Saturday, April 10, 2010

"With all that good stuff you put in..."

My mother tells the story of cooking a meal when she was a young girl. Her mother was talking her through the recipe, and she was doing her best to follow directions. Because it was early in her long and delicious cooking days, my mother was unsure about the success of the outcome of her labor. When she expressed her concern about her endeavor with her father, he asked her what ingredients she had put into the simmering pots. After hearing her lengthy and detailed answer, he is reported to have said, "With all that good stuff you put in, how can it not be good?"

With that uplifting and encouraging tale in mind, my daughter and I set our hearts and hands on the task of producing our first ice cream cake for my husband's birthday a few weeks ago.
A very short list of ingredients: ice cream, cookies, peppermint sprinkles.
A very short list of instructions: Let the ice cream melt. Crush the cookies. Layer the cookie crumbs in the bottom of a spring form pan. Pour some peppermint sprinkles onto the cookie crumbs. Pour or spoon the melted ice cream onto that layer. Sprinkle another layer of cookie crumbs on top of the ice cream. Refreeze overnight. Remove the sides of the spring form pan - carefully. Gaze at the cake with wonder and delight. Enjoy!

First, the cake.
Then the mesmerized, gawking, drooling, pleading, impatient onlooker.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I don't like to cook. Fortunately, this recipe didn't involve any cooking. Anyone who knows my dislike of cooking ought to know that I almost never follow recipes very closely. I respond to the precision of carefully drafted recipes with a teenager's spirit of rebellion; I rail noisily against the person who arrogantly and blithely put together a formula that I, a blindly obedient follower, am meant to follow. "Not so much," I say out loud to the cookbook lying smug and silent on the counter. I boldly and defiantly add a little bit of this and a little bit of that in order to make the resulting dish my own original creation, rather than simply a recreation of someone else's work. This ice cream cake project was no exception to that pattern. Notice the addition in the photo below... who doesn't love a good sugar-softened fresh strawberry or two or ten?

It was the best birthday cake ever!
Thank you, Karen, for sharing your recipe with me.
Thank you, Robin, for lending me your pan.
We were some happy cake eaters that Friday night.

The next day after lunch, I opened the freezer with the intention of having a hunk of ice cream cake for a midday sweet snack. No cake. What? How could those greedy rascals eat the entire cake in one night? In anger and frustration, I called out, "Where is the ice cream cake? Is it really all gone?" Kristiana answered: "It's in the fridge." WHAT? In the fridge? Sure enough, some late night sugar-high cake eater had put the cake in the fridge and not in the freezer.

I was livid.

Until I remembered my grandfather's comment: "With all that good stuff you put in, how can it not be good?" The ingredients were the same, after all. Only the temperature and consistency had changed. So I quickly overcame my ire and tucked in for a hearty helping of "ice cream cake soup."

Notice the spoon and open book.
Who doesn't like a good dessert soup while reading on a warm late March afternoon?

While I sat at the counter eating that sweet, milky, crunchy, drippy delight, I was reminded of other areas of my life that have gone through similar transformations: my marriage, my mothering, my friendships, and my varied experiences of faith. Years and years of pouring in sweet, nutritious, heart-healthy ingredients. Stirring. Passing the mixtures over the stove and into the oven of life: heated conversations, hot topics, the smoldering embers of illness, coals that might flare up again at any moment. The tepid indifference of some who in one fiery moment swore undying love and support, but in the end proved to be distant and lukewarm. The soul-chilling estrangement from loved ones. The cold days and frigid nights of non-existent conversation and connection. Always, the outcome is unique, unpredictable, impossible to recreate.

Some relationships have turned out of the muffin pans of my life perfectly it seems and feel more like works of art to be stared at and put on display for all the world to see than joy-filled treasures that are meant to be thoroughly consumed and enjoyed. Others never form completely, so when it's time to take them out of the pan and enjoy them, they lose their shape and fall to messy pieces.

Most of the time, when I ponder all that I have poured into my dearly beloved and cherished relationships - emails and text messages sent and received, phone calls shared, letters and postcards and care packages that have crossed many miles and several oceans, and best of all, the time spent together eating veggie burgers and key lime pie, drinking chamomile tea and lemon drop martinis, laughing, shopping, walking, staying up late into the night telling riotous stories, going to (sometimes AWFUL) movies, creating art and art journals and jewelry and cards and bookmarks, and sharing travel, food, wine, book, movie, and music recommendations - I cannot help but smile and remember my grandfather's words yet again: "With all that good stuff you put in, how can it not be good?"

PS. I apologize if the cooking metaphor has gone a little too far, but I am nothing if not excessively and repreatedly compelled to drawing comparisons out a little bit too far...


Semi-A said...

I've got to make you guys some apple cornbread (of course if ya'll haven't had some before) :-)
A mi tia, te quiero.

Laurie said...

Your posts never cease to bring a smile to my face. I send you warm hugs and great big smile!!!