What you need is a good hug

Angel Food Birthday CakeWhen I was a child, I remember sitting on a kitchen stool, watching my mother fix a  cake for my birthday. As my special day falls in winter, it was often snowing outside, but warm and cozy in the kitchen.

By tradition, birthdays were celebrated with an angel food cake, usually a box mix.

Box cake mixes were invented in the late 40s when housewives returned to the kitchens and men returned from the wars with an appetite for home cooking. And nothing said “love” better than home baking. At first the cake mixes just added water, but the need to add eggs and oil invested the homemaker in the process and allowed her own creativity.

Even though my mother’s angel food cake was a box mix, eliminating the need to crack a dozen eggs and separate out just the whites, it wasn’t a simple cake to make. My mother shared with me many years later that she reserved angel foods for special occasions because they were so unpredictable.

The mark of a good cook was not that you made the cake from scratch (this was the era of the post-WWII housewife, after all) but that your cake didn’t fall or sag to one side, a feat accomplished by carefully running a knife through the batter to even it out and cut through any air bubbles in the batter. A special two-piece cake pan reserved just for angel foods was used.

And the oven temperature had to be just so–not too hot, not too cold. We were given strict instructions NOT TO PLAY in the kitchen, for fear the vibrations would cause the cake to fall. We could peek through the small glass window in the front of the stove door, but quietly–NO YELLING.

When the hand-set timer rang, the cake pan was lifted carefully from the oven using long-handled oven mitts and set upside down on an empty liter club soda bottle. This was the same bottle that acquired a cork-lined nozzle on ironing day to sprinkle the clothes that took all afternoon to iron. But that’s a story for another time.

By the time the cake had “set” my mother usually had three little kids–my sister, brother and me waiting for the pan, because after the cake was carefully cut around the center tube and removed, we got to scrape all the gooey crumbs from the tube and bottom of the pan.

Taking the butcher knife, she would carefully cut around the edges of the cake and lift it out, the tube and bottom still attached. Then she’d make a second cut to free the cake and with an expert twist she’d remove the bottom of the cake pan.

angel food cake frostedMy mother set the cake upright on the special footed plate and cut a small square of cardboard to cover the center hole where the tube had been.

She’d mix a simple powdered sugar and milk glaze, always two coats: the first to capture the crumbs, the second to cover the cake. If it were your birthday you got to pick the color of the icing–mine by choice was always pink. Then came the insertion of candles into the plastic holders saved from one birthday cake to the next, and the long wait until the celebration.

It was the only type of cake my mother ever devoted this time and energy to in her busy life. Although she didn’t know it, her mirror neurons were at work. Making something for another person was the truest form of altruism, allowing the creator to share in the joy of giving. It represented both self-expression and that communication-without-words that moms have practiced for thousands of years.

When my mother died and my daughter left to build her own family, I had thought homemade angel food cakes had disappeared from my life. But recently, on a landmark birthday, I felt a surge of nostalgia and determined to make one for myself.

I found a Betty Crocker angel food cake mix at the grocers, lost among a full shelf of brownie mixes. Then I discovered no store in my small town stocked the proper two-piece tube pan I needed for the project. I had to order it on Amazon!

I no longer had a club soda bottle, since I haven’t ironed in years, but a Diet Coke liter bottle, propped carefully on the edge of the pan sufficed. I didn’t bother with the cardboard square in the middle. But the sweet crumbs inside the cake pan stuck to my fingers as I pried them from the inside edge of the tube pan.

A little extra frosting accommodated a sag to one edge.

I closed my eyes and I was back home, getting a hug in the only way my mother knew how.

What about you? Do you have a special cake that says love and hugs?

Thank you, Kimberly Vardeman, for the great angel food cake picture!

Connecting with the physical

 

Légumes

Légumes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a mind girl. Most of my life my brain has directed how I do things, where I go, what I eat, when I sleep. That worked fine when I was twenty, or even thirty. Now, it causes me problems, sometimes.

Having a long weekend with not a lot going on, I tried an experiment. I would pay attention to my physical being, I would listen to what my body was telling me.

The parameters:

1) I’d keep taking the meds the docs prescribed. Always a good idea.

2) I’d switch from coffee to tea. Since this was only for 48 hours, I didn’t want to battle caffeine withdrawal, but at the same time I wanted to be mindful of what I was drinking.

3) To quiet my mind, I planned to do meditation. But in short bursts. Twelve minutes, four times a day. Why twelve? Ten seemed too short and fifteen too long. Hey, it’s my experiment, I get to make the rules. 🙂

4) Yoga and stretching in the morning. That wasn’t new. A walk in the afternoon. That was. I wanted to challenge my belief that “if I didn’t exercise in the morning I never would.”

5) Switch from my journal on the computer to a long-hand version. This would tap into a part of me that my faster brain didn’t always access.

5) And the big one, eat only rice–as much as I wanted–and lots of water.  I wanted to examine my “mental cravings” and concentrate on eating only when I was physically hungry. Having a monotonous , short-term diet seemed a good way to do this. At the end of the weekend, I would to return to a healthy, balanced diet.

I’d keep my normal routine of household chores and weekend errands. A monk I am not.

My discoveries:

1) I didn’t make it the whole two days on the diet. I’d gone to the farmer’s market the Friday before, and there were peaches sitting on the counter, tantalizing me with their aroma. About two-thirds of the way through day two I gave up on rice with salt/pepper, rice with cinnamon, rice with Herbs Provence, and sat down to a delicious baked potato, heirloom tomatoes, organic cucumber slices, and snow peas. But I appreciated the melange of textures and the explosions of wonderful color more since I’d been away from them.

And I find I am more mindful of what I eat later in the day. I found I craved crunchy things. But maybe I can substitute carrot and celery sticks for the chips with cheddar cheese. 🙁 Well, most of the time, anyway.

2) I found I didn’t miss the coffee. I liked the variety of teas–green, Assam, oolong, English Breakfast, Earl Grey. The heating of the water  and doling out of tea leaves was a pain, though. I’m used to my automatic coffee pot. I foresee another gadget on my Christmas list!

3) The Yoga/stretching was valuable. I walked one day and found I skipped the next. But on the day I walked, I slept much better. I might try seeing if I can incorporate more of this into my regular routine.

4) Journaling was so-so. I’ll probably go back to the faster way on the computer. My fingers thanked me.

5) The biggest surprise was the meditation. interspersing meditation throughout the day allowed me to observe the thoughts running through my head and let go of some of them. Early on in the weekend, my thoughts were from unfinished business from the work week. Later on, I would concoct elaborate menus of amazing foods–until I let go of these, too, and just meditated. Last to leave were my writing ideas, including this blog entry: What would I say, how would I say it.

But even in 15 minute bursts, I found after the initial flurry of mental activity, my mind would quiet. I became calmer, happier, more able to slow down time during the rest of the day. I want to incorporate this practice within my regular daily routine.

So…it really didn’t take that much more time than my regular weekend pursuits. Since I wasn’t cooking, I had time left over to meditate. I gave up some reading time to go walking, but I still found time to read later in the evening. I was able to let go of work and enjoy the sound of an early morning serenade by a canyon towhee, and the glimpse of a crescent moon rising.

Will I do this mini-retreat again? I think so. But in addition, I’m going to add some of the things I learned to my every day living patterns. Always a good idea to take care of ourselves!

 

I’m turning into my mother-in-law

2012-09-08 - Apple Cobbler Insides - 0015

Some women have a worry of turning into their mother, especially during stressful times. I have found through a quirk of fate that I think I’m turning into my mother-in-law instead!

She was a simple, though intelligent woman who died many years ago, a traditional homemaker who raised a large family in the 40s and 50s and never worked outside the home.

But as I review my current, semi-retired lifestyle, I find it remarkably similar to hers. For example: She rarely went out, except to the grocery store, the hairdresser and the bank. (Hand raised. Just got back from all three.) She had one good friend. (Hand raised).

She loved to cook Southern style, what we’d call today, whole foods, slow cooked: Home-made biscuits, fried chicken, apple cobbler, all made from scratch. Because I am mostly vegetarian and gluten sensitive, my style is different, but the same.

Right now I am cooking applesauce with apples from the frig, and I make my own almond milk, because many of the store-bought brands list sugar as the first ingredient! But I experiment–cooking beans in a slow cooker is the only way to go, and I have a chayote squash waiting for tomorrow’s supper. I notice I have shared her joy of discovery of a new recipe, the pleasure in the process and the pride in the final product. A nice feeling!

She was intensely interested in both her neighborhood and nature around her. She usually had a small vegetable garden and grew roses, even in the shortened growing season in Flagstaff. For me it’s the new covey of baby quail living under the Russian sage, and the pecans I harvested and shelled from our tree out back.

The fire that blackened Mt. Elden north of town was right at the top of her street. She felt the horror at that destruction much as I am living through the aftermath of the Slide Fire.

She loved afternoon TV and could quote you chapter and verse of the Phil Donohue show. For me it is books–I’ve currently embarked on an round-the-world cruise. Right now I am “in” Canada, and loving it!

But most of all, when I went to visit her, I loved the predictability. When I was in my thirties and forties, a full-time working woman, I’d rush to her house and let out a sigh of relief at her rhythm of life. The pineapple crocheted doily was always on the kitchen table, the same picture always hung over the couch, and the coffee (always Folgers) was brewing in the old Pyrex percolator that she’d had for decades.

I used to wonder, back then, what on earth she did with her day.

Now I know.

 

 

 

 

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