Soft in the Center

(by Carrie Sieger)

Mom and Dad’s date night, with big sisters babysitting: That was when the best of dinner adventures transpired. Faces were smushed into plates of spaghetti. Mashed potatoes were flung onto the elegantly framed portraitures on the wall. Cookie jars were raided. Cookie jars were emptied. Crazy corn—the perfect mixture of cheesy, caramel, and butter flavors—was snuck into the TV room and tossed with abandon.

But most days, dinners were different, set in the dining room of our 19th century brick home in Wisconsin, with a picnic table to accommodate nine children, all under the age of 18, eight of them girls. The benches made it easier to cram more little people into the small space.

Dinner was at 6 p.m. We got hungry at 5, but Dad wasn’t home from work yet. Waiting for him felt like an eternity. Sometimes we waited at the end of the driveway, and the moment we spotted his beat-up red Ford truck was glorious. Bodies tumbled through the kitchen. Snitching (a bite of something, anything) before dinner was grounds for serious scolding. The rule was: We pray. Then we serve each other. Then we eat. We clean our plates or stay at the table all night long. Mom says.

Mom. She is graceful. And a mess. Serious and a goofball. A teacher and a student. Patient and out of control. Creative and by the books. Everyone wants to be her friend, including me. Maybe not so much when I was ten. Breaking the rules was much easier then.

Mom is a baker. Her chocolate chip cookies were and still are my kryptonite. Making them was the highlight of our week. She’d release the “beaters,” as we called them, from the electric mixer and hand me one—but only if I helped in the baking. I eagerly waited and watched to see when the flour, vanilla, and eggs were scattered on the counter so I could beat my siblings to the kitchen stool and be sure to get a beater full of cookie dough. One stool, nine kids. Sometimes one of them was quicker than I, but Mom never failed to sneak a little spoon of cookie dough my way if that happened.

Each glob of cookie dough was hand-rolled or hand-scooped. Never the same size. Never the same shape. Too many pairs of hands participated in the scooping process to guarantee any real consistency. But each one, watched closely by Mom’s expert eye, came out with a golden brown edge. Tiny bit of crunch. Perfect amount of soft in the center.

Baking was just one of the innumerable ways I was able to see into my mom’s heart. Her devotion to baking was because of an even stronger devotion to her family, a desire to show love with action and time.

Perfect amount of soft in the center. Kind of like my momma.


Carrie Sieger lives in Dallas, Texas, and can be found at @seedburg.

Dream Bars

8 oz. butter

1 package from a 14 oz. box of graham crackers, crumbled

14 oz. can condensed milk

11 oz. bag butterscotch chips

6 oz. (or more) chocolate chips

optional: 1 c. shredded coconut

optional: 1 c. crushed pecans

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Melt butter in 9 x 13 pan.

Spread graham crackers over butter.

Pour condensed milk over graham crackers.

Add butterscotch chips.

Add chocolate chips.

Add optional coconut and/or pecans.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes. Do not overbake; the bars should be gooey in the center.

Cool and cut into squares.