Birthdays and Cornbread

My dad turned fifty last week. It’s a day I knew was coming, but it surprised me all the same. Fifty? For some reason I think he should be eternally forty-five.
When I think about my dad, the first memories that come to mind involve food. In our family, there were certain foods that only dad made. Cheese sandwiches, pancakes, and cornbread. 
Cheese sandwiches were a staple on Monday afternoons while Mom taught music classes at the Christian school. Since we were homeschooled and dad was a pastor, he oversaw our education on Mondays. That usually meant a trip to the library, and cheese sandwiches. This delicacy consisted of two slices of bread spread with mayo, or my favorite, miracle whip, with two slices of American cheese inside. 
Pancakes were a much bigger affair. This was not a breakfast food as you might suppose, in fact, I don’t remember ever having pancakes for breakfast. Dad usually made pancakes for dinner, and I always got to help. 
Donning aprons and wielding spatulas, we’d get creative with cloves, cinnamon, bananas, or chocolate chips. And the spatulas were perfect for practicing our racket ball serves. 

Pancakes were, and still are, my favorite food.

But a close second would be cornbread. Dad would make cornbread and baked beans, and with the addition of syrup, we had a balanced meal.

When I first began stocking my pantry as a newlywed, I bought a big bag of cornmeal, intending to continue the mealtime traditions. But then, every time I started craving the golden bread soaked in syrup, I chickened out. I’d tried to make cornbread once before when I still lived at home, and it was a colossal failure- full of tunnels, salty, and gross.

But last week, I made a second attempt. I used this basic recipe from culinaryarts.about.com:

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup half and half
¼ cup melted butter or shortening
¼ cup honey
¼ cup sugar
Preparation:
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.
Combine the half and half, eggs, fat, honey and sugar.
Thoroughly grease and flour a 9″ × 9″ baking pan (or use a nonstick baking pan or a flexible silicone pan).
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ones and mix just until the flour is moistened, no more than ten seconds. The batter should be visibly lumpy — leave it that way! It’s extremely important not to overmix the batter.
Once the liquid and dry ingredients have been combined, pan and bake the cornbread immediately.
TIP: The dry and wet ingredients, respectively, can be mixed in advance, but as soon as the wet and dry ingredients have been combined with each other, the liquid will activate the baking powder and the batter must be baked right away.
Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean and the edge of the bread starts to separate from the pan.

And I’d give this cornbread a four out of five star rating. It’s a little overcooked. But look dad, no tunnels!

Happy Birthday Dad! I love you!