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Nina In New York: Kitchen Nightmares, Mother's Day Edition

A young professional's take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

When we were little, my brother and I used to ask our parents why, if there was a Mother's Day and a Father's Day, was there no Children's Day?

"Every day is Children's Day," invariably came the reply. Even we, feisty kids that we were, couldn't argue with that one.

So, due in part to the deeply ingrained notion that every day was Children's Day growing up, and in other part to a love of tormenting myself with overly ambitious kitchen challenges, I've made it a Mother's Day tradition to cook up a impressive and festive brunch each year. I don't do this often, so when I do, I do it right. And by "right," I mean in the manner of a mentally diseased person. I spend weeks obsessively researching recipes, wildly flipping through cookbooks and tossing them aside like an mad scientist on the verge of a breakthrough. My menu changes at least twelve times before I've settled on what I'm making and how I'll be making it. That's when the fun begins.

There is a rich and storied (and bumpy) past for my Mother's Day brunches. There was the year my brother inadvertently shattered my mother's coffee pot the morning of, so by the time they arrived to our apartment they had been fighting and caffeine-deprived for hours. DID WE HAVE ORANGE JUICE?! MY MOTHER NEEDED ORANGE JUICE. Oh lord, no! We didn't! But we DID have this brand new, fancy coffee-maker, and I attempted to calm them down as I proudly pushed the button. And waited. And waited. I could actually see my mother's hairs begin to stand on end. When nothing but steaming hot, light brown water came out, Mr. Pajak was dispatched to the corner store to rectify the situation while I stayed home to control the furious guests and burn the frittata to a crisp.

My favorite year was the one following. We had just moved into a new apartment, and I was excited to host both my family and my husband's family for the first time, using our aforementioned impossibly tiny kitchen. I had about six square inches of working counter space, a sink that made Snooki look deep (ba dum dum), and a sliver of an oven that had to be flooded with gas to turn on at all. So very reasonably, I settled on a menu of: gruyere and spinach strata, pan-roasted grape tomatoes with herbs and garlic, oven-roasted herbed potatoes, maple grilled bacon, and vanilla pound cake with freshly made whipped cream and berries. For seven people.

I stayed up for days preparing everything and learned a very important lesson in engineering a menu that doesn't all need to be made within the same hour. Mr. P spent the entire morning furiously washing, drying and handing dishes back to me to reuse. Our elderly, incontinent dog was positioned squarely between me and the counter, catching random bits of food that fell and allowing all manner of substances to drip onto his back. The maple bacon wasn't grilling so much as broiling over makeshift racks in the oven, and they had exactly enough time to crisp before the potatoes had to go in. When I went to retrieve them, I noticed that they were completely raw. Our oven had shut off of its own accord and the bacon slices had just been marinating in maple syrup for half an hour. I was unshowered and guests were arriving in twenty minutes. I threw the sticky bacon on my grill pan, which was balanced half off the stove to accommodate the other two dishes in action, and turned the heat up until the pan was nearly ruined and the entire kitchen had filled with greasy, sweet smoke.

I was still changing my clothes when everyone walked in (through the kitchen, of course), and despite the syrup-covered dog and the scent of pork hanging in the air (which is just as good as it is bad), everyone was actually, genuinely impressed. The moms were thrilled and grateful, and the food came out quite delicious. Unfortunately, I had to use our little dining table as a serving buffet, so we all had to sit in chairs with plates in our laps in a big circle around an imaginary table. But how awkward can things be when you're eating homemade whipped cream among family? Medium. The answer is medium.

What are you doing this weekend? You know where I'll be. I hope Gus proves easier to de-gunk than our last dog.

Happy Mother's Day!


Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

The Nina Archives:

A New Nissan Life (Get It?)

The End May Or May Not Be Nigh…

Happy New Year!

The Garden State Diet (No Garden Salads)

Official State Dog Is Gus! (Kinda)

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