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Mom and daughter bond through baking


A generous squirt of lemon juice would fix my pasta salad right up, my mom told me last weekend.

We were putting the final touches on our dishes for a potluck wedding, but my orzo-and-lentil salad was bland. Lemon juice is a cure-all, my mom said. And she was right.

My mother, Amy, started sharing her kitchen wisdom long before my sister and I could reach the countertop.

Katie Thisdell

Emily and I would stand on chairs next to the rolling island in our kitchen, wearing chef’s hats, aprons and great big smiles.

Mom would give us bowls of flour and water to play around with while she followed the “real” recipes.

“I always let you play in the kitchen,” she told me recently, reminiscing about her two blond little girls who are now all grown up.

We’d make simple but delicious oatmeal pancakes from a kid’s cookbook I found at the library, and my mom would pour out the batter in letter shapes.

Or we would mix chocolate wacky cake right in the pan, following directions from a book my mom had as a kid.

All the neighborhood girls would come over to make cookies, and I’m sure we all snuck plenty of dough right into our mouths while my mother wasn’t looking. But Mom encouraged us to have fun. And we did, covering the table with cookie cutters and way too much flour.

With each recipe, she was instilling in us a love of food fresh from our own kitchen, a love she had learned from her own parents.

But as I turn 23 this weekend–I was a Mother’s Day baby, my first (and maybe best?) present to my mother–I don’t make it home to Roanoke that often.

Browsing the Internet earlier this year, my mom came upon the blogging challenge “Tuesdays with Dorie.”

Over several years, an ever-growing group of bloggers baked their way through one of Dorie Greenspan’s cookbooks, and had just recently finished.

This February, a few hundred bakers and bloggers took up another one of Greenspan’s books, “Baking with Julia,” which chronicles much of the PBS series by the same name. On that show, chefs from across the country share techniques and recipes with Julia Child.

Hundreds of novice and experienced bakers are now trying their hands at these same recipes, starting with simple white sandwich bread and eventually ending with an elaborate, three-tiered Martha Stewart wedding cake. (I’m hoping it will be quite a while before we get to that one!)

Two recipes are selected each month. On the specified Tuesdays, bloggers post their photos and stories, chronicling the ups and downs of the recipe.

It didn’t take much to convince me. Like my mother, I’m game for any kitchen projects, especially if I get a new cookbook out of the deal.

But we didn’t realize there were more than 200 recipes in this massive cookbook before we signed on to the challenge. We did the math and figured out it will take at least four years to go cover to cover. And who knows how many pounds of butter, flour and sugar we’ll go through. We may have to start buying in bulk pretty soon.

We call our participation in the project “Baking Together,” although we’re not physically together.

I toil in my Fredericksburg kitchen, while mom does hers about 200 miles away in Roanoke. My mom emails me her comments, and I craft the words and photos into a post for my personal blog,

You can check out all the recipes and comments at

In the last five months my mom and I have made rich chocolate truffle tartlets, decadent fruit- and nut-filled

Chocolate truffle tartlets

rugelach, simple Irish soda bread, sweet and savory pizza rustica, loaf cake and Hungarian shortbread.

We’ll call each other with questions or text photos of our finished products. My iPhone has seen its share of flour.

My mom hopes one day we can even Skype while baking.

Over Easter weekend, Mom and I stood physically next to each other in her colorful, artfully decorated kitchen. Together, we made a magazine-worthy spread for brunch with my grandparents, including salad greens topped with fresh feta cheese from the farmers market, fruit salad, deviled eggs from the colorful eggs we dyed the day before, and galettes (mini free-form pies) filled with cheese, asparagus and prosciutto.

Dessert was the lemon loaf cake from “Baking with Julia,” a simple-to-mix cake batter that we expected would end up like pound cake. She did the mixing, I did the picture-taking.

The cake turned out beautifully, but unfortunately it wasn’t as moist as we had hoped. Other bloggers had recommended adding a glaze, injecting the cake with extra lemon juice, or spreading on lemon curd.

Oh, well, most everything else was delicious.

Next up are pecan sticky buns. (Want to come over for breakfast?)

For this intense, decadent recipe, I have to make the drive down to Roanoke.

The brioche dough takes a day to make, using a stand mixer for kneading–my roommate’s hand mixer isn’t up to that task, and neither are my hands and arm muscles.

With a recipe that calls for resting, chilling, rolling and finally baking, my mom and I have allotted an entire weekend to make the sticky buns, packed with at least six sticks of butter. I imagine they still won’t be done until dessert Sunday.

Divide and conquer was my mom’s idea. And at least now I don’t have to pull a chair up to the counter.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975