I believe in the sublime, sweet goodness of a satisfying meal. The healing qualities of good food cannot be underestimated. With the right ingredients and synchronized timing, memorable things can happen. And, of course, the meal needs to be homemade.
My husband, Karl, is a high school biology teacher. He is also a wiz in the kitchen. Lucky me. He worships Martha Stuart. When the magazine Living arrives each month we drop everything, I make us coffee, and he proceeds to read it, cover-to-cover. Her remarkable cake issue arrives sometime after the New Year, filled with glossy, breathtaking photographs of eye-popping layer cakes and decadent desserts, carefully frosted, some adorned with edible flowers.
For my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary party last summer, Karl made a lemon-themed, golden anniversary cake. My mother’s favorite flower, yellow roses, decorated the top of this glorious confection. In the days leading up to the event, planning and baking dominated our conversations. We made several trips to the supermarket, timing our purchases in order to get the freshest ingredients. Fist-sized lemons are the central element. We hunted and located three, square cake pans, six, eight, and ten inches in size, at a restaurant retail supplier. Several pounds of King Arthur cake flour, sugar, and other basics are required to create this masterpiece. And that frosting – it showcases a special lemon liqueur, infusing the glaze with a tangy sweetness, sending the flavor buds into overdrive. There is still some leftover glaze icing in our freezer.
That August day of the party, the temperature soared well above ninety, daring to defy Maine’s “air conditioned summers” as my mother fondly called them. Karl cut each of the layers of cake lengthwise and managed to piece the eventual twelve layers together, securing them with long toothpicks. Mere minutes before presenting the cake to my parents, family and friends, he covered the outside of it with buttery, lemony frosting, convinced that it would slip and melt before we could get it to my sister’s house.
A picture taken of my parents shows their wonder and surprise at the sheer size of it. My father happened to be wearing a bright yellow shirt; he blended in with the cake, save his Harley Davidson baseball cap. He is the polar opposite of my mother. The hat choice magnifies this: his penchant for tequila shots, late night television, and summertime motorcycle rallies. My mother enjoyed “adventures” to the Farnsworth Museum, garden tours, and endless antiquing.
My mother was the glue that held our family together. She died unexpectedly in March. Their marriage was one of characteristic highs and lows. Together, they raised four children, struggled financially, but, in the final analysis, they loved each other.
Their life grew, took shape, was tested, and ushered my siblings and I through unexpected joys and cruelties.
Tenacity, creativity and perseverance went into that layered cake. The complex layers mirror the person my mother represents, even in her passing, in my life. I deeply miss her.
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