But what have you done lately?

The above headline is one of the industry jokes shared among the inmates of the profession of advertising when I was in the biz. It wasn’t really very funny and it basically addressed the fact that regardless of how many CLIO awards you’d won or whatever glowing peer recognition you’d tallied up for being brilliant, you were really only as good as your last ad campaign. The rest of it—regardless of how good your TV and print ads looked in your portfolio—was irrelevant compared to what you had done lately. Maybe a lot of professions are like that. I’ve been away from the business for several years now but I was reminded of this attitude the other day when I visited my mother at her house.

I walked in on her in the middle of the day and found her elbow-deep in clipped out magazine recipes and open cookbooks at the dining room table. When I asked her what she was doing, she sighed and said: “Still trying to find my signature dish.”

I sat down with a thump and laughed until I cried. We both did.

My mother will celebrate her ninetieth birthday in a few weeks.

What's YOUR signature dish?

What’s YOUR signature dish?

So it’s officially true. You never stop looking for that one thing that sets you apart, that one gift that will have people remembering you and immortalizing you. My mother was a gifted painter in her day and she was gorgeous to boot: thick auburn hair, ivory skin, hazel eyes, willowy slim. Like many people who’ve lived a long time, she’s done a lot in her life: raised kids, been adored by a special man, (thankfully for us kids it was our father), and travelled the world.

Seeing her at the dining room table looking for the dish that might be the lynchpin of her reputation as a cook was great to see because it reminded me that while I and the rest of my family are in awe (and fear) of her advancing age, that’s not how she sees things.

She sees that she’s not done yet and that reputations can still be made.

I think I make an awesome lasagna but if my teen son thinks it's "too cheesy" can it really be what I'm known for?

I think I make an awesome lasagna but if my teen son thinks it’s “too cheesy” can it really be what I’m known for?

I love that about her. In no small part since it helped me to see the world in more cheerful colors, because I’m also still searching for my “signature dish.” I don’t think my mother’s intention was so much in search of a legacy  after she’s gone but to fulfill a reputation right now. She’s looking for the thing her family will think of her today, beyond all her other accomplishments in life.

What about you? Are you still looking for your “signature dish?” The thing that sets you apart and that people will think of when they think of you? Would love to hear!

12 thoughts on “But what have you done lately?

  1. Funny you should ask, was just sitting here searching for my “Signature Dish”, the next promotion piece, the next set of words and images aimed at old clients and people who’ve never heard of me, or tasted so much as a spoon full of that “signature mixture” of well aged herbs and spices combined with a dash or a hint of something new that would lift my new concoction a notch above the “same old stew in a shinny new pot label” of course the pot isn’t that shinny anymore, but neither am I, nor will I ever be, think the trick is, not so much putting the old stew in a new pot, or to whined back the years. The idea is to sell the value of those well aged ingredients and the lessons learned during those years stirring the pot as the gold it is.

  2. I would love to leave this world with my friends and family being proud of me and happy to have known me in many ways, as a great mother, a loving and fun grandmother, a great friend, a good cook, a decent painter and remembered for trying many hobbies and enjoying each and every one of them. But if you are talking about food, I think that most people enjoy almost all of my meals, especially the holiday ones that I put a lot of extra time and love into for each dish, but the topper of the day is usually a great dessert as that seems to be remembered more than a prime rib, a turkey or homemade bread and rolls. I get more requests for my “Cherries on a Cloud” dessert than any other dessert than any other. I make it for most of our family gatherings at their request. Someone gave me this recipe about 37 or so years ago and I have changed it only a little (to include other fruit as well) and after all of these years, it still seems to be the most requested dessert. They also love my crème brulee and my homemade pies but if they have their choice on the same table, they take the Cherries on a Cloud first. I guess if we want to be remembered by a signature dish that this one would be mine (thanks to my friend) when it refers to dessert anyway. Who wouldn’t like a sweetened whipped cream with a cream cheese mixed with sweetened whipped cream and marshmallow filling on top of a thick baked meringue crust/bottom and then smothered with cherries and sauce. Then top that off with more sweetened heavy whipped cream. No, not low calorie, but worthy of being a “signature dish” to my family and friends anyway. 🙂

  3. To answer the question of what have I done lately, I have hand-painted some wine bottles with some pretty scenes on them and which can be lighted or have a candelabra placed in the bottle to be more functional, and these will be donated to a charity at the end of September for their auction.

    I rushed too much and added an extra letter into my last name in my previous comment. Oh well. 🙂

  4. ahhh, but your signature dish might have nothing to do with food, it might be how you greet your guests, big smile and a hug, the flowers on the table, you serious and caring conversation, ability to remember names, put on a great party or dance in the garden, speaking about gardens, your signature dish might be the green house and garden you built into that awkward corner in the back yard or that habit of gathering your guest around the piano for an evening of playing and singing old favorites, in my opinion everyone’s signature dish is that unexplainable thing that makes you, you or them, them. Grumpy old fool, jolly jester, sophisticated lady or down home girl. and sometimes it just might be those peanut butter and pickle sandwiches cut into animal shapes.

  5. Yes, warm days at home in the Garvey Hills or fishing for trout under Roaring River Falls in back country Kings Canyon, Peanut Butter (crunchy) and Pickles (preferably sweet Chips) were the lunch or snack of choice for the whole family, think it started with my Mom when she was growing up on the farm in Kansas.

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