The women in my family are amazing cooks. I am not one of them.
I can cook, but it’s not something I enjoy. My poor family eats the same things week after week. The only break is when I test a recipe found on Pinterest that I’m sure will make it into the rotation. That doesn’t always work in my favor. I recently tried a recipe that looked amazing – whole wheat gnocchi with pumpkin sauce. After one bite, my husband and daughter decided to dine at the nearest Cook-Out.
The thing I will admit to being pretty good at, however, is baking. That gift came straight from Nancy Dillner, otherwise known as my mother. Mom lives in Boise, Idaho, and at 80 years young, she will try out a new recipe in a heartbeat. Santa could go into diabetic shock when he arrives at the Dillner home. There are usually at least 12 different types of cookies to choose from, along with a few slices of cake. Her sugar cookies, well, they’re to die for.
I don’t bake all year long. My waistline couldn’t handle it. (Again, sorry family.) But at the end of November, the house begins, as my daughter says, to “smell like Christmas.”
The signature gift from our household is my Eggnog Rum Cake. I say it’s “my” cake although it is my mother’s recipe. (She lives too far away to contradict me.) At least 40 years ago, she found a recipe in a magazine for Eggnog Rum Cake. After making it, she didn’t like it. So she changed a few ingredients, adjusted some measurements and possibly added a little extra rum along the way before settling on a final recipe. It hasn’t failed either of us since.
The annual baking of the cake began as a gift for neighbors and friends when we moved to our Raleigh home 16 years ago. Since then, the list of recipients has grown from a few to more than 50. The cake is given to friends and neighbors, co-workers and clients, teachers and ministers, anyone who needs a little lift in their day. I start purchasing the ingredients in August. (Thank goodness you can freeze butter, and rum never really goes bad. Or so I’m told.) That way I’m not looking for items that are in great demand in December. (If I could freeze eggnog, I would. I tried it once. It didn’t end well.)
I honestly enjoy the baking. Or actually, I enjoy the giving. Seeing the look on someone’s face when I arrive with “the cake” and seeing photos of families enjoying something I created is truly a joy.
I will admit that after about the 10th cake, the complaining begins. I hate washing the bundt pans. (Could someone please make a pan that’s easier to wash?) My back hurts from standing so long in the kitchen. I feel like they know me at the liquor store. (I guess when you start off buying three very large bottles of rum, and go back for at least three more, the guys are bound to recognize you. At least they call me young lady.) Don’t even get me started with that “Christmas smell” – it starts off great, but by mid-December, it’s burned into my nose and does not smell good anymore.
Yes, I complain, and it’s all my own doing. But I honestly enjoy the baking. Or actually, I enjoy the giving. Seeing the look on someone’s face when I arrive with “the cake” and seeing photos of families enjoying something I created is truly a joy.
Plus, I am proud to share my mom’s creation. I’m honored to be the baker who carries on my mother’s ingenuity. (And while I’d love to share the recipe, I can’t. Or really, I won’t.)
However, may your house “smell like Christmas,” may the man at the liquor store know your name, or may he – at least – call you “young lady.” That is a gift.
Reach Ogburn at firstname.lastname@example.org