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From Mama’s hands to my heart: The way to get prepared for Valentine’s Day

By Missy Craver Izard


A winter storm was bearing down on our neck of the woods of Western North Carolina, so I made my way to the grocery store to stock up on water and various sundries. Front and center in the store were the Valentine’s Day displays. Wait a minute — I’m not ready for the next holiday. I still have Christmas decorations all over my house.

Conversation Hearts, the hallmark of Valentine Candy, along with the heart shaped Whitman Sampler, cinnamon hearts and various other red, pink and white treats stacked the shelves. Visions of classroom Valentine’s Day parties danced through my head. My favorite one — when I was in first grade — remains the most vivid Valentine memory of my youth and a reminder that it’s never too soon to start planning for the next holiday.

It was almost time for Valentine’s Day and Miss Stuart, my first-grade teacher at Charleston Day School, asked for a volunteer for our class party. I was sure this was something my mother would love to do. She was clever and creative — holidays and parties were her forte. They brought to the surface a breed of woman not to be believed. Her entire life revolved around making something out of nothing — oatmeal boxes, soup cans, Clorox bottles, milk cartons, coat hangers — it was characteristic of her generation. She had just spent weeks Christmas crafting and baking; I felt certain this would be a cinch, so I volunteered her for the task.   

My mother was more than happy to take on this project; within minutes, she had a plan. Valentine’s Day was just two days away and there was no time to waste. The two of us walked around the corner to the A & P Grocery Store to get an empty cardboard box and all the ingredients for a Valentine’s Day cake. With her ingenious powers, my mother hit her creative stride and set the stage for my classroom party.

The cardboard box was transformed into a Valentine’s Day mailbox for my class. Mama taped the box closed and made a slit in the top of it before covering it with aluminum foil and employing me to help her smooth out the wrinkles. Next, she pulled out a Woolworth’s bag full of assorted Valentine decorations and construction paper. We stapled crepe paper ruffles around the edges, glued on doilies, and topped them with cupids and hearts. My mother was in her element, and I liked being there with her. Soon it was getting late, and my mother insisted I go to bed. Are you kidding?  I’m just getting the hang of these creative powers — sleep is the last thing on my mind.

School was a total inconvenience the following day. I was off in Lala Land with hundreds of Valentines, and it totally interrupted this zone of happiness I was in. As hard as I tried to concentrate, daydreams continued to capture my thoughts. Finally, the bell rang, and school was over for the day. I was so excited I ran all the way home and charged right into my father who was there for two o’clock dinner — a Charleston tradition even the schools honored by dismissing us at 1:50 p.m. I rushed into the kitchen to find my mother and there it was on the kitchen counter — a larger than life cake in the shape of a heart — a giant Valentine!  In that moment, I knew my mother could make anything. It was covered in mounds of white icing with small, red cinnamon hearts all around the edges and placed on a piece of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil enhanced with paper doilies. I was mesmerized.

The next day was Valentine’s Day, so Mama and I drove to school with the mailbox and cake. Rarely did we drive to school other than on rainy days. It was only a couple of blocks from our house, and we always walked or rode our bicycles. But this was a special day, and a safe delivery was essential.

When we arrived at the school, I could scarcely contain myself. My teacher instructed my mother to put the mailbox on the table next to the door for an easy drop off Valentine cards. The cake — that marvelous Valentine cake my mother made — was placed in the middle of the worktable where the entire class could embrace its beauty. It was hard not to smile when I looked at it. It brightened my soul and in my first-grade youth, I realized that the magic of creating things with your hands carries a message from the heart.



 Valentine’s Day Cake Recipe

Fun, fast and easy — great to make with children.


IMAGE COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

Utensils

1 8” square cake pan

1 8-9” round cake pan

Electric mixer

Sifter

Large mixing bowl

Measuring cup

Large cookie sheet or piece of sturdy cardboard for cake

Spatula, mixing spoon, measuring spoons

 

 

Cake

1 yellow, white or devil’s-food store-bought cake mix. Follow directions on the cake mix box for making and baking the cake. Preheat oven while mixing the cake batter. You can find a basic cake recipe in The Joy of Cooking or most standard cookbooks.

Coat the insides of the round and square cake pans with liquid or spray vegetable oil. Gently shift flour over the greased areas in the pans. Cut pieces of wax paper or parchment paper to cover the bottom of each pan. Fill cake pans with prepared cake batter. Gently taps pan sides for bubbles and put into preheated oven. Bake according to directions on cake mix box.

When baked, remove cake pans from the oven to cool. Once cakes have completely cooled, turn them over on pieces of wax paper or parchment paper. Carefully slice the round cake in two equally proportioned cake halves. Cover a large sturdy piece of cardboard or cookie sheet with aluminum foil for cake base. Place the square cake in the center of the base so it resembles a diamond. Place one cake half round on the top edge of one side of the diamond and the other half round cake on the top edge of the other side of the diamond. The cake should resemble a big heart.


Delicious and full of love. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

Mama’s seven-minute white cake icing

2 egg whites

1 ½ cups sugar

¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar

1 ½ Teaspoons of light corn syrup

5 Tablespoons of cold water

1 teaspoon of vanilla

 

Combine all ingredients except vanilla in the top of a double boiler. Beat with an electric mixer over rapidly boiling water until icing is light and fluffy and holds it shape — about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Mix well and continue beating until icing is right consistency to spread on cake. Makes enough to fill and frost one double layer cake.

Once icing has set, decorate cake with red cinnamon hearts or candy conversation hearts. Decorative icing may also be used to decorate cake. Icing may also be tinted with red food coloring for a pink cake. Cut into squares and serve. Depending on square size, cake may serve up to two dozen children.

 

Missy Craver Izard was born and raised in Charleston, S.C. and resides in Flat Rock, N.C., “the Little Charleston of the Mountains.” A retired Summer Camp Director and art teacher, Missy is an entrepreneur, speaker, author, journalist, community leader and the recipient of several awards including the White House Champions of Change.

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