Friday, February 10, 2012

February is the C(r)oolest Month: A First Birthday Cake

(First: Thanks, all, for your recent comments on my little mini-series.   I try to leave replies for every comment, so please don't forget to subscribe to follow ups!  I'm giving Blogger's new threaded comments feature a run for its money.  *grin*)

February is a month fraught with mixed emotions for me, which may be one reason I've been feeling so existential lately (hence the "why are we here" posts).

One week ago, my daughter turned one.  We had a small family celebration with just my mother and brother and the four of us.  There was pizza for lunch, which made I. and S. happy.  It was amazing to think about where I was just a year ago, and where I am now.  It's definitely a happier place.

Three years ago, I was in the bathroom of the public library, at the worst point of my last miscarriage, watching my son reading a Dora Valentine book on the floor, barely able to swallow and breathe, trying to hold myself together.  It would be another week before I found myself at the OB, being handed a piece of paper with INFERTILITY printed in big bold handwritten letters across the top.  A referral to other doctors, because they were done dealing with me and my unexplained losses.

Four years ago, I was dealing with the emotional blow of my first pregnancy loss.

Nine years ago, I was visiting my father in the nursing home where he was supposed to be staying temporarily, watching the strongest, stubbornest man I had known succumb to stomach cancer.

And eleven years ago, I was sitting in a Korean restaurant with my future husband, getting up the nerve to declare my love for him in the most backwards, understated way I knew how.

Back in November, I posted about a visit from Buddhist monks, who talked about how life is like an ocean, how what feels like a tsunami at one time ends up being a ripple when you look at the thing in its entirety, and that you feel the most suffering when you spend the most time thinking about yourself and your inappropriate attachment to things that change anyway.  In the past few posts, I've been exploring change and community, and one of the thoughts I'm coming away with is that genuine community withstands change.  As I think about all of these milestones of Februaries past and present, it occurs to me that they're all crests of the tsunamis in my life, the moments of greatest flux, greatest transition and uncertainty.  And that perhaps blogging can help us to feel less suffering (or, to put it another way, to feel more joy) because it helps us to share with others what we sometimes inaccurately see as just our own.  I look back at where I was two years ago in February, at the beginning of this blog's life, and it's remarkable to me how my perspective, my orientation, has changed.

(And: I think about the work that Jjiraffe is doing right now with her Faces of ALI series: that, friends, is an awesome example of how the lines we draw around ourselves are imaginary, at best.  Go read her series, right now.)

So ... in the spirit of community, of losing ourselves in a good way, and of celebrating a life rich with change and challenge: here's a piece of N's first birthday cake for you.  Because it's as much yours as it is ours.  Happy February ... thanks for being here on the journey.

Baby's First Birthday Cake
(adapted from What To Expect The First Year*)
*which I don't think is gospel, but has some useful recipes

2 1/2 c. thinly sliced carrots
2 1/2 c. white grape juice concentrate (you will use slightly less than this)
1 1/2 c. raisins
Vegetable cooking spray
2 c. whole-wheat flour
1/2 c. wheat germ
2 T. low-sodium baking powder
1 T. ground cinnamon
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 whole eggs
4 egg whites
1 T. vanilla extract
3/4 c. unsweetened applesauce

Combine the carrots with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the juice concentrate in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until carrots are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add the raisins and process until finely chopped. Let mixture cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Trace the bottom of two 9-inch pans on waxed paper and cut out circles.  Spray pans with cooking spray, place waxed paper in the bottom, and spray the waxed paper again with cooking spray.

Combine flour, wheat germ, baking powder, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 1/4 c. juice concentrate, oil, eggs, egg whites, and vanilla; beat just until well mixed.  Fold in the carrot puree and applesauce. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans (you may also need to make a muffin or two).

Bake 35-40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in the pans, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.  Frost with cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
(Frosts one two-layer cake)

1/2 c. white grape juice concentrate
1 lb light cream cheese
2 t. vanilla
1/2 c. finely chopped raisins
1 1/2 t. unflavored gelatin

Set aside 2 T. of the juice concentrate.

Blend the remaining juice concentrate, the cream cheese, vanilla, and raisins in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

Stir the gelatin into the remaining juice concentrate in a small saucepan; let stand 1 minute to soften. Heat to boiling and stir to dissolve gelatin.

Beat the gelatin mixture into the cream cheese mixture until well blended. Refrigerate just until the frosting begins to set, about 30 to 60 minutes.
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  1. What beautiful writing on the cake. It looks so free. My cake writing always has a "Don't screw this up!" quality to it.

    In my family it is August that I would like to cancel, except we would have to reschedule a couple of birthdays. Friends of mine just got news that might put February on their naughty list, but then just up the street from them is a couple waiting for a first baby to put February in the "best of" category. Life is all jumbled up like that. We can't have joy without sorrow.

    1. JeCaThRe, sending my thoughts to your friends ... thank goodness for the jumble.

  2. Happy birthday baby! What a beautiful cake. February really does seem to be a dense month. I'm glad that you have joyful February memories to balance out the sad ones!

  3. That is a beautiful cake :) And she got to eat it too!

    From the middle of November into the middle of December is tsunami peak time for me. I've had two miscarriages, egg retrievals and embryo transfers, BFNs and BFPs, and the birth of my twins all within that time frame. Throw in Christmas and Thanksgiving and what I have is a big emotional mess :) Sometimes I wish my husband and I could just pack up for that time and have a vacation in Bali or something, and someday when all the kids are grown and have their own families and their own lives we will...and all this pain, and drama will just be ripples on the greater sea of our happiness.

    1. Chickenpig, I can't even imagine throwing the holidays into all of that craziness. I think you should absolutely go to Bali!

  4. Gorgous cake! and Happy birthday to bubby girl :) hugs for the rough months we all have them. take care

  5. Beautiful cake and congrats on the big milestone. I really like the Buddhist philosophy about life events being tsunamis that eventually turn into small ripples. There are certain times of the year that do seem to prompt reflection and stir memories of the tidal waves. (((Hugs)))

    Thanks also for the link to the Faces of ALI series and the kind words :).

  6. Awww, I want some cake. It's all these crazy moments, these memories that shape us and make us who we are. So glad we can share them together.

  7. That is a beautiful really yummy looking cake! Thanks for the reminder that even though things feel like huge waves ready to knock you over right now, they will become little ripples in the future.

  8. Beautiful cake, and beautiful look back. I'm not ashamed to say that your post made me tear up at my desk. It's funny how experiences can color months or dates or holidays...

  9. I LOVE the line "life is like an ocean, how what feels like a tsunami at one time ends up being a ripple when you look at the thing in its entirety". How true and so appropriate. I plan to play that in my mind over and over if you don't mind. :)

    BTW - How has it been a year since your little one arrived. If you would have made me guess I would have said 6 months ago. Time really does fly doesn't it.


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