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The Jigsaw Cake

 

For my birthday present this year, my brother out did himself. One Amazon box arrived after another, with frosting and cake pans and candy molds and cake mix and pudding mix and sprinkles. When I asked him what it was all for he said that I’d find out on my birthday, and no sooner. On the day of my birthday I received a recipe by email for a six-tiered rainbow cake, covered with icing and sprinkles, and filled with candy.

rainbow explosion cake online

This is not my picture, just so you know.

By the time my brother called, to see if his present had finished arriving, and to receive praise for his great idea, I was sick, both exhausted and nauseated (from Shingles and medication for Shingles), and unable to show the proper amount of enthusiasm for the considerable effort and ingenuity behind his gift. But instead of just saying, I hope you feel better soon, he said, it’s probably better to make the cake when you’re nauseous anyway, so you won’t eat so much.

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“Phooey.”

I felt responsible for triggering his comment, and then annoyed at how easily he could turn on me, but most of all I felt overwhelmed, by the cake itself. The idea of this massive tower of cake, that I shouldn’t eat, and that would probably take two or three days to make, and that wouldn’t fit in my freezer once it was all put together, felt like a symbol for how challenging my life has been feeling lately. I wouldn’t even be able to bring the finished cake to my brother’s house, because anything made in my kitchen wouldn’t be kosher enough for his family. We’d have had to make the cake at their house for it to be kosher, and that wasn’t suggested.

2018 Lila September

“But I like cake too, Auntie Rachel.”

I love puzzles. And I love cake decorating, when I have the energy. And I really, really, really love frosting, but I could not figure out the puzzle of this huge, unmade cake.

I wanted to accomplish this. I wanted my brother to be proud of me for making this six-tiered cake, and I wanted him to know that I appreciated his gift, and that I appreciated that he thought of me on my birthday. And I really wanted to have a birthday cake that was covered with frosting and bursting with candy. But I wanted to share the cake with a room full of people who could eat it and enjoy it with me; I didn’t want to have a cake that size in my house just to remind me that I had no one to share it with. And I was afraid that after going through all of the effort to put the damn thing together, I’d wake up one morning and stuff the whole thing in my face.

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“That sounds like fun, Mommy!”

The nausea and the exhaustion from the Shingles, and the guilt and shame for being fat and lonely, and the anxiety and the depression for everything in the world were making any productive action impossible. Which of course left me feeling like a jerk, because I should have already made the cake, if only to take a picture of it to send to my brother. Even after the illness passed, every time I looked at the box-o-cake I felt sick to my stomach.

I kept trying to think of ways to make the project more manageable, like, to make cookies out of the cake mix and slather them with the frosting, to give the kids at synagogue school as a Chanukah present. And to take another box of cake mix, and the food coloring and frosting and cake pans and make an abbreviated rainbow layer cake for Mom to bring to one of her many, many, quilting groups. But none of that would give me a satisfactory picture of a six-tiered rainbow explosion cake to send to my brother.

In the meantime, I noticed that there was a huge bag of peanut M&M’s going to waste in one of the boxes, and I decided that chocolate could help my thought process. I mean, it couldn’t hurt. And the cake ingredients are at no risk of going bad while I come up with a plan. Though there are two little white dogs who keep eyeing that box of ingredients, and it’s possible that they are coming up with their own schemes for how to bring this cake to life.

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“Mmm, cake.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

131 responses »

  1. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    You are way too hard on yourself.

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  2. Well that’s certainly a unique gift. And I’m sure he meant well but……. I don’t have shingles, I do have energy, but I wouldn’t want to make the cake either! Hope you feel better soon, and enjoy the M & M’s! 🙂

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  3. That made me laugh, but I feel slightly queasy just looking at the picture of a rainbow cake, though I could manage the M&Ms. Sometimes the giver does not realise the burden a gift can become.

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  4. I was thinking he was probably right about not making it while you’re ill – I’m so sorry you have shingles! But then I thought, why on earth would he give you something like that in the first place? Family just baffles me most of the time

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  5. What a creative idea! Kind of over-the-top, that cake but I’m sure your brother was proud of his idea. I really hope your shingles goes away soon. My first vaccine gave me a mild case which was just awful. The 2nd new vaccine was worse. I told my doctor he couldn’t give me another one. Be well soon🙏🏻!

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  6. Oh my, I have seen pictures of that cake elsewhere online. It would be daunting to make at the best of times, but especially when you don’t feel well. Hang in there.

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  7. Oh my word. What was he thinking?? Why would he dump you with the responsibility for making a gigantic cake that even he can’t help you eat????? I’m sure your brother meant well, but … Argh. What was he THINKING????????

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  8. I like to bake, but this is way outta my league! I’ve seen pictures of this cake online. Absolutely zero interest in eating it, let alone baking it. You are not alone, Rachel! I am right here with you saying, “Happy Birthday, but please let’s skip the cake. “

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  9. I’ve made that cake, twice in one night after the first one was pushed over. An entire rainbow inside, an unicorn on the outside. Twice. In one night.

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  10. I couldn’t handle making that cake, but it would be spectacular at a large gathering!

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  11. First, Happy birthday Rachel ❤️

    Wow, that’s quite a cake! I can’t even imagine tackling its creation, but it does look like it would be fun 🙃

    Please take care and I hope you feel better soon 🌷

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  12. Yes, I agree M&M does help the thought process, greatly. Awesome post. I pray that you feel better. Blessings.

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  13. Sorry you were sick. Shingles are so painful. Happy Birthday, brilliant idea for a cake. Hope you’re better each day

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  14. That cake looks insane. I do love Rainbow cookies though! The kind with almond-based sponge cake and raspberry jam. Happy Birthday, and don’t worry about pleasing everyone else — it’s your birthday, you do you!

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  15. I’d call that an IKEA cake. You get all the parts; some assembly required. Give me a call if you need a taste tester.

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  16. You could always re-gift the ensemble back to your brother on HIS birthday! Maybe not…..maybe make rainbow muffins, while you eat the candy. Happy Birthday!

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  17. No problem for the dogs if you don’t make the cake. They’ll be happy to make the ingredients disappear for you.

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  18. Sorry you’re suffering with shingles and reaction to medication. I hope you’re on the mend by now. Happy Birthday to you… Feel better! That’s some brother you have!!

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  19. Happy Birthday! Get well soon. Why not make just one layer of cake at a time? Then you can spread out the joy over a year’s worth of holidays.

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  20. Happy Birthday! Maybe when your feeling better you could create something like it but smaller? I know the feeling when you get a gift that requires time to put it together. And right now you just need to rest. Take care.

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  21. I hope you feel better soon and Happy Birthday. 🐕🐾

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  22. I think this is a cake that would look way better than it tastes – too much! So appreciate the thought behind it, and enjoy the M&MS.

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  23. Sorry about your depression, etc.You know (and I know you know, for what these wishes are worth), I wish you didn’t need to endure that. But through that (or beyond it), I love the tale of the relationship between you and your brother. Happy that you have that, and Cricket, and your own fine self. You’re a wonderful writer, and I thank you for the gift of your talents. Happy Solstice. Cheers

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  24. Happy Birthday ! So glad you are feeling better. Give the cake back to your brother for his birthday posted piece by piece 😉

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  25. Sorry you had the shingles. I had it in late 2007, and the pain was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. (It was on the right side of my face, and threatened my eyesight, among other discomforts.) I hope the exposure gave you some immunity from future attacks, Rachael!

    As for that cake…. I can’t imagine how you’d sure it either, but I’m sure you’d have to have a pot of extra strong coffee, black, to drink with it!

    Anyway, Happy Hanukkah!

    Reply
    • Thank you! I was incredibly lucky to have a mild case of the shingles. The doctor listed all kinds of awful possibilities to me and none of them happened, thank God!

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      • I lost hearing in one ear and have a scar on my face that extends from an ear, down my check, and to my chin. It causes me pain still, though the pain has lessened since I came down with it in 2007. I read somewhere that the longer one goes before diagnosis and treatment, the more the damage to the nerves concerned (reasonably, logically!) and the longer the pain lasts. That’s a fact!

      • One doesn’t get through life without a few bumps and scars, eh? I have no vanity about such things since I see them as evidence I am a survivor and feel good about that.

  26. Rachel, who is Rachel Mankowitz who works at BMW?

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  27. happy birthday, and glad you are feeling better, Rachel. that’s a huge undertaking, so don’t feel guilty and just do what you can do. happy Chanukah –

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  28. IT’s an ingenious gift for a child … but no way could I eat that. Nice thought though 🙂

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  29. Happy Birthday and hope you feel better soon. I was asked to bake a cake for our Christmas dinner, and I am overwhelmed by the handful of ingredients. But seeing what you were supposed to bake… I shouldn’t complain!

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  30. That’s waaaaaaay too much sugar. Take care of your health for the canines sake.

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  31. Shingles – Oh no! Here’s hoping you recover well.

    Since you say that you enjoy cake making/decorating, that’s a neat idea for a birthday present. Wait until *you* will enjoy it to make it – it’s your present, after all! Happy birthday!

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  32. One of my favorite birthdays as a little girl was when my Mom made me a rainbow cake. It consisted of 3 or 4 thin layers of cake, with a little white icing in between each one, and the whole thing covered with white icing. Those days were so much simpler.

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  33. Yeah that’s a cake that looks better than it probably taste anyway. Too much sugar ! I get a food coma just looking at the stock photo. Sorry you dealt with so much on your birthday but still sending some love and good vibes

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  34. That cake looks beautiful but I’m not sure I have that much patience.

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  35. I had shingles many years ago, and still recall how ill it made me feel. The last thing on my mind would have been making a cake, so I sympathise.
    A belated happy birthday anyway, and I hope you are feeling much better.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  36. Hope you are feeling better now

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  37. Ah. So we’re both December babies. Just merely looking at the picture of that cake raises my A1C levels.

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  38. A’Jigsaw’ cake? How interesting.

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  39. Wow! Have a wonderful Hanukkah! ❤

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  40. Now that is a cake that my grandson would love. It seems that the little boy in your brother couldn’t resist it and thought it a great present. My grandson would think like that. Sorry about the shingles. I had the shingles shot and got chicken pox. I had already had chicken pox as a kid. It turns out that it is a very rare complication. So rare that they don’t tell you about it. Happy Birthday.

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  41. Rachel, you have my total empathy and sympathy with the shingles. I had them in my head and right eye in my early 60s. Not a good time at all. I hope you have good meds and a good doctor to help you get through the ordeal. Feel better soon.
    Never postpone eating cake.

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  42. Happy Belated Birthday! Sorry you had the shingles and felt overwhelmed by the gift. Maybe you could suggest to your brother that you bring everything to his house so you could make it together and have some sibling bonding time.

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  43. I’ve never liked celebrating my birthday. I can’t really explain that, but I prefer it to be like any other day. I’d rather celebrate all days I guess (mine is in December too, and this year I managed to let it slide by quietly, just the way I like it. Most of my friends enjoy their birthday celebrations. Good for them, I say. Good luck with the cake. It seems like your brother gave you the gift of a job you’re expected to accomplish. Although he was obviously enthusiastic about the idea and I’m sure his intent was fun, the nature of the gift puts pressure on you to succeed at baking a cake. That doesn’t seem like much fun to me, and it must be especially difficult when you’re not feeling well. I hope the shingles clears up soon. I know that can be incredibly painful and debilitating.

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    • I have very mixed feelings around my birthday. Mostly I want to feel like I’ve accomplished enough to fill the past year, and I never think I’ve done that. Each year I just want that not-enough feeling to go away.

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  44. Lovely of your brother but sorry to hear of your ill health especially you feeling fat and lonely. Sending best wishes for a good recovery all the way from Australia.

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  45. That’s not a gift, that’s a problem he’s given you. I’d quietly forget about it and then when asked I’d say the dogs ate some of the ingredients, they’re fine, but the project has had to be abandoned…

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  46. Firstly, amazing gift (or perhaps amazingly frustrating, I’m not too sure!) Secondly, reading how much you’ve struggled with Shingles and guilt and shame made my heart ache. You’re not fat and lonely, but depression is, well, a painful nightmare to wade through day in, day out. But I think you should be proud for navigating your way around the challenge. And proud for this epic write up when it can’t have been easy. Good shout on the peanut M&Ms for fuel, chocolate is always the answer 😉 How’re you feeling now, Rachel? Sending lots of love & best wishes your way  ♥
    Caz xxxx

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  47. Happy belated birthday! That is an overwhelming gift – but don’t allow it to add guilt to your life I’m sure thats not what your brother intended. Of course it would have helped if it came with an offer to help make it together. But the thought was sweet! I hope you find in this next year that you ARE enough, and you already possess tremendous strength, beauty, ingenuity, talent and so much more! That cake in all its glory isn’t enough to celebrate you!!!

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  48. Belated Happy Birthday! I hope you’re getting over the shingles now.

    Maybe you could make the cake in smaller sections when you’re feeling better (eg a three tier one & a four-tier) & that might prove more manageable. I always gasp in admiration at the contestants on the Great British Bake-Off when they have to make their show-stoppers, that are enormous & very intricate (especially when they’ve had to practice them at home in the week!) .

    Happy Hanukkah &, if you’ve not seen it yet, this is a lovely two-chord uke playalong of Ocho Kandelikas with some fun gypsy tango in there from Stu Fuchs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJW703Peh-I.

    Jeanette

    Reply
  49. While it was a creative gift, and I am sure he meant no harm, you need to take care of yourself. I would respond to him that while you so appreciate his gift it does not fit with your best interests. Ask if he would like the parts back to return them or should you piece by piece use the parts in a way that is good for you.

    Reply

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