payback time

Various pals of mine have recently obliged (or will shortly oblige) me by producing sweet little babies for me to play with.  I do like a baby. My own personal round chubby babies are now long lean motion machines, as will happen, and enjoyable in their own right, but even if you can catch them they are hard to carry around and blow raspberries on.  When I look at them, so big and full of ideas and complexities, I can still see the fuzzy-headed little dumplings they so recently were, but squinting is involved.  So I like to get my mitts on an actual baby when I can, to admire its soft, squooshy elbows and enjoy its simple equations.  Baby is grumpy?  Pick one: feed, change, rock, tickle.  Aahhh.

I have a standing date with one particularly luscious baby, and it shocks her mother slightly that I am so willing to drop everything and hold her infant while she does the things that mothers of the teeny weeny long to do if only they had an hour to do them in (like pee alone—the new spa day!).  It’s funny how later on you’d do anything to go back to the very hours and demands that seemed so endless and relentless at the time.

One particularly obliging friend, who long ago cared for my babies with tender attention, has just asked me to be with her at the birth of her first baby next month.  Do you know the expression “beside herself with happiness”?  My chair is crowded.  Here I am, and here next to me is the second self this request has necessitated, to hold all the excess joy.

So we arrive at gingerbread in hot weather thus: my once-a-week baby sometimes brings her brother along, thank goodness, because his presence cheers her very reliably.  He and I got to talking about gingerbread this week, and he says next time he comes over he may want to make some with me.  I built the food chain for his family, the first they had ever heard of such a thing, when this little sister arrived, and now the mama regularly sets such chains in motion for the new families in her ken.  This morning came the invitation to be at the birth.  Then another friend sent an email asking me for the recipe for the gingerbread I brought her when her daughter was born, so she could make it for a friend who had just had a baby.

If there is one thing I am learning from the last two years of upheaval and grief, it is how to nod as gratefully when help is offered as when the opportunity to help arises.  Life has generously explained to me that the benefits extend to both the helper and the helped, in times of happiness and woe, to such a degree that it can be hard to tell which is which and whom is whom.  The world spins more gracefully when we say yes, and the payouts quickly get beyond our feeble capacities to calculate.

So the compass points to gingerbread.  It’s tasty with peaches, anyway, and good gravy do we ever have a lot of peaches.


A note about Laurie Colwin because, you know, there really is always a note about Laurie Colwin (who will never be "Laurie" any more than she will ever be "Colwin"), even if I don't say it out loud.  I have tried to love Laurie Colwin’s damp gingerbread as much as I love Laurie Colwin generally, but to me a recipe in a very spattered old issue of Fine Cooking is the pinnacle of gingerbread.  Laurie Colwin does a fine job, in her essay about gingerbread, of explaining how finicky and quixotic a person’s gingerbread requirements can be, so in this sense I feel supported in not resting until I found mine.  Maybe it is yours. If not, enjoy the hunt.



Lightly adapted from Barbara Bria Pugliese’s recipe in Fine Cooking, (November 1997)

  • 1 ¾ c + 2T flour (I have used both AP flour and gluten-free with good results)
  • 1 ½ t baking soda
  • 2 ½ t ground ginger
  • ½ t ground cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 5T unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 2T finely grated fresh ginger (optional)
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • ¾ c molasses
  • ¾ c cold water

Heat the oven to 350.  Butter an 8 x 8 baking pan.  Sift together the flour, soda, spices and salt, and set aside.

Beat the butter until light, and add the sugar, continuing to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Add the egg and beat well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and with the beaters running, slowly pour in the molasses in a steady stream.  Add half the dry ingredients and beat only to incorporate; repeat with the second half.  Slowly pour in the cold water, beating on low speed, and then once it is all added, give the beaters a burst of speed for about twenty seconds to aerate and fluff the mixture.

Scrape into the prepared pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.  Let it cool as long as you can manage before serving.  Softly whipped cream makes an excellent accompaniment, even if you are eating the leftovers for breakfast the next day.