Opinion: Texting your way to better poppy-seed bread

Mark Kennedy / Staff file photo

We don't do a ton of cooking at the Kennedy house. After work, there's little time left for basting, boiling or baking.

Our idea of home cooking is a DiGiorno frozen pizza and a pan of Sister Schubert's yeast rolls.

My wife is a great cook, having run the kitchen at a high-end guest ranch in Colorado when she was younger. The ranch had its own cookbook, with instructions for making dishes such as Fish Fillets in Basil Sauce and Garlic Flank Steak Marinade. But my wife works long hours now and, understandably, would rather spend her free time woodworking or gardening.

A bachelor until I was 38, I learned to cook out of necessity. I can still make a passable lasagna (with bagged salad and frozen Texas toast), and I can manage most any meat on a grill. But I can't say I really "enjoy" cooking, nor am I especially good at it.

Our younger son, 15, went through a "Cake Boss" phase when he was 6 years old when he made elaborate sheet cakes from scratch and decorated them with buttery icing. He can still squeeze a mean piping bag.

He is also a very picky eater. For example, he will only let his mom make his Kraft macaroni and cheese. Together, they have concocted some lower-moisture version of the classic mac-in-a-box recipe, and they don't trust me with their top-secret methods. (I suspect they just dial back the milk and butter.)

Our older son, 20, who attends college out of state, never expressed much curiosity about cooking when he was living at home. Growing up, there was always someone around who was willing to fix him a plate of something after soccer practice.

To his credit, he was a grateful sort and never demanding. He figured a meal would land in his lap sooner or later. Until then, he could always fill the hunger gaps with pretzels and animal crackers, which we bought in bulk.

Now that he is away at college, and living in a shared apartment for the first time, he and his roommates like having dinner guests. So son No. 1 is suddenly in the mood to replicate some of his favorite childhood foods.

He called me while I was looking for the new Stephen King novel at Barnes & Noble the other day. I immediately went into full parent mode asking about his classes, and his new apartment, and his job. But it quickly became apparent to me that he was just calling to ask a quick food question.

"What is that stuff you put on hamburgers?" he said.

"Dale's Seasoning in the red and white bottle," I said.

We said our goodbyes, and I later learned that he and his mother were texting madly about his attempt to make her poppy-seed bread recipe, which is really just cake masquerading as bread so you don't feel so guilty eating multiple pieces.

When our older son was young, my wife would make dozens of loaves of poppy-seed bread that he would pass out to my co-workers at Christmastime.

Last Sunday's mom-and-son communication had the urgency of an air traffic controller trying to coach a passenger to land a 747 on a Par 3 golf hole.

He had tried to make the poppy-seed recipe a week before, but with a couple of misfires. He substituted stick butter for butter flavoring extract -- no! And baking soda for baking power -- HECK, NO!

He also inquired as to whether he could substitute powdered sugar for granulated sugar in the cake recipe. Dang, son.

Hearing this, our younger son -- the baker -- laughed so hard his braces nearly popped off.

In Week 2 of the poppy-seed bread tutorial, son No. 1 texted a photo to his mom showing one cake pan filled to overflowing and a second one empty.

"No, no," she instructed. "Fill them both halfway."

He texted back a photo of a half-full cake pan with his thumb along the edge pointed down. It showed about a 1 1/2-inch gap between the surface of the cake batter and the top of the pan.

"Will it grow this much?" he asked his mom.

"Yes, it will rise," she said.

We later learned the poppy-seed bread, although a little over-brown, was still tasty.

And everyone lived happily ever after.

Or at least until the next dinner party.

"Family Life" publishes on Sundays. Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.