My mom is really cool. She owns a pair of pink and black patent leather Doc Martens, and she made sea salt chocolate chip cookies way before they were “a thing”. They’re The Boy’s favorite cookies, so she makes them every time we come home. Well, a couple days after we got back from Connecticut I was feeling a little bored and decided to try my hand at her recipe. I had these grand ideas about us feasting on chocolatey sea-salty goodness, about giving some to the neighbors, about writing a blog post on passing recipes down through generations, blah, blah, blah.
So it turns out that I’m not a baker. I followed my mother’s recipe exactly, and either I did something very wrong or my oven runs really hot, because they came out hard and flat every time. The Boy ate them anyway, and pretended to enjoy them, but I was a little cranky with two plates full of mediocre cookies and my poignant blog post going up in smoke.
So I decided to try again, and this time I wouldn’t screw around with sweets, which aren’t really my thing. But instead of wisely choosing to set my sights a little lower, I decided to go for the grand prize: my mom’s matzoh ball soup.
A couple of Thanksgivings ago, I was chatting with my then-roommate as I packed my bags to fly home for the holidays. She asked if we had any special Thanksgiving traditions in my family, and I stopped for a moment to think about it. We do the obligatory going around the table and saying what you’re thankful for, but I couldn’t come up with anything truly original. And then it hit me. Matzoh ball soup. For as long as I can remember, we have had matzoh ball soup at Thanksgiving. My mom makes it from my grandmother’s recipe, and the second part of the tradition is this: every time we sit down to eat the soup, mom will ask if we like the batch, and–no matter how emphatically we all tell her that it’s delicious, spectacular, the best soup ever–without fail she will say, “But not as good as Grandma’s.”
I’ve asked my mother for this recipe once before. It was a couple years ago, when The Boy and I were living in Providence. We’d both caught the flu and were in desperate need of some homemade soup. She gave me the recipe over the phone, and then I proceeded to disregard everything she said. Why would you put parsley in the broth when parsley is supposed to be eaten fresh? Why would I buy a package of soup greens when I can buy the vegetables individually? Why would I use a whole chicken with the meat, when I could just use leftover bones?
For some reason I was surprised when my soup came out tasting nothing like hers.
But this time was going to be different. I wrote down every single thing she said, and I resolutely decided to follow every step, every instruction, no matter how skeptical I was.
As I was getting the ingredients together, I started thinking about the last time I had eaten my mom’s matzoh ball soup. It was just a couple weeks ago, while I was back home for Christmas. The Boy and I were sitting at the counter in my mom’s kitchen on Christmas day, having a bowl for a lunch. I didn’t notice it at the time, but looking back I suddenly realized. She hadn’t said it. The famous words, “But not as good as Grandma’s.”
This seemed especially poignant considering my grandmother passed away just a few years ago. In the time since then, I’ve felt like those six words carried a special kind of significance, and of course sadness, every time my mother said them, like the soup was a kind of memorial to my grandma, which, in a way, it was.
When I found out that my grandma had passed, the first thing I felt was regret, something I’m sure is not unusual. Regret that I had not known her better. I had spent plenty of time with my grandma during my life, and yet I still felt like I had missed out on something, like I had failed to know about her life in some way. But this is what I remember: she was a pragmatic sort of woman, with a very particular sense of humor that prompted a wicked little laugh, and every time she came to visit us she seemed to spend most of the time cleaning. Maybe this wasn’t what she was like at all. Maybe my mom is seeing this and frowning because I’ve missed the mark so entirely, but nevertheless it’s what I remember. Seems a little paltry now, considering what a remarkable person I know her to have been. The most, and best, that I can say is that she reminded me in a lot of very particular ways of my mom, which I’m sure means that I’ll grow up to resemble her in a lot of very particular ways as well. Such is the way that these thing go. But maybe, for now, making Grandma’s matzoh ball soup is enough remembrance in itself.
When all was said and done, my first batch was a close interpretation of the original. The Boy and I sat down to a bowl full for lunch, and we both agreed that it was delicious, but not as good as Mom’s.
Chocolate Chip & Sea Salt Cookie
2 sticks Softened Butter
1/2 cup White Sugar
1 1/2 cups Brown Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 1/2 cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Coarse Sea Salt, plus a little extra for garnish
1 16 oz bag Chocolate Chips
1) Preheat oven to 350.
2) In a large mixer, mix the butter until creamed.
3) Add the eggs, both sugars, and vanilla and mix until combined.
4) Add the flour, baking powder, soda, sea salt, and chocolate chips and mix again.
5) Working in batches, transfer spoonfuls of dough to a buttered cookie sheet. Make small thumbprints on the top of each dough lump, and sprinkle a little coarse sea salt into the indentations.
6) Bake at 350 for 9-10 minutes. Cookies should look a little undone and just be turning brown when you take them out. Transfer to a cooling rack and repeat until you’re out of dough. Note: I had my baking time down to 6 minutes by the last batch, and they still came out over done, so keep an eye on them. Oven temperatures vary wildly.
I know this is ridiculous, but I feel a little weird sharing the soup recipe online (I can practically hear my mother rolling her eyes at this), but enjoy the cookies! They’re really delicious when my mom makes them, so I’m sure one of you can figure out where I went awry. And go ask your mom for her matzoh ball soup recipe, or, you know, whatever your tradition is.
PS: How great is my new spoon rest? Another gift from mom.