It is hard to feel enthusiastic about Mother’s Day when you don’t have a mom to celebrate it with. When the woman who’s the center of your world is gone when you’re just seven, you are left with a hole in your heart and your world that is impossible to fill.
I can barely remember my mom’s face or her voice but even now, decades later, I miss her every day — not just during the milestones of my life, or on Mother’s Day, on her birthday, or even on the anniversary of the day she died. I miss her every day. My memories of her, locked away by a child’s brain, are fuzzy and a precious few. But many of those memories are life lessons that shaped me, even when some of them were less than enjoyable in the moment, like my mom chasing me down the stairs of our apartment building, a ruler in hand, because I had come home with a progress report not as perfect as the one she’d hoped — and perhaps worked harder than I — for.
I remember my mom taking two buses from our home in a suburb of Bombay to my school, to bring my brother and me a hot, homemade meal, carefully packed in thermos flasks, for lunch. She never forgot to pack extra dessert for our classmates. My mom feeding the stray dog, Moti, who lived at the bottom of the stairs of our apartment building, and helping my brother and I hide him when the pound van made its rounds. My mom taking me on playdates with Atul, a neighbor’s son with Down syndrome, who became one of my best friends.
Among all of those memories, the one that now rises to the top of my mind is the memory of my mom cooking.
I remember how well she loved to cook, partly because I remember watching her cook and feed us, but also partly because I feel that love in my bones, and my blood.
I remember her adding vanilla extract to naralachi vadi, a coconut fudge, and coloring some of the diamond-shaped treats pink for me and some blue for my brother. I remember pomegranates were her favorite fruit. I remember her coaxing me to eat fish, although I hated it, and I remember her making the world’s most delicious okra sabzi, because I loved it.
She had a strange aluminum contraption that looked like a covered tube pan. It had a compartment that screwed into the bottom and was filled with sand, serving as a convection oven of sorts. Indian food is rarely baked, and in the part of India she came from ovens were unheard of, but that didn’t stop her from trying her hand at baking cakes and even bread.
I never learned to cook from my mom, because she was gone before I was old enough to be allowed near a stove. Like other immigrant cooks, I can’t call my mom to ask for a beloved recipe. As much as I want to, I can’t make her a breakfast or brunch and pick her brain for advice on my struggles with bringing up my son — who, ironically, came to me at about the same age I lost my mother — or talk or laugh about our failed cooking experiments or her funny little oven and the dense, sweet cake with the burnt bottom that it produced.
I was in my 20s when I started to cook, and then too it was more out of necessity than enthusiasm. I didn’t really think I would ever take to it, but I did. Cooking became my solace, my way of relaxing, something that brought me peace. Looking back, I guess I loved cooking because it made me feel, among other things, closer to my mom. Although she never taught me how to cook, she did teach me something that’s perhaps more important: how to cook with love.
I realize now that although I did not set out to be an adventurous and eager cook because I wanted to be like my mom, I ended up becoming one anyway because I am her daughter.
I dug into the extensive archives of Holy Cow! to come up with some suggestions for you for a Mother’s Day breakfast or brunch. The recipes I have for you today are ones that I have made in my kitchen over the years, and that my family has loved. I have tried to cover different kinds of preferences, in the hope that you will find something you love for the woman you love. There are even some gluten-free options and everything, of course, is vegan.