26 was a number I always liked as a kid. My sister and I were both born on the 26th. If I had to pick a number from one-100 I would always pick 26. If I had to pick a number from one-10 it was just plain old 6. My mom was born on the 6th. My dad was born in 1946. My sister was born in 1986. If you look for patterns they are everywhere, I suppose. 6 and 26 were my patterns. They felt somehow comforting when I was a kid. They felt like numbers that belonged to my family.
Today, June 26th, is the anniversary of my dad’s death. His deathiversary, if you will. June 26th. Yup, so he died on 6/26 . . . the universe just seems cruel sometimes. It has been a lot of years now and yet every year the month of June brings a sense of dread. Bad memories . . . Father’s Day in the ICU . . . the 26th . . . walking out of the hospital for good, without him.
The loss is far enough behind me now that it takes more than two hands to count the anniversaries that have passed, but the date never goes away. It still sucks. It still brings up the bad memories and the pain. On the one hand the pain gets a little easier each year, and on the other hand more landmarks pass that he will never see, more memories fade, I get closer to having lived more years on this earth without him here than with him here.
So what did I decide to do this year for 6/26, my least favorite day of the year? I decided to bake a cake. That’s right. A cake.
Now, let me sidebar and say that there are so many amazing things you can for the anniversary of a loved ones death. Eleanor created a really great post of 30 things you can do for the anniversary of you loved one’s death here. But today you just get me baking a cake.
You may remember back around the holidays when I made a commitment to recreate all of my grandmother’s Christmas cookies. If you don’t remember, you can check it out here. I will give you the long and short of it: I thought recreating my grandmother’s Christmas cookies would be a great tribute to her and a way to remember her at the holidays. I got the recipes. I bought the ingredients. I never made the cookies. Epic fail. If it is any consolation I did frame the recipes and they do look fabulous. But no cookies. None.
Like my grandmother made Christmas cookies and I associate those cookies with her, my dad loved coconut cake. We had it almost every year for his birthday and over the years we learned one thing for sure: it is hard to get a good coconut cake in this town! Every time I see coconut cake in a restaurant or bakery now I think of my dad, but rarely do I actually order it because I know it just isn’t going to be very good. For years I have thought about baking a coconut cake myself and for years I have put it off, because baking is a lot of work! Especially from scratch. Especially when you don’t already have a good recipe. Especially if you don’t have a lot of free time. Especially if you have no kitchen (have I mentioned our kitchen is a total construction site? Don’t worry, I’ll include a photo of my kitchen so you have no excuses. Note the fact that I only have 18 inches of counter space in my entire make-shift kitchen —–>). Especially if you’re busy. But after my Christmas-cookie-fail I made a commitment that this 6/26, in memory of my dad, I would bake a coconut cake. From scratch.
Though I avoid it, baking is actually a very zen experience for me. When I bake I become totally absorbed in what I am doing, concentrating on weighing and measuring and timing. No matter how much my mind is racing, baking brings me a sense of total focus. I put on music and think of little else than moving through this systematic process of creating something. I associate food with so many memories of people, places, and times in my life. It is comforting and makes me feel connected to those people and places and times. Between those two things you would think I would be cooking and baking all the time! Not so much. Let me give you a little background on my baking skills and habits. Things I do well: read cookbooks and baking blogs, watch the food network, eat baked goods. Things I do not do well: go to the grocery store, plan, practice patience, find motivation. So cooking this cake was a commitment, not an everyday event.
Last year I was looking for a white cake recipe and I discovered the Sweetapolita blog, which I became somewhat obsessed with. Rosie bakes the most amazing cakes I have ever seen and she does an incredible job photographing her process. Her perfect white cake was exactly that – perfect! So, with a swap out of coconut milk for whole milk, it was the base for my coconut cake. Because Rosie on Sweetapolita can do no wrong, I decided to search around for a coconut icing recipe on her blog. Though she had one, it was a cream cheese coconut icing, which just wasn’t what I was looking for. So I adapted her swiss meringue buttercream (the best icing ever! Don’t be scared off by the whole making meringue part) into a coconut swiss meringue butter cream (with the addition of coconut cream and some powdered coconut). I used that as the filling, used the plain swiss buttercream for the cake, and then covered the whole cakes in unsweetened coconut. As I started baking I realized something interesting – I never bake just for myself. I know there are those people out there who bake cookies to keep in their cookie jar, or pies to keep out on their counter. I am just not one of those people; I wish I was. Kind of. Really I wish I lived with one of those people. But as I started to bake I couldn’t remember baking anything that wasn’t to take to a party, shower, pot luck, work function, or some other event. Listening to my ipod, focusing on baking this cake in memory of my dad, it was so nice to just be making this cake for me. No worrying about it looking perfect or tasting perfect. No worrying about other people’s food allergies or preferences. Just me, a cake, some music, and some memories.The cake came out wonderfully (thanks entirely to Sweetapolita). It doesn’t look great, it isn’t level, I wouldn’t be happy to take it to a party. The coconut milk made it a littler denser than I hoped for. But it doesn’t matter, because I have this cake sitting on my counter, just for me, just to remember my dad. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t look perfect.
There are so many foods that remind us of people in our lives we have lost – a grandmother’s corned beef and cabbage, a father’s chili, a mother’s apple pie, a friend’s chocolate chip cookies, whatever. It is easy to find excuses not to make these foods – no time, no reason, no good recipe, not a good cook, no kitchen, whatever. I share this all just to say that baking is a great way to remember those we have lost – the foods they loved, the foods they made, and the foods we shared together. It can be a great memorial for a birthday, anniversary of a loss, holiday or any other day. So if there is something you have been wanting to make, go for it! Do it for yourself. No excuses.
Are there any foods that remind you of your loved one? Leave a comment to tell us about it.
Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up with our posts. Come on, where else are you going to read about grief and baking?!?