you.” The two kept a close relationship — fraught, at times, with the usual drama that crops up between mothers and daughters — throughout their lives.

I am thinking of mothers, and daughters, and writing, and family today, of course, because it is mother’s day, and I just spent a good portion of it with my own mother. We went to see the Annie Lebovitz exhibit (her portrait of her mother, by the way, is outstanding) at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, and then sat outside in the sun and ate a small picnic I’d brought (seeded baguette, egg salad with radishes and spring onions, hummus, ginger snaps, strawberries) and then wandered around the rest of the museum until it closed. I gave out a few little gifts and we had quite a lovely day all told, which ended up in the Marina, for dinner and attempting to stay warm against the chilly San Francisco breeze that is rumored finally to be on the outs; this next week is supposed to be very hot.

[Books for mom, May 2008.]

This morning in my yoga class my teacher encouraged us to offer up our practice to our mothers, wherever they might be, whatever our relationships with them, and I thought that was a particularly sweet thing to suggest. If Oscar Wilde, in The Importance of Being Earnest, claimed cynically that “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his,” I would argue that sometimes it’s not so bad to be like your mother — especially when she’s the kind of person who sends you home (on mother’s day!) with a bag filled with things like cranberry juice, olive oil, home made vegetable soup, coupons for stuff you might need, and pistachio nuts.

So today, on this day to celebrate the ones who created us, I give thanks for my mom: my first editor, biggest fan, gardener of flowers, and favorite person with whom to go shopping. She can throw a mean dinner party and go root for the Giants with me, all in the same weekend. We annoy my brother in exactly the same way (by asking too many questions and unnecessary fussing), which strangely comforts. We both like to take care of , and we might stay up reading later than we ‘should’ because the book is impossible to put down. We’re both powerless in the face of an endearing cat and feel the same way about Yosemite. She bakes me cupcakes just because, and never fails to read any of my stories, whether or not they’re any good. Thanks, mum. This one’s for you (ps: loved today’s outfit, btw).

I made this strawberry ice cream a few weeks ago for a dinner party that was wholly vegan. The dessert, of course, had to be, too (more of those ginger cookies, and sorbets) but since my mom (a non-vegan) was coming — though she’s a good sport about making culinary exceptions — I knew she’d appreciate a dish of ice cream shot through and through with the first fresh strawberries of the season. So I got some organic cream, made a custard, sliced a pile of berries, and churned up something especially for her (and maybe a little bit for myself as well). It’s thick, creamy, not-too-sweet, with a strong, clean taste of strawberries. If you love strawberries as much as I do, this is the ice cream for you.

Make this right now, when the strawberries are coming into their own, all sweet and soft and lingering. And make it next year for Mother’s Day, too.


Strawberry ice cream, from gourmet.com

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3 (3- by 1-inch) strips fresh lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 lb strawberries (3 cups), trimmed and quartered
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Combine cream, zest, and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and discard zest.
Whisk eggs with 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl, then add hot cream in a slow stream, whisking. Pour back into saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened and an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F (do not let boil).

Immediately pour custard through a fine sieve into a metal bowl, then cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Chill, covered, at least until cold, about 2 hours, and up to 1 day.

While custard is chilling, purée strawberries with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice in a blender until smooth, then force through fine sieve (to remove seeds) into chilled custard. Stir purée into custard.

Freeze in ice-cream maker, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

One Comment

  1. Absolutely loved every word you wrote! That quote by Oscar Wilde makes me smile because it’s completely true. We are so lucky to learn from our mothers and I think that cherishing them, no matter the moments of frustration/anger/sadness, is the key to developing a good relationship. That Annie Lebowitz exhibit sounds awesome too. Where was that?

    ps. if I had an ice cream maker, I totally would’ve called in sick, forgone my finals, and whipped up a batch :)

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