Monday, May 23, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons, II: Lemonade Layer Cake

For three years of my life, while I went to graduate school, I lived in a one bedroom apartment in West Hollywood not far from the Melrose strip.  It was an interesting neighborhood for lots of reasons (for example, I lived next door to a drag queen on one side and a rockabilly singer on the other, and upstairs from a large family of Russian Jewish people), but one of the things I still miss is a little bakery called Sweet Lady Jane.  It remains, to my knowledge, anyway, one of the few places that specializes in slices of gourmet cake.  You walk in, gaze into the case, choose your cake, order some tea, and sit down to revel in the lovely explosion of flavor in your mouth, taking in the other customers and feeling your cares melt away.

Some people drown their graduate school sorrows in Cuervo; more than once, I found myself drowning my sorrows (or joys or frustrations) in cake at SLJ.  When I found out that one of my college friends had died from cancer at the age of 25, I walked up the street and ordered a slice of the White Chocolate Raspberry cake, remembering him and his love of sweet and pure things, and mourning the loss of a life cut too short.  When I passed my comprehensive exams, I treated myself to a slice of Flourless Chocolate Decadence, savoring the rich, dark flavor of success.  When I made the decision to leave my first graduate program ABD (before I knew I would be getting my doctoral degree in something that was a much better fit), I savored a slice of Raspberry Lemon Cake: sweet, but also bitter.

I have just submitted the following letter (names and places changed to protect the people involved, of course).  If there's one thing that pregnancy loss and infertility have taught me, it's that life is too precious a gift to waste.  If you know of anyone looking for a smart, thoughtful, visionary woman in the NY/NJ area who works her tail off for the right people and a good cause, please put them in touch with me, or me them, or something.  (Stupidly, I missed the cutoff for ICLW this time ... would have been nice to be in that mix.)  I'm jumping into an abyss, and it's not clear how far down I will fall; I'm hoping to land on my feet.
May 23, 2011

Dear Dr. Boss:

I am writing you to officially tender my resignation from XYZ University as Administrative Director of The X Center (I Built and Ran for the Last Seven Years, Which I Also Helped to Endow at $4 Million ... but I didn't actually write that part). My last day of employment will be June 6, 2011.

I appreciate the opportunities I have been given at XYZ and I wish you and the Center success in the future.

If I can assist with the transition, please do let me know.

A Half Baked Life

I have mixed emotions about what I have just done, but I hope you'll join me for a slice of cake.  When life gives you lemons, you might as well make lemonade layer cake.  Somebody hold me.

Lemonade Layer Cake

1 1/3 c. granulated sugar
6 T. butter, softened
1 T. grated lemon rind
3 T. thawed lemonade concentrate
2 t. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/4 c. fat-free buttermilk
Cooking spray

2 T. butter, softened
2 t. grated lemon rind
2 t. thawed lemonade concentrate
1/2 t. vanilla extract
8 oz. neufchatel cheese
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare cake, place first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs and egg whites, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda; stir well with a whisk. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat well after each addition.

Pour batter into 2 (9-inch) round cake pans coated with cooking spray; sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

To prepare frosting, place 2 tablespoons butter and the next 4 ingredients (2 tablespoons butter through cream cheese) in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until fluffy. Add powdered sugar, and beat at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat). Chill 1 hour.

Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 1/2 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Store cake loosely covered in the refrigerator.
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  1. Good for you for taking the leap. I LOVE the resignation letter. It was very thoughful and to the point. Plus, it's a good reminder to them and yourself about exactely what you've accomplished there. Good work!

    I am definitely going to make this cake this coming weekend. I have a weekend trip with friends and this will be perfect.

  2. I am actually REALLY happy to see this resignation letter.

    Work has been such an emotion and energy suck, and you SO deserve better things. Take back your POWER and move on. Well DONE.

    I will share in a slice of lemon cake. Maybe this coming weekend, as I find myself in a place where lemon cake is also fitting.


  3. Brave lady. Well done. And sassy to boot. Congratulations, Justine. If you read your first post on this amazing blog, you'll remember this day has been a long time coming...

  4. I'm sorry you are leaving your position. I imagine you have some mixed feelings. I'm sure your decision is the right one.

    The cake looks lovely. I made a key lime coconut cake this weekend. It was beautiful and delicious.

  5. You did good and will keep doing good. My request of the universe is that you find a place worthy of you so you can mirror that back to the rest of us. We all need you to be that happy.
    A little confession is that I want to find a way to do small capital investments in women where they have no opportunities to have money/game tokens of their own in the very deep belief that women with self determination and power="absolutely no" to boys with guns.

  6. Wow! Good for you, taking the leap. It seems scary now, but I'm sure you'll look back at it with only relief.

    And that cake looks so yummy. That will ease most pain, I'm sure!

  7. you are so, so brave!! cheers to taking control! i hope you enjoy every bit of that cake (which i think i am going to request of my husband, the family baker, for my birthday this year!) & that this new adventure is a wonderful one.

  8. Congratulations! I so wish I could share a slice of cake with you. That would bring me much joy, as I hope writing that letter has brought you. you're right, life is too precious to not live it fully and happily. Still, it's difficult to make those steps in to the scary unknown. I'm sure that you will ultimately be rewarded for your bravery. I can't wait to see where life takes you next.

  9. Congratulations!!! What a big and wonderful move. From what you've told us about your job, and how you feel about it, this was definitely the right decision. I know this will lead to something much better that makes you happy and satisfied. GOOD LUCK!!! I'm here cheering you on and admiring your strength to jump off the sinking ship!

  10. HOW EXCITING! You can be proud of what you've done there but I'm certain will still look back on this moment as being a good one. It's hard to know when the right time to move on is, but it seems it's been coming on for a while. I'm so excited for you!

  11. I want to say CONGRATULATIONS and give you big hug. And rush right over with a slice of cake. :) I know it is scary taking this leap, (I have done it myself) but I think you will be surprised at what other opportunities come your way. I know you will find something wonderful that reflects your passions.

    As usual your cake looks delicious. I wish I could help myself to a slice right now. Also, the cakes you talked about at SLJ had me practically drooling. White chocolate and raspberry, mmmmmmm :)

  12. congratulations on making such a life changing decision! most importantly all this talk of cakes has made me want some so bad! i can't wait for the weekend to try to make the lemon cake, yum yum yum!!!

  13. Humdinger is right. Yeah and ooohhhh!!! Cook book! Cook book! Cook book! Cook book! or bakery shop that ships cross country cause I'm starved and craving your delicious creations! Congrats lady and take a deep breath, it'll all come together I just know it.

  14. Whoa! You did it! Congrats, Justine! I know this has been marinating for a while, and I know how conflicting this decision can be. BUT, I will share that I haven't had a single regret. Not a one. Someone said to me once, "No one ever looks back and thinks, 'I sure wish I had worked more when my kids were little.'" I am a path of least regret kind of girl, and it feels right for me for right now. I think you'll find the same. :) I'm so happy for you. :)

    And I have been looking for a dessert to make for Memorial Day. This just might be the one! I looooove lemon. :)

  15. Your cake sounds amazing! I will have to try it this weekend.

    I'm proud of you for making such a brave decision. I'm sure that you will be much happier for it.

  16. Many congrats on following your heart. Life is TOO SHORT to waste it doing something you don't feel.

    here's to your new life awaiting you!

  17. We made this cake last night; awesome!!

    Best wishes on whatever the future brings.

  18. Wow! It's hard to walk away from a job you've been at for a while. Good for you for knowing your value and making positive changes in your life. I am sure this will lead to another "better fit" for you. :)

  19. I am here through Stumbling Gracefully and I love your blog. I can very much relate to this decision as I made it myself a couple of years ago. I'm kind of unsure where to go from here but I can honestly say that I have NO regrets.

    This recipe looks amazing! We are lucky to have a lemon tree so I will absolutely be trying it out.

  20. Here from the future via Time Warp Tuesday. First off, I love lemon cake and that one looks so yummy! Maybe i will make it in March as a reward if I reach my weight shedding goal?!

    Second, I love that you remember the kind of cake slice you had at each of those pivotal moments in your life while live in CA and the way you wrote about each event that brought you to indulge in the deliciousness. I want to go there and have a slice of cake or more.

    Third, I know (first hand) how much courage it takes to walk away from a job that is not good for my well-being, even if I loved the work that I did and many of the people I worked with. We have discussed this before, but I am so proud of you for making the choice (and the change) that you did, when you did.

    Thank you for sharing this post and doing the Time Warp again! Heading back to the future to read the rest of your new post and comment. xoxo

  21. Here from the future via Time Warp. First and foremost let me just say, I WANT CAKE!!! The lemon sounds delicious.
    I could feel your quiet wisdom reading this. To know that the accolades weren't enough and you did the next right thing. Although that must have been extremely difficult. Kudos! P.s. Do you mail lemon cakes:)

  22. You go, girl. I mean, You went, girl.

    Yes to this: Life is too precious a gift to waste. I'm glad you called the shots on this, and I bet it felt good to reclaim your soul.

    Sounds like quite a loss for XYZ.

  23. Back again from the future via Time Warp Tuesday and remembering why I appreciate this post so much the first time! It is also interesting to see what I wrote about six months ago and funny that I still have reached my weight shedding goal, but am getting closer! Slow and steady... right?! So I will continue to dream about trying your lemonade layer cake and maybe do so when I finally reach my goal! :)


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