Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Perfect Cake

On Friday, I baked a cake.  If you know me well, you probably know that baking is not really my thing.  I make cookies with my kids and let them help me bake boxed cupcakes, because that's what moms are supposed to do.  I don't really enjoy it that much.  And baking from

It's too precise.  I don't have the patience.  Rarely do I have an hour or more to dedicate to the creation of sweet, baked goods.

But, last week was also my birthday.  And this summer, my aunt gave me my grandmother's birthday cake recipe.  In her handwriting.  Framed.  The most weep-worthy gift I can remember receiving in a long time.

And this's my whole childhood.  It's part of every birthday, every celebration, every family get together.  It recalls memories of gentle hand slaps as I tried to swipe the icing with my fingertip, smiles from my grandmother as she shooed me away, and laughter as we sat around enjoying the treat.

I had decided weeks before that I'd make it for my birthday.  But just so happens that my birthday always falls at a bad time.  Back to school.  And this particular year...Back to School Night.  So it had to wait a few days.

Friday morning, after dropping the kids off, I went to the store to buy real sugar, white flour, and Crisco.  Things I haven't bought in a long time.  And that afternoon I set out following directions to a tee.  Sifting flour and cocoa together three times.  Adding only one egg at a time until it was fully immersed in the batter.  Adding baking soda to freshly brewed coffee and watching it foam up the sides of the measuring cup.  Whisking continuously until the flour thickened the milk.  Waiting 5 minute for the vinegar to sour the milk.

So many times I wanted to cheat.  Is it really necessary to add eggs individually?  Sifting?  Really, is it needed?  Sour milk?  Wouldn't regular milk do?

But I didn't.  I took every step as my grandmother had laid it out.  Waited each time she asked. Alternated ingredients each time she instructed.

It took me an hour.  An hour before baking.  I'm not sure I've ever spent an hour baking one thing.  Especially not a cake for myself.  But as I was sifting and whisking and alternating I thought a lot of my grandmother.  She was so patient and seemed to take her time with everything.  At a time when conveniences and time savers were at a minimum, she seemed to enjoy the long tasks of shucking corn and canning vegetables.  She could be found weeding her garden most spring days.  If she wasn't home, she might be picking berries to make jam later that day.

I rarely have that kind of patience.  I won't make a recipe that has more than 5 ingredients or takes longer than 30 minutes.  My house is only kind of clean most of the time because I don't scrub grout with toothbrushes or dust picture frames.  And it is a rare, RARE occasion that I move furniture to vacuum.

But Friday, I made myself enjoy it.  And I did enjoy it.  I performed each task meticulously and checked each direction thrice.  Friday I had the time.  Friday was my last day of unemployment.  I had spent the last 6 weeks cleaning and organizing and playing with my kids and working out and maybe binging a few Neflix shows.  And Friday was my last day of nothingness.  The kids were all in school.  No chores.  I finished House of Cards on Netflix.  So what else could I do but bake the perfect cake?

Tomorrow I go back to work.  I go back to a previous employer in a town I used to live in.  Tomorrow I go back to the craziness of juggling work and school and activities and me time.  But Friday?  Friday was all about the cake and making it just right and seeing to it that my grandmother gets to touch my kids life in some way.  And after all of the instructions and time it took to create, it was perfect.  Exactly as I remembered.  And I know my grandmother would be happy to see me enjoy every moment it took to get there.
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