with this day of birth tucked amid snow drifts, and clearly beyond the holiday statute of limitations, i long ago taught myself to upholster the day with wee delights, delights all my own, partaken of in modest degrees of solitude.
this birthday, the one my little one tells me is stellar because i am turning the number of the year i was born — that’s ’57 for those keeping track — has been bursting out of its seams and it’s only just a wee bit after dawn as i sit here at the table tapping on keys. keys to my heart, indeed.
there was a hummingbird cake last night, served up with a B of blueberries, all festive and lit, poised upon a one-footed pedestal. there was a fireplace crackling just over my shoulder, and i was nestled on a velvety couch with people i love.
and this morning, once i’d trudged through the snow with my old banged-up coffee can of seed for the birds, once i’d read the love notes left on the old maple table by my moppy-topped night-owls (boy 1 and boy 2), once i’d clicked on the christmas tree lights and poured my best blue willow mug with cinnamon-spiked coffee, i discovered this poem of perfection, written by my beloved mary oliver. it’s as if she peeked in my hearts and put words to my fumbles. and it is all we need here for all of us to launch into this holy new year. (but, since birthdays, especially ones that are stellar birthdays, are best done without that level-headed note of restraint, i am going to dig up the receipt (tasha tudor word for recipe) for that hummingbird cake i’ll never forget.)
so, first, mary oliver. followed by a fat slice of hummingbird cake. could there be a more perfect beginning to a year that had me on my knees last night, praying mightily for all good and heavenly blessings?
one last thing: thank you, always, for keeping me company here at the table. you are loved simply for listening. isn’t that all anyone of us wish for, deep down inside? to be heard….
by Mary Oliver
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
“Mindful” by Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early. © Beacon Press, 2005.
and now, for that hummingbird cake…
it’s a southern cake, one whose name might come from the whimsy that it makes you hum, it’s so heavenly. it’s known to be something of a symbol of sweetness, and it’s so rich it’s best sliced in thin and elegant fractions of the whole. my hummingbird cake baker said she used orange in place of some of the pineapple. and the toasted pecans gave it a hint of southern groves on a cold chicago’s night. here is art smith’s rendition of that south-of-dixie cake….
hummingbird cake, ala one unforgettable and stellar birthday
the recipe notes this: This cake is one of the most requested desserts at Art Smith’s Chicago restaurant, Table Fifty-Two.
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped ripe bananas
1 cup drained crushed pineapple
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs , beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped pecans
8 ounces cream cheese , at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter , at room temperature
1 pound confectioners’ sugar (about 4 1/2 cups sifted)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the cake, position racks in the center and bottom third of the oven and preheat to 350°. Lightly butter two 9″ round cake pans, sprinkle evenly with flour and tap out the excess. (If you wish, butter the pans, line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper, then flour the pans and tap out the excess.)
Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a bowl. In another bowl, stir or whisk the bananas, pineapple, oil, eggs and vanilla until combined. Do not use an electric mixer. Pour into the dry mixture and fold together with a large spatula just until smooth. Do not beat. Fold in the pecans. Spread evenly into the pans.
Bake until the cake springs back when pressed in the center, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the cakes to wire racks and cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the racks (remove the parchment paper now if using). Turn right side up and cool completely.
To make the icing: Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until combined. On low speed, gradually beat in the sugar, then the vanilla, to make a smooth icing.
Place 1 cake layer, upside down on a serving platter. Spread with about 2/3 cup of the icing. Top with the second layer, right side up. Spread the reaming icing over the top and sides of the cake. The cake can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and stored, uncovered in the refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.
that’s it for today. what’s your birthday cake of choice? or your poem for the new year, or your stellar birthday?
well that was going to be it, but then i popped up from the couch to pour more coffee into my mug, and there before my wondering eyes appeared a kitchen table decked out for the broccoli girl’s birthday, with a load of brussels sprouts to boot. do my boys know me, or what? i nearly melted. the biggest boy of all, the one to whom i wed my life, he was puttering about while i sat here typing, not realizing what in the world he was up to, just beyond the cookbook shelves and the old ticking clock. hilarious. and more than worthy of this morning’s frame of glory…..
Happy happy happy birthday to our chairwoman of the table. May your stellar year be all that and more!
xoxoxoxoxoxo! thank YOU for bringing so much love and light to this here table….xoxo
I just love reading the weaving of your words into this beautiful cloth. You just do it for me, and I feel exactly the same. My stellar birthday, number 60, is coming up at the end of this month, and I’ll treat myself to the same type of little private pleasures throughout the day. It’s just such a pleasure to read your posts. Have a beautiful birthday.
Happiest of happy birthdays on this stellar day! May the year ahead be full of love, joy, peace, and discoveries.
A huge Happy Golden Birthday to you, Barbara! What a glorious poem that says it all about life…and you. Thank you and our best to the boys this snowy New Year!
Happy Birthday Bam…thinking of you always but especially on your stellar day! Thank you for sharing Mary Oliver’s poem- a huge yes to that one. Poetry for me recently and often enough- Rumi.
And your cake looks and sounds scrumptious, but as for me and my birthday house, we will serve Angel Food. Love to you and yours…T
because you are an angel, my beloved friend. what a sumptuous and delicious birthday treat to find you here at the table. sending love to the woodsy woods of maine. xoxox
happy stellar birthday to you, my dear friend. and many many more! xo
Bless the Day. Bless the Table. Bless the Chair of Chairs! And of course we have a cyber cake to boot. Being mindful in a Mary Oliver way is just the most gorgeous approach to traveling around the sun again.
I am with Rilke this year and it goes beautifully with your birthday… “And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”
Bless the adventures of your coming year.
i love you for the wisdom, the light and poetry you always bring. and for so much more, you rock of gibraltar, star of heaven’s light.
Dearest Birthday Girl,
Hummingbird cake and cruciferous vegetables ~ sounds like a proper birthday to me! Yes, my cherished friend, this IS your stellar year!
I wish for you blessings in manifold measure. I wish for you health, happiness and tight hugs from those you love near and far. I wish for you cardinal red dotting the bare winter trees, and, fingers crossed, I wish to find your book on store shelves so the whole world will know what we here at the Chair already know … when you sit in your writing room and tap the keys, the result is pure heaven.
Be blessed today, and every day, dearest Stellar 57. You are greatly and sincerely loved. xoxo
oh, God love ya, as the irish love to say!
Dear bam, belated best birthday wishes from the turtles and me. I toasted you with holiday spiced cocoa from the mushroom people at the market. And here’s a birthday book recommendation: The Art of Migration, paintings by Peggy Macnamara, of Field Museum fame, with accompanying text. As enlightening as it is enchanting. Hugs!
dear karen, your recommendations populate some of the finest parts of my days, so i will be seeking it out. tell the turtles i am so deeply appreciative of their greetings. and i hope they — and you — all stay warm as turtles want to be today. i just put suet balls out for all my bird friends, knowing they need more than the usual seedy fare. i am whispering prayers that all those feathered wisps stay warm as can be in the nooks and crannies that shelter them. blessings for this year….
Very (very!) belated — I prefer to think of them as “refreshed”– wishes for a happy year. Our li’l bro’s Golden Day is coming up, 15 on the 15th, and I like that our 57 from ’57 has a better name than “Heinz”: Stellar! Bless YOUR home’s li’l bro for the special name! Birthdays seem to be big this year around here. My dear mom is 90 in another month (sharing with Honest Abe and her twin, good company). I like that her birthdate is easy to remember: just read 2/12/24 as 2×12=24. I live for mnemonics.
that makes my day, and is everything i love about chair people: “i live for mnemonics.” dang, how many other words can you think of with silent m’s…..?
Oh,belated happy,happy,B…did not know and its been awhile.Should’ve known we would be kindred Capricorn spirits…mine was the 10th and a very BIG one at that…also brother Ron’s is today the 15th and as we speak he is in Italia giving baseball clinics…love to you all,especially the Tedster…xoxo Lynette..