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The Real Recipe

Image by PTMP - Unsplash

“Are you ready for this?” Sarah positioned a stool by the counter and motioned for eight-year-old Isa to hop on.  

“Affirmative mum,” Isa added her quirky three-finger salute as she took her seat, raised her eyebrows and smiled.

“Do we have everything we need?” Sarah listed ingredients counting each one off with an extended finger. Each time Isa nodded decidedly with the obligatory Yep. Sarah turned the oven on to preheat, smiled at Isa and studied the ingredients. “We’ve proven that your Nanna is of no help with this, baking is just not her thing.”

“Cooking isn’t either,” Isa covered her mouth and giggled. Sarah joined her.

“Well, these scones we’re trying to make are just amazing. Your great grandmother, Nanna L, used to bake them every Saturday morning. I just can’t explain the smell, the taste, the joy we had together. I never thought to write out the recipe and it’s been so long now.” Sarah’s gaze drifted toward the window in silent thought. Quickly she snapped back to Isa, “That’s not a mistake we’ll be repeating,” Isa held up her pencil at the ready. “We can easily find scone recipes but these were somehow different and big!” Sarah smiled at Isa who looked back with curious and gentle eyes. 

Is that what I looked like to my Nanna L? A fully present, worry-free expression of innocent intrigue. Without speaking a word my daughter was saying a great deal. I value you and what you do for me. I like being with you and to hear what you will say because you’re both fun and funny. I love you. 

“Mum, you alright?”

Sarah realised she was now gazing into the empty metallic mixing bowl. Her reflection was there but so clouded, her presence, not her form. “Yes,” she turned to Isa with a closed smile who was looking back with a tilted head.

“You’re crying?”

Sarah used her wrist to wipe her wet eyes. “Sorry, Isa, I was just remembering my Nanna L.” Clearing her throat Sarah explained how much of each ingredient she believed was needed. Isa wrote it down and helped her mum measure it all out.


“Sarah sweetie, what’s on your mind?”

Ten-year-old Sarah stopped stirring and looked up at her Nanna L. Immediately she smiled because Nanna L rested her elbows on the bench and dropped her chin into her flour-covered palms. She had the white powder all over her cheeks right up to her glasses. The flour made pictures on her cheeks. One side looked like clouds and the other side was; Isa frowned a little. Finally, Isa met Nanna L’s waiting eyes behind those big lenses. “It’s an ugly puppy this time.”

Nanna L raised her eyebrows, “What makes it ugly?”

“It’s different, the eyes are too big,” Sarah touched Nanna L’s cheek to show her the features in the flour. 

“Different is never ugly.” Nanna L dipped her fingers in more flour and proceeded to draw more outrageous puppies on her cheeks, “It’s art!” They both laughed. “You try.”

Sarah grabbed fistfuls of flour and patted it onto her cheeks. They both drew on each other’s faces.


Sarah finished pouring the ingredients into the bowl and started mixing. With each churn, the flour became more wet and condensed. She paused. “Isa, I nearly forgot the most important ingredient.”


“Fun.” Sarah dipped her hands into the bag of dry flour, patted her hands with it and slapped her cheeks. She fingered a tick mark in the flour on her cheeks, opened her mouth wide and waited for Isa to respond.

Isa smirked, “I thought you said we should try not to make a mess?”

Sarah closed her mouth and nodded. “I did say that, yes. But the process of making the scones is part of the awesomeness!” Isa was unimpressed, appeared bored even. “Okay then, let’s get on with it. Deliciousness awaits.” Sarah continued beating earnestly.


Nanna L was perfectly still, waiting patiently and staring adoringly at young Sarah.

“What is it Nanna L?”

“I’m still waiting for you to tell me what’s on your mind.”

Sarah’s smile disappeared, she told Nanna L it was nothing. But Nanna L stood firm, not believing that lie for a second. She always said she’d been around a very long time and knows a few things. She just waited with a gentle smile bound by clouds, an ugly puppy and various other artistic drawings. “It’s just, I wish… I wish mum would do this with me too.”

“What, baking scones?”


“Oh, dear child. Can you see a puppy right on my face?” Isa nodded. “Then surely you can see your mother hates baking. She even says so. For her, baking is like going to the dentist, lots of poking and prodding, painfully boring and messy.” 

“Yeah, but it’s such fun.”

“Why is that?”

“Because you’re so good at it, always perfect. Plus it’s fun to eat them with lots of jam and cream.”

“My dear, I’m not that good at it. Just ask your grandfather, he’s called them rock cakes before, but what does he know. Since I’ve baked these scones hundreds, maybe thousands of times I know how to do it the way I like, that’s all. Your mum has other things she loves.”

“Yeah, I guess.”’

“Listen, do you really love baking so much?”

“I think so.”

Nanna L kept probing for more details, what exactly about the baking did Sarah love? The ingredients, the smells, the textures, the mess, the transformation or the fun? Sarah loved it all. “I enjoy baking too but I love the joy it brings to those who bake and eat with me. If I did bake the perfect scones and no one else ate them, who would ever know? This is our thing we can do together. Your mum and you need to find your own special thing.” 


Sarah pulled out clumps of the batter to form the scones. She asked if Isa would like to help but she declined, happy to watch. “Hmmm, these won’t be the right size, they’re too small.” 

“Mum, if these scones are so special and you made them so many times, why don’t you know how to make them like your Nanna L?”

Sarah went to answer but had nothing, she just bit her lower lip. 

“Have I upset you mum?”

“No, no. that’s a really good question,” Actually that was a fantastic, challenging question. Sarah walked over to Isa and kissed her forehead. “Tell you what, let me think about it. I’ll pop these in the oven and call you when they’re ready if you want to go play.” Isa smiled and ran off enthusiastically. It’s more than a fair question, one I should have already addressed myself. Why don’t I know?

Once the scones were in the oven, Sarah wandered over to Isa’s stool and sat down. She looked at the list of ingredients Isa had written. Picking up the paper Sarah studied the little picture Isa had drawn in the top corner. It was hard to make out exactly what it was but it had a face, a turtle, a monkey or a puppy maybe? Sarah picked up the pencil and drew a version of the ugly puppy from Nanna L’s flour-covered face. 


It was funny seeing Nanna L’s reflection in the glass of the oven door, her distorted glasses and exaggerated eyes. They both leaned in close and watched the scones start to rise but not too close, the oven was hot.

Nanna L said, “Do you see what’s happening in there?”

“They’re rising.”

“Yes, becoming what they’re meant to be. Do you know how?”

“The oven.”

“In part, yes, but everything works together to make a delightful scone. The right ingredients are lovingly mixed then each one is separated into its own form. Finally, they’re wrapped in warm love, just like a cuddle.” Nanna L made a loud sniffing sound, “Don’t they smell wonderful?” Sarah nodded.

“Can I have that one?” Young Sarah pointed to a scone in the second row.