Friday, May 29, 2009

A gift from Grandma

Next week, I'm decorating two cakes for a friend's baby shower (she's having twins, hence the two cakes). Next week is also my grandmother's 81st birthday. I've posted about other decorated cakes, and I even have an entire Facebook album of cakes I've decorated, but the history of my cake decorating is much deeper than those photos can show, and it's deeply tied to my grandmother.

I have gotten many things from my grandmother - my stubborn streak, part of my name (her first name is Irene, which is my middle name), recipes, a strong sense of family, a tendency toward arthritic conditions (Dad and I share that one), and my love of sweets and baking. Grandma also aspired to be a journalist - she even worked for the Pittsburgh Press as a receptionist for a few years while dating my grandfather. (The photo to the right is from 1948 - Grandma is the blond toward the top of the photo.) Today, the Pittsburgh Press is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the paper I worked for three years ago. The newspaper stories of Grandma's day always amaze me, especially in contrast to the newspaper world *I* now know.

While I lived in Pittsburgh, I went to Grandma's every Sunday to meet up with my uncle and Grandma for a late lunch. Grandma treated me like I hadn't eaten all week. I'd leave stuffed, armed with leftovers and in desperate need of a good workout at the gym. And we always ended our meal with a tasty dessert - quite often a cake from the Kmart up the street, which had the best whipped icing we'd tasted. Seriously. It's legendary in our family.

She's my only living grandparent, and I really miss living near her. (Grandpa passed away in June 2005, and I'm thankful every day that I was not only able to spend time with him in his last months but also that Grandma, Uncle Dave and I were all near each other after he died.)

But long before I lived as a working professional only 30 minutes away, Grandma's desserts held a special place in family tradition.

Grandma always brought the cakes. Clarification: Made, decorated AND brought the cakes. Always.

For baptisms. Communions. Confirmations. Graduations. Birthdays (like mine, above - I believe I was 3 and my sister, in all her Cabbage Patch glory, was trying to "help" me blow out the candles). If we had a family party, Grandma brought the cake. This was the standard until the late '90s, when Grandma's arthritis was so bothersome that she couldn't ice the cakes. I hadn't known about Grandma's days in journalism when I decided to major in it, but I knew full well about Grandma's cake decorating when I decided to take the Wilton Cake Decorating Course at a local Michael's.

Making the decision seem even more fated was the fact that my uncle is a manager at a Michael's in Michigan. Good craft store mojo, right there. But my instructor at the South Hills' Michael's? She was Uncle Steve's first girlfriend (in the sense that they went to like one high school dance together). Seeing my unusual last name on her class roster, she quickly connected the dots and realized I probably knew him.

At left is the registration form from Grandma's first decorating class - it's worn, it's discolored and it's a mess - but it also has the recipe for Wilton buttercream scrawled on it in Grandma's hand.

Soon after I completed the three Wilton courses, I accepted my current job in Florida. Grandma is always trying to downsize, and she decided she needed to send her cake decorating supplies with me. There's more history in my kitchen now than there probably ever will be. I've got magazines, couplers, tips, pans ... you name it, she had it, and now it's mine.

I don't practice my cake decorating skills very often, and I've never mastered them the way Grandma did. But every time I decorate a cake, I think of her. Every time someone asks me if I decorated "that cake" myself, I think of her. And, of course, every time I peer in to my kitchen cabinets and see all of the magazines, pans and tools, I think of her. Cake decorating is a cool skill to have - but I think the link to my grandmother is even cooler.



So sweet!! I have the same link with my Grandma and pies. Every new pie I make is towards the goal of someday being half the pie maker she was. You are so lucky to still have her around to share her wisdom!!

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