Monday, July 25, 2011


I'm more of a winter person than a summer person.  I like fires in the fireplace, stew, red wine, a chilly kitchen warmed by the smell of baking bread.  I like our bed, warm with two, three, four, sometimes five bodies, an island of cozy in a frigid room where ice creeps up the inside of the window glass.  I like snow.  I'm ready for spring when it comes, but it's not long into our growing season before I start seeking out signs of fall: well-stacked woodpiles, that tree at the end of the road that starts showing hints of color in its tallest branches earlier than anything else.  I know, I know.  Live in the moment.  Make peace with the present.  Gather ye rosebuds...

The boys and I have a summer tradition.  We bake cookies - even in soaking wet heat like last week - and eat them lying on a blanket in the yard reading books.  The last two years, though, I've noticed that our summer tradition happens more in the winter than summer.  We bake cookies while snow or rain falls outside and then eat them lying on a blanket in the living room in front of the fire, reading books and reminding each other that soon we'll get to do this outside on a patch of grass.  But then the world turns green and we forget.  We are swimming, hiking, camping, lounging and forgetting about cookies and blankets and books.  But still, it's our summer tradition.  Eating cookies in the winter wouldn't feel quite right if we didn't do it with the hazy specter of heat and light nodding at our shoulders. 

I made cookies this morning so the boys would have something sweet in their camp snacks.  At six am, the only creature awake beside the black dog, I melted butter in a sauce pan and poured the resulting liquid sunshine over sugar, brown and white.  Stir, stir, stir, add other things both dry and wet, and voila, a plate full of love to greet my cranky morning kiddos.  I imagined many things about motherhood, most of them wrong, but I never even suspected that baking cookies at an unearthly hour could make me so...complete.  Or that I would ever say yes when asked "Cookies for breakfast?"  Sure.  Have a cookie.  Have two.

I bought some buttermilk last week in anticipation of making s’more whoopie pies for a party T was attending. Fortunately the recipe didn’t call for much and I planned to use the rest for waffles. They would be, I imagined, the perfect way to send T off to circus camp. That morning was filled with last-minute packing and our meal was merely sustenance rather than celebratory. I almost forgot all about it, in fact, until we started carrying the duffel bags and pillows up the three flights of stairs to his room in the dorm. The counselors always do an excellent job of caring for the kids, teaching them and getting them excited to perform. Every year T comes home with many stories of the fun he’s had with them, and it’s one the reason he keeps going back. This year, as we made our way up the stairs, I saw that they had done something a little different. Using crayons and markers they had handlettered signs that said things like “Good Times,” “You Rock,” and “Joy.” The one that made me smile said “Like hot melted butter on a stack of flapjacks,” complete with someone’s own tiny rendition of breakfast. It seemed out of place among the other signs, but it conveyed a sense of comfort and sweetness.

I’ve been thinking about that sign all week, kicking myself for not having photographed it. The temps have been so hot that I’ve not felt like eating anything, but rather have come to fully understand what
it’s like to: Be the Butter. Not that I’ve ever had to imagine this before, but I have felt the effect of this intense heat on my brain--basically turning it to mush. Though some would say to stay out of the kitchen this week, I’ve been there more often than not these past few days. While T is away I am helping at another camp, one that he has attended since he was five. (If things work out next year he’ll be going as a counselor in training.) I’ve been helping prepare the food there for as long as I can remember. It is the highlight of my summer and I look forward to it all year long. I enjoy seeing how much the all kids have grown, but to be honest I think of it as an excuse to bake--as much as my heart desires. With close to 150 kids of all ages, there’s always someone to polish off the muffins, granola or quickbread.

One of my favorite poems, “Irreverent Baking” is by Maya Stein. I chose to read at my graduation because it puts into words how I feel about my life’s work. She packs so much into this line: “the house inked with the smell of blueberry possibility.” That’s what baking is to me, possibility. Each time I find a new recipe I get inspired. When I pull out the ingredients I get excited, almost little-girl giddy. But when I put the butter and sugar in the mixer, then it becomes real to me. At first the butter is clunky but soon becomes smooth, coming together with the sugar to create something light and fluffy. No matter how many times I perform this act I still feel reverence for what it can do, for me and for others. Such simple things but they are a gift. I have been missing my son tremendously, even though I know he’s having the time of his life juggling and clowning around. When T comes back at the end of the week, I know just what to make to welcome him home.

Next Week's Word: Doctor

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