It’s not about cake. It’s about slices of life

Our renditions of cakes and pies, or those special cookies Grandma used to make become our time machines, a sensory stimulant to yesterday’s memories.

SHARE It’s not about cake. It’s about slices of life

Lilly Gonzalez says her father, Luis Gonzalez, shown here, had a special family recipe for rice pudding.

Lilly Gonzalez

It’s not about cake but memories. Not just about those sacred family recipes handed down from generation to generation. But spaces and places spent with loved ones, mixed with culinary delights, forever etched into the human psyche, our senses and souls.

It’s about slices of life that grow sweeter with distance and time, and the seasons of life and death.

Our renditions of cakes and pies, or those special cookies Grandma used to make become our time machines, a sensory stimulant to yesterday’s memories. Food is life, and a good recipe sweeter than honey.

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That has become even clearer to me since I stumbled into writing recently about my Aunt Mary’s German chocolate cake, which drew more than 100 emails. None were more moving or convincing of the essentiality of that main ingredient called love than this one, from a loving daughter about a loving father:

Hello John, I was glad to see you finally released your Aunt Mary’s German chocolate cake recipe. I have been waiting for that recipe. I don’t read the paper, but my husband does on a daily basis — always cutting out articles or recipes he thinks I’d be interested in, or recipes he thinks he might like.

Well, your first article on Nov. 27 was on my dad’s 89th birthday. German chocolate cake is his absolute favorite cake! Unfortunately, I live in Batavia (Illinois) and he lives in Miami, so I can’t bake for him like I used to, though I do send him cookies all the time. I do go see him twice a year, usually Father’s Day and his birthday.

Last year, we went in February because we went to the Super Bowl. Thank God, because right after that COVID-19 hit our world. So, I wouldn’t have been able to go visit him for his birthday. I had read my dad your articles about the cake, and he got a kick out of them.

When I go to Miami, I always bring him the German chocolate cake, though I make it as a sheet cake. It’s much easier to put a 14 inch sheet pan in your luggage than round cake pans.

Then the icing is in Ziploc bags. Of course, I make extra icing. He loves coconut! So, I was looking forward to trying your aunt’s recipe to bring to my dad’s.

I’ve been baking my whole life. My grandfather on my mom’s side had a bakery in Cuba. Plus, over the years, I’ve worked at the Jewel & Dominick’s bakeshops when they were scratch bakeries. Thompson’s Bakery in Norridge.

I was waiting to read him this last article but the recipe was too late. My dad passed away the day after Christmas. He got a urinary tract infection while in the hospital, caught pneumonia, which nobody knew. He was released, came home. I talked to him that day.

Next day, he had trouble breathing, was rushed to another hospital, diagnosed with the pneumonia, and COVID-19 virus. This was devastating to us. He was fine. Then I lost my dad.

Of course, because of the virus you can’t go see him, so my brother, mom, and I had to say goodbye via Zoom.

They say your hearing is the last to go, so I told him how much I loved him, that I’ll miss him so much. It was OK to go now, we’ll be OK.

2020 has been the year from hell. My husband as well lost his sister to the virus. So many people unable to say a proper goodbye to their loved ones, it’s such a horrible feeling.

Thanks for the recipe, I’m sure my Dad would’ve loved it. – Lilly.

Dear Lilly, I’m sure he loved you so much more.


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