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Writing and Baking and Life

Today’s blog entry takes place in a noisy house. My husband is out all day at meetings, and very cheerfully so, because as you know we are in a tanked economy. The cheerful will prevail, as they seek every opportunity with thankfulness, and in the case of my husband, armed with faith and joyful hope. God Bless everyone who has to bring home the bacon.

This house is noisy, even though I have only three children around. The daily routine of chasing the cats and the cats misbehavior, the dog’s neediness make up the ongoing narrative. Around that there is homeschooling and cooking and drawing and laughing and singing.

Writing comes before the thousand things. I have to sit here and do it, if I didn’t, the thousand things would present themselves. All day long they would call my name. From the time I wake up, to the time I go to sleep, the day is busy with things that need my attention. The house needs to be run. The family needs to be managed. The children, even the college kids need to be listened to. There is a business to assist with. Then, there are endless closets to be organized, and drawers of family archeology. There is a basement and an attic and a garage filled to bursting with things-that-cannot-be-tossed.

There are books that call to be read, and housework that is strangely soothing (I did the kitchen floor yesterday). There are meals to be cooked and groceries to be bought and sorted. There are things to bake and songs to listen to. There are friends to talk to and news to hear. There is a garden to plan.

We are waiting for spring’s warmth. The past two days have been bitterly cold. The sun is bright, but the wind is blasting. It’s nice to be inside the house.

My oldest texts from NYC that she has received my youngest’s chocolate chocolate chip cookies. Hillary Clinton’s famous comment about cookies makes me consider my own path to being a mother of bakers.

When I was a child in Baguio, a famous cake decorator came to live with us. We had a very large house with different levels that could close off with doors. These different parts of the house could be rented for extra income. Yes, the house had many kitchens. Probably seven in all. It was a very interesting dwelling indeed.

In that interesting season, D., the baker came to stay. He was seeking refuge after a terrible family tragedy. His son had committed suicide in a drug induced state. D. was heartbroken and couldn’t think. So he headed to Baguio, to stay with us. At the time we also had Mrs. M, who was an expert seamstress. They both gave lessons in baking and pattern drafting.

As a gesture to help them out, my mother asked us to take lessons too. That way, they wouldn’t feel so beholden. At any rate, it made for really colorful dinner table conversations. It was a unique life.

D taught bread and cake making. His specialty was cake decorating, and he could created towering lit cakes that looked like mini-Versailles. He also taught the art of the cinammon roll and the Philippine ensaimada. There was also sans rival, a nougat and nut torte with layers of sweetened butter. This was the stuff of fatness.

D’s masterpiece, for me, was the cinnamon roll. Oh, how he could roll that dough out and brush it with butter, sugar and cinnamon, all the while keeping up a conversation that entertained my teenage ears. Teens long to live in the world of grownups, and D was full of stories. He had fallen on hard times and had anecdotes about baking for the glitterati in Manila. Against the backdrop of the beautiful mountains and blue sky, the aroma of cinammon would fill the house. It’s a very nice memory, and one I pull out again and again.

In the same era, my mother perfected sardine making with an exotic recipe that had clove in it. There was home made pan de sal to eat with the spicy sardines. Then we would all take a big walk on Camp John Hay, which was across the street.

My older sister was also an expert baker. She kept us supplied with banana cream pies and lemon meringue pies.

Of course I would not be telling the truth if I didn’t mention once again, that this was all played out against the sleeping dragon of my father’s illness, bipolar disorder.

In those days I never thought that I would be blessed with the life I have. I wouldn’t have known how to get to it. Yet, God watched out for me and took care of me, and got me to this place.

When I became a mother, I made a simple cake, called a Busy-Day cake. It’s so easy to make, and my kids were always amazed by it. After that, I used boxed mixes and they were still amazed. Think of it, by this time, the kids had a great positive association with baking and me. It wasn’t D.’s Baguio magic, but it was magic all the same.

My oldest took up baking and my next daughter, AM, took over. She began churning out taste treats from scratch. Undaunted by complexity, she trained herself to become an expert baker. Then came my little girl who stepped up to the mixing bowl at eight. At ten, she’s a cookie master.

I can see the secret. The secret is keeping it happy, keeping it easy . We bake memories into life. I know when they look back, they will remember being happy in the kitchen with me. I’m not a tyrant, and I don’t care really, how things turns out. It’s all good.  Whether Busy Day cake, or Duncan Hines, or Martha Stewart’s scratch recipe, baking with the kids equals love.

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