Posts tagged ‘Mom’

Soft Pretzels

pretzel1wm

It’s hard to believe that only one week ago, I was between homes.

My parents and I flew red eye. As we made our way to the airport, I kept my face turned towards the car window. In the struggle to pack every suitcase into the trunk and leave nothing behind, I’d forgotten to take one final glimpse of my house, the garden, or my room. I felt uprooted and uneasy. I spent my last hour in Seattle trying to drink in the mountains, the water, the evergreens made silhouette-black by the twilight.

By the time we boarded the airplane, the sun had set completely. I spent the flight between sips of ginger ale and bouts of restless sleep. But when I awoke five hours later to the pilot’s voice, crackly as crepe paper over the speaker, the aisle was flooded with light. Boston woke up that morning to a lavender sky and a molten orange sun, one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen.

pretzel4wm

I can’t pretend that my first days in Boston were without fault. It was uncomfortably hot and humid upon our arrival. On our first day we walked and walked and walked, until finally I nearly threw up in the sweltering subway station. And I was terrified. One of the first to move into the dorms, as soon as my parents left me alone to run some errands, I sat on my new bed and cried. It was just an accumulation of all the stresses, and you know I’ve never been good with change.

But I unpacked, and everything found its place. I fitted the bed with my old sheets and blankets, so it felt familiar. By the time my roommate E- arrived, I was ready to meet her, and that night I slept easily in my new room.

My parents left a couple days later. I met them at Neptune Oyster on their last night, where we had some really excellent calamari, smoked tuna, and raw oysters. I went through the motions of dinner like some weird dream, and fought tears when I hugged my mother and walked out. I slipped onto the T, rode home, and smiled at E- when I got back to my room.

pretzel5wm

I’m sure that my school is the best school in Boston, maybe even the best school in America. (Half kidding.) The energy and passion here is honestly infectious. The people here are spirited, talented, and friendly to a fault. I’ve been to so many orientation events and activities that I can’t keep them all straight. I’ve met so many people that when I recognize a face, I don’t know whether it’s from an icebreaker game or the dining hall. And I love it.

Even though it’s only been a few days, I’m already in love with this dorm building. I love the creaky elevators and the beautifully detailed ceilings. I love my roommate, who is funny and outgoing and open as a book. I love my 7th floor – where to even start? On the first night, when we played a 30 person game of musical mafia? Two nights ago, when we sat beneath the purple sky in the Boston Common? Maybe yesterday, when we went to the Quincy Market together and sang “Stand by Me” with one of the street performers.

There’s P-, who is all too humble about his guitar and singing talents and wears funny shoes. There’s J-, who sounds EXACTLY like Michael Cera if you close your eyes. H-, who I shared an impromptu hug with in the elevator, S-, who looks like Mark Ruffalo, and C-, who has posters of Elvis around her bed. Is it possible that they already feel like family?

pretzel3wm

I love the city of Boston. The way the squirrels in the Boston Common come right up to your feet. I love that everything is within walking distance, from the seedy grocery store in Chinatown to the fresh produce in Haymarket Square. My favorite place so far is the North End, where I like to walk alone through the winding cobblestone streets and carry a twine-wrapped box of cannoli.

Although I’ve tried plenty of good food here, the one thing I haven’t done yet is bake. This dorm building doesn’t have a real kitchen, and anyway, I don’t have any ingredients or supplies at this moment. My schedule’s been so hectic that I haven’t craved it yet, but I will. I can’t picture my life without mornings at the kitchen counter. I don’t know yet what will happen, but I know I can make it work.

These pretzels were the last thing I baked. It was the weekend before Boston, and my mother and I kneaded and twisted in the soft Seattle light I already miss. Neither of us had ever made pretzels before, and it was a bit of an experiment. We fumbled with the boiling water and had no idea how to form the shapes. But when the pretzels finally came out of the oven, soft and golden-brown, we couldn’t wait to take the first bite.

pretzel2wm

My life right now is anticipation. I can’t wait to bake again, and to start classes this week. I can’t wait for the leaves to turn crimson and gold in the October breeze. I can’t wait for snow in December, by which time I’ll probably be missing the August heat, and planning my first flight back to Seattle – a trip from one home to another.

[PS: If you're interested in hearing more about my day-to-day college experiences in Boston, follow me on Twitter!]

[PPS: Would anyone be interested in a no-recipe, no-food post with just photos of Boston? Remember, though, I have enough food photos and recipes stocked up to last the year!]

(more…)

September 5, 2010 at 1:07 pm 109 comments

Good Morning

In the same way that I follow a recipe, I follow a certain schedule in the morning. I don’t watch the clock and record how long I take to brush my teeth, but I have a couple things that I always do in the same order. Unfortunately, I usually spend too long doing some things. The very last thing I do before I run out the door is eat breakfast, but it often gets compromised for the sake of time. I brush my hair, pack my backpack, and suddenly my ride is at the door.

Some days I throw a handful of dry cereal into a Ziploc bag and hurriedly pour some soymilk into a travel cup, and then I eat the cereal on the go. Other days I’ll swipe an apple from the counter and eat it during first period. And some days – this is worst of all – I simply go without breakfast. Besides dessert, breakfast is my favorite meal, so those are the days to watch out for my grouchiness.

On the weekends, though, I like to savor breakfast. I love to wake up to the comforting weight of a dog at the foot of my bed, and the sound of the heater gently creaking. I walk down the hallway in my still-warm cotton pajamas and fluffy pink socks to find the kitchen bathed in petal-soft light, and I appreciate how still and how refreshing the winter mornings can be.

My parents wait for me to wake up on my own before starting to cook. Mom starts the coffee and I begin slicing oranges for fresh juice. We plan our breakfast. Our favorites are bagels with cream cheese and lox, pork chops, or eggs (sunny-side up and just a little bit runny, please.) But somehow, inevitably, we frequently end up at pancakes. Pancakes used to always fall to me the way that scones and muffins are considered my territory. But nobody is foolish enough to let me make the pancakes anymore.

There is a special place in my heart for pancakes, but they seem to hate me the most. In fact, my ineptitude at pancake-making is famous in my house. Some recipes are more forgiving than others, but pancakes have no sympathy for me. I’ve made whole-wheat pancakes that ended up a soggy clump on what I thought was a nonstick pan. I’ve burned and undercooked pancakes of all flavors and sizes.

Hands down the worst pancakes I’ve ever made were these blueberry-corn pancakes, and I don’t really have the heart to relive that particular story. I even felt sorry for our trash can as I scraped the curiously gritty and soggy pancakes into the garbage.

Like the determined teenage baker I am, I’ve never stopped trying. I always offer to make the batter and cook the pancakes. But my parents steer me to the table, ask me to set out the plates, or try to distract me with gems like “Why don’t you just relax?” and “Wouldn’t you rather have some bacon?”

You know they’re just trying to keep me from destroying breakfast for everyone. I guess you can’t blame them.

Now my mother is the one who makes the pancakes in my house, and they are far superior to mine. Whatever I am doing wrong, she avoids those pitfalls, and her pancakes end up light and fluffy.

With several overly ripe bananas browning on the counter, we decided to have banana pancakes for breakfast one Sunday. I was allowed to pick out a banana pancake recipe, but after that my mother took over. I juiced tangerines and then, unable to help myself, made a Triple Berry Maple Syrup with some frozen berries still in our freezer from summer.

I sneaked surreptitious glances at my mother as we worked, trying to uncover her pancake secret. At one point she commented, “The batter is a little thick,” but before I could stick in my nose she had fixed the problem, and I went back to simmering the maple syrup.

Ten minutes later I set the table and arranged the plates of food. The orange juice was tart and satisfying, the bacon still sizzling, and the maple syrup a deep, rich purple. We stacked our plates three pancakes tall, poured the maple syrup, and took the first triple-layered bite.

With a thick drizzle of Triple Berry Maple Syrup and small, sweet bits of banana, there was no denying that the pancakes were delicious. They weren’t dense – they were fluffy – but they were deceptively filling. I was halfway through my pancakes and was surprised by how full I was feeling. The banana flavor was also much more pronounced than I’d expected, though not in a bad way. They were just intensely banana-y, in a way that I couldn’t imagine a recipe intending.

I glanced over at Dad, who seemed to be having the same thoughts. We looked at Mom at the same time.

“How many bananas did this recipe call for?” He asked.

She took a moment to remember, then furrowed her forehead. “We didn’t have enough bananas, so I had to halve the amount it called for.”

“…Halve the amount?” I couldn’t even fathom what pancakes with double the banana would be like.

“Yeah. The recipe called for 3-4 cups of banana, and we only had 3 large bananas, which was 1 1/2 cups.”

What?

I picked up the recipe still on the counter, scanned the ingredients, and then began to giggle. “Mom,” I managed. “Not 3-4 cups. Just 3/4 cup of banana – you doubled the amount!”

We had a good laugh, but since the pancakes were delicious anyway, we didn’t dwell on the mishap. I only have two thoughts on the whole thing – first, it’s a good thing that this family loves bananas. Second, how unfair is it that I somehow manage to ruin any pancake I touch simply by following the recipe, but my mom can double an ingredient and end up with delicious pancakes? The mysteries of life.

And in all honesty, when we make these pancakes again, we will probably double the banana to 1 1/2 cups. They were just so good.

(more…)

December 16, 2009 at 9:16 pm 28 comments

Autumn S’mores – Homemade Graham Crackers and Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows

Hey all! I hope you guys had a wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving!

Up until a few years ago, Halloween was my favorite holiday. It was nice to have a Thanksgiving break and some good food, but I wasn’t really involved in the whole process. My grandpa, who was a great cook, always made the meal. My dad would watch the football game while my mom and grandma talked. And me? I didn’t really have any Thanksgiving traditions at all, besides always having a second helping of mashed potatoes and gravy.

This year, though, marks the second year where I’ve helped prepare the meal. Last year, newly interested in cooking, I wanted to be a part of the entire dinner. With some help from my dad, I basted the turkey, simmered the cranberry sauce, mashed the sweet potatoes and wilted the spinach. I also made dessert, a pumpkin pie that survived everything, including the death of my oven halfway through baking. This year, in spite of college applications and a time-consuming internship, I knew I wanted to do it all over again.

A couple of things made it back to the menu. Last year’s turkey came out so perfectly I swore it was beginner’s luck, but I still reached for Martha Stewart’s recipe again. I also made these Vanilla Mashed Sweet Potatoes from 101 Cookbooks, which were popular across the entire table a year ago. I also searched half an hour to find last year’s cranberry sauce, made with ruby port and tangerine juice. But for dessert, I decided to tackle something completely new. I envisioned an Autumn S’more – made with cinnamon-sweetened graham crackers and springy pumpkin marshmallows.

We spent Thanksgiving at a friend’s house, equipped with a bigger kitchen, a bigger dining area, and prettier dining ware. The table was beautifully set, and there was so much color that every plate seemed a mini feast. Mom’s three-leaf-clover rolls were passed around the table first, followed by dark green and maroon Swiss chard. Sparkling cranberry apple cider glimmered like garnets in the glasses, matching the ruby-red cranberry sauce. The sweet potatoes were a creamy pale yellow, and the glazed carrots brought bright orange to the table. With the fancy plates and faceted cups of wine, it felt like Thanksgiving dinner from a magazine.

Not everyone could stomach dessert, and the night ended soon after dinner. We packed all our equipment, ingredients, and leftovers into our car and drove back home, drowsy and stuffed.

As can be expected from a family of foodies, we talked about the meal afterward. We discussed the merits of the Swiss chard and described how tender, juicy, and succulent the turkey came out. Dad explained why he didn’t care for the sweet potato dish that I adored, and Mom praised how beautifully the cranberry sauce came out. We like food, and we wanted to share it with each other.

Tonight, my parents started up a campfire in the fire pit we built two years ago. Remembering the mostly-forgotten dessert, I grabbed the graham crackers and marshmallows. Dad found a perfect stick, sturdy and straight, and roasted a marshmallow across the flames. He pulled it off the stick with his teeth and chewed. “It tastes awesome, right?” I was mostly kidding. He opened his mouth a few times, trying to pull out the proper words to describe the taste and texture. Finally, a smile on his face, he agreed: “They’re just awesome.”

For all my descriptive words, these marshmallows escape description. I can’t properly convey how fantastic they were. On their own they were lighter than air, with a bouncier, fresher texture than store-bought marshmallows. The pumpkin was subtle and the flavor was prominently spiced. I cooked a few with the flames from my stove, and they toasted and oozed beautifully, but there is no comparison to roasting them on a branch over a flickering fire. The outside crisps and bubbles burnt gold, while the inside becomes creamy, gooey, and pumpkin-y. With chocolate and a crisp graham cracker, they were irresistable.

As it turns out, I’ll remember one of the nicest Thanksgivings I had not by the fancy meal and the pretty decorations. Instead, I’ll remember my mom, dad, and I sitting around the fire in lawn chairs in the pitch black. I’ll remember my mother’s stunned face as she tried the first marshmallow tentatively, then practically lunged for another one, ending up with molten pumpkin marshmallow all over her chin. I’ll remember my dad trying to describe how awesome the marshmallows were, how the pumpkin flavor was really elevated after roasting, and how the texture could only be described as perfect.

I’ll remember jumping into the car on a whim to rush and buy hot dogs, just so we could stay outside a little longer. We kept adding logs to the fire, each thick piece of wood sending up sparks that swirled up like fireflies. And we stuffed ourselves with so many marshmallows that our fingers grew sticky, and each of us had developed a unique toasting style over the course of the evening.

And after everything, I think I may have created a new family tradition after all. :)

(more…)

November 28, 2009 at 10:27 pm 33 comments

For Mom, Dad, and Grandma

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.

(more…)

November 20, 2009 at 9:52 pm 47 comments

Older Posts Newer Posts


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

Subscribe to 17 and Baking via RSS! Become a fan of 17 and Baking on Facebook! Follow @17andbaking on Twitter! Follow elissabernstein on Instagram! Email me at 17andbaking@gmail.com!

Leave Your Location

I'm on Instagram!

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.)

Archives

The Fine Print

Locations of visitors to this page

Site Meter

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Thank you for reading!

All text, photos, and logo
© 17 and Baking 2008 - 2013

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,291 other followers

%d bloggers like this: