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Flash in the Pan

Food of the goddess

Mother’s Day occupies a spot on the calendar halfway between Earth Day and my birthday. How appropriate, for what is Mother’s Day without a nod to both birth and the Earth, the mother of all mothers?

While the roots of Mother’s Day run deep into history, we celebrate it on the second Sunday of May because of a Pennsylvanian named Ana Jarvis, whose mother died on the second Sunday of May, 1907.

During the Civil War, the elder Mrs. Jarvis ran “Mother’s Work Camps” in West Virginia. She declared these camps neutral, and aided wounded soldiers from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. And while her daughter put the holiday on today’s calendar, there are other links throughout history to the day that celebrates all things motherly.

For instance, the average Pagan Goddess-worshipper considers every day Mother’s Day. For this reason, and because every woman on earth will melt if you call her one, you could start the big day with a resounding, “Happy Mother’s Day, you Goddess.”

Unless Mom’s a Catholic—then skip the pagan stuff. Catholics, predictably, consider Mother’s Day in a Marian light.

Other connections come from springtime celebrations of ancient Greece, which honored Rhea, the mother of all gods and goddesses. The Greek poet Aristophanes, meanwhile, wrote a play called Lysistrata, in which the women of Greece denied sex to their men (husbands, that is—this isn’t Oedipus) if they insisted on fighting. Mrs. Jarvis would certainly have approved.

But none of this historical conjecture does anything to help answer the most important question of the holiday: what should we feed the mother goddess on her special day?

Let’s start with what not to feed her. The Old Testament has a line that appears three times—twice in Exodus, once in Deuteronomy: “Thou shalt not boil a kid in his mother’s milk.” While nobody seems to know for sure what this unsettling command means, or why it appears so often, it nonetheless casts a tragic and truthful light on the act of flesh eating. Every bite of flesh is some mother’s child, and maybe some child’s mother. Anyway, for Jewish mothers, skip the cheeseburgers.

If you have to guess, instead try an asparagus omelet with a side of springtime greens. What’s more mom than the egg? What’s more earth birthing than spring greens? And what’s more in-season than asparagus?

But if you really want to know what she wants, ask her.

“Strawberries dipped in chocolate,” blurted my mom when I asked, without a moment’s hesitation.

Of course. It’s a classic mom combo. But is it politically correct? After all, I am working this connection between Mother’s Day and the Earth. Thus, all possible Mother’s Day menu options must pass an environmental impact assessment. Only foods light on the Earth will be approved.

The strawberry harvest has already begun in Texas, New Mexico, California, Arizona and the southeast, so it’s possible to get fresh strawberries in-country—rather than those jetlagged berries from Chile. And while chocolate still comes from a distant hemisphere, it’s shipped on the non-refrigerated slow boat, with relatively light emissions. So strawberries and chocolate qualify as earth-friendly as well as mom-friendly, which is totally sweet.

But if you don’t want to ask her and would prefer to surprise your mama goddess, here’s another pearl of wisdom from mine:“I prefer food that is nostalgic, rather than exotic,” she said.

Once again, she nailed it. This holiday is about heartstrings, and here’s where some personal thought will pay off. But be forewarned: if you get it right she will probably cry.

I suggest brunch. Your mom can sleep in, have a chill morning, read or come bug you in the kitchen while you attempt to prepare her favorite food. In Mom’s case, it would be cheese blintzes.

If mom is far away, or in memoriam, cooking her favorite foods will nonetheless invoke her presence at your table. Give her a shout-out with your mouth full of blintzes.

But as for those strawberries dipped in chocolate—I use dark chocolate pieces in a double boiler with roughly a stick of butter per pound of chocolate. Other goodies can be added to the dipping mixture, such as Kahlua, sour cream, vanilla, etc. It’s pretty hard to screw up, as long as the extra additives don’t change the chocolate chemistry to the point where it won’t re-solidify. After slowly melting the mixture, tasting and adjusting the flavor along the way, dip the strawberries and set them on a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet. Chill, but don’t freeze—just enough to harden the chocolate.

Mom will probably enjoy this treat a heck of a lot more than she enjoyed giving birth to you. But she’ll have to agree it was worth it.

Ask Chef Boy Ari: A mix of barbecue and rhubarb

Q: Dear Chef Boy Ari,

What’s up with Knuckleheads BBQ? The Knucklehead dude is on the radio, but the store [on Broadway] is closed. I miss that damn good barbecue they make.

—Desperately Seeking Barbecue

A: Dear Desperate,

It’s true, the recent move of Knuckleheads was so quiet you’d think they wanted to keep it a secret. Missoula’s favorite rib joint has moved into the Claim Jumper Casino at 3021 Brooks, just south of the Mall next to Wendy’s.

I’m only mentioning this because the “Knucklehead Dude,” also known as Matt Crain, truly wants to save the world through barbecue, and he has a plan for how to do it—and I have a soft spot for people trying to save the world through food.

Q: Dear Chef Boy Ari,

My German grandmother always had washing machine-sized rhubarb plants, with massive red and green stalks and leaves the size of cookie sheets. Despite adding fish emulsion, horse shit and compost, my rhubarb still remains miniscule.

I’ve even split up the massive root system, and all have sprouted. But all are small. What gives? How can I make Gramma proud?

—Really Small Rhubarb

A: Dear Rhubarb,

I suspect this is a nature/nurture thing. You’ve been doing a good job “mothering” your rhubarb. But plants, like people, come in different sizes—and some rhubarb strains are bigger than others. It sounds like you’ve given your plants every opportunity to actualize, and they have. So now you have to decide if your love is unconditional, or if you want to swap your little runt for a bigger plant so that Gramma will conditionally love you, too.

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