My mother’s terrycloth robe appears in my thoughts every morning. If my eyes were to see such a thing today, draped on a dummy, let’s say, I’d believe it to be horrendous: a putrid mocha-colored sea of fuzziness, with a plain beige belt strap and a black trim. I can’t think of any skin tone that would benefit from it, and most certainly not my mother’s with her pale skin and salt and pepper hair. So not her color.
This was a sophisticated and fine lady we’re talking about. Marilyn Dorothy Graham Flynn was grand. A graduate from Vassar, she was super smart and had the quality of a Hollywood star with sparkly eyes, a killer smile and the most graceful poise around. Black and white pictures of my father and her dating emanate her strength and beauty next to a puddle of mush and awe (dad).
And this force that was my mother went on to tackle life with zest and courage: moving to the exotic country of Venezuela at a time when no one did such things with an even more exotic man (Jewish and Israeli!) who ripped her from her family’s suburban Anglo-saxon identity landing her in a tropical chaos of bananas and car fumes. But mom embraced it all, every second of it, raising three girls in a rambunctious house she pretty much ran on her own while said husband traveled and traveled and traveled.
And then she began to cook.
A woman mocked for not knowing how to scramble eggs became the queen of cuisine: tackling thick and musty volumes of French Culinary Arts and Mediterranean cooking and melding those with the wonderful pockets of her own imagination making for unforgettable meals. I was blessed with an array of delicious soufflés, roasts, cakes, and her signature dessert of Ile Flotante, requested at every birthday dinner. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model and mentor.
Except for her breakfasts. In that terry cloth robe. You could put her in the jungle, you could have her beat egg whites with the ease of a signature French chef, but some things were not to be messed with when it came to her routine: breakfast was one of them. For all the glamour, grace, beauty and adventure with which she tackled life, this woman ate the most boring thing each and every single morning: toast with cream cheese and raspberry jam.
“Mom, seriously? Again!” I’d say, half in shock half disgusted, as my thoughts raced through the plethora of available, tasty breakfast offerings.
She’d look at me and smile, taking another messy bite out of her toast slipping with the sweet ooze created by the warm marriage of white and red goop.
“Don’t you want an arepa con queso guayanes?” I tempted, thrusting the warm Venezuelan corncake nestling fresh white cheese. I was answered with another bite of bread and a savage dip of the knife into the jam.
I always found it unappetizing to reach for that jam, say for a quick P&J sandwich, and find the insides of the jar tainted with white strips of cream cheese. There was only one culprit and I’d instantly go and complain:
“Ewwww, mom, disguuuusting. Seriously, use two knives.”
She was patient and kind and always quiet, throwing me a small smile I thought I understood but really had no clue what it meant.
I read: “So sorry. Won’t happen again, even though you know it will, time and time again”
She meant: “One day you will remember this. One day you will find yourself in your own comfortable robe, at your own table, eating your own toast and jam and cream cheese, and you will remember this.”
That day has come. I am in Mexico. I can have the most elaborate breakfasts of eggs and tortillas and sauces and beans, and yet, I find myself longing for, craving for, my mother’s breakfast. Each morning I find myself turned into her: toast, raspberry jam, and a small but important adjustment: crema de Oaxaca, Oaxacan cream.
This stuff is for the Gods …and my waistline. I buy it off the local cheese truck every Saturday morning. The cheese guy pulls out a hugs plastic bag, snips a hole in the corner, grabs a Dixie cup, and pours it in. He then puts a piece of plastic wrap over top and, if you are lucky, throws a rubber band over it to seal the deal. It’s as simple as that. No FDA, no pasteurization, no questions asked.
The flavor that explodes in one’s mouth is indescribable. Everything you know your arteries shouldn’t have and more. And gosh darn it the thing goes amazing with raspberry jam and black bread! Mom was right on target with her combo and all I can think of is how much I’d love to share this with her right now. We’d send that Phili cream cheese out the door and create a new annoying goop combo with the crema Oaxaca. I long to have mom’s palate dance with mine. Instead, I leave long white marks of Oaxacan cream in my jam. It’s my tribute to her. It’s my celebration. It’s my acknowledgement: mother knows best, especially with goopy messes and terrycloth robes.