Tag Archives: cake

Somebody Loves You That Much

I had been OK with Vivi being away at camp…until about 11 p.m. on her birthday. All afternoon, I had been hitting Refresh on the camp photo page. I know they celebrated her day by singing at meals, and her unit had cake, and she got that big pink care package that G and I left for her at the trading post, but I needed to SEE some of it.

The photos went up and within minutes I started crying. Out of 225 pictures, I only found four with her visible. In two, she was daydreaming in the back of a canoe, her paddle vertical in the water. In one, she was walking with her unit but she seemed alone, sucking on her finger. In the best photo, she stood with her counselor:

camp9

Simply seeing her face wasn’t enough for me. Is she happy enough? Does she look like a girl on her birthday? Is she OK? My mind whirled down the path of worry but there was just no knowing.

I hadn’t realized how much I was hoping to see a photo of her giggling with her tentmates or at the center of some shenanigans. I couldn’t stop the tears that sprang from my eyes. G gave me hug and reminded me that she is probably having a blast.

Still, my mom heart kept asking, “Is she happy enough?”

As I went to bed, I could hear anxiety and insomnia creeping up behind me on shuffling feet. It was 11:49 p.m. so I told myself that once the clock turned to 12:00 a.m., it wouldn’t be her birthday anymore and I could put down the whip. While I waited for the minutes to tick by, I remembered a conversation that Daddy and I had about birthdays and birthday cake.

It was sometime last year, probably at Cowtail because my Aunt Dixie was there. We started talking about birthday cake and I told Aunt Dixie, “I still remember the cake you made for Shannon for her second or third birthday–it had pink frosting and daisies with petals made from marshmallows and you had dyed the center of each petal with pink sugar.”

pink flowers

Aunt Dixie laughed and said, “Gosh, I remember that cake! It was a recipe from Good Housekeeping and those durn flowers took me forever.”

“Well, it was worth it because I still think of that cake and how pretty it was. Now that I’ve got kids I understand how much effort it takes….”

And Daddy finished my sentence–“when somebody loves you that much.”

Exactly. That’s what that pink cake covered in sugar sparkling flowers was–a visible way of seeing how much Aunt Dixie loved her daughter. Somebody loves you that much, enough to stay up all night snipping sticky marshmallows and dipping them in pink sugar just to see the delight in your eyes on your birthday.

Daddy used to make me cakes for my birthday. Coconut cakes because they were our favorite. He went to the trouble because he loved me that much.

That memory helped me understand why I was struggling with being apart from Vivi on her birthday–making a fuss over her has always been my way of showing her “somebody loves you that much.”

I looked at the photo of Vivi and her counselor again and my heart was soothed. See that book in her hand? That’s the sixth book in a series that she’s been reading. It was in her birthday care package that was delivered at camp. Look how much she’s read in one afternoon! I couldn’t make her a cake that day, but I gave her something she finds just as sweet.

She’s been gobbling up a story. A book that was ordered for her, kept a surprise, packed in a special pink box with glow bracelets and puppy stickers and a disposable camera and gel pens and a camp bandana…all because somebody loves her that much.

I hope she stayed up until she was finished with the book. She has her green camp lantern, and she has extra batteries. She even has books seven and eight waiting for her at home. All because somebody loves her that much.

You Gotta Break a Few Eggs

My nemesis

My nemesis

It’s time for my annual humiliation–the night I attempt to bake a simple cream cheese pound cake for the big cake auction: The Thrilla In Vanilla. How hard could it be, you know? It only has six ingredients and a couple of steps. Courtney is making TWO cakes with ganache, chocolate mousse, chocolate curls. Jo has concocted a key lime cake and her famous burnt sugar caramel while also coaching softball. Anna just dropped off three loaves of challah, kosher for Rosh Hashannah.

And I’m giving myself a pep talk.

One year, I pulled the cake pan out of the oven and turned it upside down on the cooling rack. As I gently pulled the pan away from the cake, the entire golden crust stuck to the inside of the pan.

Dammit.

The instructions HAD mentioned that I should butter the pan, but I didn’t think a recipe that contained THREE STICKS of butter needed a buttered pan. I scraped the crispy crust from the pan with a spoon and contemplated just how wrong that idea had been.

The next year, I attempted to make this same cake. I buttered the tube pan then I buttered it again. Mixed up the ingredients exactly then baked it at 275 for two hours. I had gotten a late start so the cake wasn’t finished until after 11 p.m. I was about 27 months pregnant with Carlos that year and was out of my mind with fatigue. After I pulled the cake out of the oven, I thought about how my Grandmama Irene would let her tube pan cool on the neck of a bottle. I fetched an old bottle and set it on the kitchen counter. Verrrrry carefully, I turned the entire cake pan upside down and suspended it over the bottle.

In the 4 seconds that it took me to remember that upside down cooling was for angel food cakes so they didn’t collapse it was too late to save the pound cake.

Hanging upside down is definitely not for hot pound cakes.

In slow motion, I watched the pound cake slllliiiidde out of that heavily buttered pan and smash into a thousand nuggets on the countertop.

This was before cake pops, so there was no saving it. And since it was almost midnight and I was super pregnant, I stood there in the half-dark kitchen and ate my fill of shattered cake.

My favorite travesty with this cake happened the very first time I made it, back when Fartbuster and I were married. The recipe is from a family cookbook that Brett put together many years ago. I followed the recipe exactly. I’ll give you a second to put on your reading glasses and look up there at the recipe.  Does anything strike you as odd? I was new to baking, so I added just what the recipe called for–18 oz of cream cheese. Two solid blocks and a little bit of a third. Over a POUND of cream cheese. My poor little hand mixer was smoking by the time I got it blended together.

The cake smelled divine while it baked. I lifted it from the oven and inverted it onto a plate. I let it cool for a few hours and we grew giddy with anticipation at tasting my first homemade cake. When it was time for the tasting, the knife sliced through the crumbly golden crust but then it…got stuck. Like it had hit a dense core.

I pulled the knife out and tried again, with more of a sawing motion. We finally got a slice cut after a little effort. The center of that cake had so much congealed cream cheese in it that it was GRAY. It was a lot like eating PlayDoh, only not as salty.

A few weeks later, when I mentioned at a family dinner that I had made that cake, Big Gay said, “You know there’s a typo in the recipe, right? It’s supposed to be 8 ounces of cream cheese.”

I simply nodded and said, “Yeah, I figured that out.”

Like so much of life, every time I mess up this cake I learn something new. Let’s hope I get a little bit better with every try and ONE DAY…one sweet sweet day…I will get it right!

If you’re close to Athens, come by the Prince One Lobby at ARMC on Friday, Sept 19 from 8 a.m.-noon. We’ll be selling goodies and auctioning cakes for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society!

The Light Gets Brighter With Every Year

Today is my birthday.  Just like any other Tuesday, it’s the best day of my life.

1000cake

We’re gonna need a bigger cake.

When I was a kid, Grandmama Irene made my birthday cake each year.  She was famous for her cakes–even had a story in Georgia Magazine that dubbed her “The Cake Lady of Gay.”  Legend has it that she bought so many 50lb bags of sugar that the revenuers got a little suspicious and thought she might have a still going somewhere out in the woods!  

Some years I chose red velvet with the cream cheese and pecan frosting piled thick between three layers.  Other years, I asked for a lemon cheese cake with the glistening lemon frosting.  Those of you from other parts of the world may think I meant to say “lemon cheesecake,” but no, that’s something totally different.  A lemon cheese cake is a tower of three heavenly white cake layers filled and frosted with translucent and tart lemon curd.  There were a couple of years that I chose chocolate or caramel–buttery yellow layers cloaked in hard-cooked icing that got better as the days went by.  By the time I went to college, she opted for chocolate pound cakes because they traveled well.  

In my teenage years, my dad discovered that I loved coconut cakes as much as he did.  He set out to make me a coconut birthday cake.  Even though he’s a great cook, there was some kind of black cloud curse over the coconut cake baking process.  It got to be a running joke.  One year, he said he spent $45 on 3 different batches of frosting and it all still slid off the cake in a glop.  It was delicious anyway!  The next year, he nailed it with a coconut pound cake and avoided the subject of frosting altogether.  

But we all know how kids are, right?  Because I had been raised on astounding homemade cakes I yearned for a big old grocery store cake.  One with pink frosting roses and my name spelled in piping.  Maybe even some of those hard sugar princess castle decorations they sold at the grocery store. Don’t get me wrong–I appreciated every morsel of the cakes Grandmama made for me.  But they didn’t look the cakes on TV.  And when you’re seven…y’know.  You think life is supposed to look like “The Facts of Life.”

I wished for candles.  Grandmama made cakes for birthdays, not birthday cakes, so they didn’t come with candles.  I really really really wanted candles.  I had some wishes I wanted to make. 

In my first year at Wesleyan, my friends surprised me with a cake–and it had candles on it.  I was so unfamiliar with the process that I caught my thumbnail on fire trying to light all eighteen tiny candles.  We had a great laugh and I got to make my wish.  I don’t remember what I wished for.  

Here’s what I learned from all those birthday cakes.  The real treasure, the greatest gifts, were those cakes made by people who love me.  Butter, sugar, eggs, time, patience, a light touch–alchemy that spins ordinary food into a celebration.  Birthdays are when a family looks back to celebrate the day that the family got bigger.  Eating cake reminds us of that sweetness.  The candles, though, the candles are for the future, for wishing and thinking about what is to come.  

I used every birthday candle from the age of about 28 to 37 to wish for a child.  As luck would have it, on my 38th birthday, I hosted a Leukemia Society chili party.  I was feeling really light-headed, had to go lie down, but I got my legs back under me in time for dessert.  My friend, Karen, remembered that it was my birthday and brought a butter cream dream of a cake.  We fired it up and I wished for a family of my own on those candles….and a few weeks later found out that my wish had already come true.  Vivi was there for my 39th birthday.  

That’s the thing about candles–and family–the light gets brighter with every year.  

“I Want to Help People With Leukemia.”

On Friday night, Vivi walked into the den in her pink penguin pajamas.  Her fist was wrapped around a stack of four quarters.  She leaned against my knee and held out the money.  I opened my hand and she poured the coins in.

“What’s this, baby?”

“This is for my slice of cake.  I want to help people with leukemia.”

In that moment, I couldn’t hold her close enough to show her how much I love her.  I buried my face in that curly head of hair that smells like chlorine and hugged her as tight as I could.  I breathed in my daughter, the first person in my life whom I’ve loved with every cell of my being.

In that moment, I felt joy that she has a generous and loving heart.  I felt proud that she wants to contribute.  I felt sad that she knows so much about leukemia because I am her mother.

I had organized a big cake auction and bake sale at work that day for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.  This is the eighth year of the “Thrilla In Vanilla” and we raised $2435 in four hours.  So for days, Vivi has been hearing about the Thrilla.  She knows that I work with LLS because of Richard.  Vivi knows that Richard’s blood stopped working and it couldn’t be fixed.

Slice-of-Pound-Cake-on-Red-Plate-iStock

Thursday night, my neighbor and friend brought over a vanilla cream cheese pound cake to donate to the auction.  It was still warm from the oven.  The divine smell permeated the house.  Of course, Vivi wanted a slice right away.  I told her it wasn’t for us–it was to raise money for the Leukemia Society.  She nagged, wheedled and puzzled about that cake for an hour.  Friday morning, when I woke her up, she opened her eyes and said, “If I give you some money, can we eat that cake?”  She was SERIOUS.  And she’s sitting on a nice wad of cash from the Tooth Fairy, so I took her seriously.

I kept my eye on the pound cake during the auction and had to outbid a couple of folks, but I won “Vivi’s Cake.”  When I picked her up from school, she asked if I had gotten the cake.  I was happy to be able to say, “YES!!!”  As we drove, I gave the kids some molasses cookies for a snack (sugar rush Friday at our house!).  Vivi asked me who had made them.  I said, “My friend, Denise.  Her husband got a blood cancer but he’s better.”

“How did they fix it?”

“They gave him medicine and his blood went back to being healthy.  The money Mommy raises helps pay for the scientists who discover the medicine.”

“Did your friend’s husband have leukemia or lymph-i-oma?”  I didn’t correct her pronunciation.

“He had myeloma–it’s the other kind of blood cancer.”

Vivi thought for a second and asked, “Is he…the same color as us or a different color?  Is he black?”

“He’s the same color as us.  White people get myeloma, too, it’s just more common in African Americans.”

That’s when when my heart sank because I realized that this six-year-old can name two blood cancers and remembered that myeloma was more prevalent among African Americans….jeez.  She knows way too much about this stuff.  I felt bad that the only reason this information has entered her consciousness is because I brought it into her life.  That’s some advanced Mom Guilt right there.

A few hours later, when we sliced into the pound cake after dinner, Vivi called the end piece with all that golden crust.  Carlos learned to say “poun’ kek!”  It was delicious–sweet and dense and rich.

But even sweeter was that moment when my first-grader, who may know too much about blood cancer for her age, paid one of her dollars for that slice of cake–to help people with leukemia.

The sad scary parts of life will come to her as they will.  I can’t stop that, no matter how hard I try.  But it’s my privilege to teach her that we can keep hoping, and giving, and believing.