For Mom, Dad, and Grandma

November 20, 2009 at 9:52 pm 47 comments

My mom tells a funny story from my childhood. Her best friend’s brother was babysitting me in his office. When my mother returned two and half hours later, I was sitting at his typewriter – though I’d never used one before – typing out a story, using one chubby finger to press the stiff keys. She tells me that everyone who saw it was shocked – what kind of four year old patiently sits for two and half hours to write a story, letter by letter?

My blog is physically fueled with flour, eggs, and several tons of sugar, but what really drives me to maintain it is my passion for writing. I’ve only recently begun to bake, but my love for the written word has been nurtured throughout the years by everyone close to me.

The other day I discovered an old photo album. I looked through it with my mom and we sat on the bed, both trying not to get overly sentimental as we turned the plastic pages with delicate fingers. Memories surfaced of birthday parties, old friends, our life in California, my loved ones in Texas whom I haven’t seen in years… I looked at my beaming face in every picture, my mother’s beautiful smile, my dad’s goofy grin and my grandmother’s affectionate winks, my grandfather’s crinkled laugh.

My best friend D- (left) and me (right) in 2nd grade

I can’t even write this post without tearing up a little. I had a beautiful, wonderful childhood. As I looked at our faces in the photos, I felt sad for any distress I ever caused my family in my rocky pre-teen years, or during my outbursts of stress as a teenager in high school. I almost wish I could be their sweet six year old again.

While I can’t be that child anymore, I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, and I have an overwhelming desire to make them proud as I grow into an adult. The evidence of their love is displayed for the whole world to see here on this very blog, reflecting in your eyes as you read these words.

Some of my oldest memories involve snuggling into a pillow at my grandparents’ house, listening to my grandmother tell bedtime stories. She is a fantastic storyteller. I’d give her the first subject that popped into my head, and she would craft the story on the spot, spinning tales of silk ribbons, fat lovable penguins, and clever mice who lived in museums. I always closed my eyes and fell asleep with her gentle, patient voice in my ears, like the sound of the ocean in a seashell.

Besides leaving me with pleasant dreams and a lingering smile, her stories sparked my own creativity and passion for storytelling. I spent my childhood writing poetry and half-finished stories, filled with characters I still cherish today. Even more importantly, her stories all concealed values and morals, subtle enough to escape my knowledge but influence me all the same. One night she described a town which rained rainbow paint, changing the skin colors of the townspeople with each passing storm. I was enchanted by the story, unaware of its themes of acceptance and diversity. Her stories helped me be a better person.

Grandma and I on a road trip – I think we caught a tadpole. :)

My mother introduced me to a new kind of writing. As soon as I was old enough to write the letters, she bought me my first diary and made sure I wrote something every night. In all honesty, I didn’t enjoy it. Some evenings I would get away with writing a couple sentences about dinner or school before running out to play – “Today I had broccoli. It was disgusting.”

But even an entry about something as simple as that night’s vegetables forced me to think about my actions and translate them into words. That little bit of writing every night built up my vocabulary and improved my grammar, and by the time I was in grade school, I was writing entries on my own free will. I wrote about my best friends, the ups and downs of the fourth grade, and what my parents were making for dinner. I wrote to remember, but I also wrote to write. I still keep a journal today, and although I write every few months instead of every day, it isn’t a chore.

By the time I got to high school, writing essays and homework assignments was never difficult, and I know my mother’s influence is there. Creativity and imagination isn’t all it takes to be a writer – it takes perseverance, dedication, and practice too. It’s not just writing, though – in every aspect of my life my mom pushes me to be the best I can be, and she couldn’t have loved me better, or given me any more of herself than she has over the years.

With my mom in front of our old apartment. She is a beautiful person inside and out.

It won’t surprise my regular readers to hear that my dad has also played a huge role in the process. In elementary school, he encouraged me to participate in creative writing programs. I entered the Reflections contest in 4th grade with my short story, “What’s for Dinner?” When I moved through the school, district, and state levels with my story, he was there every step of the way. He held my hand when I was finally out of the running and stood, crying, in the hallway of the awards ceremony. He helped me get up, move on, and submit another written piece the next year.

In middle school, he showed me authors who used words in ways I’d never considered, inspiring me to branch out. After reading a collection of Kafka stories in 7th grade, I wrote my first short story without a happy ending, attempting to imitate Kafka’s voice. I felt a little unsure about its ominous tone and dark ending, but he praised it until I couldn’t stop smiling. While that story doesn’t reflect my own personal writing style, it’s remained one of my favorite pieces over the years.

When I began to show an interest in journalism, it was my father who truly made it happen. Without his encouragement and research on my behalf, I would have never become an intern for the local paper, or been able to work with journalists from the Seattle Times. I’d originally loved to write because of the creativity and reflection involved, but after the opportunities I’ve been given, now I can see a new purpose in writing. I dream of pursuing the truth and justice, of stirring the sleeping compassion in every person, of making a difference in the lives around me.

I’m in my prettiest dress and headband with my dad. He’s my coach and my #1 fan all at once.

And after everything my family has done for me, I’ve done something for myself, completely on my own: 17 and Baking. Blogging is even another type of writing, unlike anything I’ve tried before. And all of you – for reading, for commenting, for making me smile – all of you have also inspired me to write. Your support keeps this blog going, something that brings me endless joy, and something I hope makes my family proud every day.

So here I am today, with roots in creative fiction and an appreciation for the written word’s ability to persuade, explain, and explore. I have newspaper print inked onto my fingertips and silly limericks stamped on my soles. When I look back at my life, I feel like a walking pinball machine, filled with balls of light that bounce around my ribs and brighten me from within. It hasn’t been an easy journey to grow up, but I know I always have a place to call home. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I am a writer at heart… and I truly can’t wait for my life ahead of me.

The recipe for this old-fashioned apple cake is handwritten by my Great-Aunt Ethel. It was the perfect excuse to use some old apples, and the fact that it was a family recipe made it all the better… it made me feel closer to my roots, and it made me feel like home.


This recipe makes a very sweet, soft apple cake with a caramelly flavor and a hard, crackled exterior. I’m giving you the recipe exactly as Great-Aunt Ethel wrote it. The instructions aren’t perfectly clear, but for once, I’m okay without precise measurements.

Great-Aunt Ethel’s Fresh Apple Cake
Makes a single-layer cake

4 cups raw chopped apples (large chunks)
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

Mix dry ingredients. Add chopped apples and mix so that apples are coated with dry ingredients. Add vanilla and eggs. Mix. Add melted butter. Mix well by hand. Place in greased pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

Printer Friendly Version – Great Aunt Ethel’s Fresh Apple Cake

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Cream Cheese Rippled Pumpkin Bread Autumn S’mores – Homemade Graham Crackers and Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows

47 Comments Add your own

  • 1. TeraToo  |  November 20, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    I am just in awe at your writer’s “voice”. You sound wise beyond your years; incredibly poised and mature. Your family has done a wonderful job in raising you, and I see much sucess in your future.

    Reply
  • 2. Margarita  |  November 20, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Oh, my, thank you for taking us into your childhood, your home, your warm memories. Yes, life is good, your love and gratitude for these wonderful people in your life spills into our lives. Thank you. I haven’t baked the banana bread with the nuts yet, but I think maybe it might have apples in it. :)

    Reply
  • 3. Kimberly  |  November 20, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    The best receipe cards I have are those written in my grandmothers spiderly hand writing. I cherish those cards! I think the best gift anyone could give a new bride would be…hand written receipe cards from all her relatives and friends in their own penmanship.

    Reply
  • 4. Elissa's Dad  |  November 21, 2009 at 1:07 am

    Sometimes you make me cry….thank you.

    Reply
  • 5. Monica H  |  November 21, 2009 at 1:51 am

    Oh, this was so sweet. I loved your story and your photas as well as the picture of your aunt’s handwriting. Such special memories.

    Happy Thanksgiving Elissa!

    Reply
  • 6. linda  |  November 21, 2009 at 3:28 am

    what a wonderful “peak” into your journey thus far.
    your words & their “heart” are incredible & the photos are precious.
    wishing you & your family a wonderful thanksgiving.

    Reply
  • 7. Lauren  |  November 21, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Beautiful, Elissa. Just beautiful.

    Reply
  • 8. Jodi  |  November 21, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Very few 17 year olds would, or could, have the maturity to write like you do Elissa. Keep it up! You’ve got an incredibly promising future ahead of you. Beautifully done…

    Reply
  • 9. nutmegnanny  |  November 21, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    As always your writing inspires me. I can’t imagine what it must be like to explain your feelings so clearly in the written word. Of course your cake looks great too….:)

    Reply
  • 10. Echo  |  November 21, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I’m a journalist and I believe you have a wonderfully successful career ahead of you. Traditional journalism is dying, as we all known, but keep up with the changes and keep up with your skills and you will do a fantastic job!

    Reply
  • 11. Valérie  |  November 21, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    This is a splendid post, even more so than usual. The inclusion of your childhood pictures is a lovely touch, and one cannot helpt but feel touched by your “voice.” I’m sure your family is very moved to read these words.

    Reply
  • 12. Mary  |  November 21, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Elissa! You’re such an amazing writer, and this is probably my favorite blog post so far. I LOVE the pictures and every single word and image is just magical :)
    don’t know quite how to describe it, but each time I read this, it leaves me with a light, happy feeling.

    Reply
  • 13. Mary  |  November 21, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    and I love your dad’s comment!!

    Reply
  • 14. natalie  |  November 21, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    elissa this is amazing!
    you’re baby pictures are adorable. the little stories and memories are incredibly heartwarming–you should post some of the stuff you wrote when you were little!

    and the apple cake looks delicious :)

    Reply
  • 15. natalie  |  November 21, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    and ditto to what mary said about your dads comment!

    Reply
  • 16. wearsjojo  |  November 21, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    You are an amazing writer. I just chopped and peeled a million old apples in my house that needed to be used, like an hour ago. Perfect timing girl, I will make this tonight. Write me back soon!!!!

    Reply
  • 17. Hillary  |  November 22, 2009 at 1:07 am

    I just read this post to my mom in bed as our storytelling for the night : ) We really can’t believe you’re just 17. Your writing is phenomenal. You certainly are a writer at heart.

    Reply
  • 18. Karen  |  November 22, 2009 at 2:20 am

    Your writing and your baking are inspirational. I am sure you already make mom and dad and gram very proud and will continue to do that for many, many years.

    Reply
  • 19. Kristen  |  November 22, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Truly one of the most vivid posts I’ve read in a long time. Your voice and gift for writing is incredible!

    Reply
  • 20. maris  |  November 22, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    There is something really inspiring about handwritten recipe cards. I love reading my grandma’s recipes files…and of course, trying the recipes!

    Reply
  • 21. Elissa's grandmother  |  November 22, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    I have two stories for you todayl. The first is about a grandmother who could not stop the tears from flowing as she read her granddaughlters blog. I will finish that story later because I want to tell you the second story. It’s a true story about a little girl who grew up to be a very special person.This little girl brought light,happiness, and wonder to her grandmother. Her grandmother loved her and would always love her. Not for what she accomplishes and there will be many but for who she is. Loving, caring, giving, talented and more. This story has more chapters and her grandmother will be there for all of them as long as she can.

    Reply
  • 22. postcollegecook  |  November 22, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    I loved reading this post because you SO remind me of myself at your age! I’m sure I wrote down similar thoughts in the pages of my many journals from high school. Stick with it :)

    Reply
  • 23. dh127  |  November 22, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    What a wonderful post! As a grandmother myself, I am sure that your family feels the love that comes through your words. And the cake sounds good, too. I enjoyed reading this very much. Thank you.

    Reply
  • 24. Cousin Sharon  |  November 23, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    OK, so I admit, I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face for several reasons. First, because I am so far away from some very special people. Second, because I can hear your grandma telling those stories. I can hear her intonations and words as if she was right here next to me. She is an amazing person that I only recently got to know, and for that I am grateful. I am crying for your grandpa and how proud he must be of you even though he is not here. Lastly, I am crying because you are living proof that what makes people happiest is their relationships and not their possessions, and in your short life this far, you have come to know and understand what takes many people a lifetime to learn.

    Reply
  • 25. Devona  |  November 23, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    This is such a touching post. I read it and thought about how much love is flowing in your family and when I read your father’s and grandmother’s posts I teared up something terrible. Sweet and special, I love the love!

    Reply
  • 26. Kate  |  November 23, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Wow, my mom stumbled upon your blog a few days ago and directed me here becasue she said it reminded her of me. I have to agree. I have a budding passion for writing and a love of photography. Even though I don’t cook myself I do love food and wanted to own a bakery when I was younger. I find your blog extremely inspirational, and thank you for writing it.

    Reply
  • 27. Elissa's Mom  |  November 23, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Your words touch my heart deeply, life means so much because of you

    Reply
  • 28. Maedi  |  November 24, 2009 at 5:48 am

    Being 17 I can relate to your story all to well. Thanks for this.

    Reply
  • 29. Making my Mark  |  November 24, 2009 at 9:09 am

    I’ve always loved to write. Even my childhood had its ups and downs, I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for my mom being there when I messed up and choosing to love me anyway.

    Writing is such a passion for me. Words weave together the most beautiful memories of dandelions, playgrounds, love and loss. This was another beautiful post that showed me another piece of you.

    Reply
  • 30. pjamma  |  November 26, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Thank you for a wonderful post. You truely have a writers soul and a bakers heart. Good luck in your continuing journey.

    Reply
  • 31. Marie  |  November 26, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Hi Elissa, I’m a new reader and after reading only a few posts, you’ve already become such an inspiration for me! As many have posted before me, you definitely sound like a very intelligent, and wise-beyond-your-age young lady. Stay motivated and I look forward to reading more of your posts (and trying out some of your recipes!) :)

    Reply
  • 32. esther  |  November 27, 2009 at 12:31 am

    Hi Elissa,
    Not only your baking skills, but also your writing style inspires me! As many have already told, the first impression I got was, “It can’t be a teenager writing like this!” It is really hard to believe. Keep it up! Thought you might be interested in checking this other blog
    http://sunitabhuyan.com/ who does some superb baking.

    Reply
  • 33. lisamichele  |  November 28, 2009 at 4:21 am

    That was such a wonderul read and beautiful photos. I own a weathered recipe box, filled with yellowed cards with carefully written recipes..used for years by my paternal grandma, whom I miss so much. I cherish this recipe box and every card in there. Your post brought me back..you will cherish these memories forever, especially when you bake or cook any recipe from those cards :) Gosh, Elissa, I have to keep reminding myself that you[‘re only 17. Definitely an old soul with a talent for beautiful writing :)

    Reply
  • [...] I still needed to create something to bring to Thanksgiving with me.  That’s when I discovered this recipe on another [...]

    Reply
  • 35. neha  |  December 4, 2009 at 9:04 am

    i don’t even know what to say but i wanted to comment. you have more maturity than most adults i know. You are a beautiful, smart, kind, and wise soul and i wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors even though you don’t need it.

    Reply
  • 36. Ellen  |  December 4, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Hi Elissa,

    I have heard a lot about your stories. It’s really nice to leave a message here. I love to read about your childhood. Such a wonderful childhood. Thank you for posting these lovely photos. You look so cute and it’s nice to know you. I live in Hong Kong. If you have a chance to visit here, i will be so glad to show you around and try local dishes.^^

    Reply
  • 37. Shawna  |  December 26, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Keep up the great work!

    Reply
  • 38. Mama Koala  |  January 28, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Elissa,

    You have an amazing gift. It is evident that you’ve found your element (Have you read Sir Ken Robinson’s book?)–food, photography, and writing all rolled into one. Don’t let anything stop you.

    All the best,
    Mama Koala

    Reply
    • 39. Elissa  |  January 28, 2010 at 9:56 pm

      Mama Koala – I did a quick google search, did you mean “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything”? I’ll have to add it to my reading list, the title alone tells me I’d find it interesting :) Thanks!

  • 40. Andrea  |  February 4, 2010 at 8:45 am

    Dear Elissa, I’ve just found your blog in the last few weeks. I added you to my reader and have been moving through your past posts, slowly cherishing your written words. You are a lovely, lovely writer, with talent I hope to someday come close to achieving. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and inspiring so many.

    Reply
  • 41. thepearla  |  March 13, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    it turned out yummiii! thanks for sharing! i love ur blog

    Reply
    • 42. Silki  |  October 15, 2010 at 9:45 am

      Hi, could you tell me what kind of apples u used? I tried making this cake today and unfortunately the cake didn’t set. It had a “crackled” top just like the recipe above said but it was completely raw on the inside (But the flavors were amazing). I was thinking maybe it was because of the apples I used, they were probably a little to watery?

      Also, I had a hard time mixing in the eggs and vanilla after I coated the apples with the dry ingredients. Do u think it’s possible if I mix in the dry ingredients with the eggs and vanilla to create a smooth batter and then add the chopped apples? Any advice would be appreciated. THANKS! :)

  • 43. thepastrykook  |  May 3, 2010 at 2:45 am

    thanks for this post. i loved every bit of it. (: and of course, the cake looks incredibly good.

    Reply
  • 44. Pjamma gram | Terranouva  |  March 5, 2011 at 2:30 am

    [...] For Mom, Dad, and Grandma « 17 and BakingYour writing and your baking are inspirational. I am sure you already make mom and dad and gram very proud and will continue to do that for many, many years. … 30. pjamma | November 26, 2009 at 9:54 am… [...]

    Reply
  • 45. Isabel Kitchen  |  May 15, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    I have always had a passion for Art. I love to draw, color, mold, paint, anything that involves creating something beautiful, or turning a plain piece of paper in to something worth hanging on to. When I found out of my love for baking I was able to apply my passion for Art, I treat a frosted cake as my blank canvas.

    Reply
  • 46. Fresh Apple Cake « hookedontaste  |  January 12, 2012 at 4:24 am

    [...] Fresh Apple Cake adapted from 17andbaking [...]

    Reply
  • 47. luckygirl  |  September 30, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    hi! i was just wondering what size pan to use. i cant find it in your post and i feel like im just entirely missing it.

    Reply

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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I want to read everything. #TheStrand Mmmmm... Green tea chocolate lava cake! #spotdessertbar Last night I sat in @StephenColbert's chair. My life is now complete. AHHHHHHHHH! #ColbertAudience Yay! Spontaneous mid afternoon macaron break. @bouchonbakeryrc Ohmygosh! Strawberry and tarragon gelato! FAO Schwartz is equal parts chaos, commercialization, and crazy happy joy About to eat my first Pink Lady apple! (More like Red Red Red Lady.)

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