When Life Hands You Lemons Loaf Cakes

I have a new pet peeve which, although I think it’s completely valid, is really annoying because I already have so many pet peeves to begin with. (I wonder what it would be like to be peeve-free?) The newest addition to the list of things that makes me go “argh” is when people take the misfortune of others and turn it into their own personal tragedy. Like when my father’s aunt took to her bed for weeks after Kennedy was assassinated, as if the nation’s loss had happened only to her. Okay, that’s a dated example, but it came to mind recently when I saw her photo in a family album; I love the idea of this 4’10” kvetch drawing the curtains and collapsing onto Betty Draper’s fainting couch while poor Jackie was busy figuring out how to go on with her life raising two small children alone.
More recently I’ve been struck by how many people take the illness of another as a cue to be “just sick.” I can’t even count the times someone has reported the news of a friend’s health problem with “I’m just sick over it. I couldn’t eat a thing last night and could barely sleep.” Maybe I know too many narcissists, but I feel like I hear this kind of talk all the time. Whether it’s in response to something that has indeed touched someone close or a national incident, I want to scream, “It’s not about you!”

Using the word “sick” when you aren’t the one who is actually ill is just so wrong. You may have lost your appetite for one measly meal but this poor friend will be suffering for months and probably hasn’t slept a wink since the diagnosis. Of course everyone has the right to react to a friend’s bad roll of the dice, but I challenge the choice of words. Just say what’s really going on; you are scared, sad, and probably mad. But you’re not the sick one. What is really important is that you get over yourself and show up. Be a good friend to your friend and process your own stuff honestly and privately.
Word choice is a funny thing. I have a friend whose mother died by her own hand 30 years ago and every time I am with my friend I find myself saying about something, “Oh I could have just died!” or “I was so bored I wanted to kill myself!” Isn’t that awful? Obviously I don’t do it on purpose but it happens all the time. Luckily, I have a generous friend but my carelessness really brings to light just how unconscious certain phrases have become, which is not good. “I’m starving!” “I’m exhausted!” “I could kill her!” “He’s a moron!” If you stop yourself and think about what you’re saying you probably aren’t starving if you’re eating three squares. Maybe you’d like a little snack. Maybe you could use a good night’s sleep. Maybe she did something really annoying and you’re pissed off and maybe he made a big mistake because he wasn’t thinking. I don’t mean to be a finger wagging prig; I’m just trying to call attention to something I am certainly guilty of and it’s just laziness.
I think there are also elements of the conversational forbidden fruit syndrome contributing to the hyperbole or the slips. Have you ever noticed when you are hyper-aware that you shouldn’t bring something up in front of certain people that specific something is the one thing you have to force yourself not to bring up? Stifling it almost hurts, right?
I am being really cranky and I don’t mean to be. I think I’m just reacting to the fact that I have two friends who’ve been struggling with serious health issues. That’s the bad news. The good news is that things are looking up and both of them are on the mend. I also think that I’m thinking about all of this heavy stuff because today is my birthday. Yup, and next week we’ll talk about my cake, but this week I’m thinking about what starts to happen as you age. No, not the physical changes that a happy syringe of Botox or a trip to Dr. Sherrell Aston can cure, but the really scary stuff that stinks, the realization that truly bad things happen to wonderful people (and vice versa but that’s a story for another day).
Okay, this has got to stop. I am going to keep repeating something a dear friend who has been through way too much always reminds me, “Every birthday is a gift.” And it is and I really do feel that way and I’m not even thinking about my aging per se. And I’m going to get over MY-self and bake a little get-well-and-start-packing-on-those-pounds-you-lost-in-the-hospital treat for my two healing pals.
This lemon loaf cake is perfect for summer and the recipe conveniently make two. It travels really well and is great for a picnic in the park or on the beach. Light and bright and fantastic paired with berries. I’ve served it with lemon curd (had some in my freezer) lightened with some yogurt and sprinkled with blueberries for a little something extra. But it is lovely on its own and a wonderful way to deliver some sunshine to anyone who has been (deservedly) feeling gloomy.

When Life Hands You Lemons Loaf Cakes
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties! by Ina Garten, 2001
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2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (from 5/6 large lemons)
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice from the lemons you zested, divided
3/4 cup full-fat yogurt, (or low-fat buttermilk if you're not trying to fatten anyone up) at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. For extra peace of mind, also line bottom of pans with parchment paper, butter and flour as well.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the yogurt (or buttermilk), and vanilla. Set both bowls aside.

Cream the butter and 2 cups of the granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest. Beat until incorporated.
Add the flour and yogurt (or buttermilk) mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.Divide the batter between the pans, smooth out the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.
Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. If there are pieces of pulp, strain into pitcher.
When cakes are done, cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans, peel off parchment paper and set them on a wire rack set over a tray or sheet pan lined with wax or parchment paper.

Pierce tops of cakes with toothpick or cake tester and pour the lemon syrup over them.
If you feel up to it, carefully remove wax paper with syrup drippings and pour drippings over cakes again. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

Yield: 2 loaf cakes

1 comment:

Joseph St. Cyr said...

Not to be incendiary but this reminded me of my resentful feelings after 9/11 when every resident of The Ozarks was "one" with New York City. They were burning enough vigil candles out in the hinterlands to light up Western Europe but they were too lily-livered to come here and follow through on their conferences and hotel bookings, etc. They made it about them but it was about us. Don't get me started on this topic. Lemon loaf to ease the angst. :-)