I haven’t done holiday baking for years. It’s hard to make dozens of cookies when you can’t stand for more than 5 minutes at a time. It’s impossible to make breads and sweet rolls when you don’t have the energy to do the kneading.
It seems odd that I would take on a project about sweets 5 months after a gastric by-pass. But in my twisted mind it makes perfect sense. If I’m seriously limited in what and how much I can eat I want what I choose to be exactly what I want. If I take a bite of a sugar cookie I don’t want a grocery store bakery model.
My sense of proportion has changed too. I don’t feel any need to make dozens of cookies for everyone I know. Most of the people I know have 1. Dietary issues related to allergies 2. Weight concerns 3. General health concerns 4. Bake themselves – for the same reason I want to. They know what they like!
So in spite of the surgery, and in spite of the car accident I decided I wanted to do some baking this weekend. I trimmed the tree. I gathered up groceries over the course of the week. I spent some time cleaning too. My cookie cutters haven’t seen the light of day in ages. In fact, I discovered many of the one’s I remembered moved out with my daughter 3 years ago.
Thanks to the surgery and subsequent weight loss I wasn’t so exhausted from doing the prep that I couldn’t do the actual cooking. I’ve had plenty of days like that. It’s exciting just to be able. But there was a small snag. I had to babysit this weekend. Karina’s puppy Minnie was over while she attended a conference.
Minnie could have been the one thing too many that put me over the top. And I am definitely feeling like I may have over done it a little this weekend. But the weather was crazy warm (it got into the 50’s!) which made putting the dog out at 4am a little less unpleasant.
What I hadn’t expected was for Minnie to be such a “helper”. It never occurred to me to worry about the dog climbing up on the table. I did wonder what she’d gotten into when I saw her with a nose full of powdered sugar, but thought I’d dropped something onto the floor. However, she didn’t hide the evidence of my date walnut tart.
I guess I’ll have to find something else to bring to that pot luck. I certainly won’t be tempted to eat too much. Luckily I got most everything packed away before I took the tart out of the oven and left it alone to cool. I’m just grateful Karina is the one who’ll have to deal with doggie diarrhea. That I’m not up for.
Here we are again coming upon Thanksgiving. This is probably the holiday that’s the “biggest deal” in my own family of origins. Sure we celebrated birthdays and Christmas and all of those things in one way or another. My child self would never have given Thanksgiving a “higher place” than waking up to presents from Santa under the tree. And yet it is the Thanksgiving holiday that endures.
When we grew up and had to make those negotiations with spouses, in-laws and our own families my parents were flexible. They were not as interested in the date of the holiday, or even the theme of the holiday. They were interested in us getting together as a family. My Mom’s birthday being December 18th we had lots of room to shuffle to accommodate winter break, Yule, Christmas with the in-laws and anything else we wanted to throw into the winter holiday mix (like a dog sled ride or a choir concert.)
Spring break became much more important than Easter, especially when the Grandchildren’s birthdays, Spring Equinox, and wedding anniversaries were added to the mix. 4th of July was always about where to get a campsite rather than fireworks and parades, and once my parents retired it became about political campaign fundraising. Memorial Day my Mother took turns with her siblings for who got to tend the family gravesite and my father took his annual first canoe trip to the boundary waters.
Thanksgiving stayed the same. Even if no one was coming my Mom was determined to have her turkey and stuffing. Since we knew she was cooking anyway we’d often drop by before or after even if we’d committed to be elsewhere. All of the family stories seem to center around activities that happened at Thanksgiving. At my Grandmother’s Thanksgiving there was the traditional fight between my Dad and his sister over the turkey heart. There was the year my Mom got dinner on the table within 24 hours of being released from the hospital. (We got her through the meal and insisted she needed to go back! – Another holiday in the ER.) Thanksgiving is an opportunity for family adventures.
I may have mentioned in a previous post (Graduate) that my family cooks. Thanksgiving is probably the only time that cooking isn’t a competition. Everyone has found their “signature dish” and even when no one else will eat it, the meal isn’t the same without it. My Grandmother’s marshmallow and walnut salad made appearances every year long after she’d passed. It still gets talked about, although my mother has acknowledged that it doesn’t fit anybody’s taste, time, or dietary requirements anymore. My sister always shows up with the infamous green bean casserole. She’s happy to share it with anyone, usually an in-law. It was never in my mother’s repertoire, my sister discovered it after she was married just like I discovered cranberries didn’t have to come out of a can.
This year my Mom, who has become Great Grandma, has decided that Thanksgiving is just a little bit too much. She’s still hosting, still determined to make her turkey, stuffing, wild rice, mashed potatoes and gravy. She decided that she didn’t need pie. Oh, she’ll still make some, just not for Thanksgiving. Besides, she says, no one is hungry enough for desert after that meal anyway!
I guess I can’t argue the point and I’m proud of her for acknowledging enough is enough (even if Dad is on duty to keep her hands off the pie crust makings – the harder task.) The problem is that I promised Darcy a pecan pie. Darcy is a new mom and my “niece-in-law”. She deserves a pecan pie, and it’s not one Mom ever really made so no competition. But one pie for Darcy isn’t going to go over well with 13 people (that I know of) at the table. (I didn’t count the new baby either.) So today the blog is a little late because I’ve been busy. What’s Thanksgiving without pie?
This weekend we attended the commencement ceremony for my daughter Karina. She graduated from the baking and patisserie program at Le Cordon Bleu. It was a grand event with speakers who talked about passion and working your butt off, both essential elements of the culinary industry. She’s very proud of herself, and she should be. She has dreamed about being a baker since about the 7th grade.
Since she’s my baby it’s also another milestone for me. She is out from under the wings of academia and all alone in that cold cruel world. It doesn’t seem like such a big change for her. Part of the program requires an extensive externship experience. Karina found a job that hired her and was happy to do the externship paperwork on the side. She’s working as the lead baker at Brasa in St. Paul. (http://www.brasa.us) It’s a restaurant that prides itself on using local and seasonal ingredients. They cater to accommodating the gluten free crowd so she’s learned a lot about that. The deserts turn over seasonally, along with the sides, but she’s not leaving school to go find a job in her field. She has one.
Actually she has two jobs in her field as she’s also waitressing at Fat Lorenzo’s a pizza and Italian eatery in South Minneapolis (http://www.fatlorenzos.com). She loves being on her own in the kitchen, but she also enjoys the social aspects of front of the house work. Karina has visions of someday opening her own bakery and I’m sure this experience will help her.
My little girl has always been a go getter. I remember her as a toddler always eager to help out. Always wanting to do more. Of course she had to do more than many kids her age because she had a brother with special needs. I used to whisper to her as a babe in arms “You will walk, you will walk early, and once you start walking you’ll never be carried again.” Since I stuck to my guns on that one she became very adept at charming other adult friends into picking her up and hauling along. Those early social skills and charm continue to aid her in her new adult life.
I didn’t believe her when she first started talking about wanting to be a baker. Her brother is a morning person. He’s up at the slightest hint of morning with a smile on his face and eager for what the day brings. Karina has always been more like her mother the night owl. Getting her up in the morning for school was a chore and getting her to go to bed at a reasonable hour even worse. She never had a problem on those special occasions (like New Years) when she was allowed to stay up. In fact she would start looking for reasons to get an exemption to bedtime. I suspected the reason she got into choir was as much for the evening concerts, and subsequently delayed bedtime as it was for the music.
So when Karina first started talking about being a baker I did the most horrible thing a mother could ever do. I laughed at her. YOU? You know that bakers are up and at work at 4am don’t you? You really want a job, a life, that requires you to be functional at that ungodly hour of the morning? You’ve got to be kidding! She told me quite succinctly that she could sleep when she got off work and meet the morning from the end of a late night. Then she turned on her heel and slammed the door of her bedroom. I eat my words as I listen to her rattle off her intentions to be at work early at 4am or that she over slept and didn’t get in until 6am. I also note that she does agree to go out dancing knowing that at 2am when the club closes she can pack a change of clothes and head over to work for a really early start.
When she decided to go to Le Cordon Bleu we knew there would be a mad dash to find the money. Karina entered a cooking competition, culinary rather than baking. She won a scholarship. She found jobs in the industry. She worked with financial aid. She got another scholarship based on recommendations of merit from her employers and teachers. She hustled, took out student loans, applied for pell grants and managed to get through pretty much on her own. The experience of juggling the money for her education will also be a huge benefit to her when she decides to go into business for herself.
As much as she’s done on her own, Karina still gives me credit as an inspiration. I cook. I’ve cooked for dinner parties. I’ve cooked to save the budget from the expense of eating out. I’ve cooked for weekend conference events. I’ve even brought Karina along as my assistant in the kitchen. She’s got a precision that I lack, which is why she’ll be a better baker than I ever was.
I think, part of the appeal of baking is the competition with her mother isn’t as great. In baking she’ll have to take on my father, the north woods king of bread. A loaf of his gets $50 in the DFL fundraising auction they hold every year. My mother is no slouch as a cook either. I tease that their retirement home is really a bed and breakfast because they host so much company.
My sister sent a card to congratulate Karina. Hands down it was the best. The card is unremarkable, it’s what my sister wrote along with her love. “Finally there is someone in the family who REALLY knows how to cook!”