We keep our aprons hanging up near the kitchen, as do most people who love to cook. We have an assortment, a couple of nice ones to wear while putting last minute touches on company meals, several decidedly scruffy cover-ups for the “real” cooking sessions and some tiny ones that read “Grandma’s Café.”
As if you couldn’t guess, those are for our granddaughters and great granddaughters. Hey, any day with willing little sous chefs is a good “mother’s day,” with or without the capital letters.
It’s so easy to bond over a bowl full of pancake batter, cookie dough or (and this is grandfatherly turf) a chunk of good bittersweet chocolate for truffles. As we roll up the cinnamon buns, we’re also wrapping up wonderful memories — nice and tight and full of sweetness. They’re as special as the butter, cinnamon and brown sugar that coat our hands (noses, elbows and ankles, too, usually), as sweet as the grandgirls themselves.
While we concoct, we talk about everything and nothing. We giggle and share secrets as we prep strawberries or pull strings on sugar peas. We chatter and laugh as we decorate the cookies we’ve created together or even when we peel potatoes or apples.
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It’s magic time.
But that doesn’t begin to describe the total scope of “Grandma’s Café.” That tradition began years ago, on a whim, in Monterey. We were on one of those blended vacations on which we, the girls and their parents meet someplace where none of us live.
I’m an early riser, as are the girls. The first morning of our trip, as I headed down to the hotel’s breakfast room, I saw the girls peeking out at the view through the drapes of their room. I whispered at them that I’d bring some breakfast up for them, and would pick them up on my way back. Goodies in hand, I snuck them down the hall to our room for breakfast, games, chatter and a TV show.
Do I remember what we ate that morning? Not a clue. Typical motel breakfast fare, no doubt.
Since then, our “Grandma’s Café” menus have been as varied as the facilities and provided meals allow. Nutritional balance isn’t the focus, although we do insist there be fruit and milk as part of the package. Meals have included doughnuts, sweet rolls, waffles made in the motel’s breakfast room, cereal, quick breads, muffins and more. When no breakfast is provided, we bring foodstuffs from home or the nearest market.
And, for all our planning and conniving, it’s really not about the food anyway. It’s the memories that matter — of sneaking off together to watch it snow in Yosemite in April, see downtown traffic in San Francisco or stand on the deck in our ‘jammies watching the fog roll in over the Monterey dunes.
What began as a whim has become a cherished tradition with a name, “Grandma’s Café.” It also has become more and more elaborate. During a Christmas trip, for instance, the meal included tiny espresso cups of hot chocolate (chocolate milk heated in the motel’s microwave), baskets of pumpkin bread and gilded bowls of their favorite, usually forbidden, cereal. (The cups were their souvenirs of the vacation.)
When a Mother's Day trip didn’t pan out as planned, they all came to our house instead, and “Grandma’s Café” came with them. We set out tiny heart cups with little dollar-store gifts inside. The girls got up, bouncing like kangaroos on super-caffeine, and we headed for the kitchen to make G-ma’s platter-sized crepes. They helped measure and mix, laugh and joke, ladle the giant crepes onto the griddle and spread the batter out thin. They cleaned and cut the strawberries and got out the whipped cream. (For safety’s sake, I flipped the crepes.)
We decided then that “Grandma’s Café” is just as much fun in Cambria as it is on Russian Hill, Fish Camp or Napa. It’s just different.
As I reminisce about all my maternal experiences during four decades as a mom, I decide it would be impossible to pick my favorite Mother’s Day surprise, gift or tradition.
But “Grandma’s Café” would definitely be in the running.