You Gotta Have Heart

This coming week at Ballymaloe is midterm exam week comprised of techniques and herb and lettuce identification.  Hard to believe that we will have completed six weeks already.  However, I have my mother on my mind.  I’ve been wanting to write about my mother this week because it is the week of her birthday and her death day.  How to do her justice gives me pause.  As I mentioned in an early blog, I am fifth of twelve children.  Being a member of a large family has definitely shaped my identity.  Frankly, though not exactly an accomplishment for me, whoa! someone put us all into this world and what a feat for her!  I have always thought that it takes a lot of heart to put that many children into the world.  Miles ‘n miles ‘n miles o’ heart as the song says.  Only an eternal optimist puts twelve children into  the world.

My mother, Dorothy.

My mother, Dorothy.

My mother was a good person foremost.  She valued her Irish roots, and like the people of Ireland (from my observations anyway), she placed a premium on kindness and on “being nice.”  She would abhor the culture of meanness seemingly prized in the world we live in today.  She also loved to sing, another wonderful gift of the Irish.  I don’t think anything made her happier than to sing with her brothers and then with her eight daughters.  As the mother of so many children she was elusive to the one.  She never sat down for long as you can imagine.  As a child I had a hard time understanding why anyone would have so many children.  I would pester her with such questions as she cleaned the kitchen or dumped the contents of the dryer onto a large table in the laundry room where we had to dig for our own clothes.  Her response to me inevitably went something like, “who would you do without?” I could always think of a few:) Followed by “go out and play unless you want to empty the dishwasher.”

Dorothy was not very interested in food.  My father’s French mother intimated, you know in that whispered aside sort of way, that my mother’s lack of interest in food had something to do with being Irish.  Since all of them are long gone from this world, I can’t put Darina on my grandmother to set her straight on that topic!  Still she was not interested in food, a fact that I found frustrating when I was trying to spark her interest in a  dish that I found particularly delicious.  Oddly enough then was the fact that it was my mother who sparked my interest in cooking.  Growing up in a family of good cooks, to say nothing of having Mary Sue Milliken as a childhood friend, I conceded early to the “good cooks,” around me.  In my early thirties just after having my third child, I called my mother to bemoan my younger sister’s uncanny ability to look into an empty cupboard and whip up a delicious meal.  “Why can’t I do that?” I whined in the way only a daughter talking to her mother can.  A few weeks later a subscription to  Cooking Light arrived at my door, a gift from my mother.  She renewed the subscription for years for me.  Cooking Light taught me how to cook.  This past Christmas my entire menu came from one of my old favorites of their Holiday editions.  To this day I love cooking magazines and much prefer them over seeking recipes on line.  I can while away many an hour perusing a cooking magazine.  My current favorite is Fine Cooking http://www.finecooking.comgreat recipes, beautiful layout.  If it were not for my mother I may never have discovered my love for cooking.  How fitting then that I’ve come to Ireland for cookery school.

Before I wrap up I do want to note the many things my mother did love besides her twelve children.  I’m sure my siblings could add to this list but here’s what I remember.  Dorothy loved babies (not sure how she felt about us as teenagers) dogs, birds, opera, reading, going to bed early and getting up very early (I wonder why: Hint the only time she could be alone) and flowers from the garden.  Though she didn’t love food, she did love popcorn.  She taught me how to “make it properly,” as Darina would say (albeit about tea not popcorn), and as it happens, I make the best popcorn, which I’m happy to share.  In a good fairly large saucepan over high heat melt two generous tablespoons of coconut oil then salt it before adding enough popcorn to line the bottom of the pan.  I say salt the oil because you will have a better result. Keep turning the heat down in increments as the popcorn rises to the top turning it to very low as the popping slows to a halt.  I always let out a bit of the steam as well while it pops.  Voila! You will never eat microwave popcorn again.  Thanks Mom for your miles ‘n miles ‘n miles o’ heart.  I love you.  Happy Birthday.


11 thoughts on “You Gotta Have Heart

  1. Michelle – oh my! I’m so glad I saw this post from Peggy! What a beautiful tribute to your sweet mom. It’s been so long since I’ve talked with you. I’m to fault for that. Guess I have your mom to thank for reminding me that there is nothing like an old friend. Your amazing cooking adventure in Ireland is inspiring. Somehow I’m not surprised to find you doing what most would consider an impossibility. I will say good bye for now but hope to hat back from you. Think I need to read You Gotta Have Heart one more time.

    Love lea
    PS: I, like you, never resort to microwave popcorn. I, like you, prefer stove top and use coconut oil. I must try salting the oil first. Just may try that technique tonight!


  2. Lea, what a wonderful surprise to hear from you. I think of you often but especially this time of year! Happy Birthday on the 2nd. I’ll be studying:( I hope we can catch up when I get back to the States.


    • Hi Michelle! I would love to catch up when you get back to the states. I read some of your other blogs. So nice that you have stayed in touch with Mary Sue. Sounds like you have been a dear friend to her. So tragically sad to read of her daughters death. I agree with your thoughts on the comfort of food when words feel somehow empty. I will always remember the quiet company of a good friend and a scrambled egg. Guess that’s why it’s called comfort food.

      You take care Michelle! I hope this isn’t a duplicate reply:/. I forgot to include my email info etc… Before

      Love. Lea

      PS: your poem was beautiful. Is it published? It should be!


  3. Beautiful images from your childhood! That laundry table, and the dig… Why is it I have trouble remembering names of current work mates and important acquaintance, but can remember, in the correct order, every one of your twelve siblings’ names? When I read Sole Food, I vividly remembered going with you on what was perhaps one of your first urgent trips to get help with (we didn’t know at the time) a life threatening reaction to fish. The potentially deadly flight of stairs at the Mary street apt., and you nearly fainting as we walked to the student clinic. Thank you so much for not completely going into respiratory failure. I made this coconut oil popcorn last night and loved it–and the fragrance in my kitchen, too! Until now I’ve been a dedicated Olive Oil Stovetop Popcorn woman. And who knew to salt the oil? Not the first time your advice changed my life. And my hands are exceptionally soft today, because I cannot use coconut oil to cook without using it as hand cream as well. Then I forget about it while it’s closed up in a food cupboard. Another reason I also loved reading about–and your living example of– how important life-long learning is. Much continued love as you continue to work your Irish/French derrière off. So Grateful you somehow manage to take the time to write. xo Anne


    • Well you obviously have a better memory than I ! I’d forgotten all about that reaction though of the handful of times I’ve had a fish reaction I just remember they were awful! Glad you liked the popcorn. I too always use some of the oil on my hands:). Thanks for reading and responding.


  4. What a beautiful tribute Michelle. I have been privileged to hear many of the stories of your mom but would you believe I never knew she was buying those cooking magazines😊. I am always indebted to her on a cold winter day when I get to wear the warmest coziest coat.


  5. I love reading your posts Aunt Mickey! I can’t wait to try some of these recipes & hear more about your adventures! What a lovely tribute to Grandma too. Good luck! xoxo


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