Baking with My Daughter at Zingerman’s

Eliana scooping buttermilk cupcake batter into the baking pan at Zingerman’s Bakehouse

Until yesterday, I had never made cupcake batter by hand. Always with a mixer spinning its attachments to take the load off of my shoulders. And for the first time, I felt the stretch and strain of making something from scratch.

First we mixed sugar and room-temperature butter in a metal bowl with a wooden spoon. I mixed and mixed, spread and spread, until they were combined and then I went fast, to create air, to create the creamy, fluffy texture and color that every recipe calls for but which I’d honestly never seen in my attempts to bake at home.

That’s because I didn’t let my eggs and butter come to room temperature. And I was too impatient to do it by hand.

Then we cracked five eggs to separate yolk from white. It’s easier if you simply crack it over your hand and catch the perfect yellow round yolk in the palm of your hand. Messy, yes. Easier, yes.

Eliana decorating her cooled cupcakes

Then it was blend and whip and work that wooden spoon hard until the batter was fluffy and the color of richness. Eventually, we added dry ingredients and vanilla and buttermilk and the end-result was light and airy, like a cloud.

This is what I mean by living the life you love.

Yesterday, Eliana and I spent the afternoon at Zingerman’s Bakehouse, learning to make and decorate buttermilk cupcakes. It was her reward for winning the Huntington Woods July 4th Bake-Off instead of the massage gift certificate that came in the prize envelope.

But really, it was my prize. I got to spend an afternoon with my daughter, first in the car talking as we drove west to Ann Arbor. Then, in the baking kitchen, working together at the wooden table to create something new. I helped her with her batter; she helped me with decorating.

My finished cupcakes
Eliana’s incredible finished creations

And then, we drove home together, again talking and rekindling the flame that only comes with time and attention. You can’t race through your life on auto-pilot and think you’re doing a good job. It’s why I take my kids on dates, striving for at least once a month one-on-one with each kid. It’s the only way to look them in the eyes and say I really love you.

This week, Asher has leaned in for so many deep hugs. I love it. Even as he’s poised to start 7th grade, he still wants to connect on a deep and loving level, and I’ll take it. I don’t believe that all kids have to migrate into distance as they get older. It is quite possible to create a family that continues to love one another throughout the years.

And I mean love – not love in the emotional sense, but in the I-feel-it-in-my-bones way that tells you the love you have for these people is part and parcel of who you are at the core. That’s the kind of family I’ve created, and it’s how I feel about each of these precious souls I am gifted to share life with.

We came home with 24 cupcakes beautifully decorated and filled and baked with care. We had a splendid afternoon. I can’t think of more important work than this.

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