April was a Very Big Month, as capital m months go. I did a lot of reflecting, soul-searching, stressing, and not sleeping. I am an excellent notsleeper, and April was a banner notsleeping month. I also spent a lot of time thinking about my mother, and my children, and how much my mother would have loved my children had she not died on April 10, 2002, six days after my younger son turned one.
I don't want to be morbid, and my-mother-is-dead posts tend to be very heavy and awkward and morose and sad. And that's not why I'm here. So I'll just be blunt and get this part out of the way: there are very few good things about having a dead mother.
Once we lose a parent, we really have no choice but to carry on and try to find blessings in our new reality as motherless children. And without any disrespect toward the memory of my own mom, there are some blessings, at least in my case, that are worth noting.
My mother's diagnosis, long illness, and death probably saved my life. I won't go into the specifics here, but her dark physical reality was a wake-up call to me, and I made major life changes to protect my health and longevity after she died.
My mother worked exceptionally hard at building her career. She was a whip-smart woman who commuted by train each day to and from work, and she came home tired. She was really good at her job. And while she had moments of happiness and great joy throughout her life, I'd be lying if I said happy was the first word I'd use to describe her.
Four months after she died, I enrolled in culinary school. I was 32. I'd been married for 8 years and had two toddlers at home, but her death screamed LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO DO ANYTHING BUT THAT WHICH WILL MAKE YOU VERY HAPPY to me in all caps, bold, underline, italics. I flung my prior career aside, stripped off my academic persona, and donned the garb of the creative. I reinvented myself.
With my husband's permission, encouragement, and full-on support, I grabbed my future by the teeth, pried open its mouth, and stared down its throat. If we're all going to end up dead anyway, I wanted my ride to the bottom to be a happy one. One filled with sweetness, color, creativity, and passion.
I don't think about this stuff often, but now that Ripe is out and I'm being interviewed, people are interested in my career. They want to know when I started cooking, and why I chose this path. How did you become a food writer? they ask. And since Mother's Day is nearing, I figured I'd tell you the truth.
I started on this path the year my mother died. Had she lived, I'm not quite sure I'd be here.
Hug your mother, if she's around. Tell her you love her. Make her a scone. Pick her a flower. Give her a call.
If she's not -- if you, too, are a motherless child, then grab your future by the teeth, pry open its mouth, look down its throat, and let the looming darkness spur you to find meaning, fulfillment, and unbridled joy while you're here.
Recipe for Iced Candied Fennel Cardamom Scones
These scones are a touch sweeter than I'd normally go, but Mother's Day is a sweet holiday. (Stick with 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar if you want to scale back.) Candied fennel is often found in pretty bowls by the hostess stand at Indian restaurants, and the brightly coated seeds make a surprising addition to the batter. You can find them at any Indian market.
Makes 11 scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups cold heavy cream, plus a bit extra for brushing
1/3 cup candied fennel (see headnote)
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Stack two baking sheets together (this helps keep the bottoms from burning) and line the top sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar, 1 teaspoon cardamom, and salt into a large bowl. In a measuring cup, stir the vanilla extract into the heavy cream, then dribble this mixture over the dry ingredients. Sprinkle in the candied fennel. Stir with a wooden spoon until you have a shaggy dough. Scrape the bottom to make sure you absorb all the dry bits into the dough mass.
Dump the dough onto a floured board. Knead about 10 times, then pat into a disc about 1" high. Use a floured 2-1/4" round cutter to stamp out circles, and transfer them to the baking sheet. Brush lightly with cream. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 22 minutes, turning the sheet halfway through.
Meanwhile, make the glaze. In a large bowl, whisk the sifted powdered sugar with the 1/8 teaspoon cardamom. Whisk in 2 to 3 tablespoons milk until you have a shiny glaze that falls slowly off the whisk and isn't too runny.
When the scones are ready, let them cool for a few minutes. Let the glaze fall off the whisk onto the scones. (Use a small offset spatula to smooth, if desired.)