Some things change a lot over the years. Other things don’t change that much.
I remember coming out of my bedroom in the morning as a kid, and there was my mom — wild haired, rumpled bathrobe, cup of coffee — already cooking. Now, when we go to visit her in Sonoma, my children wake up early and find her, grandma now whom they call “Mama Annie” — wild haired, rumpled bathrobe, cup of coffee — already cooking.
My parents were adventurous eaters, especially for the time. As I child, I ate escargot in French restaurants and learned to say Pouilly-Fuisse, sampled sashimi and sushi at the Joy of Tempura — the only Japanese restaurant in town — and was complemented on my chopsticks skills by old Chinese women at the Twin Dragon.
My mom was an exceptional and intrepid cook, even back then. She worked her way through cookbooks like Vincent Price’s “Treasury of Great Recipes.” But mostly she just created. While the bulk of my cooking chops were earned slaving in kitchens and experimenting through the years, it was mom who gave me my love of cooking. Just like my kids do, I would push a stool over to the counter to see what she was doing. “Can I help?” I might’ve said, just as my children do to me.
At some point in the haze of the post-divorce years, she met Bruce — a music industry vet who’d had enough. They left L.A. for Sonoma, where he learned to make wine and she devoted herself to painting and cooking for friends. And we are all the better for it. Bruce makes zinfandel and grills stuff, my mom tinkers in the kitchen with chicken breasts or steelhead and wildly inventive rices and sauces and sides, following her mood down Asian or Caribbean or Latin American avenues — a dash of coconut milk here, some soy sauce and lemon grass there…
Over the years, she only became a better and more interesting cook. And as I became a better and more interesting cook, we inspired each other through healthy competition to higher heights. We do that with our painting too.
Among my mom’s culinary adventures was a cookbook, “Mama Annie’s Magic Maui Cookbook,” featuring a variety of Hawaiian-inspired recipes from her part-time life on Maui. It’s recommended reading — but hurry, there was only one copy left on Amazon when I checked.
If love and tradition might be said to be passed down through soup pot and paintbrush, she has done her job well. I hope to pass these things along to my kids too — not pedagogically, but rather through a quiet example of how much can be brought to one’s life and world and the lives and worlds of those they love through the simple acts of cooking or making an artwork.
For those of you who didn’t order the cookbook fast enough, Amazon says they’re getting more. In the meantime, here’s one of Mama Annie’s recipes to get you started. Try cooking it for you mom this Sunday. She’ll feel the love.
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Mama Annie’s blackened salmon with sour cream cucumber sauce
4 fresh salmon filets, 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick
3 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
2 star anise
Sour cream cucumber sauce:
1/2 cup sour cream, low fat is fine
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and shredded
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt
Remove skin from salmon. Mix next five ingredients together in a dish large enough for salmon. Add salmon and marinate for at least an hour. Place fish on medium hot grill and cook 2 to 4 minutes per side. The top will blacken due to the honey and will be crisp, while the inside stays moist and juicy.
Mix ingredients for sauce together. Season to taste. Spoon over the top of each salmon filet and serve.