MerryCake

O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing – Edmund Sears

Hey! Unto you a child is born! He’s in the barn! Go! Go! – Gladys Herdman, in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

I tried to put it off, but the calendar answers to no one; and so, it’s Christmas (and now, Christmukkah) again. It’s been a season of ricocheting between joy and pain, (remember, I have two daughters) with pauses for cookies. I always find the yuletide somewhat surreal, given that the relentless advertising and decorating begins around July 4th. But I give in all over again when I see how much my children love it. Oh to feel their elfin, greedy joy. “Mom! Do you know what day it is? It’s Christmas Eve EVE Morning.” (For the daughterless: that’s the morning of the day before Christmas Eve.)

Thankfully, they are pretty self-sufficient. We went to the tree farm, and as the girls capered around their chosen tree, (a bushy monster of which I heartily disapproved) squealing, my friend’s husband said, “Aren’t you even going to put up a fight?” No, no fight. They decorate it, make the fudge, and attend to the advent calendar. There are currently 84 (census verified by my husband!) hand-cut snowflakes gracing my living room. As I told my husband, the place looks like Christmas threw up. Next year I am teaching them to use Shutterfly so we can send out Christmas cards again. My husband’s relatives flood us with cards sporting pictures of their lovely families cavorting on beaches. “Do you ever feel guilty when we get these?” my husband says, rifling through the pile. No, just tired. I love my husband’s cousins, but why are they so…productive?

I prefer to spend the time walking in the woods, doing a bit of baking, and starring at candles with my family (silently, please) around me. I see it as a season of contemplation: Jesus lived on earth among us avaricious, myopic, sh**heads – why did he bother? I want to ponder the mystery, maybe see if it makes me nicer. Can we please sleep in heavenly peace? Please?

cranberry-lime-pie2
I tried something new this year: Cranberry-Lime Pie (bonappetit.com)

The girls insist on Christmas music, so any car trip finds me pinned to Warm 106.9. I have only just been introduced to Michael Buble’s “The Christmas Song” (the one I have always referred to as “The Chestnut Song”). Wow, that velvet-voiced devil can sure sing. I found my eyelids had succumbed to half-mast and I was feeling around for a jade green, lace-trimmed negligee to slip into when my eyes popped open and I remembered I was in my minivan, cruising down the interstate on my way to leave a broken chair at the dump. What just happened? I can only say, in my defense, he made me feel like a girl of 45 again.

Yes, that’s right, it’s December, so another birthday has come and gone. Again, mixed feelings, again melancholy mingled with gratitude mingled with incredulity at my age. My birthday went more smoothly this year, though last year’s car breakdown and sick husband offered me more colorful blogging fodder. What can I say? I am lucky to be alive, and, for all my failings, I still make a startlingly good chocolate cake (my birthday cake was a chocolate bundt with coffee glaze – a little bit of brandy in the cake really tips it over). Plus my oldest made me a key lime coconut cake – reminding me, again, why we reproduce: doubles the kitchen staff.

We had the pleasure of seeing Olympia Family Theater’s production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a story that surprised me by bringing tears to my eyes with its reminder to be always attuned to the sacred as it walks among us, offering us the chance to experience wonder. I used to be a crier, but gave it up in my late 30’s after what my best friend describes as two decades of weeping. But it’s a hobby I have recently revived, post-election. We saw OFT perform this play seven years ago and were so grateful they revisited it this year. If you have not seen it, or read Barbara Robinson’s novella, I recommend it. We are going to read it together every Christmas Eve from now on, while we crank out our annual noodles.

In the end, it’s a season of contradictions; I am overwhelmed by glitter and wastefulness but always deeply moved by certain Christmas songs (I am not talking about Michael B. right now). As I have said before, if you don’t see my eyes get at least faintly moist during, for instance, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, then I am officially tired of life, so mercifully shoe me out into the cold, cold night, stark naked, to perish quietly under the stars. Edmund Sears, a Unitarian minister, wrote these ebulliently lovely lines in 1849:

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
It’s ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Go ahead, fling those ancient splendors. May we ever be eager for peace. Search it out. Make it, if you have to.

marycake

 

 

 

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Babycake

I didn’t post last week; my muse was lounging around the computer of some other food blogger, making ripe bunches of creative epiphanies flourish in someone else’s brain. I gazed out the window for her, like that insipid teen girl in the vampire movies. “When will she be back?” I uttered in the weak monotone of the dependably gloomy, “When?” Eaters, it was a pitiful display.

I abide in the grayest (true story) town in the United States, but one cannot keep blaming the weather for one’s troubles. Then again, the light is so scant, (hence the setting for poorly written books/screenplays featuring the undead) and forecast so hopelessly soaking that, well, why not blame it for sapping our zest?

Still, even considering the climate-induced doldrums, this past week I was soaking in a particularly tepid tub of malaise. I wallowed in my troubles, I borrowed troubles, I paid surprise visits to past troubles who had forgotten my name (Hey, remember me? Let’s relive all my mistakes!). I sensed that spending time with me was a charitable act, on the part of myself and others, and we were all doing it under duress. My husband feels obligated, and as for the rest of them, they are clearly just in it for the cake.

Gabs held by her Great Grandma (my mom) while her mother looks on. I know! I know! The kid looks just like me.

My second grand niece was born last week and I got to meet the little muffin. She made me want to say yes to life and bake a cake, but she refuses to try anything but breast milk and why should I cater to picky eaters? She is a reminder that life goes on, abundantly. When my oldest was a baby she would fight sleep, startling herself awake to look around hungrily. “What did I miss?” she seemed to say with her big eyes, desperate to take it all in. It’s true, there’s a lot here.

While I wait for Gabrielle Zendaya to get bigger and discover dessert, I will make this cake for my loved ones and serve it up with a hearty side of gratitude for their fortitude. Life with me isn’t always fun, but the tedium is punctuated by cake. So I am going to pinch my pale cheeks, make myself pleasant, and set this little beauty out as friendbait. Plus, it’s guaranteed to keep the vampires away; they detest coconut.

“Zest for Life” Key Lime Coconut Cake from Gourmet, March 2009

I reduce the granulated sugar to 3/4 cup and the confectioners to 1/2 cup. I also have used unsweetened coconut.

1 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon grated key lime zest (or the zest of any old lime)
2 large eggs (at room temperature)
1 3/4 cups self-rising flour
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup fresh Key lime juice, divided (or the juice of any old lime)
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 Tablespoon rum (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Generously butter a 9 by 2 inch round baking pan and line bottom with a round of parchment paper.

Toast coconut in a small baking pan in oven, stirring one or twice, until golden, 8 to 12 minutes (watch it closely since it burns quickly).

Beat butter, granulated sugar and zest with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir together flour and 1/2 cup coconut, reserve remainder for topping. Stir together milk and 2 Tablespoons lime juice. At low speed, mix flour and milk mixtures into egg mixture alternately in batches.

Spoon batter into pan and smooth top. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. This could take 40 minutes but check it at 30. Cool to warm, then turn out of pan and remove parchment.

Whisk together confectioners sugar, remaining 2 Tablespoons lime juice, (maybe less if you use less sugar) and rum (if using) and pour over cake. Sprinkle remaining coconut.

marycake