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…..