over the weekend i gave myself the gift of baking several cakes i'd been wanting to try. i had to be at home to work anyway and the kids were hanging with me and it was our last weekend of summer so i emptied the pantry onto my kitchen counter - 2 flours, 3 types of sugar, vanilla beans, butter, poppyseeds, balsamic & champagne vinegars, cream of tartar, baking powder, kosher salt - then i told the kids to wash their hands and we proceeded to measure, mix, blend & stir in between emails and phone calls for the next few hours.
baking can be a lovely way to pace your work day, as the smell of cakes in the oven and a lick of marscapone can bring a touch of sweetness to the otherwise single-minded focus of work and to-do lists and chores. it's also a lovely way for kids to weave in and out of their own play while spending time with mom between.
the first cake, while the best tasting in my opinion, was a disaster on the plate. after many attempts at rescuing the presentation, i changed plans: i whipped up a batch of vanilla bean pudding and turned it all into a trifle. then the pudding was only so-so and i wished i'd just let it be an ugly cake which would have been more delicious. so this cherry cornmeal upside-down cake i took from smitten kitchen will be repeated.
(batter poured on top of black cherry & balsamic reduction)
(out of the oven - the bottom of an upside down cake)
(so ugly on the plate. not even humble or homely, a true mess.)
next, inspired by this cake, i tried to figure out a way to use the bag of plums someone had given me last week to create a french tatin. this was temple's favorite cake of the three and i brought it to a party on sunday where a chef told me that my cake was restaurant-ready. well, that's what you get when you use any ina garten recipe!
this poppyseed number by not without salt was the one i was most looking forward to making. here in sonoma we have the most amazing strawberry patch. i visit the patch at least once a week may thru october because the berries are *that* good. the kind of strawberries that are red all the way through the center. so with the strawberries playing leading lady to the poppyseed's best supporting actor in this recipe, i knew i had to give the cake a try while strawberry season was still in its prime. the cake was easy to make, quick to back and delicious. i also have visions of this cake in many other variations.
(marscapone frosting with strawberry and lavender)
after a lovely weekend with our family and a pool party and overnight guests - and lots of cake - i prepared myself for a tough week ahead. now in the middle of the tough week, it is turning out harder than i expected. on top of an excessive amount of work and our employee being on vacation all week, there is family drama.
my grandmother is going through a very difficult time after her life savings "walked off" while my mom and i were away living in vancouver and chicago. this week we are supporting her through legal proceedings and it is tough to watch an 89 year old dealing with such heartbreak. (edited - sorry i can't go into more detail but there are legalities i must adhere to...someday i can finish this story.)
the cake though, the cake. it was a sweet swan song for the end of summer.
today, satchel started 4th grade. i told him that i met his dad in 4th grade...maybe he will meet his wife this year. which of course totally grossed him out.
after a summer of growing, he is so tall the top of his head is above my nose but still sweet enough that he fell asleep holding my hand last night. this age is incredibly bittersweet. so tender and innocent but growing so quickly. i've been tearful for days now.
temple asked me to dance with her this morning to a really sweet song and of course, i started crying. this song makes me so happy i'm sad too mama. she gets it already, how joy can be its own agony. she understands that beauty can overwhelm us and in knowing the beauty, we also feel its absence.
i look at my children, our life, their joy, the amazing gift of their lives and our days together, and in this beauty i feel its absence too. their growing up does this to me.
someday i will be that old lady in a wheelchair, almost all of my living behind me, and there will be so much joy gone and only absence ahead. these moments, in the summer of my life, i try to capture moments like the old children's book frederick where the mouse soaks up memories and colors and joy to sustain him through the winter.
weeks like this one - with more to do than can really be accomplished and the extremes of life experiences happening at once and deep emotions pulling hard - there is only cake and sleep and the warm hands of your children holding yours as they fall asleep at night to see you through.