I get up bright and early to bake.
Dark equals coffee. I walk, bleary-eyed, into the kitchen, fill the kettle and set it on the stove, wash hands and move towards the bakery to begin milling the hard white wheat. After getting the first load running, I return to the kitchen, grind the beans and pour the boiling water into the french press. Pull out the mixer bowl and hot water and yeast and start the Italian peasant bread dough. Grab milk from the fridge to warm for milk and honey bread. Realize that I ran out of the Robert's cream and have to drink black coffee again for the third day in a row. Oh well. Won't kill me.
About the time three-fourths of the bread dough is rising for the second time, it is time to wake the kids for school. I set out strawberries and yogurt and toast for them and basically ignore them as they get ready and I work.
Three cups of coffee later, I drive them to school. Except for Patrick and Thomas who are still biking, even in the 30 degree mornings.
Rachel and I talked on the phone as I kneaded loaves, as we do almost every single morning, except on the weekends. I work. She nurses Marlena. Thank goodness our tradition continues, even though we are hundreds and hundreds of miles apart. The biggest difference is that on those bad afternoons, when nothing will work to make kids happy, I would, in the past say, "Load them up and come over and let them play outside while we have a cup of tea or a glass of wine(depending on before or after 5)."
It is dreadful to be so far away that they can't all pile in and come over for hundreds of slices of milk and honey bread and games with the kids and chasing after Patrick. But thank God for Alexander Graham Bell!
So the bread happened, the bakery opened. A dozen roses arrived from my dear one. Made me thankful to have such sweetness in the middle of moments of raw.
I purchased the ingredients to make the tradition continue.
Fourteen years ago, we had Jersey Momma staying with us in our rambling house on 1418 Elizabeth Blvd in Fort Worth. I had little Thomas and toddler Patrick and infant Maggie. Jersey Momma had a broken arm, hence the long visit. Valentine's Day came along, and I wondered how we could celebrate, our little extended family?
Knowing my mother-in-law's continental tastes, I opted for French Bistro, remembering a recipe in a Belgiun Cookbook for Pommes Frites, and you probably already know how much I love red meat and fried potatoes and a really good excuse for a glass of red wine.
True Pommes Frites are hard to beat. I remember in Europe, at night, we would walk around and there would be trucks set up, here and there, offering cones of crispy, golden, salted deliciousness for mere euros, and I was in heaven. For years I would try to make french fries, and the limp, greasy sticks of potatoes were okay, but not really great. Well, not really good. But then I read that great cookbook, EVERYTHING TASTES BETTER IN BELGIUM (btw, who has that book? I loaned it out to somebody and wish I had it back...) and never looked back.
And the rest is history.
The secret is in twice frying the potatoes in a good, hot, clean oil, preferably peanut, since it is suited to high heats and high heat is necessary.
Well, we loved that meal so much that I have made it every single Valentine's Day since. For 14 years.
After baking in the bakery all day long, I didn't feel like making a gourmet French bistro meal for a bunch of kids, but all these years past, the special part of Valentine's Day is setting the table with all the pretty dishes, the tablecloth, the napkins. Putting out candles and flowers and candy hearts to let the kids know that they are worthy of fancy dinner party. Without grownup company.
For a part of the day I hurt, grieving different things I guess. But at some point, I took the time to read in my devotional, which reminded me to consider each day a new adventure, to reach out to experience it. And while that seems like a very trivial thing, it completely turned my attitude around, and I decided to rejoice.
All of a sudden, it was a privilege to bake fancy Queen of Sheba cakes, one for us and one for Raymond to take home since he couldn't stay for dinner. It was a joy to cut up potatoes and to heat the oil, anticipating the salty crunch of fattening carbs that would bring joy to our family.
Serving customers in the afternoon made me happy and thankful and as we sat around the table, remembering many things this evening, I was made glad.
We couldn't remember last Valentine's day at all. I think the boys were gone. I remember shopping for trinkets for the girls, but can't even remember sitting at the table with them. Isn't that weird? So maybe grief pain isn't quite as raw this year as last. We spent some time at the table, after the dinner, before the Queen of Sheba, praying for our dear ones. For friends with babies. For friends with illness. For blended families to knit together. For us to love each other. Then dessert.
We asked God to tell Philip hello for us and to tell him we are thankful for him and how he showed love to us. Then we thanked God for the dear new friends who have entered our life.
In grief support group we would talk about traditions and what we felt like we ought to keep.
Today I wondered about this tradition. I don't know what next year will bring. Thomas is about to turn 19 and hopes to graduate from Alpine Highschool and go to a program for special needs kids in Roswell, NM. He might not be with us next year. Things are changing around me every minute. Who knows if we will all be able to sit around the candles and the roses and the sweetheart candies next year, enjoying our steaks, done rare-medium rare, with creamed spinach and pommes frites, me with a glass of red wine, they with sparkly fruity stuff?
But tonight, I rejoiced in the moment.
So thankful for my family. For the kids around the table. And for tradition, ever-evolving, yet tasting the same.
Happy Valentine's Day. I pray that you will each know how much you are loved, just as I pray the same for me and my children.
PS please try to make some homemade frites sometime. A lot of work, but worth it. And remind me to share the recipe for Queen of Sheba cake, the healthy version. I think I posted it last year. It is still every bit as good. Yumm. And the freshly milled whole wheat, no white sugar version is decadent and worthy of Valentine's Day.