Do you know the sound of stainless-steelware clanging on a ceramic tile floor, that ear-thumping clatter that causes a physical cringe and sometimes an annoyed bark or expletive? When I hear that awful sound, I jump up from whatever chair or sofa I am occupying and bend to pick the knife or fork up, because Dad cannot. “The floor is no-man’s land,” he looked at me with a rueful chuckle. He cannot bend to pick up the knife, or the onion ring, or the paper between the Swiss cheese slices, or the potato chip that falls to the floor. “This is such a joke!” he laughs, looking at the butter knife on the floor. But his laugh is all wrapped up in sadness and frustration and a growing discouragement, and his reference to the “joke” is chagrined—not bitter or angry or hateful, rather just recognizing the irony and perhaps cruelty but inevitability of one’s late-life dis-abilities. I am certainly not laughing at this life-joke. Watching his painful struggle for every inch of territory crossed, charting his daily deterioration, pains me into my own sadness and frustration and growing discouragement. It just is no fun to watch a loved one march steadily toward the end of life. The beginning of life brings an entirely different set of challenges, which most toddlers handle with a combination of cheerful enthusiasm and intense determination. I invited two-year-old Lila to help me start the cherry cheesecake by crushing graham crackers inside a zip-loc bag, pounding them with our fists and grinding them with a rolling pin, a smile playing on her whole face from the unanticipated joy of harmless destruction. Lila, and her parents, and my parents, and our neighbors (and myself) vastly enjoyed that cherry cheesecake. I felt pleased with the culinary triumph, though besmeared with the butter in the crust having leaked through the seam of the false-bottomed tart pan and puddled smokily in the bottom of the oven for me to wipe up at night when I was too tired and never wanted to see another cookbook or dirty mixing bowl again. But that weariness will have worn off by tomorrow, and soon I will bake a tarte citron or soufflé au chocolat, which we will all enjoy a bit too much.
After watching me mix and knead breads and bakes for eight months, Mom and Dad informed me we were purchasing a bread mixer. NutriMill makes a Bosch lookalike for half the price, and we brought one home, along with a “baker’s pack” because I am a baker and a Baker. On my first attempt, I dumped in all the ingredients and watched the dough not mix and the dough hook grab the poorly combined mass and whirl it around uselessly. Hannah (and the owner’s manual) instructed me on pouring in the liquid ingredients first, turning the mixer on low, and adding the dry ingredients slowly. The technique worked. Our first success was Paul Hollywood’s Guinness and Treacle bread. Into the bowl I poured a bottle of warm dark-and-stout beer, tablespoons of molasses, water, and yeast, and turned the mixer to level 1, while Hannah slowly tossed in the dry ingredients: whole wheat flour and strong white flour. The dough hook mixed the trickling flour into the yeasty treacle-beer until we had a sticky dough that the dough hooks pummeled and whipped enthusiastically. While the dough rested and rose, I sat at Mom’s laptop to help her with a Word document: she had made revisions accidentally using the Review tool and felt exasperated by the unwelcome blue insertions and red strikeout deletions. “I promise you, Mom: one button-click and your document will be fixed.” She was incredulous at the simple “Accept All Changes and Stop Tracking” function. That task accomplished, I lifted and hauled off Mom’s cracked and broken chair mat, and laid the new mat in place—the chair casters would no more anchor the chair immovably in the hole. Dad, in the meantime, had noticed how dusty the living room sofas had become, and was struggling with his carpet cleaner to shampoo the floral sofas. “Look how nice they look!” he crowed: the sofas did look bright and brand new. Just as the oven pre-heat bell sounded, I finished hanging the thistle seed sock feeders for the goldfinches, pine siskins, and house finches, which will land grasping the socks and pull and crack the tiny musky seeds one by one. Mournfully, we had discarded the other feeders because falling masses of disfavored seeds attracted a family of rats, and we could not have rats, and so also could not have bird feeders, much to Dad’s sadness. But rats will not be interested in empty Niger husks. The socks happily hung, I peeled the risen Guinness dough onto the 400-degree stone, and the house filled with a most delicious aroma.
Hannah spent the morning with Mom and Dad and me, playing the piano, baking Guinness treacle bread, playing Carcassonne, and warming leftovers for lunch, topped off with last night’s Tarte Tatin (French up-side-down caramel apple pie). She played pretty hymn arrangements and the perennial sublimity of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune—Moonlight. Mom sat listening on the sofa with her eyes closed. Dad reached the bottom stair just as Hannah finished playing. “That was beautiful,” he complimented her. “I think you played that exactly the way Beethoven would have liked.” Hannah and I glanced at each other and smiled. No one laughed, of course, because the music was so moving and his loving accolade so sincere. The week Dad retired, more than 20 years ago, the law office joined him for a final jog through Johnson Park. One heavy-breathing attorney, O’Shaunessy, panted amiably to Dad as they ran, “You know, Nelson, I appreciate that you are religious. Before you came here, I had never heard the story of Moses and the Ark.” A third attorney asked if O’Shaunessy meant Noah instead of Moses, and a friendly argument ensued, with Dad caught in the middle, not weighing in. Maybe O’Shaunessy was not too far off, though, since Pharoah’s daughter had found the baby Moses floating in a tiny reed ark. And Beethoven did compose the famous Moonlight Sonata. As Hannah left for home, Dad called to her, “I love you,” and commented to me about what a delightful young woman she is. He sat at his computer to type her a note. I had judged him for pressing the mouse button so forcefully and deliberately, like an old person who had grown up flipping toggles and pressing mechanical switches. But sitting later at Dad’s computer to retrieve a “lost” document, I realized his chorded mouse was not functioning properly, and that if I did not lean forcefully into the mouse, it did not respond. I had judged incorrectly, as I often do, placing pride and arrogance before compassion and respect. “Dad,” I called, “I’m sorry your mouse doesn’t work correctly,” and he thanked me for noticing, and I drove to the store and purchased a new mouse with a smooth wheel and a soft clicking touch.
Mom’s gait has grown increasingly halting and unsteady, and she digs into the floor with each step to assure herself of not falling. At choir practice, she leans hard on my arm to ascend the single step into the host’s house. When I asked her if it were becoming harder to walk, she confessed that “my knees hurt.” Three years ago, she had cortisone shots in her knees, which reduced arthritic swelling and pain. But now the pain was back, especially when enduring the stairs in her house. One day she declared, “I’m not going to the gym anymore, and I’m done riding the bike at home, too—my knees hurt too much.” She asked if I would get the mail for her, and I said “nope” full of cheek, explaining gently (I did not want to seem rude and hurt her feelings) that if she could not go to the gym or ride her stationary bike, she would have to walk to the mailbox, and invited her to keep on going to the street corner. So she walked to the mailbox. Tough Mom. Movement was important for her heart and her general strength. Mom often tells me, “I’m so happy every day when you walk through the door from work.” Sweet Mom. I was not so sure she would still feel that way after I made her walk to the mailbox on her old knees. But she loves me still. I “broke” my knee in high school, bending it sideways in a basketball game and severing the anterior cruciate ligament, the infamous ACL. The non-invasive MRI machine was not widely available in 1982, and to diagnose my injury the doctor shoved a 10-penny needle into my knee, injected contrast, and manipulated the wounded joint under live x-ray trying to discern soft tissue tears—what agony. So, when Mom made an appointment to get shots in her knees, I cringed. She reported later that the doctor numbed her skin with spray, inserted the needles under her knee caps, and injected a syringe-full of liquid—but she felt no pain. Brave Mom. “Come back in six months, not three years,” the doctor instructed. Mom is already walking better, and we will see about the stationary bicycle. That night Mom and I delivered the results of my latest baking adventures—pains au chocolate (chocolate croissant rolls) and bacon fougasses (flat bread shaped like a leaf)—to several neighbors. She was happy to be my delivery buddy and to get out of the house for even the humblest of adventures. Fun Mom. Back home in her recliner, it was time for her favorite daily ritual: a bowl of Farr chocolate ice cream, which, of course, I cannot resist either, though I add milk for a thick chocolate shake.
(Pictured above: leaf-shaped Fougasses–the French answer to Italian Focaccia–with bacon and onions.)
It is a Friday night, and I am home alone in my upstairs office, reading, and writing, and I am not out with friends and I am not being entertained by superheroes. Every hour upon the half, I roll out and fold over a butter and bread-dough laminate—24 layers—for tomorrow’s chocolate croissants, and between rolling I am reading the Selected Speeches and Writings of Abraham Lincoln. I bought a copy for myself after reading another Lincoln biography, but Dad was so excited to dive into the book, and cannot read without a yellow highlighter (like I cannot read without a yellow highlighter) that I gave him my copy and bought a second for myself. Already I have learned the words “vulpine” and “hagiography” and learned that Mr. Lincoln was not merely the stoic statue of still photographs, but faceted and furious and considerate and cutting and desperately sad and brutally patient, and witty, and he loved to tell stories, for stories will tell the truth faster and longer-lasting than the truth itself. Dad told Lincoln stories at the dinner table, but he looked very tired; he had seemed tired all day. When I first saw him this morning, and asked him “How are you today, Dad?” he responded with his characteristic “Marvelously well, thank you!” But later he confessed to feeling “very poorly” and tired and weak. When I finished my work day, he said he would go outside to blow the rock wall clean of pine needles and leaves and dirt. And I began mixing my dough. I kneaded and listened, tense, and soon heard a desperate bellowing from the back yard and rushed out the door to see Dad, on his hands and knees, sinking to splay on the concrete, shaking with vain exertions to move. I managed to lift him back up onto his knees, and in a huge joint effort he inched up the arms of a patio chair high enough for me to kick another chair behind him, where he sat, trembling and pale. “I fell,” he observed flatly. Despite his state, he insisted on mounting the mower and cleaning up the grass. Between bites of chicken and broccoli, he told us, “I think my legs just collapsed.” Feeling traumatized, I blurted, “We need to have a conversation. You cannot work in the yard if you are feeling weak and I’m not here. If you fall when I’m not here, you’re not getting back up, and it will be an ambulance and a hospital and who knows what!” Inside my head, I screamed, You’re not allowed to be stubborn! To be stubborn is to die! I had felt terror at finding him helpless on the patio concrete, at my not being strong enough to muscle his bulk off the ground, of his visible deterioration week to week, of knowing this is a one-way track with a finish line I don’t want to cross. Seeing that my fury came from my fear, I could forgive myself and forgive him and calm myself into a nice family dinner. It is a Friday night, and Dad is watching the Jazz game from his recliner, and I am reading and writing and rolling out my croissant dough, and after the rolls bake tomorrow, Dad and I will go outside together with rakes and shovels to do a little yardwork before dinner.
Gabe came over on Saturday just as I was rolling out the pie crust dough for quiche shells. He watched me roll the dough onto the rolling pin, unroll it over the quiche pan, and tuck the dough carefully down into the pan. “I want to bake!” he declared. “I want to bake banana chocolate chip muffins—with you, Uncle Roger!” like we had done once before. “I get the bananas!” No matter how cheerily bright his eyes shone, I could not pivot to baking with him after spending an hour mixing and shaping the dough, and preparing the quiche mix. And the raw shells had to go into the preheated oven, right now, for seven minutes filled with aluminum foil and ceramic baking beads, and three more minutes without. He retrieved a green mixing bowl and placed it on the counter, letting me know he was ready. “Nope,” I begged off, empty of patience and tact. “I’m not starting another baking project.” Gabe looked crestfallen. “But look at all this extra pie dough,” I offered him a ray of hope. “We can make cinnamon pie-crust cookies.” I showed him how to roll some of the buttery dough into a ball, press the ball onto the cookie sheet, and poke a depression into the cookie with his thumb, followed with a spoonful of Dad’s cinnamon-Splenda mix. Gabe was a pro, and soon had most of the dough formed into cookies, which we baked after the quiche shells came out slightly browned, partially baked—they would compete their bake with the ham, cheese, egg, and cream filling. When I had arranged the hot finished cookies on a plate, Gabe ran up expectantly for one. “Nope,” I stopped him. “Before you eat a cookie, you need to take this plate and serve everyone else a cookie.” The four-year-old, surprised by this important responsibility, took the plate first to Mom, then to Dad—Gabe’s great-grandparents—inviting them to take and taste one of his cookies. He looked enormously proud and pleased. The cookies were quickly consumed, and he brought me the empty plate, wearing a big smile. “Good job,” I praised. “Now, come with me—I have another job for you.” Dad had purchased a new showerhead, and had asked me to install it. Gabe carried the crescent wrench up the stairs into the bathroom, while I talked him through how to change a showerhead. I removed the broken showerhead and hose, and told him they needed to be thrown away. “Can I throw them away?!” he asked hopefully. The deed happily done, I hoisted Gabe up in my left arm, joining my right hand with his small hands to thread on the new showerhead, over a strip of Teflon tape wrapped tight. “Turn it good and tight,” I instructed, and he did. I turned the water on, and Gabe pressed his face against the glass where the water pounded. “Now, go tell Grandpa.” Gabe raced down the stairs and reported to Dad that the he had thrown Dad’s old showerhead away and put the new one on—and it worked! I felt pleased at his sense of accomplishment. “What are we going to do with the rest of the pie dough?” I asked him. “Do you want to make a strawberry pie?” He nodded eagerly, and I helped him shape and roll the dough. His dad helped him spoon strawberry jam into the center of the circle, then bring one side of the dough over the jam to form a semicircular turnover. I sealed the edges with fork tines, and slid Gabe’s pie into the oven. When the turnover came out, nicely browned, Gabe glowed. He let his pie cool, then cut it and took pieces to Mom and Dad, and Sarah and Tracy, who raved and praised, much to Gabe’s delight. “You did a lot today, Gabe,” I reminded. “You made cinnamon pie crust cookies, you put on a new showerhead for Grandpa, and you baked a strawberry pie!” “Thank you, Uncle Roger,” he sighed, self-satisfied, knowing he had learned important new skills. “Next time,” I offered, “let’s bake banana chocolate-chip muffins.”
(Pictured above: Gabe’s strawberry pie.)
Burt Brothers called to tell us what the repair would cost. We had worried the cost would be higher. When I poured the windshield wiper fluid in the reservoir the afternoon before, the fluid gushed out onto the driveway. I struggled to remove the heavy battery so I could see the reservoir and its tubing, and found both tubes (to front and rear wipers) broken in the same place. I left small pieces of my finger behind reinstalling the battery. The service project the next morning had caught my eye on Facebook, on the page I follow about the Jordan River, where I kayak and cycle. But the event appeared to not catch many other eyes, for only two volunteers came, plus the Jordan River Commission Executive Director, who dispensed gloves, trash bags, and garbage pincers. Our goal was to bag all the garbage at the river-side park before the wind blew it into the river. I have kayaked around huge floating masses of flotsam on the river, some growing their own vegetation. The Director thanked me for coming, dispensed some tips about good kayak launches for avoiding dams and portages, and handed me trail mix and fruit snacks. Returning home, Mom and Dad and I drove two cars to drop off Dad’s faithful Suburban at the garage to repair the tubes, and we continued on in Mom’s trusty Legacy to the grocery store for the weekly shopping. I felt happy as we arrived at Smith’s, but left the store an anxiety-ridden wreck. I lost Dad in the store—he was not sitting at the deli where I usually find him when I have finished shopping. I found him with Mom funneling into Luana’s check-out line—she is their favorite checker, and she always orders me to “take good care of them.” “I’ll do my best,” I always promise. Dad began trembling behind his cart—“I’m not going to make it, Rog,” he said. “I need to sit down—now.” Luana sent a bagger running for a chair he could not find, while another bagger drove up with a motorized cart onto which Dad collapsed. “Nelson,” Luana chided (partly on my behalf, since she could get away with it), “the next time you come, you either will use this motorized cart, or you will not come at all!” Dad nodded and smiled sheepishly, relieved just to be sitting. He took to the cart naturally, motoring easily to the car. Unloading the week’s groceries, Burt Brothers called to say Dad’s car was already fixed. With Dad sitting in his recliner eating his onion and Swiss on multi-grain bread, Mom and I raced off to retrieve the faithful Suburban, good as new, and for a fair price, before the store closed at 5:00. Mom crowed that she and I were the heroes of the day for retrieving the repaired Suburban. We celebrated with pizza, salad, and Paul Hollywood’s beautiful fig and date bread.
Two loaves of bread were rising—different recipes—and the oven was preheating to 425. My son Brian had brought his family for a weekend visit; he and Avery are both delightful adults. And of course, my granddaughter Lila is one of the great joys of my advancing life. Gabe (age 3) had come over to play with Lila (age 2) for a couple of hours. After playing Legos and blocks and hide-and-seek for a while, he importuned, “Can we bake?” I already had two bakes going, and did not think I could handle a third. But Gabe asked so sweetly and sincerely that I could not say no. “Okay,” I said seriously, “but we can’t make two cupcake recipes—we can’t make real cupcakes from my recipe book and your cupcakes from your imagination. If we’re going to bake cupcakes, we’re going to follow the recipe.” Sensing my resolve, he nodded his consent. He and Lila sat on bar stools at the kitchen island. They each measured out and poured into the bowl the various ingredients, with my hands guiding theirs: flour, sugar, lemon zest, baking powder, milk, melted butter, and eggs—Gabe cracked the eggs expertly, with not a speck of shell escaping. He did politely insist on one imagination ingredient, which actually mixed in perfectly: colored confectionary sprinkles. Gabe and I held the mixer together, but Lila declined, not liking loud machines like vacuum cleaners and blenders and electric beaters. But they wanted to be, and were, involved in every step, including licking the beaters and spoons. Mom and Dad looked on in amusement and adoration. After the children placed the cupcake liners into the tin cups, we carefully dolloped the batter into the liners and slipped the tray into 350 degrees. While the cupcakes baked, we mixed the icing, made from a lot of powdered sugar, a little milk, and the juice of one lemon. How proud the children were of their iced cupcakes, excitedly licking the tangy icing off the multi-color cakes before biting in. Mom and Dad and I enjoyed our cupcake, too. An hour prior, I had thought I did not have the energy or patience to bake cupcakes with two little children while simultaneously baking break. With the cupcakes done and decorated, and devoured, I realized that the increased tenderness I felt for them, and my lifted happy spirits, would have gone tragically unexperienced had I demurred. As it is, I will always remember baking lemon cupcakes with Lila and Gabe, and I hope they will remember baking lemon cupcakes with me.
Nearly two years after immersing myself in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, and cooking many dozen delicious and beautiful dishes and desserts, I received as Christmas gifts two new baking cookbooks, which I had been not-so-secretly coveting. The first is Baking with Mary Berry. The second is Paul Hollywood’s 100 Great Breads. You may recognize both names from The Great British Baking Show, to which my daughters introduced me a few years ago. We have watched, with pleasure and intimidation, Great Britain’s expert amateur bakers, glad the hosts’ withering critiques were not aimed at us. With no judges but myself and my admiring parents, I spent January making several recipes a week. Hollywood’s first bread recipe is for a “wheat sheaf loaf.” He promised if I can bake that, I can bake anything in his book. Well, I did succeed in making a beautiful loaf. (Beware: cut the insane volume of salt by at least half.) Each of Mary’s recipes fits on a single page, faced with gorgeous photos. They have all turned out wonderfully so far: magic lemon pudding cake; magic chocolate pudding cake; white chocolate muffins with strawberry jam centers; double chocolate muffins; French pancakes; and, oat-butter-crunch “flapjack” bars (nothing like American pancakes). But the most beautiful so far is her orange-chocolate mousse cake, which I offered at Hyrum’s birthday. I heard on National Public Radio that millions of people have taken up the baking hobby due to Covid pandemic cabin-fever isolation. For me, the motivation is different. I love the metamorphic magic of taking an assortment of powders and liquids and combining them to create an edible work of art. Not to mix metaphors, I consider each recipe as a treasure map, some harder to follow than others, but all leading eventually to an unexpectedly delightful treasure. I hope I my cartographic talent is steadily growing. Mom and Dad are happy for me to practice on them.
Mary Berry’s Orange-Chocolate Mousse Cake
Paul Hollywood’s Wheat Sheaf Loaf
Tonight’s dinner came frozen out of boxes and bags: breaded pollock; cheesy scalloped potatoes; mixed vegetables. And I am not at all embarrassed to announce that we loved it and ate our fill. Mom, Dad, and I sat at the dinner table—a family—conversing and looking forward to our after-dinner movie. I have taken pleasure in showing Mom and Dad some of my old favorites, like Nacho Libre (2006) (because it is so absurd and makes me laugh and Jack Black is brilliant) and George of the Jungle (1997) (because it is so absurd and makes me laugh and Brendan and Leslie make such a cute hopeful couple) and Chariots of Fire (1981) (because of integrity and grit and glory and love and the thrill and cheer of victory against the odds). During the Christmas holidays, we enjoyed Albert Finney’s Scrooge (1970) and George C. Scott’s A Christmas Carol (1984) and The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), always moved by the miracle of a changed heart. Tonight, we watched The Scarlet Pimpernel from 1982, chuckling at Percy Blakeney’s foppish façade, sad for the tragedies of the French Revolution, and happy for the happy ending. Missing Julia Child’s cookbook—I showed them Julie and Julia (2009), too—I baked a French chocolate soufflé during the movie, cutting the sugar with stevia-sweetened chocolate and mixing one part Splenda with one part sugar. I am always so pleased and relieved when my baking adventures end well. Pulling the jiggling masterpiece out of the oven, I felt quite over-the-moon giddy that the chocolate soufflé turned out perfectly, not quite a custard, not quite a cake, not quite a pudding—a pleasant satisfying piquing converging in-between of all three. And I relished the reward of Mom and Dad loving it and asking for more.
I awoke at eight—early or late?—on a Saturday, with no obligation but to live. I cooked Dad’s favorite apple-cinnamon oatmeal, with cream, for our breakfast, sweetened respectively with sugar for Mom, Splenda for Dad, and stevia extract for me. In the crock pot, I stirred the dry 15-bean soup mix, diced onion, minced garlic, ground chilis, leftover cubed ham, water, and the packet of smoke-and-ham flavored powder, and set it to simmering. Hyrum turned 20 this week. He is my sixth child, and dearly-beloved. So, I started baking a cake for his Saturday evening birthday party. And this was no hum-drum box-mix cake, but Mary Berry’s chocolate-orange mousse cake, and I hoped I could do the many-stepped recipe justice. After finishing the cake and washing, it seemed, half the kitchen’s bowls and mixing utensils, I needed to get out of the kitchen, out of the house, and out of my head. Nearby Bell Canyon beckoned. The trail’s snow was trampled down and icy, and I had forgotten my aspen-wood staff. As I slipped and tromped along, I began to ruminate, to puzzle over romance, over the panging hunger for romance, over the long absence from romance—I began to puzzle over love. A puzzle. Both uphill and downhill, the mountain trail presented many slippery slopes, and I stepped with care as I thought. An attractive woman passed me, planting her steel-tipped poles in the ice. She was smart to navigate the icy trail with poles. I was not so smart. I wanted to be there in the mountains, in the snow, in the crisp beauty—I was sincere and empty of guile—but I was un-smart in my own navigations. Always a puzzle. Hyrum and company, of course, loved the chocolate-orange mousse cake, and I was proud to have baked it. I am proud of him, no longer a little boy, but a man, a man of the best sort, a chocolate-orange mousse cake sort of a man.
The Olympic games played on the television all day Saturday. I was getting ready to bake cheesy onion bread with Gabe. He wanted to do everything: measure out the flour, dump in the salt, even pour in the Guinness. We pressed and pounded the dough and set it to proof in the lightbulb-warm oven. Gabe and I laid on the floor in front of the TV building castles with the wood blocks. As castle architect, he instructed me on exactly where to place each block, and where not to. Just then Olympic wrestling came on the TV. We watched the twisting and grunting, looked at each other, and launched into our own wrestling and tickling free for all. Needing a break, we wandered outside to find Grandpa (Dad) fertilizing and watering his plants and flowers. Gabe just had to get in on that action, though he preferred watering the landscaping boulders. When the rocks were clean, he turned the hose on us.
I wanted to make a nice dessert for Dad, and settled on a cream cheese tart. I added fresh guava puree to exotify the pie, and sweetened the filling with Splenda. I have become proficient at making French tart shells (pie crusts) from Julia Child’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Dad sat at the island watching me prepare the dough. “Don’t mix it too much,” he interjected. I think you mixed it too much. It needs to be ice cold and barely blended.” I paid no heed, and placed the wax-paper-wrapped balls of dough in the fridge to chill. After a few hours, I rolled the dough out and shaped the shell in the spring-form pan. When I first starting baking, I pressed into the shell a sheet of aluminum foil and poured in a pound of dry black beans, to keep the bottom from bubbling up. The beans are a cheap but effective substitute for ceramic baking beads, which I only recently bought. Sitting in a yogurt container, they looked just like Holland mints, round and white. Dad suddenly picked up a ceramic bead and plopped it into his mouth, thinking it was a mint. Before I could articulate gentle words, I blurted, “Uh uh uh!” like one would chide a child with its hand in the cookie jar. I did not mean to treat him like an errant child, but out of instinctual fear I did what I needed to do to stop him before he crunched on the glass bead and broke a took, or swallowed the bead. He quickly spit it out, and neither of us looked at the other or said a word. I did not want to shame him anymore than I already had with my tut-tut, and he did not want to acknowledge his gaffe. We pretended nothing happened. But later, when the pie came out of the oven looking beautiful, he confessed, as if I hadn’t known, “I almost ate one of those white glass beads. I thought it was a mint!” The beads removed, and the guava cream cheese filling poured in to bake, the tart tasted wonderfully delicious.
My children pooled their resources and purchased an Aero Garden for my Father’s Day gift. Nine little cones, each with their own seeds, sat immersed in water. Upon every garden planting, I struggle to believe the seeds will sprout, but they always do. Months later I have a jungle of basil and dill and parsley. The basil plants needed pruning badly, so I cut them back and dropped the three-inch leaves into a blender with garlic, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil: pesto! This was to top the focaccia dough proofing in the oven, warmed slightly by the oven bulb. Mom and Dad and I savored munching on the aromatic, flavorful flatbread. I drove some focaccia squares over to some Brazilian bread aficionado friends, and we enjoyed a taste of pesto over conversation. Ciabatta, sourdoughs from wild yeast starter, Scottish Struan, cheese bread with Guinness, and Challah—they are all fun to make and more fun to devour. And who doesn’t enjoy the therapy of kneading out one’s frustrations while stretching those gluten fibers?
I tended my great-nephew Gabe on a recent Saturday afternoon. He is all of three years old. He lights up when he sees me because I love him and play with him. I light up when I see him because he is adorable and smart and fun and sweet, and likes being with me. On that Saturday we made my daughter Laura’s recipe for banana chocolate-chip muffins—the secret ingredient is sour cream, and these muffins are wonderfully moist and soft. Gabe and I set up our work areas on the kitchen’s center island. Given the attention span and dexterity of three-year-olds, I thought it best to give him his own bowls and measuring implements and ingredients. While I mixed the real recipe, he mixed his own concoction. The secret ingredient of Gabe’s muffins? Colored sprinkles, lots of them. And egg shells. As I was breaking eggs into my batter, he asked for an egg for his. He held the egg over his bowl, smashed it with his little hand, and dropped it into the bowl, shell and all. Mom and Dad watched smiling from the family room. I could hear a faint ringing echo as we mixed batter and talked, and I said to Mom, “Can you hear that ringing?” It turned out to be a hearing aid sitting on a table, reacting to my voice. But Gabe got off his stool and came over to hug my leg with a concerned look on his upturned face. He teared up and asked about the monster making the noise. When the hearing aid explanation meant nothing to him, I tried to reassure him by telling him confidently that there were no monsters in the house because I had eaten them all for breakfast—yum!—and that my favorite one was the chocolate monster—yum! And not one monster was left to bother him. He laughed, looked worried, and laughed again. As Gabe left with my sister and some sprinkle-topped muffins, I told him to gobble up any monsters he found at his house for his breakfast, and he smiled and said okay. Yesterday he left a crayon rainbow drawing on my pillow.