My mother is many wonderful things: loyal friend, passionate advocate, easy travel companion, family historian, enthusiastic dinner companion, my rock, and always my first call when parenting my own kids has me baffled.
My mother is not, however, a particularly good cook. Don't worry, she won't get mad when she reads this; she knows cooking isn't her thing. She can follow a recipe and get dinner for 10 on the table if she has to. She just doesn't like it very much.
When my mom comes to visit me in southern California from her home in New York, she seems to find the joy I take in cooking both admirable and slightly ridiculous. She'll sit at the dining table and keep me company while I putter, and last time she was here I even put her to work slicing strawberries for strawberry crepes. But at some point, while I'm washing basil for pesto or mixing muffin batter or shaving radishes on a mandoline, she'll comment on my diligence. "Grandma would be so proud to see her little balabusta [Yiddish for 'ultimate homemaker,' more or less]," she said last time. "Do you realize you've been in the kitchen all afternoon?" I can never really tell whether she sees the value, or whether she's humoring me. Either way, I know she now understands how much pleasure I get out of an afternoon in the kitchen and the meal with friends that is the inevitable result.
Which is why her most recent visit was the hardest for me. My mom, who loves to eat as much as I do but at the moment is exhibiting far more willpower than I am, is on a carb-restricted diet. I could not bake for her. I could not cook for her. I mean, I did cook for her, but the options were quite limited. I felt hamstrung; how would I show my mother how much I love her if I couldn't make her delicious food? I had to take it on faith that she knows the depths of my love, even when carrots are off-limits and the lemon shortbread cookies she adores were a definite no-no.
When my mother is omnivorous, her favorite cookies are Lorna Doones. I created this recipe for Meyer lemon shortbread at the end of 2009, a tough time in my life when I missed my mother immensely and the tree in my backyard was groaning with lemons. My mother shares my fascination with backyard trees that grow food - I know you native Californians will never understand the novelty of it all - and she'll often pack a few Meyer lemons in her suitcase when she heads home to New York.
I couldn't make these Meyer lemon shortbread cookies for my mother this Mother's Day, but you can make them for your mother, and you should. Unless she's on that #$)%^%)$ Atkins diet. In which case, I recommend bacon.
Meyer lemon shortbread
- 2 sticks butter, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup Meyer lemon zest (from 3 large Meyer lemons; substitute regular lemons if you must)
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup large-crystal raw sugar
Cream the butter, sugar, salt and lemon zest in a stand mixer until well combined and fluffy. Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the flour in three parts, mixing by hand with a spatula or your hands. The dough will be dry and crumbly.
Turn the dough out onto the counter or a large board and press it into a rectangle. Sprinkle the raw sugar on top and press it in with your hands. Cut the dough into squares, diamonds, whatever, then lay the dough pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake about 25 minutes or until the cookies are just turning golden on the bottom. Put the finished cookies on a rack to cool.
More Mother's Day recipes
- Cooking with Lucy Lean and her kids
- Baking classes with Gourmandise Desserts: A great Mother's Day present
- Crab and asparagus quiche for Mother's Day from Gisele Perez
- Mother's Day angel food cake from The Girl with a Curl