Growing up, I didn’t like that my mom wasn’t like other moms. She didn’t know how to French braid hair. She didn’t chaperone field trips or bake her famous homemade cookies for school bake sales. Instead of the long flowing hair of my female classmates, I had short hair and big goofy plastic glasses.
I didn’t realize it at the time because I was a spoiled little brat, but my mom wasn’t doing those things because she was busy being a bad-ass. She was a crazy fast runner before running became a “thing”. She was a corporate lawyer when there weren’t a lot of women who worked full-time in positions like that. She certainly wasn’t a saint, and we didn’t always have a great relationship. But now that I’m older, I really appreciate what I’ve learned from my mom:
1. My mom never told me I couldn’t do anything.
Whether I wanted to be an opera singer or a priest, she never told me I couldn’t do it. I never heard that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. In fact, I think at one point she suggested I try to join the wrestling team. She sent me to Michigan when I was 16 and let me fly all around the country for college auditions. When I decided to pursue ordination, she supported me fully in that as well. Whether I wanted to get married or not, have children or not, she has never openly discouraged me with regard to important life choices.
2. You can have a personal style without being prissy.
My mom is and was an athlete, and even though the 1980s may have taken their toll, she is awesome at finding a style that works for her, even if it doesn’t look like everyone else’s. She always looks good and takes care of herself but isn’t self-conscious and weird about it.
3. Physical fitness is important.
I’m so thankful that my parents are healthy and take care of themselves by exercising and eating well. I hope that I’m just as awesome when I’m their age.
4. Food is also important.
I partially credit my mom with my relationship towards food. She was never a person who was able to subsist solely on grilled chicken salads. Pizza, Mexican, doughnuts, etc. were all fine in moderation. While both of us have struggled at times to figure out moderation, she never modeled deprivation for me.
Obviously, the best way to celebrate my mom’s birthday was with wine and cake. We headed to Arrington Vineyards for a Riedel wine tasting and got to keep the glasses!
My mom prefers lighter white cakes to a big heavy chocolate cake, so I immediately decided to make Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake. Layer cakes are definitely not my forte, so I was shocked when this turned out as well as it did. It was so light and tender with just a hint of lemon. Indeed, it was perfect for celebrating my mom’s 59th birthday!
Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake
as seen on Ezra Pound Cake
- 2 1/4 CUPS CAKE FLOUR
- 1 TABLESPOON BAKING POWDER
- 1/2 TEASPOON SALT
- 1 1/4 CUPS WHOLE MILK OR BUTTERMILK
- 4 LARGE EGG WHITES
- 1 1/2 CUPS SUGAR
- 2 TEASPOONS GRATED LEMON ZEST
- 1 STICK (8 TABLESPOONS) UNSALTED BUTTER, AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
- 1/2 TEASPOON PURE LEMON EXTRACT
- 1 CUP SUGAR
- 4 LARGE EGG WHITES
- 3 STICKS (12 OUNCES) UNSALTED BUTTER, AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
- 1/4 CUP FRESH LEMON JUICE (FROM 2 LARGE LEMONS)
- 1 TEASPOON PURE VANILLA EXTRACT
- 2/3 CUP SEEDLESS RASPBERRY PRESERVES, STIRRED VIGOROUSLY OR WARMED GENTLY UNTIL SPREADABLE
- ABOUT 1 1/2 CUPS SWEETENED SHREDDED COCONUT
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-x-2-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
- For the Cake: Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
- Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
- Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
- Add the butter and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one-third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
- Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
- Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)
- For the Buttercream: Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.
- Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
- Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6 to 10 minutes. During this time, the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.
- To Assemble the Cake: Using a sharp, serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with the third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream left over). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.
STORING: The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to 2 days.