Chef Mom — And a Salad Dressing to Celebrate

My mom is a great cook. No, really, I’m not kidding. I know everyone says that about their moms, but my mom is the real deal. I don’t think she’d mind me telling you, though, that this wasn’t always so. In fact, the family joke is that she didn’t know how to boil water when she got married. Worse, she married a guy from a big family. My Dad and his five brothers all pitched in to help their mother cook, so they knew their way around a stove—and had opinions about everything food-ish. My mom grew up in a more formal household; there was a cook, and I don’t think little Pauletta was allowed in the kitchen too much. So when my parents were newlyweds, the first time they went to the grocery store my Mom started to cry because Dad clearly knew what he was doing, and she didn’t.

Well, that all changed. Not only did Mom learn to cook, but she fell in love with cooking, sautéing her way through Julia Child, learning to bake great yeast bread and homemade rolls, picking up on the new craze for stir-frying in the ’70s, and mastering pie crust like nobody’s business. Her spaghetti sauce (which I cooked for Roy this week—it’s his favorite) and her pumpkin bread are now legendary. Plus, she was the Mom who had warm chocolate-chip cookies waiting every day after school. (Pretty sweet, huh?)

Fifty-seven years of marriage later, and, yep, my Dad is the most well-fed guy on the block. Not that Dad doesn’t pitch in, too—he’s still happy to do a little cooking when Mom needs a rest. And actually, I blame him for my obsession with food. He passed on the Evans family super-sniffer gene to me. Nobody on that side of the family sees or hears too well, but we all got a sensory bonus when the genes for smelling and tasting were handed out. That, combined with all the good food Mom cooked at home, and, well, you can see why both my sister and I love to cook. (That’s Eleanor on the right in the photo at the top of the blog. I, of course, am out of focus, because I could never sit still for longer than a second. Unfortunately, I don’t have a scanner so I had to photograph this framed photo for the post. But you get the idea!)

Everyone who knows my Mom marvels at how skinny she is. (A more recent photo of her, at left.) She’s always had a lot of energy, but I swear I think it may have something to do with all the salad she eats. She’s simply crazy about salad. (And chicken. She’ll order a grilled chicken Caesar salad 99 times out of 100 off a restaurant lunch menu!) In fact, along with home-made iced tea (this was Washington, D.C., after all), we had a fresh green salad with dinner every night when I was growing up. And this was before the salad craze or bagged lettuce. Usually the salad had sliced avocado in it, and later some of my Mom’s terrific home-made croutons. The lettuce was, and usually still is, green leaf and Bibb; these days she’ll put a little crumbled blue cheese and a few toasted walnuts on top. (These ingredients, along with a little bottle of her delicious home-made vinaigrette, are always prepped and at-the-ready in the fridge. My mom is the kind of person who makes dinner before breakfast.)

Today I love salad as much as Mom does (though unfortunately, I’m nowhere near as skinny as she is—it has something to do with chocolate!), and it is probably thanks to her that I grow so many salad greens. And wouldn’t you know it, yesterday I picked the first salad greens of the season from the garden. And I thought of Mom. Actually, I was just thinning the seedlings, but after I took all the roots off the little sprouts, they made a stunning “micro-greens” mix (in photo above).

So in honor of my Mom (and all Moms who cook every day for their families), I pass along a favorite salad dressing recipe to you. Maybe you’re making a meal for your Mom this weekend and will include a nice green salad. Me, I’ll have to wait. My Mom’s in Washington and I’m on Martha’s Vineyard (where, as everyone knows, I’m so firmly planted now that it is hard to drag me away!). But in a month or so, Mom and Dad are coming up to see the chicks (including Mom’s namesake, Perky), the garden, and the whole deal. We’ll have a nice salad—and maybe some grilled chicken. And we’ll think of Eleanor, who’ll be running in her third marathon that weekend. Later on in the summer we’ll all get together in Lewes, Delaware, my Dad’s home town. There will be the usual (loud) discussions between my sister, my father, and I about the best peaches, the best tomatoes, the best crab cakes, etc. And my mom will quietly go about turning out the best meals, three times a day.

House Vinaigrette

7 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. orange juice

1 tsp. maple syrup

1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

big pinch kosher salt

6 to 7 grinds fresh pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a glass measure or in a jar with a lid. Whisk or shake well. Keep refrigerated for up to 3 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.

14 thoughts on “Chef Mom — And a Salad Dressing to Celebrate”

  1. Happy Mother’s Day Perky! Thank you for teaching me to love baking and cooking too. I don’t remember the salads so much as I do the baking…chocolate chip and Christmas cookies and pumpkin bread. Yummy! I was always a willing participant in the cooking and eating! I also remember you were always eating hamburgers (no bun) and cottage cheese.You ate sensibly and I ate all the delicious baked stuff–and you always let me have seconds! I learned to keep my freshly baked cookies in the freezer to make them last longer and I’m now known for delicious pumpkin bread (or muffins, as I usually make them)! I also remember being very impressed when you were whipping up some exotic new dish like moo shu pork–it was something I’d never even heard of back then!
    The good old days of Cardinal Court and Boxwood Road!! xo

  2. Suzie, what a great tribute to Pauletta, and wonderful Mothers Day gift!
    Loved the photo of you three and the recent one of your Mum looking so well.
    Am going to make the dressing today….thanks for sharing

  3. Thank you for the nice article! It was always fun having Eliza around and I remember her helping you and Eleanor bake cookies.

  4. What a great mothers day greeting. I remember your cooking well Pauletta, you and Honey
    in the kitchen at 204 Bay I did not cook much, I was stuck with the dishes after dinner being the most resent bride. What fun we had 🙂
    Susie, I love your blog, it puts a smile on my face when I read it

  5. Thanks Randi and happy mother’s day to you as well! Mom just learned about “comments” so hopefully she’ll see all these…

    And thank you, Ann, as well — that’s 3 Evans brides tuning in on mother’s day! Honey would be happy!

  6. What a wonderful tribute. I too love the pictures. Susie, when are you going to post the cinnamon bread recipe? I’ve never had one as good as your mom’s. Happy Mother’s Day, Mrs. Evans.

  7. Pauletta, Loved Susie’s blog! We are in Maine and Eliza is cooking! We are having your dressing and susies sweet potato fries. Happy mother’s day, Love Bran.

  8. Thanks Kathy, and happy mother’s day to you! Gosh, I should have mentioned that cinnamon bread– I’d forgotten how good that was — will have to get recipe!

  9. Hi Bran!

    Happy mother’s day to you — Eliza posted a cute picture of you on Facebook. Hopefully Mom will see all these posts — I talked to her this morning and they were having leftovers from a roast chicken she made last night! Hope your dinner is tasty (if Eliza’s cooking, it will be!) and that you’re having a great time in Maine.

  10. Thank you everybody for the wonderful comments. I hope everyone had a happy mothers day!

  11. Daughters continue to amaze us. Awoke this morning to find that my daughter Ann in Richmond, had forwarded Susie’s tribute to you for Mother’s Day. A big smile spread across my face. A lovely tribute, all true, and just imagine “I have eaten at your table” time and again. How lucky can one be? Now you should write a cook book…” Fresh Kitchen Treasures from Pauletta.” Sign me up. Love and gentle hugs, dear friend. Muffie

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