On Being a Boy Mom and Trifle

On my walk this morning I saw a little boy in a stocking cap holding his sippy cup and blanket. He was being loaded one-armed into his car seat by his mom, and my heart stabbed me. I miss my little boys.  Having them grown isn’t shabby, mind you.  My 21-year-old son made prosciutto-wrapped marinated pork loin for dinner this week. In his sojourn with us, we’ve been served lovely sauces and dressings, home-made empanadas and had only one catastrophe with the iron skillet.  His brother makes fettucine chicken alfredo, and some fancy fish thing and hot breakfasts. They do their own laundry too. They don’t iron, but then neither do I.  Mustn’t put the Dry Cleaner out of business. All our kids have turned out great, but I miss them being little some days

When they were young they helped me bake.  I’d always wanted to be a cookie-and-bread-baking mom.  The extent of my own Mother’s baking was one thing — a yearly “Christmas Cake” which in our family is a very large fruit cake wrapped in an almond paste crust and white icing.  The almond paste makes it worth eating.  My dad’s baking consisted of “sugar sandwiches” which (as you may have inferred) is two pieces of white bread buttered and sprinkled with white sugar.  Depression cake is what he calls it.  It is.  Depressing.  

My guys were very boy-y growing up. I helped raise a daughter too, and the two species were quite different. As a boy mom, like it or not, I was the recipient of “cool” bugs and crawly things dumped in my lap without warning.  The reptile house at the zoo was a regular stop. I would have preferred spending my time viewing animals with fur, but there you are, not happening as a Boy Mom.  Starting at the age of 2 and forever afterwards, everything became a gun for the boys. Toast was chewed into gun shapes, sticks were guns, bananas were guns.  This seems to be a universal Boy Mom experience.  I tried gun deflection via multiple versions of light sabers and enrolling them in fencing class, but alas no.  They still like guns.  Craig made sure they learned how to shoot properly and take care of their weapons and how not to be an idiot with them.  I just sigh and try not to be judgmental.  

They were often dirty and grubby when little and had their share of accidents that involved bleeding.  Normally I am woozy at the thought of a cut, but for my boys I was able to mop up and bandage with the best of them.  Or take them to the ER when needed.  Spencer slid down a hillside and smacked his head open on an iron bar when he was 4.  It was clear that a band-aid was not going to fix the gaping wound, so off we went to the ER.  Spencer looked tiny laying on the gurney, which was parked in the hall of the busy hospital while we waited for the CAT scan machine to free up.  My main job was trying to keep the boys from seeing the gunshot victim next door.  The doctor pinned up the X-rays of the kid in the hall and you could see the multiple bullets in the little guy.  About an hour after we were there, I heard horrific Mom weeping from his room, and knew he hadn’t made it.  I kept my equanimity through that and my wiggly 4-year-old son bravely lying still getting a CAT scan, but I’ve never forgotten the sound of that Mother grieving her child.

Another universal Boy Mom issue is that you GET NO INFORMATION.  I solved this in grade school by being the room mom.  In later years, I relied on my mom friends who had girls to find out important info.  Things like when Graduation was, that there was an Awards ceremony to attend, that we need to get the school photo done by tomorrow.  Those things.  This was especially necessary for Swim Team – the boys often had to be places incredibly early, or with massive amounts of food and gear and it was nice to have my Girl Mom network. I loved that swim team.  It gave my boys a real lesson in how to be friends with women and respect them. The girls were just as fast and strong and dedicated as the boys, and after multiple years of everyone being in swim suits, objectifying anyone’s body simply isn’t an issue.

My adult son and I stumbled onto the “Great British Baking Show” on Netflix.  Now we want to make pastry all the time.  I get to make a Trifle (a tiered very British dessert featuring layers of cake, jam, cream, fruit and whipped cream) for a “The Crown” viewing party this Friday. I can’t wait to make a sponge and whip up a custard just like on the baking show.  I’m hoping Steven gets to help me, or at the very least lick the spoon.  I miss the days past of having my little boys rattling around the kitchen.

There are two ways to make Trifle. The easy way:  Buy a pound cake and cut it lengthwise into 3 or four strips.  Mix up a large box of Jello-brand vanilla or banana custard and let it cool. Get some berries and cut them up, and a container of Kool Whip.  Layer the dessert starting with the pound cake, and alternate layers of custard, fruit, and cake and top with a whipped cream layer.  Cover and put in the fridge for a couple of hours.  It takes about 20 minutes to make and will make many people happy.

If on the other hand, you have been binge-watching the “Great British Baking Show”, you will want to make this scratch recipe, courtesy of Anna Olsen. I fell in love with it because of the line: “Add this buttered batter to the bigger batter”.

Directions for: Classic English Trifle by Anna Olsen


Sponge Cake

6 large eggs

2 egg yolks

1 cup granulated sugar

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp vanilla extract

Pastry Cream

2 cups 2% milk

1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla bean paste

6 large egg yolks

6 Tbsp granulated sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

¼ cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Fruit and Assembly

1 ½ cups whipping (35%) cream, divided

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 cups assorted fresh berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, sliced strawberries)

⅔ cup berry jam

⅓ cup cream sherry

¼ cup toasted sliced almonds


Sponge Cake

1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C). Line a baking tray (11-x-17-inches/28-x-43-cm) with parchment paper, but do not grease the pan.

2. Warm the eggs in their shells in hot tap water for about 5 minutes (change the water once halfway through warming). Place the whole eggs and 2 yolks in a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Add the sugar and whip on high speed until the mixture is pale and holds a ribbon when the beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes. You can’t overwhip whole eggs, so if in doubt, keep whipping!

3. While the eggs are whipping, sift the flour and salt together in a small bowl. Add the flour to the eggs gradually while whipping on medium low speed. Spoon a generous dollop of the batter into the melted butter, add the vanilla and stir this together (don’t worry if it deflates a little). Add this buttered batter to the bigger batter and fold in by hand. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for about 25 minutes until it is an even golden brown on top and springs back when gently pressed. Cool the cake completely in its pan.

Pastry Cream

1. For the pastry cream, heat the milk with the scraped seeds of the vanilla bean or the vanilla bean paste until just below a simmer.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Ready a bowl with the butter, placing a strainer on top of it.

3. Gradually whisk the hot milk into egg mixture and then return it all to the pot. Whisk this constantly (switching to a spatula now and again, to get into the corners) over medium heat until thickened and glossy, about 2 minutes. Pour this immediately through the strainer, whisking it through if needed, and stir in the butter. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the custard, cool to room temperature and then chill completely until ready to use.

Fruit and Assembly

1. To get ready to assemble, find a glass vessel that can hold 10 cups (2.5 L). Whip the cream and fold a third of this into the pastry cream. Add the sugar and vanilla to the remaining two thirds of the whipped cream. In a separate bowl, toss the berries gently with the jam.

2. To assemble, turn the sponge cake out onto a cutting board and peel away the parchment. Cut out 3-4 layers (number depends on the size of your trifle dish) of the cake so that the fit into the dish snugly. Place a layer of cake in the bottom of the dish and sprinkle or brush generously with the cream sherry. Top this with dollops of the pastry cream and spread. Spoon the berries overtop and cover this with a second layer of the cake. Repeat this 2 to 3 times, until the cake layers, cream and fruit have been used. Top the trifle with the reserved whipped cream and sprinkle the top with toasted almonds. Chill the trifle until ready to serve.


Photo courtesy of dishmaps.com



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