Thursday, January 31, 2008

Marcie and baking

Many of Marcie's friend knew her as a skilled and creative baker. Certainly her family did. Her brother, mother, father and various friends all received cakes for their birthdays, as did I. It's another element of her that I miss.

Marcie had her own way of baking, but was taught her skills by her friend Terri Dambrose's mother. Mrs. Dambrose watched Marcie and her brother Bobby after school for years while Barbara and Bob worked at a bank and General Atomic, respectively.

Marcie was an apt student for Mrs. Dambrose and Terri once complained to me that she was jealous that Marcie was more interested in cooking and baking with her mother than playing with her.

Marcie never received a recipe book from Mrs. Dambrose, but chose to take a few recipes here and there, add her own touches to them, and make them her own. Things ended up richer, more chocolate, fluffier, denser, or any variety of states of improvement or modification Marcie thought to try out.

None of it ever failed to please.

If one thing was certain in Marcie's cakes, it was that there would be buttercream frosting. Butter, sugar, and any of a wide variety of flavors and spices, from vanilla to cinnamon and cocoa to coconut, all eventually turned into a dense, sweet spread that could only be applied after the cake had cooled.

Her chocolate cake was the most sought-after. Deep, almost black cake with a dark brown chocolate icing that was not only a thick coating but also a filler for crevices. There was never a piece with too little frosting on Marcie's cakes.

I had my first cake from Marcie long before my first birthday with her. She made a cake for herself for her own, as much to share with her parents as it was to please her. She made and extra one, a little minicake for me to have while she stayed the night with them.

It was a revelation. I had had good cake before, when my relatives baked. But this was decadence in miniature. She truly could have sold her cake to coffee shops and fine dining establishments, but she never would consider it. Baking was for love, not money.

Baking was also a social connector for Marcie, and luckily I had just the person for her to connect to.

Grandma Pruett made me cakes for my birthday after my mother left. Grandmommie Girvin, my great grandmother on the maternal-maternal line, who Marcie never met, also did. Both were bakers of cakes in the "from scratch" tradition, just as Marcie was. But Marcie never met Grandmommie Girvin, who died when I was still young.

She did meet Grandma Pruett. Grandma had to cook for 17 kids, but that did not mean she watered down the quality. She wove flavors of Hawaiian and Portuguese cooking into her meals, something I recognize now in the flavors of my youth.

Marcie loved her for a lot of reasons, and they conspired and shared at our family functions for hours. She was crushed when Grandma died. She could not attend the funeral as she had just found out about her own cancer. It was a tough time.

But in their heyday, Grandma and Marcie regularly traded baking secrets and cooking tips after they finally met, not to mention plenty of stuff about me, I soon learned.

Marcie learned to substitute some of the pineapple juice from a can of it for some of the liquid in an pineapple upside-down cake, and to use it with brown sugar to make a good topping, too. She also learned that I was a sleepwalking Houdini-child who liked to escape from dead bolted homes and curl up with the neighbors' dogs.

Grandma loved to share, and we have a lot in common that way.

The one realm in which I never stepped with Marcie was baking. I could never quite get into it, true, but she would chase me out of the kitchen if I tried. However, I did make her candies, using a recipe I will share when more time has passed.

I do not miss all of the extra pounds her baking put on me, but I do miss that joy she had in making her cookies, her cakes and even her pies, which she hated but indulged me on from time to time. And of course, I miss sharing sweets with her.

I miss, most of all, her giving me surprise plates of cookies or little treats she had baked up. Sometimes, it was just because she had been harsh in a fight, or just because I had done something I did not know she had observed which pleased her. Often, it was just because

But it was always a treat, and a loving gesture. I miss those most.

Her recipes are safe for now. I plan to share them with friends and one friend has the big collection for a project. But for now, with all this talk of cooking and Marcie and my time in the kitchen, I just wanted to share the part that was simply hers.

I was no assistant beyond an errand boy when Marcie baked, and no expert beyond a taster for her batters and creams and frostings. But I was her biggest fan, and i could watch her for hours, that is, until she chased me off.

Or until she gave me a blender beater full of dough and chocolate chips.

G'night folks,