Photo credit: Jackie Freeman
A mix of families, cultures and food, Jackie Freeman's column "Blended" follows the culinary adventures of one step-mama chef and her two kitchen monkeys as they learn to make scrumptious and sane mealtime choices.
My youngest kitchen monkey recently turned 5. In addition to a somewhat wild birthday party at a bounce house, we just had his portrait taken. In my family, it is a longstanding tradition that every child has a professional portrait taken at age 5. My father did it. My siblings and I did it. And now my stepsons and nephews are doing it. Of course, the photos often end up stuffed in the back of a closet, but it’s the experience that counts.
My family has a long list of traditions. Whether it’s regular or infrequent, tame or wild, most of my favorite traditions center around food. Why? Because we love to eat. Matzo ball soup only happens at Passover. Homemade Vietnamese pho is a staple at my sister-in-law's house once a month with the immediate family of 22. And, there is always taco salad for dinner after a long day of swimming in the lake at the grandparents’ house.
My father and I (almost) share a birthday. Every year, while she was with us, my grandmother used to make us each our own birthday cake: a big one for my dad, and a small one for me. They were lopsided, somehow simultaneously too bland and too sugary (even for a kid), and always had a somewhat melted appearance. But, it didn’t matter. It was my very own cake, and I knew every year I would get one.
My mom has her own yearly tradition: Every year, rain or shine, she makes blueberry buckle for the Fourth of July. Her neighborhood has a street parade, with antique cars, kids on bikes with streamers and a marching band. Family and friends come over before the parade for a casual brunch. It’s the only time my mom makes her blueberry buckle.
She makes the buckle on July 3, but no one is allowed to sneak a piece until the next day. She cuts it into perfect little squares, puts it on plates, and wraps it up tightly. We are among the first in line the next morning, so we can grab a square of cake before siblings, visiting relatives, and neighbors devour it. Now, my two kitchen monkeys, with a few Fourth of Julys at GranNan’s house under their belts, are learning the power of her blueberry buckle. It’s not a secret recipe and there are no unusual ingredients, but because it only happens once a year it is special.
We are starting our own food traditions in my new family. Every Wednesday one of my two kitchen monkeys get to pick out family dinner. They are also responsible for helping to prepare it. It gives them an opportunity to be in charge of their, and our, food choices. My older monkey is a little more adventurous with his choices (artichokes, chicken fingers, homemade pizza, etc.), while the younger monkey prefers to keep a steady course (Udon. Every. Single. Time.). They get the chance to try new things (or not), and be a part of the process. Which means, we all get a chance to try new foods, and we also eat a lot of udon.
These traditions, new and old, build strong and happy memories between our family and the table. Along with many others, that blueberry buckle will always have a special place in all of our hearts.
It-only-happens-once-a-year blueberry buckle
3/4 c. butter, divided
1 c. white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour, divided
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 c. sour cream
3 c. fresh blueberries
3/4 c. brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9- by-13-inch baking dish.
Cream together 1/2 cup butter and white sugar. Add eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla and mix until well combined.
In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt. Stir into butter mixture until just combined. Add sour cream and stir until no streaks remain. Spread batter evenly with a spatula into the prepared dish; sprinkle blueberries over the top.
Cream together remaining 1/4 cup butter and brown sugar. Add remaining 1/4 cup flour and stir until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over the batter.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the buckle comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool and cut into 15 squares.