Bake Love by Nancy Mugele

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I was four years old in 1965 when political activists Penelope and Franklin Rosemont and Tor Faegre helped to make popular the anti-Vietnam war phrase Make Love, Not War by printing thousands of buttons at the Solidarity Bookshop in Chicago and distributing them at the Mother’s Day Peace March. Although I was very young when the phrase was created I remember using the phrase a lot as a teenager. I had a poster in my bedroom with the words in pop-Art lettering reminiscent of all things flower-power related.

Today, as a fifty-something I have decided to coin a new phrase while borrowing from the 1960s. Bake Love. Especially at this time of year when family bakers are busy preparing traditional Christmas or Hanukkah cookies, pies, cakes, yule logs, etc. For, after all, isn’t baking really about sharing your love.

When I was growing up my Italian Nana made every dinner a celebration. Her dishes always tasted more delicious than what I ate at home. I believed it was because she “cooked with love” and I repeated that often to my own mother’s annoyance. I thought Nana’s famous tuna fish salad was definitely mixed with love because no one else could make tuna taste as good. (Years later I discovered Nana used Miracle Whip and not mayonnaise but I am still sticking with the “made with love” story.) Her homemade chicken soup always made me feel better and it had a little kick that could not quite be replicated. The last time I watched Nana make it I caught her dumping an entire small tin of McCormick finely ground pepper right in. That was the secret!

It was the holiday baking, however, that always filled my heart. The scent of anise in her biscottis, the toasted sesame seeds on her giuggiulena, the soft Italian wedding cookies with frosting and colored sprinkles I always got for my Thanksgiving birthday, and the thin, crispy waffle-like pizzelles dusted with powdered sugar that I could eat one after the other.  I could go on but I cannot type at the moment as there are tears forming in my eyes. I miss her every year during this special season.

Jenna definitely got her baking talents, but when Kelsy was in high school she made the Italian wedding cookies for a bake-off at school. I was kicked out of the kitchen as I was trying to hurry her along by helping with the frosting. Apparently, I did not know how to do it correctly. All on her own, Kelsy won the blue ribbon. That ribbon proudly hung on our refrigerator door for years. It reminded me, after my grandmother passed, that traditional food recipes must be written down so they will never be lost. What would the family table be like without the love inherent in family dishes prepared in exactly the same way for generations.

I prefer handwritten recipe cards and have a book that contains recipes from both my side and Jim’s side of our family. I am so fortunate to have recipes written in my grandmother’s own handwriting. Treasures I will never part with. I also have recipes written by Jim’s mother. Trudy was a wonderful cook but I could never understand her recipe filing system. She filed pot roast under M for meat and a special chocolate cake recipe under M for the last name of the neighbor who gave her the recipe. But, her Christmas butter cookies were filed under C.

I love that Jenna and Kelsy and their cousin, Amanda, have established an annual Christmas cookie baking tradition with their Aunt Ann. They set the date at Thanksgiving and they all look forward to making the traditional butter cookies with red and green sugar sprinkles that my late mother-in-law always made each year. Carrying on the Mugele family tradition and baking with love.

There is no better way to celebrate the joyous holiday season than to Bake Love! Anyone want to help me print some buttons?

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

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Letters to Editor

  1. J.M. Kramer says:

    Nana’s Italian wedding cookie recipe, please?

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