Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mom and Me and Mom

“I will look after you and I will look after anybody you say needs to be looked after, any way you say. I am here. I brought my whole self to you. I am your mother.”
I know I said I was getting back to my every-other-Sunday blog post routine, but since today is Mother’s Day and I got to go out of town to visit family, I decided why not sweeten the weekend even more. I hope you enjoy this special Mother’s Day post, with guest baker and hands down the sweetest woman I know, my momma!

The Book
I don’t need to tell you why Maya Angelou is great, right? From “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” to “Gather Together in My Name” to “Phenomenal Woman” to “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die,”—I think it’s safe to say Maya Angelou was a one of the best female writers of all time. (Imagine that in my Kanye voice.) For Mother’s Day, my mom and I decided to reread Maya Angelou’s “Mom & Me & Mom” which is a collection of essays about Maya and her mother, Vivian Baxter.

Vivian Baxter was a fighter—literally—known for beating on girls and boys at school or in the streets. When Vivian had children and realized she and her husband weren’t able to care for them, they shipped Maya and her brother Bailey down to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their grandmother, Annie Henderson. “Mom & Me & Mom” starts with the reunion between mother and children, and we watch as the three get reacquainted and heal their fractured relationship.

In the beginning, stubborn and shy Maya refuses to call Vivian her mother and instead calls her “Lady,” saying that Vivian is the prettiest woman she’s ever seen and needs a fancy name. Personally, I do think Vivian is a little hurt by this (Bailey forgives his mother immediately, goes straight to calling her mother, and becomes her little shadow), but she knows it will take time before Maya can trust her again, so she allows it.

As Maya gets to know her mother again, we see their relationship become stronger. Maya learns that Vivian is still a pistol toting, hard-drinking rebel, with the face of an angel and a mouth like a sailor. Vivian learns that Maya is quiet, partial to books and letting her imagination run away with her. Maya begins to lean on Lady for support, to come to her for advice and eventually, begins to call her mother. And as Maya becomes a woman herself—landing jobs, having her own relationships and giving birth to her son Guy—Vivian is always just a phone call away. Often when Maya calls, Vivian shows up just minutes later, saying, “Pour me a scotch” or “Sit down, I have something to say,” before giving Maya whatever advice, strength, or kick in the behind she needs to go back out and face the world.

The “Cupcakes”
If I’ve never mentioned it before, let me set the record straight right now. All my baking abilities come from my mother. When we agreed to reread this book, it was her who finished reading first and came up the idea for these “cupcakes.”

She used to make these mocha fudge pudding desserts for my sister and me growing up. (Although I have no actual memory of this, my older sister says it’s true.) Usually these desserts have two layers—a gooey pudding, made from pouring strong instant coffee over a mixture of brown sugar and regular sugar, and a moist cake. For this recipe we also added a crunchy graham cracker crust. These three layers are meant to represent the three women:

Crust—Annie Henderson, who, although make too many appearances in the book, is known as the foundation of the family.
Chocolate cake—Vivian Baxter, the sweet, yet tough mother.
Mocha pudding—Maya, who, throughout the book, is being molded into the woman the world got to know and love as a writer.
This dessert has everything: ooey-gooey pudding, with a bit of cake and a bit of a crunch.

Like Maya and her mother, my mom and I definitely have some differences and I experienced a few of those in the kitchen this Mother’s Day. My mom is a fan of measuring and remeasuring things, while I usually eyeball ingredients and pray whatever I’m making comes out right. My mom also somehow manages to not make a huge mess when in the kitchen, always washing and reusing a spoon or a bowl. I don’t wash as I go. Instead I use every spoon and spatula in the kitchen and end up with a sick full of dishes and more than a cup of flour spilled on the counter tops.

But we also have a lot of things in common. We both reward ourselves with mimosas—sometimes before the baking is even done. We both have no problem sticking our finger in a bowl to taste. And I don’t know how many times this weekend one of us stopped stirring or blending to say, “Now what did I just do with that [insert kitchen tool or ingredient here]?”

My mom and I!
It was an absolute treat to bake with my momma this weekend. When I younger, when I still viewed her through a honey-colored lens, when I thought “momma” was her only role—I loved her because I thought she was perfect and unfaltering. And now that I’m older, I’m able to love her as a real flesh and blood person, with her own backstory, her own heartbreaks and triumphs, who is still willing to put her life on hold when I call.

Mocha Fudge Pudding

Crunchy bottom
Chocolate graham crackers
½ sugar

¾ cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoons salt
½ cup butter
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 bar (one ounce) Hershey baking chocolate
¼ cup cocoa powder

Chocolate sprinkle
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 cup of strong coffee

1. For the batter, mix together all the dry ingredients.
2. Melt butter and chocolate in the microwave and stir to smooth.
3. Add milk, the butter and chocolate mixture and vanilla to the batter.
4. Place graham crackers and sugar in a bag, close tight, and beat with a rolling pin until you have crumbs.
5. Place crumbs at the base of your cups. (At first, momma and I tried to use regular paper linings—THIS DID NOT WORK. When we poured the coffee, the paper liners just soaked it all up.)
6. Spoon batter on top of your graham cracker base.
7. Mix the ingredients for the chocolate sprinkle, then sprinkle evenly on top of the batter.
8. Finally, pour coffee evenly among your baking/custard cups—about 2 tablespoons per custard cup.
9. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
10. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream! NOM NOM!

Note: You can add a lot of different things to this dessert—between the graham crackers and the batter. We played around with toffee, chocolate chips and marshmallows! Also, the graham cracker crust soaked up a bit of the pudding. (My mom said I had to say that to be fair.)

“Love heals. Heals and liberates. I use the word love, not meaning sentimentality, but a condition so strong that it may be that which holds the stars in their heavenly positions and that which causes the blood to flow orderly in our veins.”

“This is the role of the mother, and in that visit I really saw clearly, and for the first time, why a mother is really important. Not just because she feeds and also loves and cuddles and even mollycoddles a child, but because in an interesting and maybe an eerie and unworldly way, she stands in the gap. She stands between the unknown and the known. In Stockholm, my mother shed her protective love down around me and without knowing why people sensed that I had value.”

“Independence is a heady draft, and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive and with each drink you want more.”

“You see, baby, you have to protect yourself. If you don’t protect yourself, you look like a fool asking somebody else to protect you.” I thought about that for a second. She was right. A woman needs to support herself before she asks anyone else to support her.”

“Remember this: When you cross my doorstep, you have already been raised. With what you have know the difference between right and wrong. Do right. Don't anybody raise you from the way you have been raised. Know you will have to make adaptations, in love, in relationships, in friends, in society, in work, but don't let anybody change your mind.”
Happy Baking!

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