(by Sophie Nau)
It’s 1989, on a side street off of seedy Hollywood Boulevard. A cozy one-bedroom apartment in a well-maintained 1940s building. The rent is cheap because the amenities are sparse and the crack addicts are loose. But for what it lacks in luxuries or safety, the building makes up for in charm. A rehearsal has just finished up, and my dad and his group of hungry musicians are crammed into the apartment, listening to records, drinking cheap red wine, and gratefully indulging in my mother’s pesto pasta.
As soon as my dad’s career gained momentum, my mother quit her job as a florist to be a full-time mom. As someone who agonizes over achieving career success, I struggled to understand how easily she was able to give up a job that paid her to do something she loved. How was she okay with forgoing a career path to raise two kids? Didn’t she miss the projects, the people, the satisfaction of recognition?
But she was available to pack well-balanced lunches in the morning, to grill cheese quesadillas on the stove after school, and to cook homemade dinners at night. She took a leading role in the art program whose six yearly classes functioned as the only art exposure our school incorporated into its curriculum. She and my dad had a spirited social life that often included my sister and me, maybe because at the beginning they couldn’t afford a babysitter, and maybe because as we got older we got used to (even liked) hanging with the adults.
And as steady as changing seasons, there have always been the parties. Decades out of her 20s, my mom still knows how to throw a good fête. The food will be lively and plentiful, the drinks delicious and generous, the tableware pretty and unpretentious. Music will circulate throughout the house, only turned off to provide a stage for any live performances that spark up as the stars attempt to shine over the dull mass light of Los Angeles.
If hosting is a performance, my mom’s entertaining can make the case that a night of theater can be an act of service. Opening our home, arranging flowers simply to enjoy them, and cooking are my mother’s most genuine expressions of love. Her hosting is not an excuse to show off, but rather an opportunity to share. She didn’t give up a career in the flower business; she quit and never looked back because there is importance in taking care of people too. The desire to care for family and friends is a noble pursuit because someone needs to feed the troops.
I have to remember to feed her too, in gratitude and respect for how much love she cooks up for every guest that passes through her home. I’ve seen the grateful faces of my dad’s friends, who come to our house for a rehearsal and are invited to stay for dinner. And now, before they leave, they might be sent out with a plate of cookies baked by my sister and me, carrying on my mom’s tradition of service.
Sophie Nau, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, is a baker and creator of Seconds of Apples, a blog about people's most memorable childhood meals.
My Mom’s Pesto
(adapted from Betty Crocker)
1 c. fresh basil, or more if you’re trying to use it all up
1/3 c. olive oil
3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1/4 c. pine nuts
2 small garlic cloves, quartered
3/4 t. salt
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender until a paste forms.
Can easily be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled and frozen for future use.