Birthday Celebrations & Mother’s Day Musings


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This month has felt extra special and extra full. My mom turned fifty, and I pulled off a surprise weekend I’d been planning for months. I wanted to celebrate who she is, not just the numbers 5 and 0. I wanted to celebrate who she has been and who she still is today. I wanted to celebrate what has remained constant about her throughout these past five decades and who she will continue to be.

As I recollected memories of my mom, I realized that scads of them revolved around the kitchen with me sitting at the bar, conversing with her, possibly helping her roll peanut butter cookie dough. Whilst in college, I called my mom copious amounts of times with questions about a recipe. She would spout the ingredients, measurements and instructions from memory as she casually walked down the cereal aisle at Publix. She has oh so. many. recipes memorized. These recipes have been tried and tasted and tweaked and perfected over the years. They’ve fed and nourished our family and others, sustaining us through trials and celebrations.

Now, as a young adult, I have discovered that cooking and baking real things, nourishing things, from actual ingredients, not from an assemblage of processed boxes, T H R E E times a day, is much, much harder than my mother made it look. The magic she worked (and still works) in the kitchen remains an enigma to me. Through this process of reminiscing, I realized the kitchen, the meals, the recipes have been a quintessential characteristic of my mother. An idea quickly emerged on how to best celebrate and honor her.

My parents, having recently moved, said goodbye to many friends and family, but I wanted them to be with us on her special day, somehow. I finally envisioned a way to bring these family and friends to the table even though they were unable to be physically present: I asked them to write a birthday letter that included their favorite “Debbie Gregory Recipe.” Why? Because most likely she’s brought them meals when they had babies, taken them soup when they were sick, baked them birthday cakes, delivered them cookies in the hospital, or invited them into her home for dinner. She feeds people. It’s who she is and what she does and it’s what she will forever do. In fact, you’ll have to tell her to stop feeding you or food will just keep pouring out of the kitchen. I gathered the many letters that filled my inbox, categorizing them by recipe, assembling them into a scrapbook of sorts. I then presented her with this compendium full of birthday wishes and favorite dishes.

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Even though I’ve come a long way in my culinary skills since my college years, I’m still learning my way around a kitchen and I still frequently call my mom with questions. She’s demonstrated for me on multiple occasions how to bake a four layer cake and how to ice it, and it’s a skill I’ve yet to master. {For the record, I did not make my mother a cake for her birthday. I can think of nothing more intimidating.} I asked my aunt to do the honor for her sister and she baked the most beautiful toasted-coconut-raspberry cake I have ever seen. Give my aunt a spatula and she, too, knows how to work some magic. Wooden spoon as my chosen wand, I am still practicing the magic.

Thus, in honor of my mother’s recent birthday and Mother’s Day being a mere few days apart, my reflective self decided to pen a few things I’ve learned, from my mom, specifically in the kitchen:

1. She taught me how to make a pie crust, which has proved more useful than one would expect. It’s a highly underestimated component to an excellent pie, a rare known skill, comprised of four simple ingredients. If you need help this Thanksgiving, I got you.

2. She taught me how to make coffee, instilling within me the importance of freshly ground beans. I will never turn back. Not ever. Unless it’s Southern Pecan straight from Corner Bagel, then I will make an exception and purchase beans already ground because that’s the only way they sell it. Deplorable, I know.

3. She shared with me that the secret to an artisanal apple crumb pie is in the apples selectedthe crafted assortment of sweet to tart varieties. I cannot further elaborate because then it wouldn’t be a secret.

4. She introduced me to pound cake. A lesser known southern recipe that deserves a much better name, in my opinion. It’s always been a well loved staple in our family. I remember watching mom mix the batter, often doubling the recipe to make one for our family and one to take to the office. Note: Our family remains divided on pound cake. Half prefer it with blueberries and half prefer it in its purest form. We often ate it for breakfast, but it wasn’t unusual for mom to transform the cake into a dessert by topping it with juicy strawberries and fresh whipped cream. I have a confession: one time I made this certain pound cake and decided to throw in a frozen bag of triple berries. My family would be in an uproar if they knew I did this, but to be honest, it might be my new favorite way to serve it. If I give the recipe a twist, do I get to rename? I think so.

5. She modeled for me how to open one’s door. Our home hosted small groups and baby showers, brunches and dinners, birthdays and lunches. Our home was often filled, disregarding the fact that it wasn’t large or designed for any form of entertaining. Yet our home kept welcoming more and more family, friends, and even strangers. Mom has a special gift. She loves people by inviting them in and feeding them. It’s who she is and what she does.

I might not know my way around the kitchen as well as I’d like, but thanks to my mother, I know how to make a mean pound cake and a strong pot of coffee and I will open my door and share it with you. 

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Happy Birthday and Mother’s Day to the woman who will always open her front door, invite you in, serve you whatever freshly baked good resides on the counter with one hand and a cup of coffee with the other.


One thought on “Birthday Celebrations & Mother’s Day Musings

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  1. Hi Sarah. I read your blog this morning. I must say it is very factual,fascinating and flattering. Yes, so true of your Mom. From the other side of the family I would certainly agree with your description. Debbie has been and will continue to be a “big” blessing to all who know her. She has and continues to be beautiful person in every way. As one who has put my feet under her dining table on many occasions I attest to every word you have penned..Prayer Warrior,personal,patient. There are so many ways to describe her but you have done it best.


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