I would walk into the kitchen and ask, “What’s for dinner?”
“I’m trying something different tonight.”
And whenever she would say this, my eyes would scan the countertop looking for that little yellow metal box. If I didn’t see it, I knew I was safe. But when I did, I would resign myself to knowing I was to consume a meal in which mustard had no natural place. It would turn up in meatballs, Swiss steak and even chicken wings. I loved my mother’s meatballs, Swiss steak (especially her Swiss steak) and chicken wings, so the addition of mustard powder often led to dinnertime disappointment. My aversion to mustard became so acute that when I started to cook as an adult, if I ran across a recipe that contained even a trace of mustard powder, I would either not bother with the recipe at all or I would omit the ingredient altogether. I have since learned to embrace mustard powder and have come to appreciate its culinary value.
You see, there are two types of moms: there are cookers and there are cleaners. My Mom was a cleaner. Well, actually there is a third kind of mom who cooks and cleans, but they’re usually so angry because they are cooking and cleaning all the time that eating a delicious meal in their spotless house is ruined by the sound of their grinding molars.
Since my Mom was a cleaner, when I was little I often longed to be invited to someone else’s house for dinner. I think it came from playing outside after school and being able to smell dinners being cooked in other houses. This was when children still played outside on a regular basis and not only because their computers had frozen and World of Warcraft was temporarily unavailable. The one house I used to love to hang around back then was the house of my buddy Peter Moretti.
Peter Moretti had a Mom who cooked and Mrs. Moretti cooked constantly. Mrs. Moretti also did not clean, at least not in the way I was accustomed to. Eating at the Moretti’s was an odd catch 22: the food was delicious but the house looked like a war zone. I later learned that cooking was Mrs. Moretti’s way of dealing with stress. You see, Mrs. Moretti had a problem: Mr Moretti.
The neighborhood I grew up in was an average middle-class Midwestern neighborhood filled with three bedroom, one and one-half bath houses on maintained streets with good schools. This made Mr. Moretti’s possession of a Rolls Royce not just a little odd. I think I was only seven years old at the time, but that kind of car in a neighborhood like ours seemed odd even to a child. Everyone looked at the car constantly. Groups of adult neighbors would gather across the street and gaze endlessly upon the Rolls Royce, and then talk amongst themselves in hushed tones. All the kids just thought it was cool.
Then one day the Rolls Royce, and Mr. Moretti, disappeared. I asked Peter, but he had no idea why his Dad had to go away, but all the kids in the neighborhood did our best to piece together the story from the bits of conversation we were able to extract from our parents before being asked to leave the room. The two words I heard the most were ‘prison’ and ‘embezzlement’, but I couldn’t figure out why someone would have to go to jail for gluing rhinestones on a sweatshirt.
Then one day, the Moretti family was gone. No warning. Nothing. I later learned Mrs. Moretti moved back east to be with her family, but it would have been nice to at least say goodbye to Pete. But I will always remember the image of Mrs. Moretti in the kitchen. And while she made a lot of food I could never pronounce, the one thing I remember is her chocolate chip cookies because, to a seven-year-old, the chocolate chip cookie is the measure of a good cook. And there was no place for mustard in a chocolate chip cookie.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water
2 large eggs
1 pound semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper
2. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.
3. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract and water in large mixer bowl until
creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Gradually beat in flour mixture.
5. Stir in the chopped chocolate.
6. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto parchment-lined baking sheets.
7. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom and
front to back half-way thought the cooking time to ensure even baking.
8. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.