Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Coconut Cake

When we moved from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Frederick, I was thrown for a bit of a loop. I adored NYC, but had a middle-management job in one of the un-sexy departments at a mid-size ad agency (drone alert!) and my husband John was a high school teacher in the Bronx, thus, ample funds were not part of our life.

We had a super cute, but small duplex apartment near the Museum of Natural History that became infinitely smaller with the arrival of our son, the worst baby in the history of babies. Months of sleepless nights made me a little wackier than usual and I pleaded, begged even, to get the hell out of New York. I didn't see a future for us in the city, raising a kid (or kids) on our meager budget.

Knowing that our folks were getting older (and me at the ripe old age of 28), we debated where to move, with my thinking leading to midway between the two, putting us somewhere in Jersey or Philly. My brother-in-law Paul lived in Columbia, MD, and gave John an assist getting in touch with the county education departments across the state. Lo and behold, John received a letter from Frederick County Public Schools that seemed like they really liked teachers (though that fact is debatable now). A push for an interview, sitting and looking at so, so many cows, and before we knew it, John had relocated to Frederick and I was packing up the apartment and the baby, on my way to Maryland.

Frederick 16 years ago was very different from Frederick now, and I was bored. We quickly purchased a car, and some mornings, I would drive John to work so that I could have some wheels during the day. Most days though, I just stayed in our apartment, which seemed so very spacious and had a washer and dryer...score! It also had a miserable infant and a new mom struggling with the parameters of motherhood (not a big fan at that point).

Having finished culinary school just a year before our big move, I fell to cooking as stress relief. Cooking whatever we could afford and making much more food than the two of us could ever possibly eat. I shared easily with grateful neighbors and always looked for the approval that yes, I had indeed accomplished something other than keeping the baby alive that day.

One thing I love is coconut cake. I'm not iffy on the matter. I adore coconut in almost every form, from coconut curries to Almond Joys. But on this day of failed motherhood and doubt with the move I had forced, I decided to bake a coconut cake. No ordinary coconut cake, this masterpiece took hours upon hours to create. Six layers of perfect cake, with a tender crumb and a moistness lent to it by just a touch of coconut milk in the batter.  The ethereal frosting was so ample, it took two rounds in the KitchenAid to make it all. Six layers. Three cakes perfectly, methodically sliced in half, then layer upon layer upon layer. The entire cake then coated with perfectly flaky coconut shreds. A true masterpiece. I set it on the counter and waited.

John came home, exhausted from teaching a long day at a middle school as far opposite to where he had been, dreading, I'm sure, the needy wife and the hysterical baby. I waited.

The coat came off, the papers laid down. I'm certain there was no supper -- all my energy had gone into the cake. The cake that represented my skill in the kitchen, my adoration of him, my failure as the mother of an infant, because I'd so much rather bake a cake than care for a screaming baby, sat there, like a beacon, waiting to be recognized, admired. 

"That's a pretty big cake." Why yes. Yes it is. "Would you like a piece?" "What about dinner?" "Oh, let's just have a piece of cake instead." So he did. Because if you know nothing else, know that this man loves me. He forgot about his own struggles with a new school, and new kids, and a move, and an unhappy, bored wife, and a screaming baby (did I mention that he was the worst baby ever? He has since greatly improved).

But that coconut cake was huge. Easily enough to feed 16. So he had a piece, and I had a piece. And that was it. The rest of the cake sat for days until I admitted defeat and tossed it in the trash. I haven't made a coconut cake since. Frederick has changed, and so have I, no longer baking enormous cakes instead of just sitting there, waiting for something to happen.

Maybe it's time to make another. Four layers this time, and less self doubt. Until then, I'll hit up Angel Cakes on Church Street for one of their perfect coconut cupcakes. Because it's less stress and meaning and there, a coconut cake, or cupcake even, is just that.


Kim said...

That was one cathartic cake!

Chef Christine said...

It really, really was. :)