(Note: This piece was written during the first week of March. You’ll find an update at the end.)
As a kid, I’d often return from my afternoon paper route and find my mom on her knees, meticulously scrubbing the floors. One look at her…and instinctively, I’d head in the other direction!
My mom hails from a generation of women who were raised to marry, have a family, and spend their days nurturing the brood. Growing up, we were a fiercely independent bunch and things didn’t exactly go according to plan. But there’s something about cleaning, and keeping her home neat as a pin, that is deeply satisfying to my mother. Today, even though both my parents are retired, my mother still irons every stitch of clothing--well-starched, with a razor sharp crease. On Tuesdays.
The rhythm of cleaning soothes the soul.
Gruff and full of bravado, my father ruled the roost…without question. My mother had plenty to be upset about…and despite her reoccurring back problems and bleeding ulcers, she was often on her knees. Her temple of absolution comprised of a bucket of cleaning supplies and a worn out toothbrush for the smallest crevices.
Growing up, a visit to the neighbor’s house went hand in hand with apologies for their less-than-tidy house. Our house was famous for being fastidiously clean. Concealed by the burning stench of bleach, it was a home that reeked of hurt and heartache.
I am my mother’s daughter.
Trading mop for whisk, I find solace…and celebrations in baked goods. As I scoop, and then gently sweep the flour, there too is a rhythm. I am comforted by the whir of beaters as they scrape the sides of my metal bowl, and wonder at the alchemy…as I incorporate dry ingredients into wet. Smooth and repetitive, I zest orange after orange, watching the flakes cascade to the bottom of the bowl. And on occasion, essential oils from juicy citrus defy confinement, creating a fine mist on nearby countertops.
Mama gets on her knees. I break out the beaters.
Last Monday, I had a glorious dinner party. A festive bunch of bloggers gathered in an undisclosed location for a meal that was truly memorable.
Before I could capture the moment, I received some devastating news. My dear friend Catherine--who had just been at my dinner party, was suddenly struck by a horrific headache. Thankfully, her husband Ken recognized it was far more serious than a headache, and within minutes, whisked her off to the hospital. They waited in the emergency room for over an hour. When she was finally seen by a doctor, things took a rapid turn. A scan of her brain showed a ruptured blood vessel, known as an aneurysm. Often fatal, fortunately, they caught it in time.
Catherine was transferred to another hospital where a leading expert waited to perform surgery. During the nine hour procedure, they discovered a total of two aneurysms and managed to clamp them both.
Now the waiting game begins.
She’s in intensive care for at least the next two weeks while doctors monitor her closely. Like an earthquake, her brain is experiencing “aftershocks” called vasopasams. The hope is that these aftershocks will not lead to another “earthquake” or worse, a stroke.
On my first visit to the hospital, I was stunned to find my friend, head partially shaved, hooked up to a battery of tubes, with a mouth that drooped a little when she spoke, and a black eye the size of my fist. But she was alert, and called people by name. After what she went through, this was a victory.
I think about Catherine often. And I think about the preciousness of life. Just days ago, she was laughing and enjoying a fantastic meal.
And now, the long road of recovery begins…..
Today, I took solace in the form of an Orange Butter Cake, baked in a sunshine yellow bunt pan. The cake, light and fluffy with an oozing, and a not-too-sweet glaze symbolizes sweetness…and hope. At this point in her recovery, Catherine’s ICU doctors tell us she’s burning over 5,000 calories a day.
Maybe…just maybe…she’ll be up for seconds.
ORANGE BUTTER CAKE
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter -- room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup orange juice (I use fresh)
3 tablespoons orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla1 teaspoon orange extract
2/3 cup orange marmalade
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar -- sifted
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier (I used fresh orange juice)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter -- melted
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
Spread butter on bottom and sides of tube pan or layer pans. Dust evenly with flour and tap out excess flour. Be generous with greasing and flouring indentations if using a decorative Bundt pan. Or, grease and line with parchment paper.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F (325 F for dark pans).
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. With electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Alternately, add dry ingredients and juice, beating after each addition. Begin and end with flour. Scrape down sides of bowl and beater. Stir in grated orange zest and extracts.
Spoon batter into prepared pan(s); level top.
Bake in preheated oven 50 to 60 minutes for a tube cake , or 30 to 35 minutes for layers, or until top is golden brown and cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool in pan(s) on wire rack about 10 minutes. Run knife blade around edge of cake. Top with plate or cardboard disk, invert and lift off pan(s). Cool cake(s) completely.
In a small bowl, blend orange marmalade with liqueur. To fill layers, set one layer on cardboard cake dish or flat plate. Spread evenly with marmalade-liqueur, top with second layer.
Beat together all glaze ingredients. Add more juice by the drop to thin, more sifted sugar to thicken. Glaze should drip heavily from spatula. Spoon over tube cake, allowing glaze to run down sides. Or, spread glaze over top of layers.
Shortly after I wrote this post, the intense pain, and nausea from the subsequent medication forced doctors to place Catherine on a feeding tube.
Now recovering at home, Catherine spent a total of 7 weeks in the hospital. Her parents flew in from New York and have decided to stay on, indefinitely. They’ve rented a home to be close by.
At this point, she’s susceptible to seizures, and requires 24 hour supervision.
Doctor’s orders: No alcohol or driving for one year.
A Back Room Taste of Mexico
(includes photo of Catherine)