Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Recipe Box

Everything we do in life is about relationship. Our actions say little about what we're actually doing, and everything about why we are doing it. 
Take muffins, for example.

 
Muffins remind me of my mother. She used to make "mayonnaise muffins" when we were little. I loved them.
Over the years I learned to make them too, but they never turned out as well as hers.
Because my mother and I are as different as night and day, two mismatched peas in a non-pod, two sisters of the same mother it seems, it's important for me to occasionally cross the divide with a muffin day.  Why this gulf? As an infant and for a long while afterwards, I initially mother-bonded with my grandmother because mama was too sick with a heart condition to care for me.   I didn't realize until many years later how that necessary and unfortunate trajectory in my early, formative years shaped the way we eventually learned to communicate, or should I say, the way we don't communicate. 




I love my mother. I love her very much.
But sometimes I miss her in ways I can't explain.




Enter the muffins.

It is her recipe. But I made it my own. 
Typical of our journey.
Instead of white flour, I used whole wheat. Instead of lard, olive oil. Instead of whole milk, low fat. Instead of sugar, blueberries. And a touch of honey for dipping. It was easy to alter the ingredients to match my grown-up needs in my own grown-up kitchen. But it was, admittedly, a hollow effort to soothe a gaping hole of connection I wish I could fill as easily as the batter filled the muffin pan. 

 If I could make that magic happen, I would fill each mold to overflowing with all that is good about her, from her beautifully handwritten recipes to the cast iron pans I remember. They would ooze from honey laced crevices in smokey, sweet drops on a simple plate peppered with a pound of butter...and freckled cinnamon....to remind me of my mother's freckled hands and the way they wiped the apron. Somewhere along the edge of a pristine butter plate would lay a silver butter knife with scalloped edges, cutting into the sweet smell of substance that only a mother's love can fill - the way it cuts into my heart on muffin days.

 I would only use her recipe. I would not try to change. I would not grow up. I would stay in her kitchen. I would learn to like lard and pretend it's good for my soul. I would watch her stir the bowl and try to memorize the steps. I would make a holy mess just to wipe my hands on her apron. Then I would eat every one of them gone 'til the very last drizzle hit the porcelain and the last morsel of flour hit the floor. She would smile in silence at my goodness and I would pretend I didn't miss the woman I might become. 
Her script

I never could pretend for long. 
My script

For just as surely as hot bread melts whatever the knife is carrying, I would wake up to the smell of sweetness and long to feel the touch of that honey on my skin - the one ingredient I could see in my mind's eye - and it would land somewhere soft and knowing that only a mother would know.  It was the one ingredient I would have added and the one she never used.
I longed for her to understand that while I share her handwriting and wrestle to this day with her boisterous spirit, I cannot be anyone but who I am.

Because the worst of her is brevity and the worst of me is length, I filled my spoons with words on paper while she wrote beautiful lyrics in pans of love.

There amidst the vanilla and chocolate lined bowls at her sink, I found a voice of my own, but it was not made of muffin pans and whisks. And while we are strikingly similar in feminine ways and she is in her own right glaringly independent, the tangled tale of my mother and me lies in the messy truth that I don't know where her handwriting ends and mine begins.  And that is a beautiful thing.

 

 Today there is the smell of bread baking from an old recipe box. 
 The spillage makes it sacred, the stain makes it new.

So it is with mothers and daughters.

 




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2 comments:

Janice said...

the spirit of the muffin is the recipe, not the words. Of course your recipe is different - your mother would know that this is important and she would be so proud that you have your own voice.

Mimi Lenox said...

I hope so, Janice.

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