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What’s Cooking?

February 21, 2011

Image Credit: A Little Brit of Heaven

My birthday cake was her latest project because it was not from a mix but instead built from scratch – the flour, the baking soda, lemon-flavored because at eight that had been my request; I had developed a strong love for sour. We’d looked through several cookbooks together to find just the right one, and the smell in the kitchen was overpoweringly pleasant. To be clear: the bite I ate was delicious. Warm citrus-baked batter lightness enfolded by cool deep dark swirled sugar.

But the day was darkening outside, and as I finished that first bite, as that first impression faded, I felt a subtle shift inside, an unexpected reaction. As if a sensor, so far buried deep inside me, raised its scope to scan around, alerting my mouth to something new. Because the goodness of the ingredients – the fine chocolate, the freshest lemons – seemed like a cover over something larger and darker, and the taste of what was underneath was beginning to push up from the bite.

I could absolutely taste the chocolate, but in drifts and traces, in an unfurling, or an opening, it seemed that my mouth was also filling with the taste of smallness, the sensation of shrinking, of upset, tasting a distance I somehow knew was connected to my mother, tasting a crowded sense of her thinking, a spiral, like I could almost even taste the grit in her jaw that had created the headache that meant she had to take as many aspirins as were necessary, a white dotted line of them in a row on the nightstand like an ellipsis to her comment: I’m just going to lie down . . ..

 

Image Credit: The Housewives’ Tarot, 78 Notes to Self

None of it was a bad taste, so much, but there was a kind of lack of wholeness to the flavors that made it taste hollow, like the lemon and chocolate were just surrounding a hollowness. My mother’s able hands had made the cake, and her mind had known how to balance the ingredients, but she was not there, in it.

It so scared me that I took a knife from a drawer and cut out a big slice, ruining the circle, because I had to check again right that second, and I put it on a pink-flowered plate and grabbed a napkin from the napkin drawer. My heart was beating fast. Eddie Oakley shrank to a pinpoint. I was hoping I’d imaged it – maybe it was a bad lemon? or old sugar? – although I knew, even as a thought it, that what I’d tasted had nothing to do with ingredients – and I flipped on the light and took the plate in the other room to my favorite chair, the one with the orange-striped pattern, and with each bite, I thought – mmmm, so good, the best ever, yum – but in each bite: absence, hunger, spiraling, hollows.

This cake that my mother had made just for me, her daughter, whom she loved so much I could see her clench her fists from overflow sometimes when I came home from school, and when she would hug me hello I could feel how inadequate the hug was for how much she wanted to give.

I ate the whole piece, desperate to prove myself wrong.

~ Extract from The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender

1950s~ Mother and daughter at kitchen table, preparing ingredients in mixer for baking.

Image Credit: Blessed Femina 

“The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” is fully grounded in the lives of overly perceptive children, whose emotional antennae pick up way more at a family dinner than the correct way to hold a knife and fork. ~ Read book review on Stumbleupon by Yvonne Zip

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