You might be one of the six people who read my first novel, Liner Notes. If you were, then you know how I soundtrack much of my life. I use “soundtrack” as a verb because it’s an active process for me; I’ve always navigated using music as the backdrop, much the same way film uses music to set a scene, or convey an emotion only hinted at visually. So if you play Jackson Browne’s Jamaica Say You Will, it’s spring and Jennie and I are driving to her jumbled Victorian house (which will later influence my decision to own my own jumbled Victorian) to make brownies with her mom, who has a cage of white doves. Or if Spanish Bombs rocks out of the speakers, it’s London circa 198_ and I’m up to no good with Victor, who isn’t out of the closet yet and we’re just funny but uncomfortable youths with big black shoes.
The point of this – and I swear there is one – is that I did a lot of imagining about parenting. The way some girls dream of tulle and satin and tiered cakes, I dreamed of finding the person of my dreams and having a family. I longed for sleepless nights and the sweet milky smell of babies. I thought about how I’d explain small ideas – like how sugar makes jam set – or big ones, like God or sex or why and how people die – to kids at various developmental levels. I know how to pinch pennies (see my post about how to use leftovers) and save for college and do weird voices to make books funnier and how to listen – really, really, listen – not just to what kids are saying but what they feel and mean. I was always that girl surrounded by kids and dogs at parties – while the other grown-ups chatted and pecked at the salmon rolls, I’d be chucking the spit-covered tennis ball to the chocolate lab and asking the little kids what they were making with pipe cleaners. That kind of thing.
I was prepared.
But something I never even thought to consider was music. Sure, sure, I figured I’d sing some of the songs my mom made up. And I knew the classic folky songs would filter into my repertoire.
But what I didn’t factor in what this:
That one day, I’d be in the MINIVAN and NO SLEEP ‘TILL BROOKLYN would come on and I’d be instantly transported back to that party in Canada with Joanna and that beautiful boy S—– E—– and his ridiculously lovely hair and sweet talk and sweeter kisses. AND THAT I’D BE BLUSHING because I HAVE FOUR KIDS IN THE CAR and not to mention I AM VERY HAPPILY MARRIED (and not at all sorry or regretful that I had these other kisses prior to my happy marriage).
You just can’t be prepared for this stuff. I mean, especially when you have radio stations like Mike FM that spew out tunes across all party lines and years. You just have no idea where or when you’re going to land.
That said, I did make my nearly 12-year-old laugh when we heard Madonna’s “Borderline” and I confessed that I had called my sixth grade crush and PLAYED IT FOR HIM on the phone. Anonymously. This was back when you could be anonymous.
Anyway, what songs take you places? What recipes? May you hear them and enjoy and dream of sweetness.
Recipes for Sweet Memories
Sticky Toffee Pudding (memories of English countryside circa 1996)
1 ½ cup chopped dates (approx.)
½ cup milk
2 tsp. Vanilla
1 1/3 cup flour
¾ cup white sugar
½ cup melted salted butter
Pour into buttered baking dish. Cover with:
2 Cups boiling water
1 ½ cups dark brown sugar
A few bits of butter
DO NOT STIR. BAKE AS IS in 375 degree oven for about 35 minutes or until middle is set. The whole thing should appear spongy, but cooked through. Serve plain or with cream of some kind, and rest assured you will not taste the dates.
Note: Compare and contrast with the following Chocolate pudding cake, which makes a great big dessert for a great big gathering, and demands vanilla ice cream. The kids tried this first one wintery night and smiled with chocolate-smeared faces as we inched toward a new year.
Chocolate Pudding Cake (one of the only sweet things to come from post-college relationship)
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cup sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa powder (like Hershey’s)
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 ¾ cups brown sugar
8 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups boiling water
Mix the first eight ingredients and put into a 9×13 pan (it will look scant – do not worry). Mix the brown sugar and cocoa and sprinkle on top. Pour the boiling water on top of the cake and put into oven at 350 for 30 minutes. When the cake is baked, the top will be like a brownie and underneath will be a creamy chocolate pudding. Serve with ice cream.
*If you want to reheat the cake, put it on about 300 in the oven. If you are reheating the next day, you can microwave portions of it or heat it in the oven, but add a little more hot water to the top so the pudding part stays creamy.