Friday, December 30, 2011

Carrot Cake Connection




So Fawn texts me two days day before Christmas on her way to the grocery store.  "Mom, don't kill me but I need ingredients for carrot cake again!!!"  Just a few weeks earlier she had called and asked me for the recipe, that time for Thanksgiving.  The same thing happened last year and I think the year before.  To tell you the truth, I'm not sure how many times I've given it to her, I've lost count.  But I can't fuss at her too much.

Being that my dad had been a meat cutter, I would call him from Alabama every year a few weeks before Christmas and ask him about a particular cut of meat that I was preparing for a special dinner.  I used the same kind of roast and prepared it exactly the same way every year, but I always wanted to make sure that I got it right.    "Dad, how long am I supposed to cook this if it's a four-pound eye of round?" I would ask.  And every year he would patiently go over it with me again.  The first year after he died, I felt a sense of loss as I prepared the meat to go into the oven.  I had long mastered the recipe, but I missed the sound of his voice on the other end of the line, a thousand miles away in New York. I think the call I made from my kitchen each year on that particular occasion was something he had come to expect and looked forward to, simply one thing of many that connected us.

I do the same thing with my sister Beth.  There is a fruit salad carried down from my father's family that requires a certain amount of jello, and every year I call to ask her how much I should use.  It doesn't matter that I've made the stuff for most of my life.  I call every year and ask her what to do.  Except for this year.  She's been working a lot so I decided to go it alone.  She called a couple of days ago.  "So how much jello did you put in the fruit salad?" she asked.  I told her.  "You should have put in another pack," she informed me.  Sigh.  I told her I was afraid of putting in too much, I did that once and it wasn't as good.  "I thought it tasted pretty good this year," I continued, "but maybe I should have put in one more pack."  Like I said, we go through this every Christmas.  And in spite the fact that she makes me wonder if I'll ever get it right, somehow it seems to draw us closer together.

So I'm thinking that maybe when Fawn calls from Green Bay and asks for that carrot cake recipe again or Angela texts from El Paso for the umpteenth time asking how much soup she needs for her favorite chicken recipe, they might be using it as a way to connect, to be closer to their mom who is so far away in New York.  Maybe?  But then there's Autumn down in Birmingham.  She sent me a message a few weeks back.  "Mom, need your pastry recipe."  I knew the one she was talking about, the one that came from her Grandma Burke.  I always made it for my kids on Christmas and New Year's mornings, one of their favorites.  But I didn't hear back from her after that, so a few days later I called and asked her if she still wanted the recipe.  "No thanks mom.  I found it." 

Ok,  so maybe my theory has some holes in it.  Perhaps they're more like their father, writing things down on little pieces of paper and then forgetting where they've put them.  It doesn't really matter.  They can ask me as often as they like, however they like.  It's all good as it helps keep them close in spite of the miles.  Connected.  And I need that. 

Mom's Old Henry Bars recipe

So back to the carrot cake recipe.  Each time Fawn calls I pull it out of the large zip lock bag where I keep my special recipes.  No neat little file box with pretty three by five cards for me.  If I did that, I'd have to recopy the ones my mom wrote down on whatever piece of paper she had close at hand.  It probably wouldn't be a bad idea.   Her "Chicken Every Sunday" recipe is especially vulnerable, written on the thinnest  of paper and in danger of disintegrating at any moment.  But it reminds me of her, so I treat it as if I were handling one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, not wanting to lose any of her hieroglyphics.  The "Old Henry Bars" recipe has faded some over the years, but she loved making them when she needed something quick and easy and yummy. I do the same.  And then there's the pastry recipe from my mother-in-law, her letters large and neat, much easier to read than my mother's.  A couple of the corners are ripped off and there are food stains on the front and back of the card. But I won't replace it, it's more valuable than ever now that she's gone.

Some years back one of my girls decided to take all the recipes out of the zip lock and organize and write them down into into a notebook.  She was well into her project when I realized that she'd been throwing away the originals, including the paper with my mother's carrot cake recipe.  That was the first one to be entered into the notebook, now titled "Marcy's Carrot Cake."  The remaining originals are now neatly packed into the front pocket of that same notebook of which I pulled a cake recipe a few weeks back and made a couple of times over the holidays.  I felt connected to the giver as I mixed the various ingredients, following the familiar handwriting.   And naturally there were the compliments.  "What a delicious cake," they would say.  And I would reply every single time,  "I'm glad you liked it."  And then I would smile. "That was my mother's recipe."

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