Secret Ingredient: MOM

by | May 10, 2018

Over the years I have either written down or made mental notes of my Mom’s recipes or the way she makes dishes and meals.  As revealed in my tribute to my Mom in the introduction to our book, many of our long distance conversations have involved or were at least spurred by cooking. Even with all the cookbooks I own and load on my shelves (because I believe too many cookbooks is not possible) and all the recipes and information at my fingertips online, I still always, first, and foremost call my Mom for advice, input or the “what is missing” question.  I also love to call her when planning for company or occasions because I know we both enjoy the process of planning a meal and a gathering.  From the tablescapes to the right serving pieces and from appetizer to dessert, my Mom is my go-to planner extraordinaire.

So now you know I rely a lot on my Mom for cooking.  Believe me the same is also true of my reliance on her for: parenting advice, her example of being a loving and supportive spouse, medical questions (she was a nurse in a former life), how to be a thoughtful and selfless friend, and so much more.  I am over 40-years-old and still my Mom is the woman I want to be when I grow up.

Back to cooking, my Mom and I make many of the same recipes.  We have commemorated many of our favorites in our cookbook and had a blast working through each one together to find our best combined version of these favorites.  Many that are now written down with precision were formally just in our heads.  Writing our cookbook has probably stolen a few phone calls between Mom and I, since I now know without a doubt all the ingredients and their exact amounts.

I ask then: Why is it that more often than I care to admit the recipe does not taste as good as when my Mom makes it?  It makes no sense.  I have followed the recipe that we worked on and wrote down together.  This is the “perfect” recipe that we have put out to the world in our book and needs to be the very best.  I re-read the recipe.  I second-guess myself.  I wonder if ingredients I used have less potency due to shelf life or growing season. I rack my brain.  What can it be?!

The only explanation I can come up with and the only one that now makes perfect sense is that there is a secret ingredient in all our shared recipes. The secret ingredient is my Mom. Being in her presence makes everything better…more fun, more relaxed, easier, calmer, and yes, even tastier. Being in the kitchen with her and then sharing a meal that we created together or that she made while we chatted, that is always the best tasting meal no matter what recipe I follow.  I simply cannot match it on my own.

Jen and Mom 3


I am Judy and David’s daughter and Mel and Tillie’s and Fred and Luella’s granddaughter. I am the beaches and coast, lakes and steams and mountains of California. California is in my heart and soul, where I grew up, and it will always feel like home. My family and my oldest, cherished friends are there and dotted around the West. But, I am also downtown Chicago where I walked to work in knee-high snow and the shores of Lake Michigan where my husband and I strolled pulling my son behind us in his red wagon so he could learn to pump a swing and build sandcastles at the playground on our local beach.Read More

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