After Dad died last year, Mom started giving things away. It was as if his absence triggered her awareness of her own mortality and her dwindling need for stuff. She gave pots and pans to my eldest son, vases to my cousin, Dad’s unopened bottles of Scotch to her cousin, tools to my brothers, wine glasses to me, the case of unopened cans of tomato soup that only Dad had liked to the food bank.
Dad had always bought multiples of everything, and he’d liked shopping, had been the grocery-goer for years. In various kitchen drawers and cupboards, we found extra freezer bags, light bulbs, batteries, serving utensils, bottles of condiments. Maybe the extras were a result of years of farm living; run out of light bulbs forty kilometers from town, and the house stays dark for awhile. Run out of chocolate chips or butter, and the absence of cookies could trigger a palace revolt.
Mom’s diet started to change as well. Dad had never cared for rice, but had sworn by meat and potatoes on a daily basis. Now she enjoys “rabbit food” salad every night for supper, basmati or sticky rice, and good bacon from our local smokehouse for breakfast as often as she pleases. When we go to town, we routinely stop for rice noodles at a small Thai place. She eats shrimp every chance she gets, and pork and beans whenever I cook some – Dad’s gut had rebelled at legumes, so she’d gone without lentils and beans for decades. Mom waited until her eighties to eat exactly whatever and whenever she likes, with no one to please but herself, a novel experience for a woman of her generation, married sixty-five years to a strong-willed husband.
Mom has always been a feminist beacon to me, despite her traditional role in their marriage. She always worked outside the home, always assumed that my sister and I would do whatever we wanted to do with our lives, just as our brothers would. When one of us became a scientist and the other a chef, she was not surprised. She’s proud of the fact that all of her kids are good at what they do as adults. Competence matters to her. As she ages, her increasing difficulty with hand tools as her arthritis worsens is a source of frustration. But she copes. She does less chopping of vegetables, eats pre-made chicken skewers instead of cutting up a bird, uses garlic and onion powder instead of smashing fresh cloves and mincing onions.
I am grateful to be living close by, so I can visit regularly for movies, tea and our ongoing cribbage skirmishes, and to drop off food from my kitchen. I cook every day, and cooking for three requires no more effort than cooking for two – it’s cooking for one that is difficult. My dietary drop-offs have taught me that Mom doesn’t like eggplant or curry, but like me, she loves chocolate, Boursin, pastries, crusty sourdough, fruity desserts. “Good eats,” she comments happily after a meal she particularly enjoys. I enjoy hearing her say, “I had one of your excellent muffins for breakfast today” during our daily phone conversations. She taught me how to cook. I’m happy to feed her. So first we eat this dessert that requires very little chopping, and then we can compare notes on our favourite uncomplicated desserts.
Mocha Chocolate Pudding
Pudding only seems childish until you start eating it. Then it seems the height of grown-up, especially if each spoonful is part pud and part whip. To go nondairy, make it with soy or almond milk and a spoonful of coconut oil, and garnish with nondairy sorbet. This keeps well in the fridge for several days. Serves 8
6 oz. best-quality dark chocolate, chopped or broken
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
3 Tbsp. cocoa
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
¼ tsp. kosher or sea salt
1 cup coffee cream
3 large egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup strong hot coffee, espresso or coffee liqueur
whipped cream, crème fraiche or ice cream for garnish
8 chocolate-coated espresso beans for garnish
Melt the chocolate over simmering water or at moderate power in a microwave, stirring. Cool slightly.
Put the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt in milk a heavy-bottomed pot. Whisk in the cream, then add the yolks and milk. Whisk well. Add the melted chocolate. Whisk well, then heat to a boil. Pass through a strainer. Stir in the butter, vanilla and coffee. Transfer to ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for several hours.
Garnish each portion with a dollop of whipped cream, crème fraiche or ice cream. Top with a chocolate-covered espresso bean and serve.