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Where Y’Eat: On Mothers Day Finally Getting Why All Those Ordinary Meals Were Special

McNulty family photo
Normal family meals from long ago are transformed by time, says Ian McNulty, right, shown with his brother sometime during the previous century.

As another Mother’s Day rolls around, we hear a lot about restaurant brunches and special menus, like it’s some big combination of Easter and New Year’s Eve. Mother’s Day is indeed just that big for restaurants.

But when I think about Mother’s Day the food I think about is quite different. I think about frozen food, specifically the stuff that was home cooked by my own mother on the weekends and stashed away to get us through the week.

That’s because Mother’s Day now makes me think about all those regular days with my mother, when I was just a kid and wasn’t really paying attention.

When I was growing up, dad worked nights, mom taught school and the wholesome weekday dinners we ate were often the result of careful advance planning. Weekend sessions of cooking, bagging and freezing supplied supper on so many of those over-stretched workdays ahead.

Made-ahead meatballs, bags of spaghetti and Tupperware containers of sauce all came to the kitchen table in way that would make you think we had a live-in Italian grandmother prepping all day.

But it was just mom. That’s why on Mother’s Day I’m not thinking of special restaurant menus. I’m thinking of meals far in the past.

I'm not about to start giving anyone advice on mothering. But as we gear up for Mother's Day, I’ll tell you the reason I treasure my mother's cooking has nothing to do with celebrity-approved recipes, expensive ingredients or perfectly-framed social media moments. It was the time she put into our meals, and how back then my mother’s cooking was just something I expected, something I felt entitled to as a child who knew he was loved.

That’s why the memories of these old meals, once unremarkable, have since deepened into something like awe. So this Mother’s Day, I’m thinking about all those mothers out there now who work hard, who have to juggle, who can’t do all, but who still manage to make their kids believe they can.

Someday they’ll get it.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.