I would like to think that I had a hand in this, but I did not. It was my mother and grandmother who invited child six over to learn to make pie crust, and she picked up the skill like a champ.
I can make pie dough, but it always feels like a complicated and precarious process. My daughter whips up batches like a pro to the tune of random pies appearing on the counter. One day I find cherry, the next pumpkin, for no reason other than the joy of baking.
The day I packed the crockpot full of chicken thighs before embarking with my friend, Angela, to UVA’s Medical Center, I came home late at night to a container of leftover chicken in the refrigerator. The meal had not been a favorite, but it had been food, and now there was cooked chicken to be used. I stashed it in the freezer and added Chicken Pot Pie to the following week’s menu.
Since it is my son’s favorite, I planned it for an evening when he would be home for dinner. It happened to be a night when my daughter would be out. Since she is not a fan of Chicken Pot Pie, the timing was perfect.
I am learning to ask for what I need, and since daughter would be around after school, I asked if she would make a pie crust for me. She obliged, and in no time it was in a bowl on the Hoosier ready to be rolled flat.
I rolled the dough and lined the pie plate after preparing the filling on the stove top. Soon the house was filled with a delicious smell, and my heart was filled with a delicious warmth. I think it is called gratefulness.
I am grateful for the help of a daughter who is willing to do what she loves to help me do what I need even when the end result is not her favorite. I am grateful for the gift of grace, because that is all that anything is.
My husband celebrates his birthday on January 10, a day that comes on the heels of a big season of celebrating ~ Christmas, New Year’s Eve, our Anniversary. It arrives before the tiniest bit of breathing room, and we celebrate two of our children at the end of the month.
He has always been gracious and low-maintenance about his day. His only request is the cake. It is a chocolate layer cake with three textures ~ cake layers, mousse middle, and ganache frosting. It is divine.
This year, with all of the busyness, he said, You don’t have to make the cake. I will just pick out a cake at Costco.
Now Costco has wonderful cakes, but I wrestled with the fact that the cake is one of the few special things I do for his birthday, and I really wanted to bake it, as always. I made up my mind to just do it.
Mixing up the wet ingredients, then the dry ones to add to the batter, I realized that I had measured the wrong amount of salt. I haven’t baked for awhile! was running through my head.
Dumping the dry ingredients into the trash, I measured again, carefully this time, and continued with the recipe. I poured beautiful batter into greased and lined pans. They baked while I began the mousse filling.
Pulling the pans from the oven, my first thought was, I don’t remember the layers looking so flat, but there are a lot of things I don’t remember that turn out fine. I continued.
Cooling the cake, I fluffed up the mousse and frosted between the layers. It was time to mix up the ganache and pour it over the top of the cake. This plate that I have the cake on makes it look really small. I’m sure it’s fine, though. No one will notice.
Smoothing the thick chocolate over the top and letting it drip down the sides of the layers, I returned the cake to the fridge to rest for the evening. It would be ready for the birthday celebration the following day.
Why does that cake look so small? exclaimed my little noticing truth-teller, the minute she opened the fridge the next morning. So it wasn’t just me. The wheels in my head began turning, and doubt that I had added baking soda during the second mixing settled firmly.
I thought it looked a little small, too, added the one whose birthday was being celebrated, but I’m sure it will still taste good.
The tearburst that followed caught us both off guard, as I sat crying about so many things, the least of which was the cake but also about the cake.
That’s what found us lighting candles and singing “Happy Birthday” at 8:30 on a Sunday morning in January. Because sometimes you start with the cake.
It was delicious. A little dense, but oh so tasty. Happy Birthday, Steve! Top o’ the morning to you!
I’m going to struggle though in a good way, she said hopefully, as a buttered English muffin was placed next to her and hot coffee poured into her mug.
So began Monday morning, a snow day, a day home with the children, and birthday of child five.
He got a day off for his twelfth birthday. How exciting! Child six, who turns 10 on Thursday, may not get such a gift, but she is the one who got a card in the mail today!
So she struggled through yoga and finishing the Christmas card project and the entering of countless addresses into her laptop. She struggled through the transition from episode pick to play time to lunch and quiet time.
She had a meaningful phone conversation. Two of them, actually.
She soaked in the tub.
She baked a cookie cake and rotated laundry and texted with her son.
She let go of all of the shoulds that tried to drag her down and just did what she wanted to.
And a little bit of what she needed to but mostly what she wanted.
There’s a story from years ago in my journal ~ an epiphany to me, of sorts, as you will soon see. Enjoy this peek into my (frightfully~sensitive, continuing to learn that it’s not about me) heart…and then check out the recipe at the end!
My head knows it’s not personal.
We sit chatting ~ a group of women gathered to celebrate an impending birth ~ and the topic circles to our preparations for upcoming Valentine’s Day parties.
I know this! I’ve got it. Two weeks ago I experienced a Valentine’s fiasco while attempting to walk my three young daughters, then 7, 5, and 3, down the card exchange aisle to choose theirs.
I share this experience. Others nod in agreement.
There’s the frustration of type and cost and amount of cards in each box. Boy or girl or gender-neutral? Candy? Sticker? Tattoo? Store meltdown?
“Homemade!” interjects a fun, experienced mom.
Each year, at the beginning of February, she and her children start making cards. It’s their thing, and it’s not stressful if they’ve planned ahead for it.
She describes this year’s cards, and we ooh and ahhh over lollipops dressed as superheroes and ballerina card rockets made from candy rolls.
I know this, too! It’s with cookies. My special, only~on~Valentine’s Day chocolate shortbread dipped hearts. Bakery~beautiful. Made by me!
Two~dozen for each class party, plus extras to give away just because.
I know stressful and last~minute and the desire to start early. I start with the best of intentions each year, thinking I will plan ahead and fill the freezer February 1st. I’m often up late February 13th dipping and drizzling and counting.
I begin to share my homemade cookie experience.
Silence. Murmurs. No one really trusts homemade these days.
But these are my beautiful Valentine cookies! I want to defend them. Explain myself. Fit in!
Something inside of me shrinks and hides. I retreat to the inner place where I can process that it’s not about me.
It’s about not knowing people and their kitchens and gluten and allergies and sanitary conditions.
I get it in my head, but my heart is slowly awakened to the reality that I’m from another mothering era, moving on…baking cookies.
Now here’s the good part, the recipe found in the February/March 2005 Taste of Home magazine…
Valentine Cookie Recipe Cream together 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar Add 1 tsp vanilla In a separate bowl combine 2 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa Gradually add to the butter/sugar mixture, forming the dough. Roll out onto lightly floured (I use cocoa) surface and cut with cookie cutters. (I cover my dough with waxed paper and roll it out, hence the wrinkles.) Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes. Let cool and remove to wire racks.To decorate, Melt 1 cup of white chocolate or almond bark or those melty disks and 1 T shortening in a microwave-safe bowl for 30 second increments, stirring after each check until smooth. Dip the edges of cooled cookies into the coating and place on waxed paper.Melt a handful (1/2 cup) of chocolate chips with 1 T of shortening in the same way. Then spoon the mixture into a zipper bag or pastry decorator bag to do the drizzle. My daughter, Shortcut Shani, saved a step by placing them in a zipper quart freezer bag and melting them in the microwave that way. You just have to poke a little hole in the corner afterwards. Drizzle the chocolate over the hearts, like so.Shortcut Shani also makes this recipe Vegan by using shortening in place of the butter.There you have an easy, fun treat to make for your Valentine (but not necessarily for your child’s class unless you are me), if he or she has no dietary restrictions. I make these once a year. They are like buttah.