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Mother’s Day Reservations

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May is a month of family gatherings. People get together for graduation parties for high school and college students, or celebrations on Memorial Day.

But the second Sunday in May has become a billion-dollar industry: Mother’s Day. Restaurants have more business on Mother’s Day than on Valentine’s Day, believe it or not. But a quiet gathering at home may be more in keeping with the spirit of the day.

One of my Mother’s Day memories, having nothing to do with food, is of a cousin who moved from the Midwest to London. He had an annual tradition of calling his mother on Mother’s Day. This was an expensive long-distance call, and my aunt really enjoyed these long chats with her son.

But over time, my cousin began calling her on the wrong day. How could he make that mistake? In England, Mother’s Day falls on a date that is different than the one we celebrate in the United States. The British tradition, called Mothering Sunday, was originally tied to the mother church around Lent and Easter. The fourth Sunday of Lent became Mothering Sunday, the day Great Britain honors mothers and mother figures. But this is usually at least a week earlier than we celebrate Mother’s Day in the United States.

My aunt was unhappy that her son called her on the wrong Mother’s Day. But even if my cousin celebrated the wrong date, his heart was in the right place, and his call was more in keeping with the original intent of the American holiday.

Mother’s Day is a relatively new observance in the United States. Its first promotors, mostly women, were anti-war activists who organized movements promoting peace during the Civil War. One of these women, Ann Jarvis, cared for wounded soldiers on both sides, Union and Confederate. After the war, Ann started Mother’s Friendship Day, bringing together mothers and former Union and Confederate soldiers to build relationships promoting unity and peace.

When Ann Jarvis passed away, her devoted daughter, Anna Jarvis, was inspired to establish a day to honor all mothers, in remembrance of her own mother. Anna envisioned Mother’s Day as a day to spend meaningful time with your mom through a long visit or a personal letter, for example. She succeeded in having the day officially proclaimed, in 1914, as the second Sunday in May, the anniversary of her mother’s death.

But as the old saying goes, careful what you wish for. By 1920, Anna found the commercialization of Mother’s Day so appalling that she asked people to stop buying cards, candy and flowers. She tried, unsuccessfully, to redact Mother’s Day from the calendar.

Nearly every country in the world sets aside a day to honor mothers. The date of the celebration might be in March, May or August, and nearly all of them include giving gifts Ann Jarvis would dislike–cards, flowers, candies and gifts–to the family matriarch. But special meals are part of the day, beginning with breakfast or brunch. Let’s take a brief look at some flavorful, easy dishes around the world.

The standard American breakfast of eggs, potatoes, bacon or sausage and pancakes may have been inspired by the classic English breakfast of “bangers and mash.” This curiously named dish features sausages, cooked to the bursting point, served with mashed potatoes, and accompanied by fried eggs. Other breakfast fare in the British Isles includes baked goods such as scones from Scotland, Irish soda bread and hash browns or fried vegetables such as cabbage and onions.

Around the globe, dishes combining vegetables and eggs abound. In France, Italy, Africa and the Middle East, cracked eggs are carefully placed on a simmering tomato sauce and cooked to perfection, sometimes finished in the broiler with a sprinkling of Parmesan or a salty cheese. The French enjoy Oeufs à la Provençale with herbs de Provence; in Italy, Calabrian eggs are poached in a marinara sauce with rosemary. The spiciest version of this dish hails from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa, in a traditional meal called shakshouka. This recipe marries the flavors of tomatoes and hot chili peppers in a sauce with garlic, paprika, spices and olive oil, which is used to poach the eggs. All these dishes, served with the bread of your choice, are hearty enough to enjoy for breakfast, lunch or supper.

In Asian countries, breakfast is often egg free. Soups, from Japanese miso to Vietnamese pho, might start the day. Morning meals of steamed dumplings, rice or noodles with vegetables, meat or pickles are common in China.

If you’re looking for different ways to celebrate Mother’s Day, your cultural heritage might inspire a menu for all to enjoy. And while gift-giving is part of the festivities, remember that the gift of your presence may be the most treasured of all.