People ask me if my mom taught me how to cook.
Truth is my mom was a lovely person but she could not cook worth a dam.
Mom was Irish Catholic. She clung to the Irish cookbook like she clung to her rosary.
The Irish Cookbook is the world’s smallest book.
“Take everything that walks, swims or flies across the face of the earth and boil the living
bejeezus out of it.”
Mom was a disciple of the Irish Cookbook “one pot” school. Put all the stuff in one pot.
Put the lid on. Boil until the grey scummy foam comes out under the lid. Plate it up.
We had a lot of gray-white dinners. Potatoes, cod and cauliflower boiled together. Haddock, onions and potatoes boiled together. Chicken, onions and potatoes boiled together.
The plates looked religious in and of themselves, “Sorrowful Mysteries”.
My little brother was a schemer. Boiled cod tasted pretty pad, but if you wanted to watch TV you had to eat it. He would hide his fish in his milk. Drink half his milk, break up the fish and slide it right in there.
I couldn’t bring myself to turn him in. I was afraid of him. He was an evil little tike.
With a particularly malevolent hiss he warned, “Tell, and I will break everything you own”.
He finally did. All of the holy statues on my dresser, all of the little balsa airplanes hanging from the ceiling, hockey trophies, all busted up and crushed together in a pile mixed with underwear in the middle of the room. Looked like Berlin in ‘45.
He eventually went to work for the Canadian CIA.
The outcast from the “Irish Cookbook” sorority was my Aunt Irene - “Reney” was the affectionate short form.
Reney was a food angel. Her food was a flavorful wonder, a profound revelation. She used garlic when her sisters regarded onions with suspicion. She had a spice rack and used it.
Aunt Reney became the original Emeril—the first TV chef.
She began as the “grocery-store-lady-who-gave-out-samples.” You’ve seen them - the ladies at Publix cooking up little weenies in the electric frying pan.
Aunt Reney got a part time job sampling out Chinese food in the corner grocery.
We’d all get together at Aunt Reney’s and make egg rolls. The next day she would slice them and stick them with picks and give them away at the grocery store.
As it turned out, Reney was the best damn “Chinese-food-grocery-store-lady” for miles and somebody in marketing thought it might be neat if they had her actually cook the egg rolls on TV. Aunt Reney became Chef Rhee-Nee - a little make up, one of those silk Chinese jackets from the costume store, some umbrellas and a couple of Chinese lanterns.
The show had a good run and then some TV genius decided that cheffing on TV was never really going to catch on.
Why would anyone watch someone cooking on TV?
On Mothers’ Day is I am going to watch happy families celebrating a special brunch at Eat Here and Mothers sipping free champagne at the Bistro and complimentary sexy cocktails at the Doctors’ Office.
I am going to be thankful to my mom for a great many things, but I will be thinking of Aunt Reney’s egg rolls.
This year, eat here wants to treat mom to a fresh sunflower and a glass of bubbly.
In fact, eat here has a policy of treating all moms to libations on Mother’s Day as a tribute to Sean Murphy’s grandmother, “Nana” Martin.
In the Nova Scotia vernacular “Nana” is an endearment for “grandmother.” A “sip” with dinner was part of Nana’s dinner ritual.
Sean has a great reverence for his grandmother.
“My grandmother had ten children and my grandfather was something of a partier. One day my two uncles, both monsignors, brought the bishop by for tea and the subject of my grandfather came up while Nana was out of the room. They all put down their cups, shook their heads, rolled their eyes to heaven, and said ‘ah…that poor woman is a saint’. I thought that settled the matter. Nana was a saint. I had a winning hand … two monsignors and a bishop … against two sisters.“My grandmother was a saint. Almost literally. As a kindergartner I was convinced Nana was a real saint and I got into trouble with the two good sisters teaching kindergarten. I was punished for arrogance. They were teaching ‘Lives of the Saints’ and I was adamant that the book was wrong because my Nana wasn’t in there.
“Nana lived to be ninety-five. Conscious of her tribulations, her doctor had told her to have a wee sip of port before every meal. It would calm her nerves and improve her appetite. Nana was a woman of strong character, a great lady, but she was very delicate and frail in stature.
“She set a meticulous table for dinner every evening. Just as we were about to be seated she would remove her lace apron, open the cupboard under the huge sink, pull out a bottle of port, pop the cork and knock back a quick swig. She would then recork the bottle, put it back under the sick, sit at the table and say grace.
“That quick little sip of the port was incongruous with everything else she did – but it worked wonders. The aggravations of the day slipped away. Nana’s dinners were always joyous occasions.”
Treat mom to diner and we'll treat her to a fresh sunflower and a glass of champagne!
About eat here: The Eat Here restaurants celebrate chef-crafted, Gulf Coast cookery and creative cocktails. Eat Here on Anna Maria Island and in Sarasota were recently selected as two of Florida’s “best new restaurants” as part of Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon Awards. Eat Here is located at 1888 Main St., Sarasota,941-365-8700; 240 Avenida Madera, Sarasota, 941-346-7800; and 5315 Gulf Dr., Holmes Beach, 941-778-0411, www.eathereflorida.com.