Those school girl days of carefree laughter and good times are about to change for many students this month as they say good-bye to high school chums and look to their future, perhaps with questions and hopefully with joyful anticipation of what lies ahead. In June of 1932 my mother, Olga Mamontoff (2nd from the right), was one of those students graduating from St. Rose Academy in San Francisco. Though Olga was never short of friends, she was self-conscious during her senior year becauses skirt styles changed from knee length to midi. Her immigrant parents could not oblige her with a new uniform, and the memory of standing out from the rest remained with her forever. It meant nothing to her school friends, and even less at the graduation dinner dance at the Fairmont Hotel where every girl wore a white dress like the one in portrait below.
We’ve all been in that place where something gels in our memory that we wish had been different yet means nothing to others. There’s something to be said for school uniforms as a common denominator. Yet in Olga’s experience the uniform she had was not enough. One of life’s lessons I suppose. Who you are trumps what you wear. What you make of your life is the acid test. Olga was a great mother and human being (see “About Us”).
Whatever she did was always to the best of her ability.Though self-taught, her cooking was superb. I got the benefit of those skills growing up. Sharing her recipes is a source of pleasure for me, as they are simple with consistently good results. Some of her appetizers are featured in my book, “Drinks and Zakuski.”
Truth be said, Olga had a sweet tooth. Most Russians do. Olga also loved American favorites like root beer floats, black and white sundaes, crab louis, and grilled cheese sandwiches. She learned about those when she worked as a waitress and later made them for me at home. My literary release this year entitled “The Russian Sweet Tooth” will feature more of Olga’s divine recipes. She loved meringues of all kinds, though this was the one thing she struggled with until I learned how to make them and filled the gap!
I offer the following meringue recipe to honor those finishing school in June. Here’s wishing all grads a sweet and successful future, Maria
Sinfully Delicious Pecan Meringue Cookies: 3 egg whites at room temperature, 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar, 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup chopped pecans, chocolate chips (optional). Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Beat whites until frothy; add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Slowly add the sugar and continue beating until very stiff peaks form. Fold in the nuts. With a 1″ scoop or teaspoon, drop the meringue mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Top each ball with a chocolate chip. Bake for 45 minutes. Turn oven off and leave the meringues in it for another 45 minutes. Gently pile on a beautiful platter and watch them disappear!