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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Baking with Mom

The lightweight aluminum pans aren’t beautiful. Scratched and slightly dented, they’re certainly nothing you would find at Williams Sonoma. They aren’t even nonstick.

Nevertheless, my freezer is filled with pumpkin bread, chocolate zucchini bread and beer-cheese bread, all turned out by these stalwart pans.

When my mother moved into a retirement community, it fell to me to sort out her kitchen – choosing what I wanted, what my siblings and their children might want, and what would be left for the estate sale.

Mom’s four kids are all long-married with established homes and kitchens, so most of her goods weren’t wanted or needed by any of us.

But the loaf pans that had churned out countless batches of banana bread – well, I knew I would use them, and I have.

I don’t have any cozy memories of Saturday baking with my mother. The kitchen was her domain, and I wasn’t invited to learn by her side. It could be that I wasn’t interested in spending my Saturdays mixing and measuring. Honestly, I don’t remember. But I must have learned something by osmosis because I’ve spent the past 35 years feeding copious amounts of family and friends.

Mom wasn’t stingy with her recipes. My cookbooks are filled with her handwritten notes for gingersnaps, pie crust, snickerdoodles and other tasty treats. It’s just that we never baked them together. In fact, when my sons were young, and I was working, it was my mother who baked weekly treats for them – a way to lure them to Grandma’s house for a visit and a hug.

She still misses baking. Still wakes up with a start thinking she’s left something in the oven too long.

Recently, I showed her a photo of the pans.

“Do you remember where you got these?” I asked. “I know you’ve had them since I was tiny.”

But her memories are clouded now. Dates and times blend and blur.

No matter.

On Thanksgiving, I’ll welcome her to my table set with her harvest gold cloth and the lovely Noritake china my father bought for her in Japan. I’ll lay out her silver flatware that I used to polish every holiday as a child. It seems some chores are yours for a lifetime.

I’ll roll out her pie crust recipe with her red-handled rolling pin and fill the crust with fragrant apples, cinnamon and cloves.

And perhaps after all these years, it will feel like I’m finally baking with Mom.

Cooking memories

Do you have something from your parents’ or grandparents’ kitchen that you still use? Something that holds family memories? Or is there an item you wish you could have from your childhood kitchen? Share your story with Cindy Hval by emailing dchval@juno.com or call (509) 459-5389.

Your remembrance may be edited for and included in an upcoming column.

Reader pet stories

I recently asked readers to share stories about their quirky pets. Here’s one, but there are more to follow.

It seems Margaret Bowers adopted a poltergeist. Or Satan. She writes:

Loki is a devil cat.

Since we brought him home, the house looks like it has been rocked by earthquakes. Pictures hang at drunken angles, unless they are just lying in a pile of broken glass. Books are tossed from bookcases as though burgled by librarians. Condiment jars lay broken all over the kitchen, fished from cupboards by exploring paws.

We have learned to secure the cupboard doors and closets with mixing spoons harpooned through the handles. We have started running out of mixing spoons.

Loki has a propensity for violence. He understands “no” and being chastised. He responds to this like a mob boss with a knife.

Loki chews things like a dog. His tastes run to wood, clay, porcelain and the heating vent lever in the kitchen.

He scratches furniture a bit, like any cat, but he mostly seeks out the solid parts to chew. He fails only when his mouth is not large enough to admit something, like the scrolls of the dining room chairs or the table tops. But I watch him try. The corners of the tall bookcase, once sharp and square, are now ragged and worn. He stretches out along the top, his mouth wrapped around the wood, unless you walk by. Then he pursues you like a scary, scalping goblin.

There are library books in circulation with fanged corners. I had to call and ask for a replacement election ballot one year because he had punched holes through the sealed envelope.

Loki hunts me like I am a slippered ungulate, grabbing me by the back of my thigh as I lumber to bed. I often scream and I resent this. I do not consider myself a screamer. If he is playful, my husband and I laugh about being “tagged” by the cat again. If he is serious, we apply bandages and peroxide, maybe go to the emergency room.

In the last few years, he has calmed down, somewhat. I am not savaged as often, since we now have a dog who shoulders the brunt of his predations. We are all well-trained in the ways of de-escalation.

Patience has paid off. He is more and more amenable to being transplanted to my lap, finally fulfilling his duties as a household cat. His eyes soften and he melts, letting me bury my hand in his belly, an unexpected gesture from a proven little fiend. Like discovering Al Capone likes his chin scratched.

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Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon.

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