Posted by: aauntiem | June 9, 2010

Magic, Books, and Lavender Bread

As an undergraduate student in literature I spent a summer doing an independent study on Women’s Contemporary Literature. I had already taken the actual Women in Lit. course with a focus on early American women authors but I wanted to read someone alive in my century, you know for perspective.

I enlisted one of my favorite professors and she compiled a list. The list, that summer, it changed me.

So many summers ago I read for the first time Arundhati  Roy’s The God of Small Things, Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero, Julia Alvarez’s  How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Toni Morrison’s Paradise, Bobby Ann Mason’s  In Country, Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior, Louise Erdrich’s Tracks, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Jeanette Winterson’s The Power Book, Lillian Smith’s Strange Fruit, and Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina.

One of the things I began to talk about in those one on one discussion sessions with my professor was the insurgence of food within realism and the novel, and the way that women in particular seemed to incorporate food into their writings. I had already studied Florida Literature under a Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings scholar and I knew that food laced its way into the stories women wrote and the stories people tell about those women writers.

Big shock, I know.

But, more than just women and food, these stories seemed to be infused with magic.

I was hooked. I began to see food in literature everywhere. And, this led me toward my focus area of research, led me to graduate studies, led me to such interesting facts about food production and consumption. Food gave me a lens to look at women’s lives.

What I found told the story of women’s lives gathered around kitchen tables and serving dishes in little dinners but it also told the story of America—of how family structures change depending on the types of food (like in the 50s when instant and processed foods became readily available,

which caused a shift in work production and child rearing) or how we celebrate and mourn (in the south, for instance, fried chicken is a traditional food presented at a funeral), or how each region lives and creates rituals based on the land and its food.

Food and magic.

Something about the tradition, the smell of baking in the kitchen, the look of a table dressed for a party.

Magic in the food.

I have spoken of Sarah Addison Allen in several of my posts but I don’t think I ever actually explained. Sarah Addison Allen writes into words the magic of food. The food becomes a character in her stories and her characters are honest, often messy, and usually infused with the magic of the everyday.

Her stories are enchanting.

On Monday I read The Girl Who Chased the Moon and in her third book she has done it again. One of the characters in the novel has a sweet sense, a magical ability to physically see and follow the smell of flour, sugar, and spice—of baking. The way that this fact is infused into the story, the way it pulls characters together and causes action in the plot is amazing.

What did I do after reading the book, you ask?

Innocently, I went on to Allen’s website to see if I could find out if she was writing something else, if she wrote under another name, if she was my sister switched at birth.

And, I found this, including the recipes from all her books (can you see where this is headed?)

And, what kind of disease did I promise I have?

And, what was the only sensible thing left to do on Tuesday night, a day after reading about food magic?

Bake the things in the book of course.

(Thank you for playing along)

Plus, Picasso needed me to bake something to feed a crowd for a pot luck end of the school year thing.

So, when a co-worker asked me to go on lunch to the grocery store I hopped to it.

And, magic. Fate. The stars aligned.

Serendipitous, baby.

The heavens wanted me to do it.

Culinary Lavender.

Right there on isle five. At a discount. (The price sticker is missing because I am silly and had taken it off. But, I got it for the same price as the cocoa chili powder.)


And, believe me, this stuff is hard to find. Edible flowers, fresh or dried, are not easy to come by friends.

So, I made Claire’s Lavender Bread.

I made hummingbird cake, just like my Nanny makes and just like the character Julia bakes in the novel.

Then, I made another one as cupcakes, for my office, so they didn’t feel left out. And, they could have cake for breakfast on a Wednesday.

I made apricot and nut cookies with amaretto glaze. For no reason other than Jay’s cookies are good.

And, I made my Nanny’s Cream Cheese Pound Cake because Picasso doesn’t eat any of this stuff and I love him and felt bad for leaving him out.

It is a really good thing that I have a large baking cabinet and randomly add in small amounts of baking must haves so I have a well stocked kitchen for my episodes.

Because, I am crazy and need an intervention.

Someone just shake me hard until I put the measuring cup and book down.

Get this though. I only had a piece of lavender bread and after I baked all this

I took my dog for a walk with Jay and came back to do a Pilates video and clean my kitchen up.

At one point during the marathon my kitchen look led like this:

By the time the last thing came from the oven after my walk  I had managed to get it to look like this:

With these left to clean.

And, I woke up to a clean kitchen.


Lavender Bread   Serves 12
3 weight watcher points

3 tbsp lavender
1/4 tsp table salt
2 cup(s) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup(s) buttermilk or fat free milk
1/2 cup(s) fat-free egg substitute
1 cup(s) SPLENDA No Calorie Sweetener
6 Tbsp butter
1 tsp lemon zest  and 1 tsp lemon extract (added just for kicks)

Follow the recipe here. If you make it according to the original recipe it comes out to five points a slice. Oh yeah, and for the record the hummingbird cake recipe is 9 points for one slice or one cupcake (makes 24).

Do you think when Picasso rolls in with all this

they might cart me off?

Really, though, who ever says in a hushed whisper as some walks past “see that guy, right there? His wife has a baking problem and she gives away too many desserts?”

And, really, wouldn’t that girl just have a touch of magic?




  1. The lavender cake is gonna make my kitchen smell really good.

  2. Holy crap. That is so much baking. I LOVE IT.

    • Me too. Toni come and bake with me!

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