I have some friends who like to give me a hard time about my from-scratch baking and the sometimes-semi-gourmet nature of my kids’ lunchbox contents. This post is for them. This past weekend was my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday celebration. And there had to be cake. My husband wanted to decorate a cake with our four-year-old…so they just needed a canvas. I had a box full of decorations and some fondant…so I handed over three layers of blank chocolate frosting…and somehow a monster truck came to be. And yes, the first “N” is actually a “Z” turned on its side. We ran out of “N”s. And the other “N” might or might not have gotten broken. My husband placed the letters and our son did the rest. Fondant. Cookie cutters. Sprinkles.
Oh, except for the border on the bottom of the cake – I might have had something to do with that. Now, some of these friends of mine might imagine I had a hard time with this being THE birthday cake. I did not. (OK, there might have been a brief flash of panic for just a few moments as those four-year-old little hands starting placing fondant…but it went away. Really.)
This was so much fun to make. Easily one of my favorite gifts I’ve ever given.
Months ago my mother-in-law was talking about some very old family recipes – things made by her mother and her grandmother – and she was expressing some concern that, one day, when she is no longer making them, no one will be making them.
So the simple idea to gather and save all the meaningful family dishes into one collection was born.
I made most of the recipes, photographed them and compiled everything with the family photos and memories. My husband had several weeks of eating food from his childhood that he certainly did not complain about.
Some things I learned or was reminded of:
1. Most of people’s memories were only triggered by the food – the actual recollection was about the quality time spent in the kitchen or around the table. Grandchildren told of playing with bubbles in the sink and about making what seemed like a thousand batches of chocolate chip cookies (not necessarily about eating them!)
2. There was a strong theme of love demonstrated through the daily ritual of food preparation…the idea that this line of women dedicated a significant amount of themselves to the very careful and loving feeding of their families. Every day. Every meal. For years. And years.
3. I recognized that in the menus from two and three generations back there was such simplicity in the food. They ate what they had. Some of the old recipes literally called for the “canned tomatoes from the garden” and the chicken and beef came from their own land.
4. It also got me thinking about what my children and possible future grandchildren would submit to a similar project. And then I started to panic about not having enough regular “favorites” in the rotation…about not having holiday must-have recipes cemented into the line-up…reconsidering the notion of taco night or pizza night just to throw in another possibility for childhood memories…but then again, I tend to overthink those kinds of things and panic for no real reason. I know.
Mostly, I hope, my mother-in-law saw it as an expression of appreciation for the thousands of meals she’s put on the table in front of her family. And, as my husband put it, that she feels honored for “perfecting the tastes and smells that would help us define ‘home’ forever.”