faith, family & friends

A cloud of witnesses in my kitchen

March 10, 2013
messy kitchen

I spent Friday in the kitchen, creating a whirlwind of pots, pans, spoons and measuring cups. I was co-hosting a baby shower that evening and had desserts to make for 20 wonderful women.

As always, it wasn’t quite as smooth a process as I always have in my mind. Less unruffled-Nigella-Lawson, more Monica-Geller-at-Thanksgiving. I had forgotten to buy chocolate, a vital ingredient in chocolate meringue pie. And then the first round of mini pastry cases shrunk beyond repair in the oven. I decided to convert them into strawberry tarts and added cream to the shopping list of things to pick up from the garage down the street. I needed baking beans, but didn’t have any. So I poured dry lentils into the second batch of pastry cases and said a wee prayer that it would work. Amazingly, it did.

Cooking mishaps used to make me so flustered. I’d panic, I’d feel dejected and a bit of a failure. Nowadays, it’s more irritating than tear-inducing. When something goes a bit pear-shaped, I fondly recall the moment my mother stormed out of our rented holiday narrow boat after her often-cooked toad-in-the-hole dinner went horribly wrong. And I laugh at the memory and set about seeing what I can salvage from the mess.

More than ever before, I feel the presence of the women in my family when I cook. My mum, who taught me to bake delicious coffee cake as soon as I was old enough to hold a wooden spoon and long before I actually liked drinking coffee. Every time I pull my handheld electric whisk out, she’s there in my mind, standing in front of the counter by the window, whisking up some cream or egg whites, showing me how to save it if I beat the cream too long. Her sense of generous hospitality is my guide.

Every time I pull out the glass mixing bowl, or set some hot scones to cool on the metal rack, I remember my Nana who used these very ones before me. I remember my earliest memory of her, teaching me how to measure out flour into the old-fashioned scales with the weights until each side balanced. I remember the Christmas many years later when she gave my sister and I the brown mixing bowls, as we sat in her small room in the nursing home. How we all laughed and ate afternoon tea sitting on the floor around the little coffee table. And how, even though she was already so forgetful, so frail, that day she laughed and was happy.

Whenever I make cherry buns or meringue or rock buns, it’s my Granny who’s standing next to me, telling me what to do, overseeing my work. And I remember (even though this can’t be my own memory, but one given to me) sitting as a wee child on the freezer at her house while she peeled carrots and made soup for lunch. I remember having to help her reach the higher cupboards, after I already passed her in height at eleven years old and being sent into the cold larder for missing ingredients.

And now, I also have my sweet mother-in-law who buys me Danish cookbooks to bake new recipes from – most recently the chilli pistachio cookies that Rasmus declared a success and my bible study ladies demanded the recipe for. And I remember the way that baking has truly been a way for us to bond while our language skills are still improving towards the level of heart-to-heart conversations.

Today is Mothering Sunday in the UK. Today is the day the children would come to church early in the cold spring sunshine carrying arms of daffodils and early flowers to bind into messy posies that would be laid in big beautiful heaps on the old stone font, until the moment came in the service to take them and give them out to every woman in the church. To our own mothers and grandmothers. To the mothers with children too little to collect a posy, to the mothers whose children had flown the nest, to all our spiritual mothers and aunts and grandmas sitting there, the women who taught us and scolded us and hugged us and loved us.

And on Friday I remembered them all as I cooked up a storm in honour of another soon-to-be-mama who is so precious to me. I felt their presence, their influence, their support, and I was so grateful for them.

And so I’m wishing a Happy Mothering Sunday, to all the many beautiful women who have been real or spiritual mothers to me in my life.

And to my own wonderful mum – I love you always. (And the card is on the way, but may be late because I forgot and Jen had to remind me – I know, she’s the better daughter ;))

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  • Mum

    I am so blessed to have two wonderful daughters who have not only grown up gorgeous, kind, and clever but are also powerful women of God taking the fragrance of His presence wherever they are. Fiona and Jen, once I shared wisdom with you and taught you. Now you share it with me and teach me.

    You may not be physically here with me on Mother’s day but you are in my heart and I know I am in your hearts so distance is irrelevant.

    Mum
    x
    PS I was given a messy posy from church today lovingly made by other children. Very special.

    • Jen

      I’m so glad you still got a posy! Was a bonus to see you last night. Big love xx

    • fionalynne

      Love you, mama x

  • Your cooking sounds so fancy-frilly (but delicious) to me! But I share your sense of family while you’re in the kitchen. Great post.

    • fionalynne

      Ha! “fancy-frilly”. I guess it could look that way. This was a special occasion though – it’s usually easy delicious muffins or banana bread!

  • This is so true, and Fiona your wisdom is always shining true. Often, in the kitchen, I think of my mom, my grandma, Mark’s grandma… everyone.
    I really recommend you see: “Like water for chocolate” by Laura Esquivel, you will relate. (Yes it is overly melodramatic and tragic, and full of magic / superstitions, but it’s part of the whole style).

    • fionalynne

      Thanks for the recommendation! Will definitely check it out… xx

  • It’s funny the memories a kitchen can bring out. Even if the recipe came to me from the internet, or a friend, or a cookbook sometimes it’s amazing how strongly I relate it to the women in my life.

    • fionalynne

      Oh I agree. There’s something much deeper and more profound to the process and cooking and eating than I think we normally would give them credit for.

  • Ema

    Thank you Fiona for the lovely baby shower! Everything was so beautiful and delicious.
    To your Mum – Fiona is a very inspiring and sweet personality! We are very happy to have her in Luxembourg 🙂

  • I love seeing this picture of your kitchen because it makes me feel better… Mine looks very similar when I cook… I tend to be like you a relax more when I start something. If it does not turn how it should I have learned over the time that things get much better when not panicking… The only point that bring me a “sad” feeling in your post is that I cannot relate family baking time… And it is something that somehow I miss… With all the nostalgic comments I let on your blog, you must start thinking I am one of a sad person;-)