Artichokes are like moms…really!

If stuffed artichokes do not scream Mother’s Day to you well then you must have a different mom than I do (insert wink). It was the obvious recipe choice for me today not only because they are her favorite vegetable, but they have a bit in common with her too! I think artichokes are such a special vegetable. In season during the spring just in time for Mother’s Day, they are beautiful but unnecessarily intimidating. Like the thorny pinchers that are actually so easy to remove from artichoke petals (bracts), my mom’s bark was always worse than her bite. It was just a layer of protection keeping me safe. Like the perfect mom, the perfect artichoke, tender vibrant and fresh is hard to find, but when you do you know you’ve hit the jack pot. In that way they are just like my mom – tender, vibrant and yes…a little fresh. I really did hit the jackpot with my mom. For Mother’s Day I want to honor her with a story of the influence she has had on my life and how she taught me to cook.

A girl and her mom

I think my first identity as a kid was being my mom’s best friend. The second was probably being a music lover. Food and nationality and even New York City all came later, but none of it would exist if not for the influence of my mom. I spent all of my time with her, probably to the detriment of my social life. I couldn’t help but absorb her opinions and preferences and ideas. It wasn’t always easy. My mom’s kind heart, selfless nature and over protective ways were not always the most popular choice of behavior growing up. Although I was never allowed to do most of the things my friends took for granted, it was hard to argue with her and the sincerity that was attached to every “no” that I heard well into adulthood. I hated it then, but understand it so clearly now. Sure, a lot of it was overkill, but my mom was happy to err on the side of caution when it came to keeping me safe.  Although the easy nature of our relationship was similar to best friends, she was always the mom, keeper of the rules. Some days I wished she could be the “cool-best-girlfriend” mom talking boys and make-up, but in the long run what I got was much better.

From her love of music to her mastery of simple cooking she shaped everything I would become. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “For everything you have missed, you gain something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.” I certainly missed out on a lot of teen socializing and getting into trouble, but I gained an appreciation for my culture and family and food and most of all a relationship with my mom that would never let me down. I’ve always given my mom a hard time about “all the things I missed out on” and “how much she deprived me” when I was a kid. It’s fun to tease her, but I hardly have a thing to complain about. And since part of growing up is making peace with your past, it’s time to give mom a break and honor her for the amazing woman she is and has always been.

Cooking to the sounds of Sinatra

The music, specifically Sinatra “came with the house” as my sister-in-law Denise puts it and it always started in the kitchen. First the radio, then the coffee, then we cook. How could I not enjoy cooking under those conditions? It was fun, but Cooking 101 as taught by mom had strict rules. To start I was only allowed to audit the class. After many years I moved up to sous chef training and only recently began taking over the kitchen entirely. Like any commercial kitchen, there was grunt work that had to be completed before I would be taken seriously as a true home cook. For starters, I had to do my homework while most of the exciting stuff was going on in the kitchen. Sometimes I was called on to play DJ when the radio was acting up. Then there was the job of time keeper. Never mind those plastic bell peppers that ring when your meal is done. Mom wasn’t high tech. I had to watch the clock and tell when time was up. All this happened before I ever even touch a wooden spoon.

Luckily, I figured out how to beat the system or else I would have remained in audit mode indefinitely. My first big break, not unlike the restaurant world was in pastry. They always relegate women to pastry. I had no idea of this kitchen prejudice at the time. It turns out I was a really good baker and that’s how I finally earned my stripes in the kitchen. There was no stopping me at that point. Having watched the graceful dance of my mom’s kitchen routine for so many years, I could easily recall the steps. Just like the lyrics to “Summer Wind” floated easily in my head, smashing garlic, adding oil and measuring the salt in my hands had become second nature without my ever realizing what I had learned. I knew enough now to be dangerous and to annoy my mom who is used to being in charge in her kitchen. Yes, we sometimes clashed and still do, but when you really are best friends none of that matters. You simply move on and continue cooking.

In the kitchen with Michele

I’ve had several of my own kitchens over the years and every one of them no matter how tiny or how grand has turned out countless meals mimicking those of my mom. I never realized how much she taught me. I didn’t really know that I was learning all those afternoons, sitting in the kitchen with her watching her create masterpiece meals out of simple ingredients. I still mostly stick to the Italian recipes of my childhood, but now I have the confidence to experiment and try things outside the realm of what my mom taught me. I’m comfortable with food so I don’t feel compelled to stay in the lines. I mix cultures and traditions and take chances when I cook. My theory is that we can always order a pizza if I ruin dinner. So far it hasn’t happened. Perhaps that means I’m not trying hard enough.

To test my chops, I wanted to make stuffed artichoke. It’s been years since even my mom has attempted them. Unhappy with the artichoke she finds at the grocery store, she gave up on them entirely. Of course, I picked up this habit from her and as a result I never make them either! Ugh. This spring I vowed to bring back the artichoke! They are in fact hard to find. My best bet is to take a trip to the farmer’s market, but when time is limited the grocery store will have to do. After a little practice, I was really pleased with the outcome. Stuffed artichoke is actually more forgiving if you aren’t able to find the freshest most tender artichoke. You’re not actually eating the leaves. You’re simply biting off the pulpy flesh on the inside of the leaves and of course eating the filling. If you think artichokes are intimidating or too much work, I urge you to reconsider. The prep time for this recipe took less than 20 minutes and the rest of the time involved was simply sitting back while the artichoke simmered on the stove top for about 40 minutes. The results are worth it. It’s a filling vegetarian meal in itself or it can be used as a side dish. The juice from this dish is so flavorful and plentiful it can easily dress a pound of pasta; that is if you don’t scoop it all up with bread first!  Give this recipe a try. You can make it for the moms in your life or anyone else you plan to cook for or even just for you!

If you have a mom story you would like to share, please tell us in the comments. We’d love to hear all about it. Happy Mother’s Day everyone! Thanks for reading.