Anyone who ever knew my mother could taste her love in the food she prepared. Oh, how Rosalie Thompson loved to cook, to put smiles on the faces of family and friends while filling their bellies. Her recipe box became a cherished heirloom, an opportunity to share her love for generations to come.
As the eldest of six children in an impoverished family, my mother learned to make something out of nothing at an early age. When she was 14, she met my father; at 16 she became his blushing bride—a dutiful, stay-at-home wife, and a mother by the following year. There were three boys and a girl before her favorite came along. Don’t ask my older or younger siblings to verify, and Mom would always claim that she didn’t have a favorite, but everyone knew it was me.
I was born in central Minnesota, but after my parents divorced for the second time (yes, they married each other twice), my mother got a job transfer; my little sister and I moved with her to Amarillo, Texas. It was there that my mother became intrigued with Mexican cuisine, learning how to make enchiladas, fideo (noodle soup), and nopales (cactus) from a neighbor. Texas indulged her sense of humor. One time when family from Minnesota came down for a visit, Mom took us out for a meal of the finest Tex-Mex around, ordering multiple dishes, including fries. Most of the family didn’t care for them, but it wasn’t until everyone had a taste that Mom let the others in on the secret I already knew. In certain Texas restaurants, when you order fries, you get calf fries: deep-fried calf testicles. The family didn’t find the secret amusing, but I sure did.
Not being wealthy, my siblings and I didn’t have a lot of trinkets and toys, but we did get powdered sugar rosettes and banana bread. Mom welcomed the challenge of recipes from different cultures, with unusual ingredients, and spent hours cutting recipes from her favorite magazines.
When I was grown and had a family of my own, Mom would drive over to my house to share her newest creation, and if I had a bad day at work or was feeling a tad blue, I could count on her dropping off a favorite comfort food. She was the motherlode of both emotional and culinary nourishment, until the awful day in 2011 when she had a stroke, leaving her right side immobilized and swallowing impaired. A woman devoted to producing elaborate meals and mouthwatering treats was now deprived of preparing or consuming them.
What the stroke could not take away was her love of collecting recipes. With the aid of a caring nurse, she would peruse magazines for ideas that she’d never be able to cook or eat. Over the next few years, she created several books filled with mouth-watering recipes and photos.
Three years after the stroke, in deteriorating health, my beautiful mother passed away, surrounded by family. Months later, knowing that the holidays would be difficult, I wanted to honor her with enduring gifts for my brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles. So I surprised them with duplicates of the recipe books that Mom had created while living at the nursing home. Now, at times when I miss my mother, I select one of her precious recipes and recollect treasured memories. There is love in every bite.
Gwen Ruhoff is a Special Education paraprofessional and actress in Minnesota. She can be found at www.gwenruhoff.com and @GRuhoff. The Journey is a video dedicated to her mother.
2 T. butter or margarine
8 - 10 oz. fideo pasta (short vermicelli)
1 small onion, chopped
2 1/2 - 3 lbs. ground beef
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
2 15-oz. cans tomato sauce
2 cans water
In a skillet over medium-low heat, melt butter or margarine, and cook the raw pasta until lightly browned.
In a large pot, cook onion, ground beef, garlic, salt and pepper, until beef is no longer raw.
Combine with pasta, tomato sauce, water, and salt to taste.
Cook over medium heat until pasta is fully cooked, about 20 - 30 minutes, stirring regularly.