Lately it seems like everyone I know is going through something hard. My best friend Jenna was laid off in January and had to euthanize her cat Norma last week. I ruptured my Achilles tendon three days after the New Year, and I'm still not walking without the assistance of some pretty hefty gear and physical therapy (and sometimes major painkillers). My boyfriend Dave lost his mother last August. And I'm beginning to sound like a really depressing, poorly written country-western song...
The point is that life often sends us grief and hardship, and there are some days that seem harder than others. For me, baking often softens the blow, makes the kitchen smell nice, and soothes my need to be busy with something productive, tangible and comforting. I also think of my grandmother, Anna Lee Cooper Hammond, when I bake; she taught me a lot about life, love and how to run a respectable kitchen.
Today I got the chance to drive past the farm my grandma and granddad owned in Weaubleau, Missouri. I spent many summers watching my grandma bake, cook, and tell stories. I knew I had arrived at my grandma's house when my sister Jenna and I sang "Over the River and Through the Woods." We also knew that by the time we crossed grandma's door, we would smell food unlike anything our busy momma had time to make: cinnamon rolls heavy with brown sugar and pecans, new potatoes and peas in cream, pecan pie, homemade chicken and noodles, blackberry cobbler, and a caramel cake with boiled frosting that I still haven't figured out how to make.
Before my grandmother died six years ago, she wrote out her top 20 favorite recipes for me, my sister Jenna, and my cousin Sheila. Those recipes, while saved for special occasions and all-out caloric mayhem, are a part of my heritage. And despite the sentimentality of this post, my grandma was anything but. She was finicky and particular about how to knead bread, bake her much-requested chocolate sheet cake, and prepare family meals. She would fuss if I futzed with the gravy or didn't check on the biscuits like she had told me to do. She was a tough teacher who had high expectations for the quality and flavor of the food she served.
So, this post and the banana cake I made on Thursday night is for my grandma Anna Lee, who was born on March 8, 1930. This windy afternoon, right between Collins and Weaubleau, Missouri off 54 East, I put some day lilies on her grave in the Robinson Cemetery, said hello, and then hobbled back to the car with my guy Dave. So, Happy Birthday, Grandma! Your life and love still live on in me and many others.
Join me and my best friend Jenna Leigh in our new blogging adventure, Pounds to Peru, as we work out (and our way) to Lima, Peru in August 2011 for our friend Elie's nuptials. This occasional feature will kickoff in January 2011. Stay tuned!