I can remember a cupcake materializing in the midst of a rotten day. A candle being lit despite the darkness. A birthday party planned even though it had been too tough a season to really think about that. My mother, sister, and I made Pilgrim dolls and decorated the house one Thanksgiving, even though our father hadn't been seen or heard from for weeks.
My mother's great gift was knowing how to celebrate life no matter what the circumstances. In my new novel, Close to Famous, I gave that gift to my 12 year-old protagonist, Foster McFee. When I began writing this story, I had, like a good baker, all the ingredients out on the counter: Fear; danger; humor; celebration; change; resilience; denial; over-coming; vanilla cupcakes; secrets; loss; learning challenges; chocolate chip muffins; raw courage; brown sugar brownies; moist chocolate cupcakes; chocolate malt cupcakes; milk chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting; all out despair; and banana cupcakes with fudge frosting. And I thought, OK, Joan, this time, you've done yourself in. This stuff doesn't go together. But of course it did. That's how I grew up.
My mom died a year ago. I have many of her belongings, but the ones I cherish most are her casserole dishes. When I use one, as I did recently to make baked apples, the warmth of her in the kitchen is so real to me. My mother knew that cooking unleashes a special power. She would have loved Foster's great dream to be a famous kid cook on television.
Close to Famous is the first book I've written that my mother never read. But, the lessons she taught me are baked into the pages. Thanks, Mom. This one's for you.
Close to Famous is available in stores February 3rd. To learn more, visit joanbauer.com.