Monday, November 30, 2009

Lily Eats

Our blessed feet

My grandmother, like so many others, has a physical aversion to peacefully resting in a chair for more than thirty seconds, or two bites of her meal, whichever comes first.  One eye on the clock and you'll see--it's never longer than this before someone needs another soda, a serving dish is empty and can be washed, coffee needs to be brewed.  For more than two decades, Thanksgiving has been an affair at her house--Antoinette, the matriarch, Mee Ma, constantly giving away housecoats she only wore once.  This year was the first time that my uncle Al's advancing Lou Gehrig's discouraged (if not prevented) him from leaving the house for the occasion.  A family never maudlin, brave and tragic without fail, undeniably Italian--we moved the dinner to Al's house.

Having recently relinquished some of the finer points of veganism, I still went into the first hurrah of the holiday season with the notion that it'd be hard out there for an herbivore.  This being the case, I wanted to contribute to the family spread.  It's probably at this point that I should mention a fact of cutting relevance--that since the inception of the Bundt pan, more than 50 million have sold.  49,999,999 of those pans could be anywhere now--could be paperweights, or birdbaths, or armor for child soldiers--but fifty mil is Antoinette Herman, and it has housed a cake for every birth, death, mitzvah, and bank holiday since she got her hands on it.   Devil's food bundt cake with buttercream glaze.  Vanilla cake with chocolate frosting.  "Sock-it-to-me Cake," with a ribbon of cinnamon and walnuts baked into the center.  "Hey Lil, that's Sock-it-to-me Cake," my uncle yells across crowded living rooms.  Since I started carrying a spiral notebook with me everywhere I went, my uncle takes the trouble to sift through every family gathering for the noteworthy stuff on my behalf.  Hunched over, ice cream sliding around our paper plates, engaged in something as basic and sacred as eating dessert.  "Lil, where's your journal?  Write that down.  Sock-it-to-me Cake." 

It was with all of this in mind that I set out cooking for Thanksgiving.  A slow curry--coconut milk, cubed sweet potatoes, chickpeas.  A head of cauliflower in, the whole apartment becoming porous.  Holidays are as temperamental as some people--their flavor is something to be prescribed, not accepted.  I started another pan going, simmering quinoa and crimini mushrooms in vegetable stock.  When everything in a kitchen swells and reaches a certain temperature, it suddenly doesn't matter--that your family might be dying, might not eat chana masala, might have deep-fried the turkey.  

Dizzy at this half-familiar, half-novel altitude, I started to bake a swirl cake.  In my tiny, galley-style kitchen, I assembled the vanilla batter.  Having exhausted my supplies of both counter space and mixing bowls, I put the batter to rest in the corner of the floor in which I was least likely to step on it, and began combining the ingredients for the spice cake batter in an oversized tupperware container.  It was at the point of swirling the batters in the Bundt pan (without mixing them.  Never mixing them,) that the notion of batter rising temporarily escaped me.  Having filled the pan to its rim, I began baking, and returned to my tinkering at the stovetop.  

To dissolve this band of wandering cake demons, minstrels threatening to tell at any moment, I take myself down: half the cake burned and half remained a kind of cake pudding, and the whole thing cleaved into coarse crumbs when I tried to take it out of the pan.  There are moments in every little life which don't just allow for, but induce, a kind of functioning heartbreak.  The kind of heartbreak you can take still standing.  Thankfully, there were no less than eight pies that had been bought or baked or won at the race track.   Isn't this the season, thick-skulled on the cooling rack?  Thankfully.  Thankfully, while our grandmothers are alive none of us are too responsible for cake.  Even in November, with the world starting to move in, this keeps us on our feet.


  1. I love this. Such bold writing, such comfortable feelings.

  2. lily, I love your voice! "Isn't this the season, thick-skulled on the cooling rack?" Standing alone this line has the substance of a better Tom Robbin's quote. Wrapped in the batter of your commentary it punches Tom Robbins in the head and invites him to dinner:) Bravo lady