I have spent many years enjoying the comfort of my mother’s food, after a long day of school or work. She has made eating a pleasure because of the heart and soul she puts into every meal.
I don’t know if she has changed over the years or whether, as I got older, I came to understand her more. She has a tough exterior, but it covers a soft heart, and she cares a lot more than what she lets people know. I was born when she was 15, so she had some growing up to do. I have two young sisters with kids, and I see that they have a hard time adjusting to motherhood. I think about how difficult it must have been for my mother to have three children when she was still a teenager herself. I never understood why she often seemed so mad, but now I can see that what I mistook for anger was stress.
My mother and I have different personalities. She’s a firecracker, very outspoken. I’m timid and a little standoffish at times. My mom is a talker; I don’t say much when I first meet someone. What we share is a love of reading and writing. I learned from my grandma that my mother loved to write when she was a girl, and I always saw her with a book in her hands. It became a bond for us. And my family thinks that I got my smarts from my mother.
Knowing how to cook and how to play with flavors was passed down from my great-grandmother to my grandmother to my mother. When she’s in the kitchen, she’s in her zone; she belongs there. She puts little twists on what she was taught, completely changing a dish. From sweet to spicy to sour, I can taste the food even before it’s served.
Although the cooking skills reach back to my great-grandmother, her cooking did not reflect the culinary traditions of Colombia, South Carolina, where she was born. Mostly she learned and practiced in Buffalo, where she moved with her husband when she was 19. She didn’t even know what pizza was back then—apparently, it didn’t exist where she grew up. In the South, she had experienced racism and segregation, but Buffalo was different. She lived in a community that was predominately white, and she had a different accent from everyone else, but she didn’t have trouble adjusting, and made friends easily. Eventually, her sisters and mother moved to Buffalo too.
For three generations, cooking has provided comfort in my family when anyone is having a bad day, as well as reason for celebrating. This trait has skipped me, but I do try. My mother would try to show me how to make something or enlist my help for stirring the pot, but I felt lost in the kitchen. I didn’t start cooking until I moved out on my own, when I had no choice. I use the spices my mother uses to season her food, and I cook the way she does, or at least how I remember it when I watched her. It never tastes like her food, but it doesn’t taste bad either.
Dalijaha Davis lives in Buffalo, New York. She is writing an e-book, working on scripts for a TV pilot and movie, and developing an online business for skin care products. She can be found at www.daijahadavis.com and @daijahax.
My Mother’s Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb. elbow noodles
1 1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. pepper
3 T. unsalted butter
4 c. each grated Colby, Cooper, Monterey jack, and mild cheddar cheese
1 1/2 c. evaporated milk
2 1/2 c. heavy cream
Bring a pot of salted water to boil, and cook the noodles.
Drain and season with salt and pepper.
Toss with butter.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Place in a 4-quart casserole, and toss with the cheeses, saving some for topping.
Mix in evaporated milk and heavy cream.
Sprinkle reserved cheese on top.
Bake for 30 - 40 minutes, until top is browned.