Birthday Cake!

I made my own cake for my 40th Birthday this month. For some reason, this exasperated a lot of folks. Clearly those people have never eaten a cake I’ve baked. Because if the did, they’d know it will be better than any cake ever made before. Like. Ever.

Maybe they felt sad for me. Maybe they were worried I’d be sitting at home alone, singing “Happy Birthday to Me.” As if. The fact is, I have plenty of friends who would make me a cake, if I asked them to. (Though the truth is I only have one friend that I trust with the task, and she was already organizing a cooking class/party for me.) I also have friends who would gladly buy me one, without hesitation.  But I am of the opinion that a homemade cake, made with a little skill, and a lot of love, ALWAYS tastes better than one from even the best bakery.

A homemade birthday cake should not be too composed. It should be slightly crooked, and there should be a few stubborn crumbs in the final layer of frosting. Despite these flaws, it should be oohed and aahed over, while the baker coyly rejects the compliments. Any leftover pieces should be wrapped and sent home with the guests, but one piece should remain, and should be eaten for breakfast the next morning. If you bring the cake elsewhere, the plate it was served on should be left behind at that person’s house for months.

I made Lora Brody’s “Best Birthday Cake”, from her beautiful cookbook Chocolate American Style. I picked it because it’s a fail-proof, delicious recipe, and also because my favorite cake/frosting combo is chocolate/vanilla. This frosting recipe has cream cheese and white chocolate and butter. Do I even need to explain what that means?

It means it’s rich and delicious, dummy. 

Here’s a link to the recipe, if you’re so inclined. It looks like a lot of ingredients and instruction, but don’t be afraid. It’s actually a good cake for a novice baker, as there is no creaming stage for the butter and sugar, and no tricky folding in of the dry and wet ingredients. If you do your mise en place ahead of time, it’s as simple as putting together a boxed cake mix. Even the frosting is tough to screw up.

And by the way, it’s still technically my Birthday Month, so if you want to buy me a gift it is not too late! Here’s a link to my Amazon Wish List*:

Louise’s Amazing Birthday Wish List **

More Food, Less Pain,

*Not a real wish list. Though if you buy me the 60lb wheel of provolone, I’ll share. Promise. 
**Special thanks to The Ninja for the creative assistance. Only a mind as warped as yours gets why this was fun. And thanks for the b-day tart. 


Bladderwrack & Stone, Cliff Walk, Dec 2012

One day, back in December, Favorite Niece told me how excited she was for a visit from a guy. She was counting down the days, and, like anyone falling in love, could not contain her enthusiasm. She was grinning a lot back then*, and was obviously happy.

Her happiness did not resonate with me that day. I was feeling blue, and I remember counseling her to temper her anticipation, and to be careful with her expectations. I’m sure I thought I was being helpful, and probably believed that the 10 extra years of “wisdom” I have on her meant my advice was sound. I offered no positive encouragement, just a grim warning. And, like most unsolicited advice and criticism, it came from a place of unhappiness.

I regretted it instantly, and have ruminated over my reaction since. I started questioning why it was so difficult for me to just be happy for her. Had I completely lost faith in the idea of romantic love? Would I ever feel that it’s worth the risk again? Do I really even need that particular kind of relationship, when my life feels rich enough already with the love of my family and friends?

I still don’t have the answers, but I do have moments of clarity here and there. A poem I came across recently, “West Wind # 2”, by Mary Oliver, helped some, the way a good poem should.

This poem reminded me that, despite my bruised and hesitant heart, I still believe the risk is worth taking. I desperately don’t want anyone, especially my niece, to be as hurt and as disappointed as I was when my relationship of nearly a decade ended a few years ago. And yet, I have no regrets. Of course I wish I could take away the pain it caused both me and my ex, but then I’d have to take away all the years of joy and love and growth we shared, as well as the friendship that endures. Why on earth would I want to erase all that?

And the fact is, her heart might break. Mine might again too. But most hearts do, at some point, and usually more than once in a lifetime. Despite this, I still agree with what Ms. Oliver wrote – that life without love is “not worth a bent penny or a scuffed shoe.” It’s worth the risk, and I’m glad she’s rowing towards it.

West Wind # 2
You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to 
me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent 
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a 
dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile 
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water 
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the 
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable 
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth 
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls 
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life 
toward it.

-Mary Oliver


More Food Love, Less Pain,

*And still is, I’m happy to report.