I made it through Mother’s Day, but I had to leave town to do so. This is because from the late 1990s through last year, Mother’s Day almost always has meant dinner by Brandon. It began when he and his friend Steve rented a house together not long after their college graduations. Together they decided to create a special Mother’s Day dinner for Steve’s mother and me, and this annual feast became a tradition. Other family members – mothers and otherwise – were welcome, so there was usually a good crowd and the crowd always included Brandon’s Golden Retriever, Lex, and Steve’s White Shepherd, Rommel, two of the gentlest giants ever.
That first Mother’s Day feast centered on their amazing fish tacos and some other dishes that weren’t quite ready to serve with the main course as they'd planned. Although our gracious chefs learned timing after several years of Mother’s Day dinners, taste was never an issue. I cannot think of even one dish that did not meet the “delicious” standard. They experimented and often introduced us to a food none had ever tried before or to a medley of flavors that may have been good individually but were divine together.
The taste experience that represents these Mother’s Day meal memories for me is Brandon’s tuna tartare. It was one of his “early” years’ concoctions, and I reluctantly tried this raw tuna appetizer. “But Mom,” he said, “It’s sushi-grade Ahi. Trust me. You’ll love it!” And love it I did. It became THE annual special request. Whatever else may be on the menu was left to our chefs, except for Brandon’s tuna tartare appetizer. It remained my special request year after year.
Life changes and so do traditions. Young men in their mid- to late-twenties marry or take jobs that lead to change. Still, Brandon cooked on Mother’s Day when he was free. And still, I requested his tuna tartare for any Mother’s Day when he served as chef!
Last year, 2012, was no different. Brandon had big plans for Mother’s Day dinner, since it would be his wife Christina’s first Mother’s Day. As usual, my one request was for his tuna tartare. However, as he became noticeably sicker, I suggested toning down the feast. It would be enough for all of us to be together, especially once we learned his brothers were coming for the weekend from out of town (New Jersey and Illinois). I suggested throwing a salad together while his dad grilled burgers and brats, but that was not good enough for Brandon.
“Mom, you know Mother’s Day is my thing,” he replied. “I’ll be fine.”
He turned down a Mother’s Day matinee of The Avengers, which his brothers were taking me to see, so he’d have enough energy to prepare the dinner. The dinner party that evening was comprised of his two sisters and two brothers, a couple of his sibs-in-law, his grandparents (my parents), a brother-in-law’s parents, and his nephew Konrad and nieces Karenna and Alice, in addition to Christina, his baby daughter Morgan, his dad and myself. What a grand celebration it was!
|Brandon preparing his Tuna Tartare on Mother's Day 2012|
When it came to the kitchen, Brandon did nothing half way. He went all out. I savored his tuna tartare last Mother's Day. Not only was the taste exquisite, but I knew in my heart (if not my head) I might never experience his version again. Later that evening we all exclaimed over the rack of lamb, and the sublime sauce he’d created to accompany it, but I think we were mostly exclaiming over his determination to create a special Mother's Day that none of us will ever forget.
I scoured the Internet for a tuna tartare recipe to include with this blog. None of the recipes I found could compare with Brandon’s version. His recipe combined minced Ahi tuna with some lemon juice, and I think capers were involved somehow. There were spices that drew out the flavor of the tuna. The tuna mix was spooned over roasted baguette slices and garnished with crisp curls of something or other, which provided a bit of crunch and coolness. Perhaps he has the recipe written down, but I’m not sure how helpful it would be. One of the joys of watching Brandon cook was in observing the innovation. As with most really good cooks, nothing was ever quite the same twice.
There was no tuna tartare this Mother’s Day 2013. It was not a year of old traditions nor was it a year for beginning new ones. This Mother’s Day’s round of activities is not one to be repeated year after year. However, it diverted my attention to the lack of Brandon and to the lack of his special tuna tartare appetizer, which epitomizes for me Mother's Day as "his thing." It was exactly what I needed to do, where I needed to be, and who I needed to be with this year. Whatever comes next, comes next and must take care of itself.