My first cooking memory is of making fried eggs doused in vinegar for a Mother's Day breakfast in bed. I'm not sure why six-year-old me thought the vinegar would be a tasty addition – I must have seen my mother splash it on fancier dishes and wanted to up the ante. My mom choked them down with a smile on her face, as love has no limitations – even when it comes to overly acidic breakfasts.
I've learned since that I had the right idea – acids such as vinegar and citrus do brighten the flavours of most foods, even wobbly eggs, but only when used with discretion. I was lucky enough to learn the art of a balanced dish in my mother's kitchen – as well as so much more about cooking, food and life, leaning on our kitchen island while we stirred, sautéed and tasted.
What each of us learns in our mother's kitchen is often the culmination of knowledge from generations of women who had to make do. Sometimes the lessons are just about getting food on the table. Often they're about love and guilt and tradition. The history of a favourite birthday cake recipe, the steps to making a multifaceted curry or memorizing how each person likes their coffee knits us together as family.
Mother's Day is an excuse to make a meal that honours your family traditions. If your kitchen memories are absent, then it can give you an opportunity to create some.
I'm not sure who decided that Mother's Day is all about brunch, which tends to turn a day ostensibly about relaxation into one that requires an early wake-up, much planning and an afternoon full of cleaning. So the challenge this week was to create a dish that honours mothers in both fabulous flavour and simplicity, as well as one you will want to make more than once a year.
When my grandmother arrived in Canada from Scotland in the late 1950s, she was fascinated by Wonder Bread. She had never seen anything so white and spongy. She used it to make a savoury bread pudding – a staple back home – as no one would throw out bread, even when it was stale – but a dish that was then relatively unseen in North America. Her 1960s version contained processed-cheese slices and canned asparagus – unsurprisingly, this recipe has gone through many updates since then. What has stayed the same is its rich cheesiness and its accompaniment of an asparagus salad that adds just the right amount of acid to cut through the creaminess.
Prep is done the night before to allow the bread to soak up the liquid. Don't feel tied to the recipe; once you get the proportions right, you can scale it up or throw in some additions. We hope it becomes a family tradition in your house, just as it is in ours.