Amena: [00:00:17] So this is my favorite picture of me probably talking in midsentence with my two grandmothers. On the left there with the polka dots, that is my great grandmother, my Grandma Sudie. In the middle is the grandma of all grandmas, the favoritest grandma ever, my Grandma Bert, who is here today. Hey Grandma!
Amena: [00:00:42] So when I was about 25 I realized I could only cook three things well: spaghetti, meatloaf, and brownies, which is not a bad thing. But it depends on how well rounded you wanted your meals to be and how many choices you wanted to have. And as a Southern woman it feels shameful that those are the only things that you know how to make. So I went to the expert, I went to my grandma and I said, "Grandma if the way to a man's heart Is through his stomach, I'm not going to get there like this. So you need to get in the kitchen with me and show me how to do something." So I go in the kitchen with her and she shows me how to cook all the things a Southern woman should know. The collard greens and the mac and cheese and the cabbage and the rutabaga. My grandma has no recipes for any of this. You have to get in the kitchen with her.
Amena: [00:01:30] She has to show you what the batter is supposed to feel like when you're stirring it around and how you know if the cabbage is too salty and how you know if your macaroni is dry or not right. She has to show me all those things but she did and I learned and I got married so shout out to Grandma.
Amena: [00:01:48] Well later on, now that I'm married my husband and I have our own house. I got my first Kitchen Aid mixer and this is like a huge deal, as you know. It's like now I feel like I'm an official adult that I have this kitchen aid mixer sitting on my countertop. Whether I use it may not matter, just that it's sitting there. I call my grandma and I say "Grandma, I'm turning 35 and I want you to come to my house and teach me the last things that I need to learn from you and your cooking repertoire, which are your cakes.".
Amena: [00:02:18] My grandma had a tradition that whenever it was your birthday, all of us among the grandkids, you got to choose whatever cake she was gonna make. She can make German chocolate cake. She can make coconut cake. She can make whatever cake it was that you said you wanted and to me there was mystery happening in my grandmother's kitchen. I mean, as a kid, you know I'm going in the refrigerator and I'm seeing like half a gallon of buttermilk and I go in the cabinet and see like two cups of flour and some Vienna sausage. And somehow I went out to play and I came back and there's greens and yams and Turkey and a three layer cake and I don't know how a woman does that with a can of Vienna sausage. I haven't figured out where those Vienna sausages went. To me, my grandma was in the kitchen like clapping her hands with flour and glitter and there's just all this mysterious magic happening in her kitchen, somewhere so I'm like, Grandma come and teach me the things. Show me how to make this cake.
Amena: [00:03:11] My grandma says "Mena, now, I don't even know if I remember how to make that cake. You know I haven't made a cake in ten years. I'm like, "Grandma, I bet you'll remember. Come to my house and we'll do it." She said, "I gotta tell you something. You know I used to use a cake mix."
Amena: [00:03:33] Have you ever felt your childhood dreams deflated? That was that moment for me. And she says, "I don't even know if they make the cake mix I used to use anymore. It was called Super mah"...(letters trail off). I'm like, "What what what?! What is she saying?" She says, "Mena, it's called super mah"...(letters trail off). I'm like, "What is that?" I'm trying to understand her North Carolina accent and what this means. And then my brain is going, "what is this vintage special edition cake mix that they don't make any more that my grandma was using to make all the mysterious magic in the kitchen? I got to go to Williams-Sonoma now. I got to go to Cook's Warehouse. I got to order this online. Do I have time?".
Amena: [00:04:19] She says, "Mena, you spell it S-U-P-E-R M-O-I-S-T." In North Carolina language, Super Moist is what she was saying. (Shows picture of Betty Crocker Super Moist cake mix box.) And if you're wondering, you can go anywhere and find this any place that you would like to get it. So I say to my grandma, "OK we can fix this. We can fix this. I'll find a recipe online that's as close as I can get to your pineapple cake and just come in my kitchen and help me make it from scratch.".
Amena: [00:05:01] So we get in the kitchen together, we're hips to hips in there with the flour and all the baking powder and the salt. We're talking, we're laughing, and my grandma starts to remember some things. She remembers how you got to poke holes in the cake first after it's done before you put the pineapple filling in the middle so it can seep down into the cake. She's remembering all these things and she tells me, "an older woman told me just stop making the cakes from scratch. Just use the cake mix and make homemade frosting. Nobody will ever know." And clearly no one of us in the family ever knew that this was the mystery behind why the cake was so awesome.
Amena: [00:05:39] So my grandma and I made a cake that day. (Shows picture of grandma and Amena) That was my birthday. It was a very ugly cake, not because of Grandma, just because I don't know what I'm doing. It tasted good but it was very ugly. I realized my grandma, all those years in her kitchen she was teaching me something about the mystery of being creative. She was teaching me that it doesn't take a lot. You can take what you have and be creative. It doesn't take a new computer it doesn't take all the money that it might seem like someone else has. You can be creative with what you have. And she also was teaching me to never take that magic and that mystery for granted.
Amena: [00:06:16] Maybe there was cake mix involved but there was still glitter and there was still flour and there was still this mystery that we still can't explain. Whatever It is that brings us all the ideas, right? Whatever that process is we can't explain how creativity actually exists all the time but we should lean into that mystery. It's in the fact that we don't know that makes us be more creative. And lastly we get the honor and privilege as creatives to make something sweet to put love in it so other people can enjoy it. So shout out to grandma and shout out to Betty Crocker's cake mix and shout out to the mystery of not knowing and being creative. Thank you.
Amena: [00:07:02] HER with Amena Brown is produced by DJ Opdiggy for Sol Graffiti Productions. Don't forget to subscribe, rate, write a review and share the podcast. Thanks for listening.