Updated: Jul 27, 2020
(by Margie Goldsmith)
When I was about eight years old, my mother squinted at me through her cornflower blue eyes, which always turned into little slits if she was either angry with me or had something profound to say. This time it was, “Don’t be a mother. It’s not worth it.” I was sitting at the fold-out kitchen table eating breakfast, with my two sisters, one 18 months older and one 18 months younger. We looked at her blankly.
My mother was different. She liked to think of herself as a revolutionary because during her spring break at college, she’d gone to West Virginia to take photographs of coal workers, and because she’d once written a story for The Daily World, a Communist newspaper. She never stopped telling us those same two stories. She always wore dresses that were strange colors like olive drab (not popular in the 1950s), and while other mothers her age were sporting bobs, my mother wore her long hair swept up in a bun.
Most women back then were housewives; they cooked, cleaned, and ironed. Cooking was not part of my mother’s skills. I was thrilled whenever I was invited to a friend’s house for a delicious home-cooked meal like lamb chops or lasagna. My favorite meal at my own home was the treat we were allowed when my parents went out and left us with a babysitter: Swanson’s Turkey Pot Pie. Other times, my sisters and I had dinner in the cramped kitchen before my father came home. The only time we ate with my parents was on Sundays, when we were allowed to have hot cross buns (which were delivered on Saturdays) and scrambled eggs with bacon, which my father made. There was no conversation—everyone was absorbed in a section of the newspaper.
My mother had been brought up rich, so she’d never had to worry about money or learn how to cook. When she graduated from Vassar, she became a bohemian, rebelling against her sheltered life by marrying my father, a funny and creative but poor man. Her mother was livid and never stopped criticizing my father. Worse, he wanted to be a writer and couldn’t support our family that way, so my grandmother doled out money for our food, education, and housing.
Just as my grandmother said my father wasn’t good enough for my mother, I always felt the same way: Nothing I did was good enough for my mother. If I did something she considered difficult, her typical comment was “I could never do that,” but the way she said it made it sound like criticism, never a compliment. After college graduation, I fled for Europe, married, and watched French women prepare meals. I learned to cook just one: lamb with fresh applesauce (peeled, boiled, and mashed myself). I did not aspire to be Julia Child.
After three marriages and three divorces, I now order in, unless I’m going out with friends. But in this time of social distancing, dinners with friends are on hold. I did have a strange but familiar hankering for Swanson’s Turkey Pot Pie, but I knew it would taste nothing like I remembered it, so I refrained. If nostalgia hits again, the supermarket is just a couple of blocks away.
Margie Goldsmith, a writer in New York City, is the author of Masters of the Harmonica: 30 Harmonica Masters Explain Their Craft. She has been to 140 countries and has won 91 writing awards, including a recent first place from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Every evening at 7 p.m., she plays “Amazing Grace” and “Taps” on her harmonica out her window to show her appreciation for the frontline workers.
Coq au Vin
(adapted from Julia Child)
4 oz. lean thick-cut bacon
3 lb. chicken breasts and legs, skin on
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 t. minced garlic
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary, minced
2 c. red wine
2 c. chicken broth
3 T. flour
2 T. butter
10 oz. button mushrooms, halved if large
In a large casserole, fry bacon over medium heat until lightly browned.
Remove with a slotted spoon, chop and set aside, retaining the fat.
Brown chicken on both sides in the hot fat, about 8 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add onions, garlic, bay leaves, and rosemary.
Continue sautéing until onions begin to soften, about 6 minutes.
Add red wine and chicken broth.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200 F.
Remove chicken and keep warm in oven.
Stir flour and butter into the sauce.
Bring back up to a boil, stirring constantly, until sauce begins to thicken.
Lower heat to medium, add mushrooms and reserved bacon, and cook 10 - 12 minutes.
Place chicken back in sauce and check for seasoning.