Before too much time passes, I wanted to share a short piece I wrote in honor of fathers and daughters or more precisely, my father and a memory I had to share with him on the most recent Father’s Day.
Please share a special memory of your own!
Baking did not come naturally to me. I once took a gourmet cooking class and managed to turn out several wonderful three and four course meals, but only by blindly and exactingly following the instructions.
On this year’s Father’s Day, I found myself in the midst of a project to bake and photograph a number of recipes handed down by my grandmother, among them: a white cake with coconut frosting, sugar cookies, Kuchen, a German Chocolate Cake, and date bars, a perennial family favorite. As I was stirring the flour into the whisked eggs for a batch of date bars, a voice in the back of my head whispered, “The dough is awfully thick.” Yes, it’s supposed to be, I thought, swatting at the nagging voice. “It’s not the right color.” I know, it does look a tad too yellow, but maybe that’s because I used fresh farm eggs, I said and then proceeded to the next and last step, which was to fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites. “Fold in,” the voice reminded me. I can’t, I replied, the dough is too stiff. Go away. I’ll use my fingers. Okay, it’s still a little stiff, but I’ve gone too far to start over. Anyway, I did increase the portions for dates and pecans—the best parts—so never mind. Off it goes, into the oven.
Thirty minutes later, I removed the hardened near-brick like square of dough from the oven. I’d have to visit my father on Father’s Day empty-handed. I was crestfallen. I’d used up all the dates and pecans I had on hand so there was no way to bake another batch. What to do. What to do. I decided to try to try to make lemonade from my lemon. I let the batch cool, sliced it into squares, and then dusted the bars with several heaping spoonfuls of powdered sugar. I bit into one. “It’s not very sweet,” the voice said. “It’s a bit hard.” Hard, yes, but not impossible to chew—just shy of a biscotti I thought optimistically.
I looked back over the recipe to see where I’d gone wrong. My grandmother knew what to do when but never thought to include those details. So, I should have blended the vanilla with the milk before adding the milk to the dough. I should have used whole milk rather than the healthier non-fat variety. And, worst of all, I’d omitted one very important ingredient altogether, sugar. The recipe called for a cup and a half.
What a disappointment. The failure reminded me of a day almost fifty years ago. I was maybe ten years old and was attempting to bake a cake “on my own”. I don’t remember what type of cake, but likely another of my grandmother’s recipes. It was also likely that both my grandmother and mother were present to lend a helping hand should I need one. I was determined, however, to prove I could do it without help. After carefully following the instructions, I slipped my two cake pans into the oven and sat back to wait. Thirty or forty minutes later, with an oven mitt on each hand, I reached in the oven and removed the cake pans, carried them gingerly to the counter and then flipped them over. Two brown discs hit fell to the counter with a thud. I’d forgotten the milk.
I could barely look at the cake though I’m certain my siblings had and that they promptly doubled over with laughter. I sobbed.
Shortly, my father came in to the kitchen, immediately saw how devastated I was. He took a slice of one of the circular pieces of firm dough, how he managed to cut it I don’t recall, and gobbled it down. He went for another and exclaimed how good it was. I think I cried even harder. If I remember correctly, he finished the whole “cake”.
Now, I glanced down at my date bars and put another spoonful of powdered sugar on each. I was taking them to my father who I knew would eat them and declare them “the best”.