Monday, December 28, 2009

My Favorite Pound Cake

On New Year's day, we all usually get together at my mother's for a day of cooking, eating, laughing, and playing cards. At some point during the day, some of us will take a walk down to the river. We'll walk slowly and crunch fallen leaves. When we get there, we'll skip stones and look for turtles on the rocks.

It's a slow, relaxing day. Cooking with my mother is always a treat. She's an adventurous cook and makes old favorites along with new culinary enterprises. Mom is also a great mother of adult children, walking that fine line between giving encouragement and letting go. I am grateful every day for her.

Some traditional foods we eat to celebrate New Year's are black eyed peas, cabbage and oyster dressing. I always bring pound cake. I don't remember where I got the recipe, but I've made it for years now.

I make it 4 days ahead of time and put an apple slice in the middle of it until New Year's. This version of a simple cake has a few extra steps, but I think it's worth it. It's delicous just plain, but also good topped with fruit or whipped cream.

2 sticks of butter, softened
3 cups of sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 eggs, separated
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 350° and grease a bundt pan.
2. Cream the butter and sugar.
3. Add vanilla.
4. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
5. Sift flour and baking soda together.
6. Add flour mixture to butter and egg mixture, alternating with sour cream.
7. Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then fold into cake mixture.
8. Pour batter into a greased
9. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cake cool 30 minutes before removing from pan.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

In Praise of Puttering

The building of a soul can’t be rushed. It takes hours a day and lots of hard work. Luckily most of the work is so gentle, most people think it’s not work at all; they think you’re just fooling around. Which you are – because it’s your job if you’re a three-year-old, or the mother of one.
People don’t know how to value a whole afternoon in the sandbox, probably because it makes no useful product – at least no immediate, visible product. What it makes is a human – a person who can focus her attention for a looooooong time on one task (building a castle, then going to get dolls to live there); who can plan (“OK, we’ll make four corners, then walls going between them.”) and carry out a plan; who can fail (“Oh, it fell! What happened?”), then persist until she finds a way to make it work.
When my daughter Gem was young, we spent lots of time puttering. Sometimes we would talk, sometimes not. Now that she is 13 her thoughts and our relationship are more complex, but the conversations aren’t all that different. She talks about friends and friendships, math, or a book she’s reading, trying to parse out the intricacies of 8th grade group dynamics. I am still awed and humbled by Gem’s ability to plan, act, fail, and try again.
Not long ago, there was a “mean girl” problem at her school. A few girls were amassing power by alternately including and excluding others. At various points, Gem was “in” and “out.” I listened to her while we cooked or she did homework and did my best to only advise when she asked for it. (Sometimes I didn’t succeed.)
One day, I asked her how her day went. Turns out she had started playing football with the boys – just opted out of the whole girl milieu rather than play mean games. Through it all, she stayed loyal to her old friends and forgiving of the “mean” girls. Somehow, she knew that they were sad and insecure, rather than truly mean.
I firmly believe that long hours spent in quiet contemplation have given Gem strength and heart. She can ponder at length and carry out a plan based on what she knows it is right and true. Now that’s a soul in the making.