Happy birthday, happy memory

Seven years ago, I made a lasagna, salad and fudge marble cake for my mother’s birthday. Sunday night, I made it again. As Liam gets older, he’s started to ask questions about why I don’t have a Mama. Everyone he knows does and it’s really a very fair question, don’t you think? Although I know how to help a child deal with a death, I’m a little intimidated with my own child.

I’ve been aching over how to have a healthy memory of my mother and tell my children stories about her for the past three years. I knew the day was coming when he looked me in the eye asked why I’m alone. I’m not alone, I want to tell him. I want to remind him about “Paca Mike” and tell him for the 1000th time that’s my daddy. But when you’re only three, Mama is your world and the concept of being without one is just beyond you.

This year, instead of spending the week of my mother’s birthday immersed in misery, I decided to celebrate her. If not for my parents, I wouldn’t be alive to have the opportunity to be who I am now. If not for my mother, I wouldn’t have the skills I do to run a house confidently. And if not for my mother, I don’t know that I would love being a mother as much as I do. My mother always made a huge deal out of birthdays, so it seemed fitting to celebrate a life instead of mourn a death.

The first cake I ever baked my husband was a marble cake. I used boxed mix and because I wanted to make it a double layer cake, I bought 2 mixes, made them separately and poured them into 2 cake pans to bake. Did you figure out my mistake yet? For those of you who don’t read directions before you do something, 1 box of cake mix = 2 layers of cake. Incidentally, 4 layers of cake do not fit into 2 cake pans. There was a fire. And then I panicked a made another cake. It also was a disaster. Mom asked me to make her a marble cake for that last birthday and I also made it from a boxed mix. That cake was gorgeous, perfectly swirled and 100% gluten free.

This cake, however, is loaded with gluten and not from a box. This is a recipe from the Joy of Cooking, but I do not use melted chocolate as it is written. I prefer to use about half a cup of cocoa powder. This makes the chocolate portion set more solidly on the white batter and makes a cleaner swirl. I iced my cake with a cream cheese icing and mixed in a handful of melted chocolate chips so it had a little bit of a fudge-like flavor, too.

Chocolate Marble Cake

  • 3 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 sticks softened butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. dark cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 375. Cream together the butter, vanilla and sugar. Add in the eggs, one at a time. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and then add to the creamed mixture.  Your batter will be very stiff at this point, so start streaming in the milk until all the batter is eventually mixed and smooth. Remove about 1 cup of the cake batter and whisk in the cocoa powder.  Split the batter between 2 buttered 9-inch round cake pans.  Drop the chocolate batter by the spoonfuls on to the top of the vanilla batter and then using a clean butter knife swirl the chocolate batter through the vanilla. Don’t over-mix so the colors stay clear. Bake the cakes for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
I love the recipe from Pinch My Salt for cream cheese icing and I use it almost exclusively. I made a full batch and stirred in the melted chocolate chips. (I used about 1/3 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips.)
So the reason for this post that is absurdly long and perhaps the most uplifting is to tell you that in the case of a loss, you don’t have to spend the passing birthdays in misery. I will always miss the fact that I won’t get to share moments of my life with my mom. And I will probably always wish at least a dozen times a day that I could call her to tell her something the kids did, or ask for advice or share a new recipe. By celebrating her life with my kids I get to remember her as the woman who taught me to celebrate every birthday as though it were your only one.

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