A Simple Recipe

When I wake up to the morning before the sun, I know what I have on my plate: Clementine Cake, a recipe first discovered on the New York Times Cooking site. I like the cake, no mistake there, but in truth, its creation connects me to people I love who love it.

John Willoughby’s Clementine Cake begins here!
The ganache grand finale!

One of them lives across the country. We had a tradition, I’m probably the one who started it because I love birthdays, where I’d bring in something for my fellow teachers, the “lunch-bunch,” to share on any of our birthdays. For my friend Vanessa, it was the clementine cake. She loved it. She had even tried to make it at home, “But I don’t know what I did wrong. It didn’t taste like yours!” Another friend claimed the same. “It must be magic, what you do. Are you sure you gave us your recipe?” This cake became the signature birthday celebration fare, and the giving gave more to me.

Then I moved to Oregon and began to build new friendships. I served the clementine cake at our first neighbors’ get-together. While my good friend Michele admitted without a shred of guilt, “I don’t really like cake,” (Uh-oh), her husband Bob exclaimed, “Wait a minute. This isn’t like any cake I’ve ever had!” By the end of the evening, I had a convert and another cake-fan-for-life. As they departed, I offered a portion that remained. Michele demurred, but Bob, “If it makes you happy… I’ll never turn that offer down.” Now I’m thinking, “Send a slab to Bob,” even before the first slice is cut.

Another dear friend suffered an almost-fatal fall a couple of years ago. She was hospitalized after surgery in the town half-an-hour north. In the wake of the trauma, she lost her appetite, but none of her indomitable personality. We joined a group of people who made the trek during the week to spend time with her: Sundays were our day! Her recovery was a long one. During our visits, we had the best time telling stories and laughing. But her eyes would light up when I came through the door bearing the chocolate-covered, citrusy confection—her appetite returned, too—the best medicine.

Baking is an act of love. During the pandemic I’ve found whether flan, muffins, cookies, or cake, I can pass it along. I did it before; I’ll do it after. Sweetness is a message worth sending.

The Ides of April

I’m planning for the 15th of April—all thoughts of tax day aside. I can’t wait to email my friends and tell them to come over. Oh, I have missed our impromptu, hey-are-you-free? dinners when what is served doesn’t count even close to who’ll be there enjoying whatever the menu may be.

It’s going to be an atypical Thursday on the Oregon Coast. I’m calling my order in now. The sun will stream warmly through the big picture windows, and the winds will sigh gently outside. The six of us will gather and gaze at the ocean as we catch up—and we have plenty of that to do!

Although we have had a few opportunities to gather outdoors on our patio, they have been fraught even though socially distanced. Those six feet were not enough to allay the deep-seated concerns of reality: One of us is over eighty; one is undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer; the rest are all over 65.

But on April 15, with everyone fully vaccinated and under the most recently issued CDC (an acronym I never though I’d use without pause)guidelines, we will truly enjoy each other’s presence, the gift of physical proximity restored, and celebrate our ides with joy.