Tag Archives: Childhood

Mom’s Mocha-Toffee Bars

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About 35 years ago, my mom held a summer luncheon in our family home. She made these bars for dessert, and I fell in love them. After I returned to the Southwest, she sent the recipe, which I cherished and saved in my recipe file.

Mom's Mocha-Toffee Bars Resized

And yet, somehow, I never baked them until a week ago.

Perhaps to honor her passing, I was destined to wait. I was given time to reflect upon her love of the color brown. The color of earth, of solidity, of groundedness that she decorated our childhood homes with.

My earliest childhood home was actually painted mocha at mom’s request. Likely because she made a killer yellow cake with mocha frosting that the entire neighborhood craved, yet they rarely had the pleasure of indulging in because my dad, brother, and I usually engulfed it on its first night of creation.

Having said that, I’ve pondered the obvious fact that perhaps I named my blog after my mom in a surreptitious way that even I never uncovered until now. “Now” as in this very moment of typing these words on my chiclet keys. Amazing how and when connections are recognized!

Mocha-Toffee Bars

  • 2 Cups Brown Sugar – Firmly Packed
  • 2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Cup (1 Stick) Butter, Softened
  • 1 Teaspoon  Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Coffee Liqueur
  • 1 Cup 1/2 and 1/2
  • 1 Egg – At Room Temperature
  • 1 Cup Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips
  • 1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Walnuts or Pecans

Baking Directions

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13″ x 9″ baking pan and set aside.

Step 2:  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and flour.

Step 3:  Using a pastry cutter or your hands, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Remove 1 cup of crumbs and set aside.

Step 4:  To the original large bowl, add baking powder and salt. Using a whisk or fork, lightly beat in coffee liqueur, 1/2 and 1/2, and egg.

Step 5:  Continue beating until batter is smooth. Pour batter into the prepared baking pan.

Step 6:  In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together chocolate chips and nuts.

Step 7:  Sprinkle reserved crumbs over top of batter in pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips and nuts on top of the layer of crumbs.

Step 8: Use a long, flat spatula to spread topping evenly over the top of the batter in pan. (I find that using my hands is also effective.)

Step 9:   Bake for 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.

Step 10: Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack. Cool bars in pan completely before slicing.

Step 11: Using a serrated knife, cut into 24 bars. If you’re using a non-stick baking pan, you might consider a serrated plastic knife for this process. My husband recently surprised me with a Bakeware Buddy Knife that seems to be ideal for protecting pans from damaging scratches.

Step 12: Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days. I used a cake platter with a glass dome to store mine, and they were moist and delicious on the fifth day.

*High Altitude Note: This recipe has been tested from sea level to 5000 feet. I suspect that altitudes above 5000 will also do well, however, always best to be prepared to experiment.

Indulge in mocha!

Bully Boy

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Somebody must have treated you real mean before you became a man.

You must’ve painted your pain into the portrait of a man big and brawny with a voice that speaks like a dirty carburetor and tosses its fumes with the fury of a vintage V8. Fast and far your reckless words can be flung.

 

This imaginary man grew up inside his gilt-framed self portrait and inspired you to adopt your dead image of an adult in a future that hasn’t existed yet.

You were dead before you lived in the world of adults.

But you didn’t know you were a frozen corpse of pain and fear.

You just kept on firing your words like bullets – to sting, to injure, to kill the spirit of each person who looked like your enemy.

And enemies were aplenty because nearly every face wore the mask of your childhood tormentor.

Somebody hurt you bad – and – all you know now is hurt-back.

If only you knew how invisible you are.

How your circulatory system of pain is X-rayed and transmitted to those who can see.

And those who can see, do not fear you. For that, you hate them most of all.

You slander and libel those with wisdom, because you fear their power.

You know their power is quiet and invisible and that it will win – always – because it touches eternity.

And you .  .  . you will only die in loud, writhing pain.

While a multitude of your admirers – your dark disciples – will carry on your gospel of hidden pain.

They will spread your disease until one day when one person wakes up and says: “I see inside my skin. I name my pain. I raise my white flag and walk away.”

The husk of a man is then seen crossing the khaki desert. As his bully-boy viscera crumbles into a pile of dry dust.

And so .  .  . one-by-one, the soldiers of hurt fall.

 

 

Red Sneakers

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Many years before Prince coveted his little red Corvette, I invested hours of begging my mother for a pair of little red sneakers. I was in love.

 

 

Red Sneakers

 

In those years of the late 1950s to the early 1960s, canvas-coated feet were emboldened in a battle between Keds and PF Flyers. My mother favored Keds.

Okay.

I accepted the poverty of options. Secretly I preferred Keds also, because on close scrutiny of my friends with PF feet, I could see a deficiency in quality. The fabric was skinnier; the rubber was wobblier. From a distance, the colors and styling were eye-catching. Up close, the optical illusion gave way.

Keds had solidity. Longevity. Ankle support.

But they were poor in color palette. White, navy, and black predominated, which was a bit boring to a small girl with a big dream of being a fashionista.

Today I describe my go-to wardrobe as: black, white, and indigo. Once again demonstrating the power of the circle. The ceaseless circle of life.

I’m voluntarily back where I began.

Almost.

Against that background color trinity, though, I love accents of surprise from every pie slice of the spectrum.

But, in the post-WW II days, life was spectrally dim. Women wore quiet dresses. Men sore Obama suits. Children wore practical clothes, that is, clothes of colors that did not readily reveal dirt. Clothes that could be worn a few times without washing and still pass for respectfully clean.

Looking back, I appreciate that practicality. Fewer loads of laundry made ecological and economical sense.

But, still. I wanted a pair of red canvas sneakers. Just so my feet could shout a little. Be happy and dance a little.

And not just plain red low-riders. No, I wanted red high-tops. And that’s where the real battle began.

Not only did Mom see red canvas as a grass-stain magnet. She judged high-tops as completely inappropriate for girls.

What the heck? I never could figure it out, but, suddenly practicality became too masculine.

I was a tall, gangly kid in need of strong ankle support. So, why not high-tops?

My arguments were in vain. For six years of childhood, she denied me.

And that denial rode along with me into adulthood.

Decades later, I found myself periodically craving a pair of red high-top sneakers. This time, though: Converse. Yes. A pair of tall, red Chucks.

Somehow, every moment of zealous pursuit was foiled. My size was not available or red was not in favor with the fashion police or long shoelaces were not being manufactured. Some quirk of commerce always roadblocked.

Then.

This year.

In the midst of 2015’s final three months of holiday blitzing.

My husband surprised me with a wedding-anniversary gift:

 

RED CHUCKS!

 

 

Yes, it truly is never too late to have a happy childhood.

And today, on this Winter Solstice, may all of your sorrows be lifted. May all of your dreams come true. May a new season of happiness fill your soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Front Porches

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House - Black & White Illustration

 

My childhood largely revolved around front porches.

Front-porch life was stuffed with neighbors, waves, smiles, spontaneous conversations, sounds of children playing, delivery men, coffee klatsches, repose, daydreams, and mosquitoes.

On the East Coast, screened-in porches were a necessity if one wanted to linger in summer’s hazy, lazy, crazy days of white heat. And that quivery, tar-colored mesh created a new seasonal room overnight.

It was magical.

And I claimed it as my secret space .  .  . sitting on the painted mocha concrete, hidden from the gregarious world by a hedge of boxwood. So perfectly sculpted in geometrical angles. It was my father’s pride, as an engineer, to bring his drafting skills home from the office and share them with our landscaping.

It was technical perfection as it rounded a porch corner, and, tall enough to camouflage a tiny girl playing with her simmering fantasies.

Sitting on my front porch in the summer, I would look out at the world through a mesh veil of tiny squares. Small enough to prevent a mosquito from flying in. Fine enough to allow my child-eyes to see through. To see the details of life.

It was nearly transparent, but screen vision left an imprint on my inner lens.

Life always wore a tulle shroud of imperceptible right angles, square snapshots multiplied exponentially.

Vision was defined by bolts of woven wire. A plain weave. A diaphanous wall through which angels and children watch the world. Not yet knowing that life is really lived outside the graph paper rhythm of mosquito screening.

Insects do bite. And vision gains clarity outside the porch cloak.

But as a child, I felt protected inside the porch with its concrete floor and painted wooden side door. And the screens, where windows once sealed a space, now permitted breezes to visit in diced ripples.

I didn’t know yet that tiny squares were prisons, too.

And I didn’t know why mosquitoes were feared.

I was a child designing hopscotch blueprints and diagonal dreams for the asphalt avenue just outside the porch.

I was unaware of my containment in squares.

And unaware of what a vast breeding ground little square porches and concrete steps can offer to someday stoop-sitting philosophers like me.

Yes. It’s always a surprise to pause, take a moment to look back to childhood, and see how that child birthed the woman I am today.

A woman happy to sit in a rocking chair on any vintage front porch and daydream as cotton-candy clouds scud overhead.

Will I ever truly grow up?

Only time will tell.

Time: that faithful, gossipy scribe that records all life’s events – both visible and invisible.

 

 

Java Jolt – Chock Full O’ Memories

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Java Jolt - An Out-of-Tune Life

The first family tragedy that chiseled my character occurred when I was four years old.

The two grandmothers were recruited to assist. One lived locally in New Jersey; the other hopped aboard the Silver Meteor train up from Florida.

They collided at my childhood home, debating how best to care for me while my parents were virtually absent.

Toot, my maternal grandmother, won the match. She became my primary caretaker: walking me to Parkway Elementary on the first day of kindergarten, all the while teaching me to love bird notes and read tree leaves.

She instilled a love for the feel of yarn sliding through my finger-furrows, for doing needlepoint and embroidery. She taught me to cherish books in an active way: to read, to rummage the dictionary for meanings, to write words into sentences of expression.

Professionally, she was a junior high school English teacher turned science teacher, so, academics and children’s minds were electrically connected for her. She was, therefore, the perfect mentor for a lonely little girl who felt confused and abandoned.

Toot coaxed to life so many passions that live within me even today. For this, I’ll love her always.

One dream that we shared, though, neither one of us found a way to achieve.

We each wanted to sing.

We each failed miserably at matching vocal cord to musical note.

We each lived outside the precision of the musical staff. We lived, somehow, according to our own mathematical graph of pitch with respect to time and tempo. Although, I believe to this day that Toot was quietly convinced that she sang on key:

 

An Out-of-Tune Life

 

I hear Toot’s singing voice in my memory. The one she used in church. In the safety of a large congregation of Presbytery. The wavering silk thread of a soprano quivering like uncertain hands pulling the silk from the worm’s cocoon in the bend of a mulberry tree.

I allow myself to imagine an ideal of existence in which words and song might alter the course the events. Out of such moments, springs hope.

I hear a remote doxology:

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Host:

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

 

This short hymn. An expression of praise to God was of some value to Toot, and, what I extracted from these moments of interchange was of value for myself.

The church we attended was old and cold and settled in its ways of worship. It had the scent of a funeral rite, but, I felt more connected to my grandmother than to God or church.

I loved to recite the Lord’s Prayer; to chant the response after the Reverend offered the call to sing the doxology.

My faith was somehow built into an ancestry that spoke during those rituals.

I don’t know what to make of my early childhood religious experiences, but, they were not wrapped in a denomination or contained within a building or held captive in the words of a book.

They followed a person. A woman. A blood elder.

Portrait of Toot as a Young Woman

Portrait of Toot as a Young Woman

I may say that, for me, God was first found inside the upright spine and the vibrating strings plucked from an out-of-tune voice that ached to be celebrated as beautiful.

This set my own wavering voice free. Along with my questioning mind and seeking heart.

I was safe inside that out-of-tune life. And may be forevermore.