Decades ago my heart took me West and in the process I left behind a very big family. There have been many additions to my family since then, both through marriage and birth – and honestly, it would take more like a “family forest” to map it all out for you. Sometimes in life we make decisions and it is only later that we realize the repercussions of those choices. Not for a minute do I regret that move, or marrying my husband who was the reason for leaving home – but it wasn’t until years later that it sank in just how much family life I missed by living so far away. Over the years I have traveled home quite frequently – especially during my daughter’s earlier years. Some years we made as many as six trips back to Kentucky. It was important to me that Jael know her relatives on my side, and it was just as important to me that I remain present in my parents, siblings,nieces and nephews lives. Retrospection is a funny thing. And hind sight leaves us no ability to change the past. Even if I could have glimpsed the future when making the decision to move to California, I would have found myself in quite a pickle. Family vs. Night in Shining Armor. Hum?
From time to time relatives have visited us here in Sunny CA, – not as much as I would like – ahem! But on the occasion that they do, I get so excited to share my home and cook and bake for them. The best visits of all are from the younger ones. I am an Aunt many times over, and I am a Great Aunt many, many times over. And believe it or not – I am also a Great Great Aunt. This past week I had the pleasure of my nephew, his wife, and my great niece vacationing with us. Going to the beach and to the tide pools takes on a such curious, exploratory and educational vibe when there are children along. For a moment we have the opportunity to release the adult slant we put on things and experience life more innocently. Having children around is especially exciting for my husband who is a twelve year old boy trapped in a 50 Something’s body. Yay for playmates!
It probably goes without saying that baking is the thing I most enjoy doing with my nieces and nephews. And honestly, I don’t know a child who doesn’t get excited at the prospect of turning random ingredients into something sweet and delicious. Some of MY happiest and fondest childhood memories are of cooking and baking with my parents and grandparents. Where food was involved – I felt loved and nurtured. So, of course I made sure that my niece Chloe and I spent some time in the kitchen. We attempted several new recipes. The first was a concoction she learned to make by playing a game on her IPod touch. Sugar, ice, water, the juice of an orange and lime - shake, pour, drink. ? Okay, let’s move on. From there we made some simple syrup and combined it with fresh squeezed lemon juice for a homemade lemonade. Voila! Much better. Finally, we moved on to chocolate cake. I chose a recipe that was pretty straight forward – only one pan required; no chocolate to chop or melt. Attention spans being what they are, this was the perfect recipe for a beginner.
I am going to be perfectly honest about this cake. In my opinion – it was just okay. Chloe did a magnificent job – it wasn’t that at all. Some recipes just leave us wanting a little more. That said, two friends dropped in last night to say a quick “hello”. Before they left I handed them a “to-go” package containing three pieces of the cake. As we chatted a long good-bye at the front door they managed to eat all three slices. They were fans! Regardless, I remained unconvinced and decided that the cake wasn’t anything to write home about – or to write a post about either.
But this post is less about the recipe and more about the experience I had with Chloe. Recipes, food traditions and kitchen rituals exists because they are handed down from generation to generation. Baking with a child is like passing a torch. Teaching them that they are capable of creating “deliciousness” builds confidence in the kitchen and enriches their lives.
At dinner last evening my husband asked Chloe what her favorite memory was from her week’s vacation. Certain she would say “baking with Aunt Mary” – instead I heard – “boogie boarding with you Uncle Howie”. Boogie boarding she remembers today. Baking she will remember for years to come. At least that is what I told myself so as not to take it too personally. :)
Back to the cake recipe. I started to rack my brain for an interesting way to use the second of two loaves that the recipe made. Stay tuned and in the next post I will share with you this “just okay” cake recipe and how I turned it into something quite delicious.