Mama, it’s a word that is veritably primal, one of the very first words tiny human baby mouths and brains can conjure. I am a Mama’s girl through and through. Anyone that speaks to me more than a couple of paragraphs essentially knows I love my Mama. She and I have always been very good friends. We’ve spent a lot of time together in the kitchen! She has a sweet tooth and is famous for her poundcake, French butter cookies, and peanut brittle. My love of food and cooking took root in the kitchen with Mama.
Reading is Fundamental
I was always a bookish child, curled up in a corner with a book, reading a book in the car, or hiding under the weeping willow tree with a book in my hand. Once when I was in elementary school the principal called mama in for a meeting because I was cutting class — cutting class and sneaking into the library. Mama didn’t think that was such a problem.
A couple of years later just before the summer break, we were in the library choosing books for vacation. I was reading above my age and the librarian wanted me to read something more “age-appropriate.” I vividly remember her telling me to stick to a certain children’s section for my summer reading when what I really wanted to do was go over there to the hardback books. I wasn’t reading titillating teen material; I had started reading the classics. I was beginning to appreciate literature. Mama had faith in me and just let me choose what I wanted to read.
Not Part of the In-Crowd
A bookish child turned into a bookish teenager. I was never part of the popular crowd. I didn’t kiss a boy until I was 16. Of course, that’s all more clear now, but the nut of it was, I wasn’t hanging out in the Dairy Queen parking lot with the other teens on Friday night. I was at home with Mama. My parents divorced when I was in high school, the summer between my junior and senior years. That same summer the private school I attended closed. I was 16. It was tumultuous. Mama and I leaned on each other and it was then that our “grown-up” friendship really started.
Instead of going to another school for my senior year, I started college. I had to get my driver’s license so that I could live at home and drive to college. It just was the thing to do and I did it with Mama right there beside me. She never let on she was worried or that I couldn’t do it. She believed in me if she had any hesitation about her sheltered bookish daughter starting college at 16, she had faith in me and never let on.
A lot has happened in my life since those big steps many years ago. I transferred to UGA and boy howdy, did my world open up. I went to England one summer for a couple of weeks and called her to ask if I could stay the summer. She said yes. I am sure she was scared to death, but if she had any hesitation, she never let on. After a few years of floundering around, I wanted to go to culinary school. She supported my ambition and if she had any hesitation, she had faith in me and never let on.
Later still, I wanted to move to France to learn and study. I was supposed to be there for 3 months and was there for almost three years. If she had any hesitation, she never let on. Moving to New York City to be the kitchen director for Bobby Flay? Leaving that to work for Martha Stewart? Leaving a fantastic job with Martha to travel the world with Epicurious shooting stories about mustard in Dijon or pasta in Italy? If she had any hesitation, she had faith in me and never let on.
Traveling with Mama
We’ve traveled the world together, we’ve eaten freshly baked bagels in Montreal, gnawed on beef bones in Texas, hiked rain forests in Alaska, toured the Tower in London, hunted for truffles in Croatia, hiked mountain trails in Yosemite, and gone fishing pretty much anywhere we can wet a hook. I’ve gotten her lost in winding back alleys in Turkey, taken wrong turns in Paris, and we’ve trooped up many a tower stairwell in Italy. If she had any hesitation, she had faith in me and never let on.
When I returned home to the South — every time — it has been another story. She “let on” how happy she was and I am very glad I returned. Moving home from France, NYC and 9/11, and recently after predominately living for the past 4 years in New England, my life changed radically once again and I moved home to Georgia. Guess what? She “let on” how happy she is I am home.
Life is different now. I am so grateful that she is healthy, especially now. I am so incredibly thankful that I am now in Georgia and not a plane ride or days of driving away, much less halfway around the world. The entire situation is terrifying. I tease that my sister has her wrapped up in cotton, but we all have to do what we can to keep out loved ones safe.
Until the pandemic, Mama was still working part-time at Macy’s. This weekend we were supposed to be on vacation in Florida. I’ve been planning out my trips home, staying quarantined for 2 weeks before I come to see her. The images of people saying goodbye to their loved ones over FaceTime pierce my soul. I cannot conceptualize such pain. I hope and pray for my friends and family. We’ve had some hard conversations. We’re taking as many precautions as possible — and getting our wills in order. There’s blind faith and then there’s well, the facts. Sometimes we can make sense of what God or the universe has planned and sometimes we cannot.
Several years ago I wrote a piece called “Five Things Cooking has Taught me about Life.” One of the points was faith — Faith is as simple as believing that if you mix that flour, sugar, and butter together with a few other things you will have a delicious dessert. Faith is expecting that if proper technique is followed and good ingredients are used, that the result will be tasty. I used to wear a bracelet that reads “When You Have Faith Anything Is Possible.” A colleague saw it once and commented, “I didn’t know you were so religious.” It’s not just about that kind of faith. Faith is believing in many things, including yourself and your ability.
My faith in my abilities stems from the never-ending support of my mama. My religious and spiritual faith continues to evolve and grow, but it started with her, as well. One of my favorite authors Brené Brown wrote, ” Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.” This advice certainly seems timely.
I’ve always devoured books, still do. Words are magic to me. The fact that occasionally I can string together a couple and make a beautiful sentence or a moving phrase or an evocative thought thrills me. I love to bake and cook, and I love writing almost as much. The fact that I can marry these two loves is a wonderful and wondrous thing.
And, that, like most of the wonderful and wondrous things in my life is as a result of the faith, love, and support of my wonderful and wondrous Mama. I hope you enjoy this recipe for Mama’s Poundcake. As you can see in the photo above, this cake has been in my life my entire life. I hope you enjoy it if you have it at your table.
I love you, Mama. Happy Mother’s Day.
Bon Appétit Y’all
- 3 cups all-purpose flour preferably White Lily
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup Crisco vegetable shortening room temperature
- 2 sticks unsalted butter room temperature, more for the bundt pan
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 cup whole milk room temperature
- 5 large eggs room temperature
- 1 vanilla bean split and scraped or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- Heat the oven to 300 °. Grease a large bundt pan with butter. Set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream together the Crisco, butter, and sugar until light and fluffy.
- In a large liquid measuring cup combine the milk, eggs, and vanilla. Stir to combine.
- Add the flour mixture to the butter sugar mixture, alternating between the dry and wet ingredients in 3 parts, starting and ending with dry. Fill the prepared bunt pan with batter, no more than 2/3 full.
- Transfer to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 325 ° and bake and additional 45 minutes until the cake is warm golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove to a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto a rack to cool completely.
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