Thursday, May 10, 2012



M Is for the Many things she gave me, 
O Means only that she’s growing Old. 
T Is for the Tears she shed to save me, 
H Is for her Heart of purest gold. 
E Is for her Eyes with love light shining, 
R Means Right and Right she’ll always be. 
Put them all together, 
They spell MOTHER. 
A word that means the world to me. 
- Howard Johnson, 1915 

My mother has always been a step or two ahead of her time. The only girl in her Hebrew school – her father was adamant about his daughters as well as his son receiving proper religious training – she suffered teasing, taunting and her father’s wrath when the boys played tricks on her, such as stealing her books and hiding them in the snow, yet she loved school. Following her younger sister to New York City, her sister that had to run away from home in order to study nursing – her father was adamant about girls not going to university even as his son went to MIT and Princeton – to work. She apparently, and details are sketchy, seduced my father when he didn’t return her flirting with notice. And then married him after, upon her return to New York, where she worked, from her Miami vacation, where he was studying, not having heard from him for a year until one day, according to her own telling, she received a short note in the mail announcing “Okay, we can get married now. Go see my father at this address and arrange it.” And when we were kids and the other moms all seemed to be the stay-at-home kind, this was the 1960s, she worked and did volunteer work and ran the Sisterhood as well as the Sunday school, among all of her various activities.

We grew up on those old, classic American TV sitcoms of happy, traditional family life: Leave it to Beaver, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch and, yes, even The Munsters, where moms were moms and dads were dads, fitting into the perfect 1960s/70s stereotypes. Yet, our mother stepped out of the mold. Yes, our days were punctuated with dinner on the table at six, our weeks with laundry days, but as much as she loved us, she loathed cooking and cleaning, the day-to-day humdrum activities of the housewife and mom, and we were pulled in and put to work as early as possible. As soon as we could reach the counter, we were in charge of our own breakfasts, lunches and snacks, and not too much later, once a week became TV dinner night as she ever so gradually turned the kitchen over to us completely. We had to strip and make our own beds, divvy up the chores and were responsible for getting to school on time and making sure our homework was done without a modicum of supervision, nary a question or doubt.

Maybe this was just par for the course back in the days, but I always felt that for the small town we lived in, my mom was special. She was utterly glamorous in her beaded evening gowns and satin party pajamas going from cocktail party to Bahamas cruise, intimidating as she ruled the synagogue hallways or marched into school to take care of any problem we had with a teacher, defending us to her very core. She had complete and total confidence in us, in our honesty, our smarts and in our capacity to take care of ourselves and get along. Where she was lacking in that Mrs. Cleaver maternal attention and warmth she all but made up for in her imposing power, her self-reliance and self-assurance and her humor. She patiently taught us how to play Mah Jongg, allowed us to choose our own Hanukkah gifts and encouraged our creativity, put up with our silliness and defended our differences from the other kids. Her punishment was swift and decisive, her praise was few and far between but all the more compelling and cherished; we knew it came from the heart. The rest of the time, it was simply understood.

G-d could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers. 
- Jewish proverb 

Oh, it wasn’t all roses and cookies. I often craved the presence of a more traditional mother and at least once she left me suffering in bed after a bike accident or while sick as she went off to a meeting; she did indeed trust us and encourage us to take care of ourselves, cook and entertain ourselves but I knew that it was because it allowed her the freedom to live her own life. Yet what some may have mistaken for aloofness or motherly neglect actually turned us into pretty self-reliant kids; her dislike for cooking drew each of us into the kitchen, allowing us not to learn from a traditional mom but rather giving us the freedom, curiosity and desire to learn to cook for ourselves from which grew an overwhelming passion. Still, our childhood was carefree and exuberant and our mother was ever present and a strong, solid force in our lives, her independence stirring up and reinforcing our own.

Now another Mother’s Day approaches, and it is rather difficult to write about Mother’s Day when the dates in France, where I am a mother, and the United States, where my own mom lives, never fall on the same day, and we often quite simply forget. Yet when I see the blogosphere studded with a plethora of Mother’s Day posts and recipes, I can’t but think of my own mom. More best friend than mother, she is still a remarkable woman at 85. Although she retired just last year, having finally sold her own real estate business, she still volunteers – practically runs – the Association for the Blind that she has been involved with since the 1960s, has theater nights with her girlfriends and still gossips with the best of them. When I’m home, we still love running up to the mall and shopping together – she is as crazy for shoes, bags and clothes as she always has been (and I am) - followed by lunch at the deli, bagels and lox or chopped liver on Challah. We chat on the phone regularly when she catches me up on the latest gossip, her comings and goings, and her dog Buster who keeps her on her toes.

M is for the many things she gave me 
O is for the other things she gave me 
T is for the things she gave me 
H is for her things, which she gave me 
E is for everything she gave me 
R is for the rest of the things she gave me 
P is for the presents that she gave me. 
Put them all together, they spell "motherp," 
The one who means the world to me. 
- famously sung by Madeleine Kahn on SNL, 1975 

When I visit her, I rarely cook; we always prefer to eat out or pick at what’s in the fridge or the freezer, our energy more concentrated on the ice cream, which follows every meal. Yet if I cooked a meal for her, I might make this flavorful yet utterly simple Moroccan-style Tagine of lamb, tiny potatoes and tender sweet peas, delicately flavored with saffron and fresh coriander. She is adventurous in her eating although preferring the familiar, so this dish is perfect for her. And with peas arriving on the market, the bright flavors of the coriander and lemon, this Tagine makes for the perfect Spring dish. Serve with couscous grains, of course.


32 – 35 oz (900 g – 1 kg) lamb shoulder cut into about 8 large chunks
1 yellow onion, peeled, trimmed and chopped
A pinch of saffron strands or saffron powder
¼ tsp turmeric/curcuma powder
1 tsp dried ground mint
About ¼ - ½ tsp-sized chunk of chicken or vegetable bouillon cube, optional
1 bunch fresh coriander/cilantro
1 small to medium-sized preserved lemon
1 lb (500 g) fingerling, ratte or grenaille potatoes (any small, marble-sized firm-fleshed potatoes), rinsed well
1 cup fresh or frozen peas, the sweeter and more tender the better
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Also highly recommended: 1 bunch small Violet Artichokes, stem trimmed, outer tough leaves pulled off, spiny top sliced off and quartered.

Trim any excess fat off of the pieces of lamb, rinse and pat dry.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat (depending upon your stove) with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. Toss in a piece of onion and when the oil sizzles and spits around the onion bit, add all of the chopped onion; stir and toss and allow to cook for only a minute or two until it just begins to soften. Add the large chunks of lamb in one layer (do this in two batches if necessary), pushing them underneath the onions so they are in immediate contact with the hot pot. Allow them to brown on all sides, stirring around the onions as you turn the lamb to keep the onions from burning; rather you want your onions tender and a deep golden caramel.

When all of the meat has been browned, transfer the chunks from the pot onto a clean plate; add the saffron, the turmeric and the dried mint to the onions in the pot, salt and pepper and stir to blend. Place the meat back into the pot and add just enough water to cover; add a pinch of chicken or vegetable bouillon or stock cube.

Slice the preserved lemon in 2 lengthwise and add to the pot, pushing the halves down below water. Coarsely and quickly chop about 2 tablespoons of the fresh coriander and add it to the pot as well. Bring to the boil, lower the heat to low, cover the pot and allow to simmer for one hour.

At the end of the hour, remove the preserved lemon halves. Add the cleaned potatoes (if adding slices or quarters of fresh artichokes, add them now as well) to the tagine, top up with more water if too much has evaporated, bring back up to the simmer, cover and allow to continue cooking for another 20 minutes. At the end of the 20 minutes, add the frozen peas (if using fresh peas, add them at the same time as the potatoes). You can add a bit more chopped fresh coriander here as well. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes or until the potatoes and the peas (and the artichokes) are tender à souhait…as you like. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and/or pepper as you like.

Remove from the heat. Add more chopped fresh coriander and allow to rest until ready to serve. I made this tagine right after lunch to serve at dinner, allowing it most of the afternoon to rest before gently reheating it as I prepared couscous grains. I found that the flavor of the lemon had mellowed perfectly while the other flavors melded and developed to create one of my favorite tagines we have prepared yet…absolutely incredible in flavor! Just before serving or reheating, you can either increase the amount of sauce – or thin it a bit if too much liquid has evaporated in the cooking, by adding more water and allowing it to heat through; or if the sauce seems too liquid and you want to thicken it a bit, simply lift out the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon into a bowl and simmer the liquid until the desired consistency before returning the meat and vegetables to the pot and heating through.

Serve over couscous grains.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A wonderful post! What an amazing mother and a classy woman. Happy Mother's Day to the both of you!

This spring tajine is just perfect! Totally my kind of food.



Ilva said...

I have one of my family's Mah Jongs here - come on over so we can play, I LOVE it! Love you photos too!

Rambling Tart said...

I'm always amazed by your ability to write honestly yet kindly about the people closest to you. That is really a gift, Jamie. :-)

THE Tough Cookie said...

Oh Jamie, what a lovely, nostalgic tribute to your incredible Mother!

Happy Mother's Day to you, too, my friend.

THE Tough Cookie said...

Jamie, what a wonderful, nostalgic tribute to your mother.

Happy Mother's Day to you, too, my friend.

A Thought For Food said...

Such a sweet post... love all of your stories about your mom and how your parents met and your childhood. Sounds like you have a great mom, but you are a wonderful mom too. Enjoy your special day.

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

I enjoyed reading your post about your mother and how she influenced your life. The tagine sounds so good, especially with the small artichokes.

Lora said...

What a lovely tribute to your mother who sounds like a true original and I LOVE that tagine pot as well as what's in it.

Stephanie said...

Happy Mother's Day to you and your mother! I'm sure she is as proud of you as you are of her!

Anh said...

This post is so sweet and touching Jamie! I want to fly to Vietnam and give my mother a big hug now!

Lisa said...

Great tribute to your Mom, Jamie. When you have a Mom like yours, you get you. When you have a Mom like get me. I think you know what I mean. That said, I don't like lamb..I've tried, but it just won't work..gamey, visions of little lambies etc. I'd definitely make this, though..I do like cows ;)

Cake Duchess said...

Delicious lamb tagine! I love this post, Jamie. Your mom is lovely and the photos are just gorgeous. Happy Mother's Day to you and your darling mom.

Winnie said...

Wow your mom sounds like a heck of a woman! This was a joy to read, Jamie: Happy Mother's Day to you AND to your mom!

Jamie said...

@Lisa: If your mom created you she must have been rip-roaring funny, smart as a whip, a fantastic baker and cook and sweet and generous. If you don't agree with that, then tell me where you get it from xoxo And do try this with beef or chicken! Come back and let us know.

Mairi @ Toast said...

Lovely post & your Mum sounds like an amazing lady! I hope I am still going strong at 85! Like you Mother's Day is a different in the UK....I almost missed it this year & snuck in just in the nick of time :)

Ivy said...

Happy mother's day. What a wonderful post about your mother. Although I avoid eating lamb, I enjoy it a couple times a year and this dish reminds my of my mother's cooking.

Jill Colonna said...

Jamie, I totally can identify with you in forgetting Mother's Day (UK in March, US before France in May) and our Mums not cooking. Ah the 60s! What an amazing woman your Mum is and we can see where you get your dynamism from!
This tagine looks super - after being tagined out in Morocco 2 wks ago, I'm ready to be tagined with this for sure!

Nina said...

great Post Jamie. You write so well....there is so much of warmth in our writing.Happy Mothers day to you as well!

Sarah said...

Such an honest, heartfelt portrayal of an amazing woman. You're a gifted writer.
Happy Mother's Day

Lizzy said...

What an amazing tribute to your beautiful, remarkable, one of a kind mother! What a wonderful role model!

PS..your tangine looks excellent!

Lael Hazan @educatedpalate said...

Beautiful tribute to your fabulous mother who produced the amazing you :) Happy Mother's Day!

I want the pot of the Tagine, how lovely. Of course, the insides look yummy too and fresh peas are delectable. But I really want that pot :)

shaz said...

What a sassy, smart and sparky lady, it's not hard to see where you get your verve from Jamie! Happy Mother's Day to you too.

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

What a loving tribute to your Mom, Jamie. Happy Mother's Day to both of matter what day it falls on!

Terra said...

We just recently bought a tagine, this sounds like a perfect dinner to make in my new kitchen toy:-) I love the flavor combinations! Yum, Hugs, Terra

Meeta K. Wolff said...

Your mum must be awesome. Glad I got to Skype with her a while back HEHE! You know the soft spot I have for tagines so this is really something I will need to make here. Or better still come here with JP and he can have full access to my kitchen ;o)

Nuts about food said...

What a lovely tribute to your mother. She really did her job well, even if her manner was unorthodox.


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