Of all the possible sins of my youth, saying I was bored was one of the worst in my mom's opinion. Poor judgment (stealing the car when I wasn't old enough to legally drive), fibbing (the dog knocked that over and broke it), dishonorable acts (sleeping in church), offenses (having a permanent summons on our refrigerator for speeding tickets from ages 16-18) , etc. were all generally forgiven. Not so much for comments about boredom. At the mere under-the-breath mention (which, of course moms can always hear, even if they're 3 rooms away), my mom would simply say, "Well, I have plenty of things you could do. You could vacuum, or clean your room, or polish silver, or. . . . " At that point, you quickly backtracked and miraculously found something to happily occupy yourself with.
In reflection, I know her point was not to busy us with chores. It was to encourage us to make the most of each day. She was fond of saying, "There are no dress rehearsals in life!" I believe she was instilling in my brother and me a zest for life she possesses and continues to demonstrate. She's a life learner and a life doer. She's always up for anything. To make us green eggs and ham when we were obsessed with the Dr. Seuss book. To let me have my first slumber party with 20 girls when I was only in kindergarten. To drive from Panama to Costa Rica to see the famous golden toad before extinction. To allow me to decorate my entire room in purple (carpet included) during my Purple Period. To bake cookies at 2 o'clock in the morning. To waterski on her 50th wedding anniversary. I love that about her. She inspires me to make each day count. To make the effort. Life is not to be phoned in.
Monk taught me that hospitality starts in the kitchen. She is always warm and welcoming. Some people don't want you in the kitchen when they're cooking, but Monk makes it seem like that's where you're supposed to be, even if you're not stirring a pot. But with Monk, it's not just an act of getting food on the table. It's a mechanism to make sure you feel welcomed and cared for—in and out of the kitchen. It's not about following a recipe to a "T." It's about appreciating the experience and keeping your eye on the prize, which really isn't the end dish. It's having time and compassion for others. I know I got my love of cooking from her. While I know I'll never be able to replicate her dishes, I do strive to match her mindset.
1 (10 oz) package frozen spinach, thawed
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 small jar (6 oz) oil-packed chopped sun dried tomatoes
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
8 cups cubed (1 inch) French bread (1 lb loaf)
6 oz coarsely grated Gruyere cheese (2 cups)
6 oz coarsely grated Fontina cheese (2 cups)
2 cups milk
1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1. Squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then finely chop.
2. Cook onion in butter in a large skilled over moderate heat, stirring for a few minutes. Then add chopped red bell pepper and mushrooms, along with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in sun dried tomatoes and spinach and remove from heat.
3. Spread one third of bread cubes in a buttered 3-quart gratin dish or baking dish. Top evenly with one third of spinach mixture. Sprinkle on third of each chese. Repeat layering twice (ending with cheeses).
4. Whisk together milk, eggs, mustard and remaining 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Chill strata, covered with plastic wrap, at least 8 hours in order for the bread to absorb the custard.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Let strata stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Bake strata uncovered in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown and cooked through, 45-60 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.