Cooking has been a passion of mine since I was a little girl. I attribute this to my mother’s own passion for cooking. She bought me my first set of plastic food and a bright pink and purple play kitchen. We watched Martha Stewart together every morning before going to preschool. When I was too little to even reach the counter, my mother would have me stand on a chair to pour in sugar and stir in flour. She bought me my first cookbook, a copy of Rachael Ray’s Cooking Rocks! from which I created some pretty horrible dishes that my parents kindly ate.

My mother has not always been the exceptional cook that my family knows her as today—sorry Mom, but I am about to expose you here! When she got married, my mother’s interpretation of the classic Italian chicken parmigiana dish was defrosting frozen chicken patties, topping them with tomato sauce from a jar—which is now forbidden in her kitchen—and sprinkling on shredded mozzarella from a bag. Over the years, my mother taught herself to cook by watching the Food Network, and luckily, she no longer makes chicken parmigiana this way—thank goodness! She breads her own chicken cutlets in flour, egg wash, and breadcrumbs; tops them with her own homemade tomato sauce, utilizing the San Marzano tomatoes grown from our summer garden; and then lays fresh mozzarella delicately on top with a basil leaf for added flavor. Almost everything that my mother makes gets devoured within the hour, and if there happens to be any leftovers, she refrigerates them so that someone can snack on them the next day. My brother and I usually fight each other for the leftovers, but unfortunately for him, I’ve developed a habit of eating them for breakfast before he wakes up.

I have become somewhat of a food snob because of my mother’s cooking. She basically makes me feel like a true celebrity. I confess that I have a growing list of food likes and dislikes. My picky pallet will not allow me to eat the same meal within a two-week span and has great difficulty deciding what it desires at any particular moment. I also have my fair share of oddball cravings, which means my mother has to keep our pantry stocked at all times. Brie and cranberry sauce in phyllo dough is the perfect after-school snack for when I am feeling gourmet. I can eat pickles and olives by the jar, but I am always kind enough to leave one in the jar for someone else. When I do not know what to eat, you can expect to find me moping and whining around the house. Given my celebrity status within the home, my mother treats my appetite similar to how Ben treats his charter guests on Below Deck (of course, I had to reference my favorite reality show, where the guests submit a preference sheet outlining all their food wants, and Ben makes it happen). In the same way, my mother puts forth great effort into not only satisfying my difficult taste buds but also managing her busy schedule. While this may not qualify her for a spot on Top Chef, Master Chef, or Chopped, she’s a champion to me.

So, as most of you can imagine, coming to college and being subjected to the college dining hall—cue the dark, depressing music—has been a big adjustment. Although our dining hall is not bad and even pretty good at times, it is not Mom’s cooking. The dining hall staff does not know that I like my steak well done or that I prefer my bananas to be bright green instead of ripe yellow—it’s weird, I know. After the first week living on campus, I had already emailed my mother a lengthy list of suggested meals for when I return home for Thanksgiving break: filet mignon and garlic mashed potatoes, pancakes with caramelized bananas, mushroom ravioli in brown butter sauce, lobster macaroni and cheese, shrimp risotto, eggs benedict, lemon-lime rosemary scones, and homemade coconut ice cream speckled with Saint Martin vanilla beans. The list continues to grow each day. My parents often joke that they are not sure whether I am more excited to see them or to eat home-cooked meals, but when I tell them that I have eaten mostly bagels and cereal for the past couple months, they understand that the way to my heart is through my stomach. Every few weeks, my mother sends me a care package usually stocked with one of her legendary baked goods as a treat. In my last package, she assembled a kit that contained my favorite homemade pumpkin bars meticulously wrapped for freshness, a container of cream cheese icing, and a bag of chocolate chips to sprinkle on top. It helped get me through a tough week of exams, projects, and essays, and definitely brought me back home for a short moment. My parents also brought a slew of homemade foods when they visited over parent’s weekend. This instantly brought a smile to my face—that is until I ate everything and had to return to my carbohydrate staples.  Perhaps the unlimited meal plan was not such a great idea, Dad!

Being away has helped me appreciate the joy of my mother’s home cooking. I have new respect for everything my mother cooks—well, maybe not the balsamic chicken or her rendition of pigs in a blanket. Again, Mom, I’m sorry! Good or bad, one thing is certain: she always adds love into her cooking, and it shows. I am excited to return home to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. I will cherish every second with my family members, and I look forward to filling my plate with food, going back for seconds, maybe even thirds, and stuffing my face with leftovers for days after. Perhaps I’ll even pack up some leftovers to bring back to campus, but don’t expect me to share them with you. In the words of Charlie Brown, “I can’t cook a Thanksgiving dinner! All I can make is cold cereal and maybe toast,” giving me even more reason to be thankful for my mother’s cooking. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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