Day 3: On Love and Food and Not Being Emotionally Stunted

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This morning, I watched a demonstration on how to make cinnamon rolls. Cinnamon rolls covered in ooey gooey perfect cream cheese frosting. And the smell of cinnamon and brown sugar intermingling as they baked, that smell is pure joy to me. There is nothing quite like the smell of baked goods warming your home. In a few weeks, I’ll stock up on molasses and there will be several batches of gingerbread and gingerbread cookies throughout the holiday season. The girls and I will host our annual cookie decorating party (year five?) and then, on Christmas Eve Day, we’ll begin our annual making of monkey bread.

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I’m not sure when I began my tradition of making monkey bread on Christmas Eve day – but for the past several years, the girls have joined me in the process of baking it and every year on Christmas morning, we’ve warmed my mother’s house with the baking of monkey bread while kids tear into presents at the gruesomely early time my mom likes to host Christmas (don’t ask what time – you’re probably still sleeping).

The kids squeal with joy over their new toys and they pose for pictures wearing the matching pajamas I’ve given them on Christmas eve (another tradition), and always always that smell of warm cinnamon and brown sugar. It’s almost just a relaxing bit of sameness that signals what the day is.

I can’t imagine the day without it.

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I’ve always been a baker.

My mom used to make this amazing thing called brownie pie. Once I started to bake, I don’t think my mother ever baked again. No more brownie pie. Almost makes me wish I’d never started baking.

When I was a kid, I made all kinds of things – lemon meringue pie, doughnuts (that we a) had a deep fryer that I could make doughnuts in and b) that my mother was letting me cook in very hot oil when I was very young are two things that completely baffle me now, but at the time, it seemed kind of neat). I made every birthday cake. I made the birthday treats my sister would take to school for many many years. Eventually I would do the same for my daughters.


My dad’s mother was a baker and an amazing cook. A woman who signed her cards, “Love, Grandmother” she wasn’t a stereotypically loving, soft, warm grandparent. In fact, even though she only died in the past few years, I don’t feel like I ever knew her very well.

When she died I was told at her memorial service, “You know, she didn’t like you very much.” It would have been hurtful had I not already known it was true. But I wasn’t surprised and I hadn’t invested a whole lot of my heart in her, and I really hadn’t known her well.

I don’t remember her ever saying “I love you.”

When I was in high school, she once tried to serve me a piece of cake. I don’t really like cake – I love a thick dense flourless chocolate cake or a rich and utterly sinful cheesecake, but high school Sarah was watching calories and figured Why waste calories on something I don’t even like?

She was upset with me.

And as my love-hate relationship with food went on for a lot of years, I was oblivious to the ways she was trying to show that she cared. That to her, affection came in the form of preparing a meal for her family and putting it on the table and leaving people satisfied, with bellies so full that they would finally push their chairs away from the table groaning about not being able to eat another bite.

But, I didn’t want to be full or be satisfied. I wanted to be small and fit into my clothes. And so in retrospect, time and time again, I probably rejected the only way she knew how to show that she cared.

New Years Ice Cream Sandwiches

And here I am now. One who cooks (welllllll…. that may be stretching it) and one who bakes.

And yet not one so emotionally stunted that it is my only way of saying, “Hey you – you’re important!” I see now, when I prepare a dessert or I make a meal one of my daughters has requested, that bit of heart that goes in it, the piece of me saying, “I’m spending time doing this and it’s time I would spend gladly because you’re special to me and I want to feed you and gift you with good flavors and a good dessert and I want this little part of your day to be happy because of this because I care.”

But I try to say it in other ways.

And I try not to be so disheartened with the process that if by some chance, I make a meal at the request of The Princess and I can tell by the look on her face that there’s no way this is going to be a successful dinner, while I may be upset at the time I’ve spent unsuccessfully trying to please her (and her palette!), I know that it doesn’t mean that she loves me any less. I also know that my inability to make good tacos has nothing to do with how much I love my children. Or anyone. (Really – dinner tonight? Massive fail. Stay tuned for this week’s Kitchen Through the Lens for details).


That monkey bread on Christmas morning? It’s a warm hug from me to my family. It’s a sweet way of starting a busy day. It’s a bit of the expected, and it’s tradition. It’s every bit as much of the part of the day as the stockings full of gifts, the living room strewn with pine needles, or everyone under the age of 40 griping about the temperature of my mom’s house (SO. COLD.).

It means something.

But it doesn’t mean everything.

And that’s one of the many ways I am a different kind of woman than my grandmother was. There’s fun in baking a cake for your coworkers and bringing it into the office and sharing it with cold glasses of milk by your side. There’s joy in sitting in a park eating a cheesecake you made. A joy in mailing cookies to friends across the country (and across the world).

And it means something to me every time.

But not everything.

I’m not the best at showing or saying that I care. In fact, I may be more similar to my grandmother in that way than I would like to admit.

I can’t go back in time and make my grandmother someone she wasn’t, or make her see why I was the way I was, or even go back and take that slice of cake and try to make her like me. But what I can take with me is the fact that we’re all weird and strange and wonderful people who show we care in weird and strange and wonderful ways.

This morning, I got a new recipe for cinnamon rolls and I know that I’ll make them. They’ll be delicious. I’ll probably share them. And it’ll mean something. But not everything.

About sarah

Sarah is a book nerd, a music lover, an endorphin junkie, a coffee addict. Oh, and a goof ball. She writes, she tweets, and she sings off key.

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