Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 25, 2009

Grandma's Kitchen: A daughter's admiration

Editor's note: Edna Shaffer's daughter, Sarah Earl, wrote this month's column.

When mom first asked that I consider guest writing her column, the first topic that came to mind was "moms."

Actually, my mom.

I was happy for the chance to expound on how she perfectly embodies a nurturing spirit, a quiet intellect and quick wit. She has more compassion than anyone else I have ever met.

My son, Nolan, attempted to commandeer the submission in order to talk about Grams, the most instrumental person in his life. He marvels at the things she has seen in her lifetime -- like how she grew up in the South becoming her own person, despite socio-economics and being born a girl. He admires that she never worried about the status quo. And he laments that she is unbeatable at Boggle. Ultimately he attributes his desire to be a writer to her influence.

We both quickly realized how embarrassed she would be if this turned into a tribute. She is not showy. She is humble and real. And despite what she might outwardly admit, her spirit moves through the daily actions of her future generations. Although it was only through the gift of time that this became obvious to me.

I grew up in a small town as the daughter of a very important community leader. This definitely had its benefits, but in return came with a lot of responsibility. Because my father was a minister, I was expected to fall into one of two categories -- both extremes. I was either going to be very angelic, or nothing but trouble. Although I chose the middle of the road, this was still enough to exasperate my dad on a daily basis.

My mother never contributed to the arguments. She never sided with me or my dad. She just smiled and never appeared to judge me for having purple bangs. She didn't yell at me to get off the phone during one of my marathon conversations. She didn't ground me for barely squeaking by in geometry. And she let me leave the house when I thought I was Madonna, adorned in lace and too much hairspray. Dad would rant and pace, and she would kindly make me fried potatoes. She quietly knew my day of reckoning was coming. And it did. In the form of an 8-lb., sweet, little present named Nolan.

I got married, moved away and, within the first year of marriage, I switched from wife to mother. I suddenly had this beautiful, dependent, trusting baby that relied on me. I finally knew my purpose in life was much simpler (?) than I anticipated. My calling was to be a mom. Three years after Nolan was born, Emma came into our lives to double the happiness. I had the perfect peaceful balance in my world. Then the clock sped up, and I have two kids in high school.

I have crossed into my 40s, and have two teenagers. The easy part is behind us as we learn to face their independence with all the frustration it brings. There's tenderness an the arguments that rotate through our days like a cyclone. They have finished cutting their teeth and now they are trying to cut the cord. I want to hang onto their childhood kicking and screaming.

But I have learned to smile and make fried potatoes.

I don't ground them for barely passing algebra. I let Nolan wear dreadlocks. I show up at the football games to watch Emma cheer.

My mom was 42 when she gave birth to me. Any time I long for my gangly teens to be babies again, I remember the fact that they could actually be babies. And I am quickly grateful that they are not. We have many changes on the horizon, and so I give them what my mom still gives me -- gentle hugs and something to warm their bellies, things to lure them back home. No matter how old we are, or how far life and geography takes us, home is always where our mom is.

We have a new family favorite to indulge in on the weekends. Winter is our favorite time of year to cook and eat. With a busy competitive ski season upon us, anything easy is surely welcomed. Nolan's girlfriend Lauren requested this on her birthday in lieu of cake. Yep, it's that good.

Blueberry Breakfast Bake

1 loaf sweet Hawaiian bread (found at most supermarkets), torn into 1/2-inch cubes

1 pint blueberries, divided

16 oz. cream cheese (2 blocks), softened

1/2 c. sugar

8 eggs

1 c. sour cream

2 t. vanilla extract

1 t. ground cinnamon

2/3 c. milk

Maple syrup (optional)

Place half of bread cubes in a greased 9x13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with blueberries, reserving a few for garnish.

In a mixing bowl, beat cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, sour cream, vanilla and cinnamon. Gradually add milk until blended. Pour half over bread. Top with remaining bread, then remaining cheese mixture. Cover and chill overnight or up to 24 hours.

Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake about 25 minutes longer, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

Sprinkle with reserved blueberries. Let stand 5 minutes. Serve with maple syrup, if desired. Serves 8.

Parting Shot: "I climb. I hope. I reach. I pray. I curse. I kick. I laugh. I rest. I climb. I hope. These stairs, my life."

Edna Shaffer is a local mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who writes about cooking from the perspective of an older adult. Her column will return. She can be reached via the Record-Eagle at 120 W. Front, Traverse City, Mi 49685; or by sending e-mail to: