Step outside, breath.
Run hard enough to feel your legs bow.
Pour a tall cup of tea, simmer.
My great granddad passed away a few weeks ago in his nineties. A long and beautiful life. I wasn’t able to make it home for the funeral, but that is the hazard of living 3,000 miles away from your family. It’s strange, when people pass away it’s as though all your memories of them come flooding back at the same time. I don’t know how to not control the way growing up sometimes means growing apart. I don’t know how to write a love letter from all the former me’s that fell in love with my granddad.
I have one hundred vignettes in my head that aren’t time stamped. It’s as though the day I used to steal gum from his bureau is blended in with him taking me out to feed the goats, or planting posts or covering cherry trees with nets to stop the birds from eating all the fruit. It seems like just yesterday I was perched next to my grammy on the piano, listening to her sing hymns with the kind of perfection that only comes from growing up in the South.
My fingers didn’t take to the piano and I ended up in the city. There is so much of their land still in my blood. I keep trying to grow corn in my front yard or harvest herbs from my window. If I close my eyes tight enough, I can see a shed filled with canned food from the garden or my granddad in the field planting strawberries or gloating over his squash. There is that old saying that my grandparents used to quote, as well as my mom, Squash season is here, lock your doors.
After I got the news, I had my own ceremony. Lit incense in my apartment & wrote as many memories as I could down in my journal. There is no boundary to mourning. No timeframe. Just because you can’t make a funeral doesn’t mean you can’t remember – sweat tea in my grammy’s kitchen, bluegrass on the patio & feeding the horses with my brother and sister.
My birthday rolled around while I was still in the midst of asking myself so many questions. One of the most important people in my life sent me this message about death on my birthday. She said, “It’s a gift to have deaths as we live – many actually. And each year we’re afforded a new death, that of our birth-year cycle. It’s a wonderful time to reflect, to realign our dreams and our actions, and to evaluate our dreams for their appropriateness and validity in juxtaposition with our ever-changing selves.” She also included this poem by A.E. Housman:
To An Athlete Dying Young
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.
I guess this year is about embracing both the small and large deaths and all of their beauty. I have died a thousand times this year. If I look back over the past 12 months, I can barely recognize myself from last spring, let alone last fall. For my birthday, my mom sent me my grammy’s cast iron skillet. It’s sitting on the stovetop like it’s holding down a memory. This birthday, I am celebrating the gift of family – my mom’s late night phone calls, catching up with my dad as he drives home from work, my sister calling me as she plays with her kids & my brother as he plays video games & tells me about the latest from his little one, Jelly.
My birthday was about celebrating how alive it feels to be stripped down – to bake with all the creativity that has been passed down to me through the generations.
To face death in all of its mystery.
– Coconut & Vanilla Vegan Birthday Cake –
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup + 2 tbs organic sugar
1/3 cup + 2 tbs sunflower oil or other vegetable oil
1 tbs coconut extract
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tbs tapioca flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups Earth Balance, softened
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tbs vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond milk
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease two 9″ cake pans and then line with parchment paper. The grease beneath the parchment paper makes it easy to pull the cake out of the pan without altering the flavor.
In a large bowl, whisk together coconut milk & apple cider vinegar. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add sugar, oil & coconut extract. Whisk together until the mixture becomes frothy. A key indicator that you have thoroughly whisked is when you start to see bubbles around the side of the batter.
In a small bowl, mix together flour, tapioca flour, baking soda, baking powder & salt. Add the dry ingredients in the small bowl to the wet ingredients and whisk together until the batter is completely smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake for 22-25 minutes, or until you remove a toothpick and there is no residue.
Cool the cakes on wire racks for 15 minutes. Turn the cakes out of the pan and cool completely before frosting. I recommend cooking the cakes the night before and frosting it the next day, so you make sure the frosting will not melt.
If you have an electric mixer, then beat the butter until light and creaming. This should take about 2-3 minutes. Once the butter is light & creamy, add the powdered sugar and beat on low until the sugar is thoroughly mixed. Add the vanilla extract and non-dairy milk, mix until completely smooth. If you don’t have an electric mixer, then you can cut the butter with a knife and mix it together using a fork until its smooth enough to beat with a whisk. Then apply the same process. Put the frosting in the refrigerator until it matches the thick consistency of frosting.
Once the cake has completely cooled & your frosting is firm, put the first sheet on a cake stand or plate. Put a dollop of frosting and cover the top of the first layer. Add the second layer and cover the cake. Enjoy!