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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?

 

Down the Kibble Trail


 

            Butterfly wants to make our house a home. She does this with her art projects, and by scratching designs in the wood floors and the rugs, but most of all she makes our home her own by spreading kibble into every corner of the apartment. She loves her kibble. She treats each bite like a delicious piece of candy to be savored, and she makes sure to spread the smell of kibble all over her face, so that when she hunkers down to sleep next to me at night, I can share her joy.

"My kibble!"

“My kibble!”

"Can I eat now, Cricket?"

“Can I eat now, Cricket?”

            She doesn’t believe in just eating her food in the bowl, the way her sister, Cricket, does. Butterfly noses the kibble around, swishing it over the sides of the bowl, creating a kibble fountain. And then she chooses two or three pieces of kibble to eat on the rug, or bring to the bathroom door, or next to my bed, or into the kitchen. When it’s time to go out for a walk, she gulps a mouth full of kibble, dropping pieces like breadcrumbs down the stairs, and choking on the rest, as she runs for the door.

            It occurred to me, watching Butterfly’s kibble trail grow, that a lot of humans would appreciate her way of doing things too. Wouldn’t you feel more welcome at home if there was a trail of M&M’s leading to the living room, or peanut butter cups stashed between the books on your bookshelves?

A few months ago we had a visit from two toy terriers. They were fragile little dogs, and on very strict diets that did not include anything as daring as kibble, so we were careful to take the food bowls off the floor, and sweep up the kibble trail so they would not be tempted to hurt their sensitive tummies. But, of course, we couldn’t find everything. One of the little dogs, Milo, squished himself under the bookcase in the hallway, to get at what must have been stray kibble dust. Then he went over to the placemat where we keep the dog bowls and sniffed it centimeter by centimeter, lifting up the edges to see what he could find.

I swear, he really did get all the way under there.

I swear, he really did get all the way under there.

Milo is very thorough.

Milo is very thorough.

I can relate to this kibble fixation. I see food as comfort too. I’ve always wanted to have an open pantry or Swedish shelving where all of the food is easy to reach and clearly visible. Putting food behind opaque cabinet doors makes it harder for me to believe the food is really there. Some part of my brain is still mired in the Peek-A-Boo stage of development.

If I did not have to worry about weight, or cholesterol, or tummy trouble, I would like to have something like a rotating cake cabinet, like the ones they have at diners, set up in my dining room. I would fill it with homemade cakes, with Buttercream frostings, and chocolate ganache fillings, and marzipan, and lemon curd, and chocolate mousse. There would be seven layer cakes, and Babkas, and apple pies with lattice tops and whipped cream. If I could have that in my dining room, with everything visible at all times, brazenly dancing behind the glass, I think I would feel like I was in heaven.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Marzipan cake

Marzipan cake

Maybe I should find a way to make Butterfly’s kibble fountain spin?