Hey all! I just wanted to let you know that I love hearing from everyone about how they have been baking from my book even though it’s not the Thanksgiving-Hannukah-Christmas season. Me, too! Every week I bake at least one thing from my book. And a friend of mine just asked me to make her a bûche de Noël for her June wedding as an extra cake for gluten-free folks. Instead of a Christmas log, we will call it a Spring Woodland log.
I realize that some folks don’t know that the book has recipes that can be made all year round. Even though the book’s focus is on the winter holidays, there are recipes for cookies, cakes, pies, breads, and pastries that fit any occasion. For example, this week alone I’ve made the Chocolate Chip Cookies for a family treat and the Cheese Straws and Crackers for a wine date with a pal. This weekend I’m going to make fried chicken and will use the Buttermilk Biscuits as a side. And Girlfriend has requested that I make the Pumpkin Doughnuts as a snack tomorrow as an end-of-school-testing-week treat.
Therefore, I’d like to offer one personalized and signed copy of my book as a Mother’s Day gift for a special mom out there. To enter, see directions at the bottom of this post.
I’ve talked about my mom from time to time on the blog. She died in 1998, a few days after Mother’s Day. She had advanced breast cancer, but her system was so weak from treatment that she ended up having a heart attack while driving to work, which then caused her to have collision with a semi-truck. The semi-truck driver was fine, thank goodness. After my siblings and I were able to get past the shock of our mother’s sudden death, we realized that she died just as she lived–in a blaze of glory. If you knew my mom, you know that she lived big. And she died big. I know it sounds crazy, but my siblings and my mom’s friends and I are kind of tickled at how she died because it was so over the top. You couldn’t die in a more dramatic way. In addition, people told us that they saw an amazing rainbow in the direction of the highway on the day that she died. Everyone said, “I couldn’t believe how beautiful the rainbow was and then I heard about your mom and knew that it was her.”
My mom had a heart bigger than the size of California and enough determination to move mountains. Whenever I think about everything she did, I can’t quite believe it. She had her fair share of adversity. She was an alcoholic as a young adult, and she had two marriages and divorces. By the time I was 13, she was a recovered alcoholic and a single, divorced working mom with four young kids to raise–with me as the eldest. You would think this would be enough for anyone to handle, but not for my mom–she was involved in everything. She worked full-time as a traveling speech and language therapist for the public school system where we lived. She had two master’s degrees. She not only went to church, but was the organist there. She went to a movie club, a book club, and had regular coffee dates with everyone she knew. She was quick to offer help to anyone. When a friend’s son was in a coma after a horrific accident, my mom went to read to him several times a week for months. We always had someone living with us. One was a dear friend of ours who had bipolar disorder and couldn’t quite get on her feet. The janitor from church camped out in our yard for awhile when my mom found out that he was homeless. He didn’t want to intrude and therefore wouldn’t stay inside, but he had a nice tent and our climate was fairly temperate. One of my high school friends got kicked out of the house by her parents for not wanting to go to the “right” college (!), so she came to live with us.
My mom believed she could do anything–and instilled that sense in all of us. There was never any thought that we couldn’t do what we set our minds to do. Whatever needed to be done, she just did it. She was the kind of person that climbed up on our roof on rainy nights to put tarps over the holes. There was nothing she couldn’t fix with a little duct tape–I inherited that talent from her. We lived in a small town in California that had a large migrant farm worker population–and many of their kids were my mom’s students. My mom was also an audiologist, so in addition to knowing sign language, my mom learned Spanish so she could communicate well with her charges. We had parties where she invited her students to come over and do sign language “recitations.” My siblings and I participated. For years I would regale folks with my sign language version of “I Never Saw a Purple Cow” to rave reviews.
Whenever one of us kids wanted to learn something, she made it happen (although I don’t quite know how she did that–we were on such a tight budget). We all got various music lessons and went to camps. As a very young kid, I wanted to go into theatre. She enrolled me in acting lessons and camps and classes and then later drove me to community theatres all over our small town to get to and from rehearsal. Finally, when I was about 15, she got me a moped because she needed the freedom to drive my younger siblings to all of their things, too. I grew up knowing that I would succeed at anything I wanted to engage with. I hope that I’m helping Girlfriend to do the same thing.
My mom also allowed me to have free rein in the kitchen. At certain points in her life, she was an avid cook–and had even belonged to a cookbook club when we were really young. I remember standing on a stool in the kitchen one afternoon and helping her to roll dolmades for the “Greek” night at her cookbook club. As long as I can remember, she let me experiment as much as I wanted to in the kitchen. And there were many cookbooks to help me along. I did have an Easy Bake oven for awhile, but that didn’t last long for me. I wanted to bake “real” things. I would peruse the cookbooks at nap time (I was an odd kid) and then go into the kitchen and work on recipes I thought looked fun. When I was very little, I had to climb up on top of the counters to get to the cupboards. To this day I can feel the cold counter linoleum on my knees as a hoisted myself up.
Of course, as a kid, most of the recipes that appealed to me were baked items–cookies and cakes–so I worked on those. For a long stretch of time in my elementary school years, our oven was broken and we didn’t have the money to fix it. That didn’t bother me–I just fried the cookies on top of the stove. And I made lots and lots of pancakes. At one point I tried to rig up a stove top oven using cookie sheets formed into a box shape–I don’t think that was very successful. I made do with whatever ingredients I could find in the cupboards. For the most part, it was fairly well-stocked kitchen in the scheme of things–all of the basics were there–but I used substitutions if necessary. For example, there was never any vanilla extract in the cupboards, so I just learned to use vanilla beans that were there–which made my cookies and pancakes look a bit odd to me, but they tasted good so I didn’t care.
Of course, when my mom died, it was devastating for all of us. But, it also felt oddly right somehow. She burned so brightly that she burned out sooner than others. I still miss her fiercely and am sad that Girlfriend never got a chance to meet her Grandma Barbara. But, she is with me in spirit and I’m grateful to have been able to call her my mom.
To enter the giveaway: leave a comment telling me something awesome about being a mom yourself or about your own mom or mother-in-law. Please leave a comment by 11 pm PST on Monday, May 6, 2013. I will choose a name at random using the Random Number Generator and contact you via email if you are the winner!
The winner, chosen by the Random Number Generator is Gloria! I’ve sent an email to her. Thank you so much for your lovely and moving stories about the moms in your life and about being a mom and a grandma. I so loved reading them.