All of these summer outings and gatherings has caused me to really take a look at the people around me. At family. My family of origin (parents and siblings) is a a real piece of work. We are each so different. Our passions, our pitfalls, and our personalities are unique enough to doubt that any one of us were raised under the same roof. Getting married and gaining a mother, father, sister and brother in-law has been pretty much the same. I’m talking fundamental differences. Things churches have split over. Things that will divide a nation. Even things that have destroyed other families. They’ve threatened to destroy mine.
Being an adult sibling is pretty complex. What is our role? What are the bounds? Those can’t be open ended questions. I need answers. I want to be a good sister. I want to be someone they know they can call no matter what. I want to be real, and open, and myself. I want them to do the same.
I think, if you want to go somewhere where people are just like you, go be with your friends. They’re like minded and similarly styled. They like your bangs and chances are, you’re wearing the same shoes. It’s comfortable. They nod and smile. They cry with you. They laugh with you. They love what you love and hate what you hate. Friends are so necessary. You need them. Go call your friends.
Not family. Family isn’t where you go to be with people just like you who agree with everything you do. Family is where you go to be accepted for who you are and loved where you are at by people who aren’t necessarily the same. They don’t expect you to be like them. No mask necessary. You can disagree. You can be different. You can even lose your cool and they will forgive you and love you anyway. You’re family. It is forever. You just stand there completely exposed and vulnerable, and they embrace you. They’re who you go to when you’ve made a terrible and grave mistake. They’re who you go to when you are ashamed and can barely show your face. They will get angry, they will be hurt, and meanwhile, they’ll be by your side. I don’t think you even have to like them. If you met in life and you weren’t family, you probably wouldn’t hang out. You don’t need to see them everyday, but when you see them, you just need to love them. The unexplainable love. The love that just makes you look away and shake your head when they are doing something that is “so them”. That’s family love.
I’ve been known to describe my family as a circus and that is exactly what it is. A large group of strange and exotic birds. Each act is entirely unique. All painfully complex. It has been stormy, scary and dark. There has been a lot of laughter and camaraderie that words can’t touch. We’ve done life together. It hasn’t always been pretty, but we’ve always been together. Nothing can change that and I don’t think I would have made it without them. The same goes for my in-laws. They accepted me as family right away. We started out in the trenches and they were right there with us. They didn’t even flinch at our gaping and self inflicted wounds. They just met us there, and made sure we never felt alone. We’ve done our best to be there for them too. I have to be honest. There have been times when it was hard and we wanted to walk away. The differences seemed far to great to be reconciled, but it’s family. We at least had to try.
Life goes on and I’m not going to pretend it’s been easy or perfect. We’ve already established that family isn’t about that. It’s been real life. There have been broken hearts, misunderstandings and hurt feelings, but they won’t stop my love. There have been differing opinions and wrongful blame, but it won’t stop their love for me. We’re family, and for now, we aren’t going anywhere.
Today is my little sister Maggie’s birthday. I met her the week she turned 15 and today she is 19 years old. I’ve watched this girl go through it. This is a hard world to be a teenage girl in. She’s wrestled with what the world expects of her and what her family expects of her. It’s been a ruthless fight and the wounds have been deep, but she’s still swinging. It would take a lot to break this one down. We don’t exactly agree on everything. We don’t look the same, or listen to the same music. We have a pair of the same shoes, but that is pretty much a fluke. We don’t text constantly or spend all of our time together. We are in completely different stages of life, but we are sisters. She is funny and sweet and loves my kids with such a bright heart and I’m so glad she’s in my life.
Happy Birthday Maggie Mae. You are beautiful and intelligent. You are capable and courageous. You are a good sister to me and an amazing Auntie to my kids. You can always come to me with anything. I won’t judge. I won’t try to change you. I’ll just listen. I’m in your corner, and I’ll always do my best to be the big sister you deserve. Keep on being a genius at school. Keep on having perfect hair, impossibly long legs and stunning eyes. It’s even okay with me that you decorate cakes better than I can. You just keep on being great and trying your hardest and your family will always be there to cheer you on. We love you.
Maggie’s birthday two years ago was the first time I tried to bake a cake from scratch. It wasn’t pretty, but i’ve learned a lot since then and I want to share some tips with you. I love baking cakes for my family’s birthdays. It’s a little gift of good food made with love. You don’t have to wait for a birthday to bake one though, just bake it and invite your family to share it with you. Then, remind them that you love them even though they are different from you and sometimes make you crazy.
Lila, her new friend, Savannah and I made cupcakes as a practice round earlier this week and then I made a full cake version to have ready for her little get together at our apartment. Cakes and cupcakes are intimidating to make from scratch, but once you see the pattern, it gets pretty easy.
First, I say you need 8 inch cake rounds. Typically, you have 9-inchers and they leave you with a beautiful, delicious, but squatty cake. The smaller rounds give you height and three pretty and impressive layers. They’re not always in stock in stores, but their worth ordering to make sure you have them.
Next, you have to prep the pans. Ina Garten would tell you, There is no point of baking a cake if you can’t get it out and eat it. I use 8 inch parchment circles. If you don’t have any, just trace your pans on parchment and cut it out. Then, I grease them, flour them and add the parchment at the bottom. Make sure to tap out the extra flour.
Set up stations. These are the three likely components. Butter and sugar, for creaming.
Eggs and vanilla, added one at a time. Your wet ingredients are next and you alternate them with your dry ingredients.
In order to bake a cake, you always have to think fluffy thoughts. First cream you butter and sugars. This basically adds air to your butter and the sugar holds it there. It makes for nice fluffy cakes. You want to cream room temperature butter for 30 seconds and then add the sugar and cream it until its like a grainy fluffy clay consistency.
Next you have to add eggs one at a time. This allows each to mix evenly and not have big globs of egg in there. Adding them gradually allows them to emulsify. Like oil and vinegar, eggs and butter don’t like to mix. Fat and liquid, in general, don’t combine naturally. Adding them gradually give them a chance to mix well and stay fluffy.
Next you are typically told to alternately add wet and dry ingredients, starting with dry. I do 1/3 dry. then half of the wet, 1/3 dry, rest of the wet and finish with the dry. That fluffy mix you just made with your butter, sugar and eggs can’t handle a ton of weight from dumping flour or milk on it. Alternating it gives everything a chance to combine gradually and still give you a nice fluffy cake.
At this point, I divided my batter and added some food coloring to give my cake and cupcakes the ombre effect.
Bake them until they are just done and a toothpick cones out clean when inserted into the middle, and then let it cool while you mix the frosting.
- 1 cup butter
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 3/4 cup cake flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Position rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. For cupcakes, fill two cupcake pans wit papers and set aside. For cakes, trace your cake pan 3 times on parchment paper and cut out. Then grease and flour your pans and place the parchment in the bottom and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, sift the dry ingredients together (flour, baking powder, salt) set aside.
- Measure out the milk and set aside
- Crack your eggs into a bowl and add the vanilla, set aside
- In a stand mixer, use your paddle attachment to cream the butter and sugar until it is nice and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
- Add the eggs (with the vanilla in there) one at a time and beat for about 30 seconds between each one.
- Next alternately add the dry and wet ingredients, mixing in between each addition. (1/3 dry mix, 1/2 milk, 1/3 dry, 1/2 milk, rest of the dry)
- Pour the batter into whatever you're cooking it in (cupcakes or cake pans) and bake in the preheated oven for 19-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Allow it to cool for 10 minutes before taking it out of the pan and let it cool completely before frosting.
- After the batter was completely mixed, you can separate it into 3 bowls and add food coloring in increasing amounts to each bowl to get 3 different shades and then bake as usual.
- You can also use 2- 9 inch rounds instead if it's what you have.
- 2 sticks softened butter
- 1/3 cup strawberry jam
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tbs chopped strawberries
- 3-4 cups powdered sugar
- In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 2 min
- Add the strawberry jam and strawberries and beat for 2 minutes
- Add the vanilla and beat for 1 more minute.
- Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, whisking and scraping the bowl between each addition
- Beat until nice and fluffy, use at room temperature.