The happy thing. Part 1.

Dear friends,

Remember yesterday when I said I had a million-bazillion things running through my head — some happy, some tearful, some funny, and so on? Well, here’s one of the happy things:

Bloggers Karen and Wendy over at After the Kids Leave gave me a big ol’ shout-out on their blog. They think I’m awesome (awesome?) and said I remind them “of the importance of being happy for what life has given us.”

Here’s the deal. They are way cooler than me and THEY HAVE 507 FOLLOWERS. (I have 41.) So I’m, like, wow. Thank you, Karen and Wendy. It’s pretty neato-bandito to know somebody besides my family and hometown friends are reading.

Their recognition involves paying it forward, which I’m happy to do. But first, I’m supposed to tell you 7 things about myself. The way I blather on and on  — well, I just can’t imagine there’s anything you don’t already know about me (especially any reader who followed me over from my old blog). But I’ll jump in because lord knows I can talk about myself.

  1. I used to be a clown. Really.  The kind with a painted face, funny wig and costume who performed with other clowns doing things like tumbling, pantomime, and silly skits. Say what you want, but I contend that juggling and entertaining finicky audiences of all ages was the best training ever for a working mother, wife and executive.
  2. The best decision I ever made was marrying Mr. Mom. If I would have turned left instead of right back in 1988, my life would be totally different. I’m grateful every single day for our abiding partnership.
  3. The best compliment I ever got (Carole are you reading?) is that I’m always game. Carole is a dear friend who once told me the thing she likes most about me is that I’m always up for whatever wacky adventure she wants to pursue. Need a partner in crime? Need a Mikey to take the first bite? Call Joan. (Also, see point number 1.)
  4. Mr. Mom would tell you the thing he was attracted to most when we were dating is that I can keep a confidence. I know. That’s an unexpected thing to hear about a woman who now blogs (blabs) to the world, but back then, I was as tight-lipped as a Soviet spy. Case in point: (PSSSST — I’M REVEALING STATE SECRETS NOW) When Mr. Mom met me, I was going to college and living with my father, who was a bookie. Much later when Mr. Mom put two-and-two together and realized I hadn’t said a word to him about my father and none of my friends knew either, he decided I was a woman he could trust.
  5. Ready for a bombshell? I used to belong to a religious cult. At least that’s what some people called it. To me, it was a post-college phase that didn’t last long but scared the bejesus out of my family. I wrote an essay about it. Maybe I’ll share it someday. (This revelation is further evidence of point number 3.)
  6. If I could remake my life and be anybody or anything, I envision myself as a revolutionary, a la Emma Goldman or Margaret Sanger or Noam Chomsky or Che Guevara or Cesar Chavez or Ralph Nadar or Crystal Lee Sutton (“Norma Rae”). I once said my epitaph would be “She was a free spirit struggling to transcend the constraints of a conventional life,” but maybe that’s just the romantic in me.
  7. Maybe the thing I like most about myself is my determination. “The Mountain” notwithstanding, I’ve got the fortitude of a marathoner. I’ve never thought I had enough intellect or talent to win anything, but play the perseverance game and I’ll come out on top every time. I watched a mother with no education, scarce resources and three alcoholic husbands set her jaw and endure hardship every day of her life, so I’ve never doubted for one second I could outlast the SOBs. (Holy cow, I might just have drummed up the mustard to beat those Unfriendlys!)

So that’s it. Tomorrow, I’ll spread the love to blogs I adore. Please come back. Learning about those folks is far more entertaining than hearing about me.

With gratitude {for two new readers who inspired me to contemplate my life, which is always a welcome exercise in thanksgiving},

Joan, who never really aspired to be a clown, per se, but joined the troupe her freshman year of high school to be near a senior boy she was sweet on and ended up performing for four years straight

The whole damn thing fell apart.

Dear Friends,

Yesterday was intended to be a day of pure bliss.

Until it wasn’t.

I woke up early, itching to get started on a new cake recipe I’d been eyeballing. It’s called simply Coconut Cake from Joy of Baking, but it piqued my interest because of the addition of lemon curd.

If there’s anything that jolts my senses and delights my taste buds, it’s lemon curd. It is the golden nectar of the Gods and it is a powerful ingredient in any dessert that calls for it.

Photo by Instagram

Lemon curd is easy to make with only four ingredients (lemons, egg yolks, sugar and butter) and can be kept on hand in the fridge. I always vow I’m going to do  that — make it, you know, and keep it on hand. But I never do, which means I’m always scrambling to whip some up when a recipe with lemon curd catches my attention. (Lemon curd gets tastier the longer it chills, so it’s really better if you make it a day ahead.)

The best part about Coconut Cake is the fresh coconut. The recipe doesn’t call for it, but this baker does. Mr. Mom chose a perfect one yesterday when we grocery shopped, and — because he’s the best sous chef an executive chef could have — he prepped it for me. This is not the kind of work I like to do. It required drilling a hole in the coconut with a power drill so we could drain the coconut water. Then he meticulously removed the shell from the coconut flesh. Then he carefully shredded an entire coconut. I prefer playing with flour and mixers, so while I baked, he patiently prepped my coconut. This is the result:

Photo by Instagram

Mmmmmmm, fresh coconut. If you’ve never tried it, you should. It bears no resemblance to the sweetened, preserved, bagged coconut-like-stuff you find in the baking aisle.

So . . . we had some curd in the fridge, some coconut about to be toasted, and two cakes in the oven. We were having a great morning, Mr. Mom and I, drinking coffee and puttering around the kitchen and flavoring our entire home with the sweet smells of lemon and coconut. My god, I thought, this is the best Saturday I’ve had in a long time.

Until my cakes fell apart.

For some inexplicable reason, my cakes refused to leave their pans. I’ve baked a lot of cakes in the last few years and I can’t for the life of me begin to explain why this particular cake clung to the pan like mortar on bricks. First I tried, then Mr. Mom tried using every trick and tool we could think of or find on the internet. When we finally finished, my cakes were out of the pans and in a tattered, crumbly mess of random shaped pieces on the counter.

Mr. Mom, like the man he is, picked up a piece, popped it in his mouth, and said: No matter. It tastes really good, so just put it all in a bowl and toss it together and we’ll eat it. Doesn’t matter what it looks like.

But if you love baking, you know it does matter. Those of us who bake often do so because we care about art as much as taste. I bake cakes because they’re pretty. And I had my mind set on a pretty cake until a stupid recipe threw me a curve ball.

So I drank another cup of coffee and mustered my reserves, and then I set about constructing a cake from the ruins on my countertop. There were so many obstacles I seriously doubted the wisdom of my decision. The cake was so fragile it fell apart if you breathed on it. The curd was so sticky it kept pulling apart my pieced cake rounds. The frosting — while supposedly like 7-minute icing — was more like melted marshmallows and was unspreadable. The best I could do was pour it over the top like ganache and then try to camouflage the holes with toasted coconut. But I patched and poked and pieced and nudged and, in the end, I had this:

Photo by Nikon D90

Not the most attractive cake I’ve ever made, but a far sight better than the pile of ruins on my countertop from which I built it. It even held together when I sliced it (thanks to the sticky curd!).

Photo by Nikon D90

Mr. Mom had slipped outside for a while to take care of chores, and when he returned to the kitchen and saw my construction project sitting proudly atop the cake stand, he was wowed.  He didn’t know until I told him later that the pooled icing around the bottom of the cake was a mistake. He thought it looked intentional. (At least I think the icing was a mistake. The recipe author certainly didn’t mention the icing would be pourable instead of spreadable.)

And you know what? The cake that fell apart was surprisingly good. Holy-cow good. I-spent-six-hours-on-it-and-I’m-not-even-sorry good. And as I savored every bite, I thought about how sometimes life falls apart unexpectedly and you can either crumble with it, or pick yourself up and try to piece it all back together.

I have experienced relationships that fell apart. House deals that fell through. Jobs that teetered on the verge of disaster. And financial and legal setbacks that threatened to ruin everything.

A little more than a year ago, my mother fell ill and died eight weeks later. At the same time, both my sisters were also gravely ill. My life exploded rather than fell into bits that fall. I’ll never forget one Sunday in particular when I left my mother in hospice care and went shopping for her burial clothes, then visited my oldest sister in ICU, then took a phone call from my middle sister’s neighbor who said she’d been rushed to the hospital and I should go downstairs to the emergency room and check on her.

So a dessert that falls apart? Piece of cake, really.

With gratitude {for patience and courage learned through tribulation and baking},

Joan, who will likely never use this recipe again but thinks coconut cake with lemon curd is a brilliantly tasty idea

PS: Just so you know, I don’t discount Mr. Mom’s suggestion to make trifle out of ruined cake. Sometimes, you really do have to throw the pieces of your life into a bowl, mix it up, and hope for the best. But yesterday, I had the time and the energy to do a bit more, and so I spackled my cake back together and it looked never the worse for wear. It may not meet your definition of bliss, but it got pretty close to mine.