Birthday baking

(I’m sorry, what was that? Post once a week? I think I remember saying something like that . . . but, you know, life happens.)

Thing Two’s birthday was last week. When the Things were little, I tried doing shaped cakes. You know, bake a cake, cut it into interesting shapes, like a dinosaur, and frost it so it looks cool.

I sucked at it. Royally. My mother-in-law, who has a BFA, is really good at it. Of course. I couldn’t handle the competition (which was all in my head), and said no more, several years ago. Instead, they get to pick pretty much whatever they want for dessert.

So this year, Thing Two picked strawberry pie. In March. I told him I didn’t think it was going to happen. I did find a recipe for a strawberry chiffon pie, which I thought I could do with frozen strawberries. They’d be mashed up, and would have other things in there to add to the flavor, so not having fresh berries wouldn’t be so bad. Of course, the frozen strawberries were on sale when I went to the store, and they were completely out, even of the brand that wasn’t on sale. And the three cartons of fresh strawberries they had in the produce section were . . . sad. We’ll leave it at that. His next choice was cherry cheesecake.

If cream cheese wasn’t so expensive, I’d make cheesecake every week. I’d be more faithful about it than I am about posting every week, too.

Thing One’s choice for dessert (her birthday is the end of the month) is “butterscotch or caramel pie.” Now, I could cheat and buy a box of butterscotch pudding mix, but that’s . . . cheating. At least as far as I’m concerned, it is. For a regular day, that’s okay. But not for a birthday.

I was talking to my mom about it, and she said she had a recipe for butterscotch pie. Or, really, for vanilla cream pie, with some variations, including butterscotch.

(Finally, I get to the point of the post. It’s kind of like waiting for the chorus of “Alice’s Restaurant” to come around on the guitar. It takes a while, but it happens eventually.)

My mom was my dad’s second wife. They met when my dad lived in Michigan, near the rest of his family. Mom’s family was in Illinois. No one threw her a bridal shower. My dad’s family wouldn’t because they’d already been through that with his first wife (when my paternal grandmother died — many years after her husband — my sister Kathy and I agreed she was a “tough old bitch,” and we said it mostly affectionately), and Mom’s family was too far away.

These days, a lot of people seem to expect to get major appliances and really expensive china for their wedding presents. Back then, cookbooks were popular gifts for the new-homemaker-to-be. Mom hadn’t lived on her own much at that point, and didn’t have any cookbooks. She had really looked forward to getting some at her shower. The shower no one gave her.

She watched the kids overnight for me yesterday, and when I dropped them off, she handed me the book with the vanilla cream pie recipe (with variations). She told me it was the first cookbook she got: Creative Cooking Made Easy: The Golden Fluffo Cookbook, from 1956. (Fluffo is apparently still available in Canada, through Smuckers Foods, makers of Crisco.) She had to send away for it. She used it a lot, since it was the only cookbook she had. It’s obviously well used, and it’s missing the front cover, but it’s still perfectly serviceable.

Now she’s got a few shelves full of cookbooks, and folders full of recipes cut out from newspapers and magazines. She doesn’t really cook anymore, for various reasons, but she says she still cuts recipes out of the newspaper. She still buys cookbooks, too. It’s interesting the way something seemingly insignificant can take root so deeply in a person that they are still affected by it fifty-five years later.

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