1 cup sugar. Half a cup of Greek yogurt. Half a cup of milk. 1 and a quarter cup of flour. Third a cup of oil. 1 and a quarter teaspoon of baking powder. A splash of vanilla. 20 minutes in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius makes one layer of a five layer cake. Repeat times 7 (because you need back up cakes)That is how you make the layers for a five layer wedding cake with one 9 inch round and a hit & miss oven in the south of Spain.
I remember when I got a random Facebook message from Whitney- a woman I had never met. She told me that Tiffany and Abby had told her that I made wedding cakes. (Fact: I had made one wedding cake) And she wanted to know if when I got to Spain I would like to make the wedding cake for Esther, Andrew and Mo’s daughter.
That wasn’t terrifying at all.
You see, Andrew is the founder for G42, the leadership academy I went to in Spain and at that point in my pre-Spain brain, I was scared of meeting him, because I had a feeling he would be a person who could look at me and cause me to cry with a glance (and I mean for the most part I was right except replace terror with lots of love). So, to make the wedding cake for his daughter was saying a lot about myself. But, of course, being the human that I am, I said yes.
I was only in Spain for a couple weeks when the weekend came to prep and make the cake. I was going to make all of the layers and freeze them the day before and dirty frost them. I had made one test layer prior to this day and it turned out well and got rave reviews, so I felt prepared the cake wouldn’t suck. And I googled how to fill the cake with jam without it toppling.
Baking is sacred to me. And if I don’t like how it turns out I normally will toss it. So, for the first time in my life, I started to fill the baking of this cake with prayer. Because I was an absolute nervous wreck. This cake was going to speak of me, or so I thought, what if it fell apart, or didn’t taste good. Most of the people I was now doing life with in Spain didn’t know me at all, didn’t know who I was or what I was capable of.
What I am trying to say is that I was practically paralyzed with fear that the cake would be a failure.
So I scooped and measured and stirred and cleaned and sang and face timed with friends. I coated the kitchen in flour and powdered sugar and got shaky from said powdered sugar and mass quantities of coffee. I cooled the cakes and wrapped them in Saran Wrap and stuck them in the freezer.
And in the midst of the stirring and measuring and baking, Andrew came by the house to drop off some wedding prep items and as I was the only one in the house he popped into the kitchen to talk to me. I couldn’t tell you what he said to me at this point, but the peace fell in that moment and I believe because of that, the peace fell into my baking.
I had two days of baking in the Mijouse kitchen to create a five layer cake with raspberry jam filling and buttercream frosting. I was mainly alone with some assistance from the flower girl and visits from my friends.
But what I learned from that moment was my stress translates into my baking and cooking. And instead of pouring stress into something I need to pour love and peace and goodness. So I wrote a prayer for Jason and Esther on the cardboard that I used as a cake board.
In the end I was just plain honored to have made that cake.
I made that same cake two more times. Once halfway through my time for Kellen and Whitney’s one year wedding anniversary and once at the end for Andrew’s 70th birthday; because according to Mo–I made Esther’s cake in the beginning so I needed to make Andrew’s at the end of my time. And it’s funny as I look at the timeline. That I made that cake three different times in the span of six months and how I was a different human each time. And by the time I made Andrew’s cake, I was bursting with love for him and for that place and for that tribe. So I poured all of the love and honor and celebration (and tears) into that cake and it showed. I could tell the cake was different then any others I had made.
There’s a moment in my favorite cheesy dance movie CenterStage in which Charlie tells Jody to “Whatever you feel, just dance it”. I don’t want to bake or cook with whatever I feel. I want to get it all out, the stress, the nerves, the overload, the weight on my shoulders, with the chopping and the mixing and the cutting and the blending. But when I pour the layers into the cake pan, or simmer the soup on the oven all that needs to be left is the truth, the joy and the celebration.
Things fall flat or burn or fall apart when they come from a rocky foundation. But when things are filled with hope and joy and truth and celebration they aren’t wobbly. They are declarative and they are a resounding choice to not be controlled by what you feel. And a resounding choice to live above the fog.
Cooking and baking is about more then just the act of feeding and nourishing those I love. It’s about story and emotion and truth and revelation. This new blog post is the inaugural post for “the recipe series”. While right now it is just words and story on a screen my hope is that one day it will be a physical tangible cookbook. Filled with stories about making butternut squash Mac and cheese for my entire squad in Swaziland, or cooking over the fire at training camp or vegetarian April and poblano pepper and mango quesadillas or my new signature dish coconut sugar, gluten-free cheesecake.
So without further ado, let’s eat.