The sun is shining through the trees at the bottom of the garden and dancing dappled light on the kitchen window. It gilds the pot of basil on the sill and warms our faces and illuminates the dust of flour in the air around us as Betty bends to her task.
She stands sturdily beside me, elevated on a kitchen chair, wrapped in a bright plastic apron. I have tied her hair up – though untidy tendrils still make their way across her cheek – and as she leans over to check her progress I have to resist the urge to kiss the perfect dimple in the nape of her neck.
Betty and I are baking. With nimble little fingers she is sieving the flour and baking powder, tap-tapping it against her palm like a tambourine and watching the clouds of white fall into the bowl. From time to time she looks up at me and grins, exposing the sweetly crooked front tooth that is the result of falling on her face mid-dash down the garden path a year ago. Betty does everything at a dash: most of her toys have to have wheels just to keep up with her. But today, she is by my side and she stays there. It’s Wednesday: our baking day, the day I don’t go to work. So here we are, elbow to elbow, delighting at our creations and the alchemy we work.
This is just as new to me as it is to Betty. I have always cooked, rarely baked. I have produced breakfasts, lunches, dinners; steaming layers of lasagne (“with GREEN pasta, Mummy!”); round, ripe tomatoes stuffed with rice; home-made turkey burgers with a secret parcel of melted cheese inside; roast chicken, roast lamb, roast beef; fat, gleaming omelettes; pancakes on feast days and naughty nuggets and chips on holidays and just-because-we-can days. But baking: that was for people who had time. I provided proudly but quickly and efficiently and then I got on with the next thing on my list.
What Betty and I do now is different. I watch her tap the egg oh so carefully on the rim of the mixing bowl before gripping it with both her little thumbs and attempting to prise it apart. Her approach is not working, so she grips it harder with her little fist and the egg crunches and splatters into the creamy whiteness of the blended butter and sugar. She makes a sound of consternation and looks up at me. I laugh, and she relaxes, and together we pick out the bits of shell. We are both learning to be patient, to enjoy the process as much as the outcome. She is so entranced by what happens when she stirs the ingredients together that she forgets to fidget and want to run. I am so entranced by her absorption that I forget to worry about what’s next on the list.
Week by week we work our way through her favourites. My baby daughter has my heart already but week by week I give it to her all over again in every offering: tender yellow vanilla-scented cupcakes that she decorates with butterflies; sturdy banana and cherry loaf; chocolate chip cookies that expand so alarmingly while cooking that we shriek and slam the oven door shut quickly and giggle. We make flapjacks, shaking oats and raisins into the mixing bowl and I smile to see her eyes widen and her hand wobble at the weight of the golden syrup we spoon in next, inhaling the bitter metal smell of the glutinous mass, our mouths watering.
Sometimes Betty gets tired and pushes the bowl back over to me to mix. Sometimes she rests her head against my side and curls a small arm around my back, sucking the first two fingers of her other hand as she watches me turn the mixture over and again and back on itself until the lumps are gone and the components blended. Then she stirs to help me transfer it into multicoloured cases, or buttered tins, before setting about licking the spoon clean, rosy pink tongue lapping like a kitten’s.
When our cakes are baked and ready, our kitchen smells of love.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our contributor in the UK and mum to 2 daughters and to 2 step-sons, Sophie Walker.
The image used in this post is credited to the author.