Marianne Fons is a legendary quilt personality known coast to coast and around the world. I’ve seen people practically kiss her hem upon meeting her; I’ve seen her sign napkins.** To thousands of quilters, my mother is Friend, Neighbor, and Beloved Quilt Teacher. But in the kitchen, my mother is no star. In the kitchen, she approaches remedial. She would be the first to admit this and did admit this when, moments ago, I yelled from the living room into the kitchen,
“You wouldn’t say you’re a good cook, right? I mean, you don’t consider yourself like, a person who makes more than four things? Is that accurate? Can I ask you something for PaperGirl?”
“Okay,” yelled my mother. Loud and unsure is an interesting tone of voice.
Knowing how much she hates interroom conversations, I picked up my laptop and went to where she was: at the kitchen sink. We kids pitch in in the kitchen when we’re here, but it cannot be denied that my mother does the lion’s share of dishwasher-ing at holidays. Mom seems to like KP duty. She’s first one with her hands in the sink, after all, holiday after holiday, practically racing to scrape the plates and haul out the box of Cascade. I slouched up to the other side of the bar, ate some grapes, and asked her in a more civilized way how she viewed herself as a cook.
“I make a great cherry pie,” she said. “I make good mostaccioli. My chicken ricotta soup is good. But I’m not a person who knows how to cook, no. I’m just good at following a recipe.”
“And you would admit you’re a picky eater.” It’s not possible to be a good cook if you’re picky.
“Oh, absolutely,” my mother said. I was glad she didn’t try to argue this point. I’ve never seen a pickier eater than my mother. Actually, I did see a pickier eater, once. She was four and was wearing an Elsa costume in public on a Saturday morning while I was trying to have brunch. Either that little girl agreed to eat something her tired, weary parents offered her or she has starved by now.
“The thing is, though, I’d much rather make a quilt than a dish,” my mother sniffed, hand-drying a pie plate. “At the end of a quilt, you have something that lasts.”
This is Marianne Fons-brand snobbery; harmless (no one will ever really fight over what’s more special, grandma’s chess pie recipe or grandma’s patchwork quilt) but readily available, designed to insure she comes out on top. Maybe it’s not snobbery at all but unflagging optimism; maybe we could all do with more of it, I don’t know. But regardless, every once in awhile my mother makes a comment that belies her “who needs it” position vis a vis food arts. She’s got a daughter (me) and a soon-to-be son-in-law (Jack) who take our cooking seriously. I got down to the chicken soup business yesterday and within a few minutes there was a nutrient-rich, aromatic slurry simmering on the stove; Jack has been known to say things like, “The lemons are macerating” or “Pass the dashi.” Jack and my facility in the kitchen seems to inspire Mom to gingerly expand her repertoire every once in awhile (read: Thanksgiving.)
My stepdad, Mark, was getting his hair cut the other day and saw the good people of Good Morning America talking about pumpkin flan. He told my mom that pumpkin flan sounded pretty good to him, and Mom, seeing this as her yearly opportunity to flex a bit at the stove, proclaimed that she would be making a pumpkin flan this year for Thanksgiving. And make it she did.
It looked just the way it was supposed to. It came out of the pan beautifully and the flavor was spot-on. I know because actually ate some. Pumpkin flan is definitely not on my list of “legal” foods, but I’ve been so sick lately, I figured it couldn’t possibly get any worse. So far, I have not died.
And so, my mother’s new name is Marianne Flans. We’ve decided she needs to make pumpkin flan every year for Thanksgiving because it is delicious, but also so that she can come by her new name honestly: she needs to make multiple flans to truly be Marianne Flans, plural. But we did also decide that when used in the singular, it’s acceptable to pronounce “FLAH-hn” as “f-LAN,” with the long “A” sound, for this means we have a new word to add to our favorite game ever.
**My mother would want me to point out that I’m signing napkins, now, too; I also have a fame experience my mother likely will never have and would not want: I was asked to sign a girl’s cleavage with a tube of lipstick after performing my set at the Green Mill Uptown Poetry Slam. It was a memorable moment for all.