When I was growing up, I always gave my mom an apron on her birthday. Whether I settled on red and white checks, neon stripes, or a flowered appliqué, picking out that apron was serious business.
Fueled by watching reruns of sitcom moms such as June Cleaver of "Leave it to Beaver" and Margaret Anderson of "Father Knows Best," I wanted my own mom – wearing that apron I'd just given her, of course – to greet me at the end of each afternoon bearing a plate of home-baked cookies or brownies as she waited breathlessly to hear about my exciting day at school.
Mom had other ideas. She loved her family without question, but she had her own exciting days at school to deal with. As an elementary-school teacher, any extra time and energy were usually at a minimum, and home-baked treats were rare in our house except on very special occasions.
Those occasions weren't necessarily holidays, birthdays, or anything in particular that the rest of us could figure out. Instead, they seemed to stem from the times when my mother needed to get in touch with her kitchen again, needed to get her yellow mixing bowl out of the cupboard and enjoy the sensation of making something that she knew we would all enjoy eating. It was on those days that my mother would make her toffee bars.
Since Mom didn't make cookies very often, the results of her baking weren't too consistent. Sometimes the toffee wasn't as smooth as other times and occasionally the crust was browned a little more than planned or patched together in the places where it refused to meet as it was supposed to.
None of that bothered anyone in the family. All we cared about was gobbling down whatever we were having for dinner that night so we could get to the toffee bars waiting for us on the kitchen counter.
Now that I'm a mom myself, I can understand all too well why my mother didn't always have the time or inclination to wear the aprons I plied her with. As was true with my mother, the list of things I need to do over the course of an all-too-brief 24-hour day is often longer than the day itself. But I also understand that urge to get out the same yellow mixing bowl my mother used and make something special for my own family every so often.
Brownies, cookies, cakes – from mixes or from scratch – whatever I bake is met with approval, appreciation, and good appetites by my husband and children. There's something about baking for my family that timelessly connects me to my mother, her mother, and everyone else who knows that the word "treat" rewards the baker as much as it does the recipient.
There's something about baking that makes me feel more momlike, a reminder I occasionally need on those mornings when I wake up slightly shocked over the fact that I'm really responsible for the care and feeding of two children.
When I surprise my kids with something I've baked, they "treat" me with their unabashed pleasure. At some level, I believe they're aware that I was thinking about them as I mixed the brown sugar into the butter or frosted the cake with their favorite kind of icing.
They always know I love them. I suspect they know it a little better when I'm in a baking mood.
I'm sure my mother felt exactly the same way whenever she made her well-loved toffee bars for us. Those bars will always, in my mind, be the ultimate treat.
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In medium mixing bowl, cream together shortening and 1/2 cup brown sugar until light. Blend in flour and press into the bottom of a ungreased 13-by-9-by-2-inch pan. Bake for 10 minutes and remove pan from oven.
In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs with a fork until frothy and then mix in remaining ingredients. Spread evenly over partially baked cookie base.
Return to oven and bake about 18 to 25 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Makes 24 to 30 bars.