My mom has always referred to chocolate chips as "vitamins." When we were little, she would wake my younger siblings and me up early for school, giving us each a handful of chocolate chips as we sat up in bed.
"Eat your vitamins," she'd say with a wink. By the time I was 6, I could tell the type of chocolate and brand by taste, she'd trained us so well. I don't think anyone could love chocolate as much as my mother, and I still can't think of a better way to start the day.
My mother's baking skills are as legendary. My favorite mornings growing up, I'd awaken to the sounds of her busy in the kitchen, rolling out freshly risen dough as a pot of oil heated on the stove. I could soon tell by the aromas wafting through the house that the morning was going to be special. Mom was making doughnuts for breakfast.
Before too long, we were picking out our favorites from the freshly frosted bunch. I always chose one of the long johns she shaped using a large dog-bone-shaped cookie cutter. My siblings and I would pile in front of the TV, all four of us propped against the family dog (a very big St. Bernard), devouring her creations as we fought for the remote. We'd savor every last bite, licking the rich chocolate glaze from our fingers as we watched cartoons.
I spent my spare time with her in the kitchen, watching intently as she'd bake. I don't think there was ever anything she couldn't make: cookies, cakes, pies, candy. You name it, she could do it with ease and always with a creative twist. And while raising four rowdy kids.
When I was 10 or so, I remember she let me bake chocolate chip cookies all by myself for the very first time. I'd watched her make her famous cookies for years, and was certain I could do them myself. She left the kitchen as I measured the ingredients and pre-heated the oven.
It was when I added the flour that I knew something was wrong. The dough was too tough. Poring over the recipe, I tried in vain to figure out what I'd done. Finally, I went to get my mother. She took one look at the dough and laughed, before very gently telling me what happened: I'd packed the flour into the measuring cup, when I should have gently spooned it -- there was simply too much. But Mom could fix anything. She added a little more liquid and brown sugar -- and a bag or so more of chocolate chips -- and turned my mess into chocolate chip cookie bars.
Mom continued to encourage me in the kitchen, building up my baking skills and challenging me to be creative. After college, I worked in film for a number of years before I decided to pursue cooking and baking professionally. I guess it's what I've always loved.
Maybe someday I'll be as good at it as Mom.