Since I was a little girl the month of May has had one great significance for me: Mother's Day. The significance of the day has doubled as my status changed from being a just a daughter to being both a daughter and a mother with the birth of my daughter Sarah on Mother's Day 28 years ago.

As I reconstruct those Mother's Days breakfast I would lovingly prepare for my mother back in the Bronx in the late '40s, the memory is less of the burnt toast I would serve or of the eggs I would struggle to scramble, but more of the antique jelly glass in which I would get to put the some orange marmalade (her favorite): Should it be the jar my mother had bought one day in the Catskill Mountains antique store, or the flowered china one with the top that never sat exactly straight on it?


Along with our mother's milk, my mother imparted the knowledge that food was not supposed to be served in its original package but needed to be poured into or sliced onto one of her precious dishes, cups, pitchers or saucers.

As a 5-year-old I would struggle to make her coffee as I had watched her prepare it every morning: equal parts ground coffee and water, brought to a boil in the aluminum pot reserved just for this job, then put through a strainer with a fat red and yellow handle.

Of course, the coffee had to go into one of her mismatched and often cracked porcelain cups gleaned from any antique store that she could find with an open door during our countless forays into the upstate junk-store meccas of my childhood.

My sister would get to choose the tray we would place everything on: Should it be the old hand-carved painted wooden tray, or the hand-tooled aluminum tray one of us girls had made in day camp?

The Mother's Day breakfast tray had to cover two possibilities - both savory and sweet. Early on, we realized that our mother made an important decision each morning, although the basis for the decision was never clear to me. We knew it was a sweet morning if her toast would be covered with marmalade. But if it was a savory morning, there was the inevitable slice of Muenster cheese and thickly sliced tomatoes to top it, and even occasionally a slice of onion - and always the beautiful, old plate that would reveal itself when the toast was gone.


When my mother passed away almost 11 years ago and my sister and I went through her summer cottage in the Catskill Mountains, there were no valuable paintings, precious rugs or silver tea services to take home to our families. Instead, our treasured inheritance was the cracked creamers, chipped flower vases and oversized tarnished ladles - each with its own story.

We tenderly fondled these, held up to the morning sun and turned them round in our hands, recalling her reverence for all things (no matter how mundane) and her ability to raise the quotidian things of life to a higher level of beauty and appreciation - from her sighing with gusto each morning, "Such delicious coffee!" to her flinging open the window in our Bronx apartment, saying, "Such a beautiful day!"


Several years ago when my then-11- and 19-year-old children prepared my "surprise" Mother's Day breakfast for me, I felt my mother's spirit had passed from her to me to my children. The burnt toast was on a wonderful plate I had bought at a flea market in Europe. The perfectly made coffee was in my favorite Flow Blue cup (chipped, with saucer missing), handed down to me by my mother's sister. The orange marmalade (now my favorite) was in a scratched but beautiful crystal jam jar I found in junk store in Stanwood. And the milk was in my mother's pink and green flowered pitcher.

It was both a sweet and savory morning.

Karen Binder owns Madison Park Cafe. She can be reached at