Coffee and Cake


Coffee and cake belong together, don’t they? Sure, you can have one without the other, but why would you?

Growing up, my family always had a cake waiting in the wings in case we had company. It might be an Entenmann’s cake, a Sara Lee pound cake, a Jewel almond braid or cheese danish, or my mom’s homemade Bisquick cake. But I can’t recall a time when there wasn’t cake.

And the thing is, it wasn’t for us. It was for company only. Some of you might be familiar with the comedian Sebastian Maniscalco? He grew up in an Italian American family in the Chicago suburbs much like I did (Italian on half and Scottish and Irish on the other), and he talks about this very thing in one of his shows.

There may be days when no one came by, and there’s this lonely little cake sitting in the box, and you think you’re going to just have a little piece? Just wait until Mom sees you trying to dig in. Not a chance…it’s for company!

Today, we’re more likely to have a fruit salad in the fridge instead of a cake. Which to me, is kind of sad.

Sure, I’m on board with eating healthy and doing all the things you ought to do. But to me, cake and coffee is medicine. Think about it. You don’t usually eat it alone, right? It involves people. Usually people that you love. Or at least like. A little.

It involves conversation. Sitting around a table, telling stories, laughing. You can’t have serious conversation over cake. It just doesn’t happen. Try talking politics over cake and coffee. They just don’t mix!

Cake and coffee is about love. About family and friends connecting. Enjoying a moment. Slowing down and savoring–the cake, the coffee, the conversation and the company.

So, who’s coming over for some cake and coffee? I’ll be ready.

Making Art

Woman with dark brown hair in blue sweater and blue jeans holding painting painted on LP record. I haven’t taken an art class since sometime around 5th grade. I wasn’t any good at it then. I couldn’t color in the lines. I couldn’t cut a straight line. Or draw one. Even my stick figures weren’t quite right.

So, I let my sister talk me into a Sip and Paint party tonight. Notice that the Sip comes before the Paint? That’s the part I was most looking forward to. Me and paint? Not so much.

So, I get there, to a cute little record shop in the suburbs. Yes, I said “record.” For those of you who don’t understand what that is, it is a vinyl disk that when you put it on a turntable with a needle, produces amazing sound far superior to anything you can get off a CD or MP3. But I digress.

The owner of the shop hosts fun stuff like the Sip and Paint parties, and my sister is friends with her so we got invited. After some internal dialogue I decided I really didn’t care if I suck at art, it sounded like fun and so I decided to go.

I met my sister there and after we got snacks and drinks, we were led to tables that were set with paint palettes, brushes, smocks and cloths for cleaning your brushes.

We each received an old vinyl record, which was going to be our canvas for the evening. Mine was the soundtrack from The Graduate. Kind of funny because the song Mrs. Robinson has been on a near continuous loop in my head for a couple months for no apparent reason. But again, I digress.

So, we got to pick from a couple different templates, and I chose this moon setting over the ocean kind of thing. The instructors talked us through each step, and made it sound super easy.

But when I drew my moon? It looked like a big mound of mashed potatoes! And my waves? Not very wave-like.

The instructor talked me through how to fix things and make them look like what they were supposed to be, and after her help, I have to admit they were pretty close.

The best part of all? It was hilarious. I felt like a kid with finger paints, and it really didn’t matter a whole hell of a lot if my moon was mashed potatoes and my waves were smudges. Just creating the thing even if it wasn’t a Picasso was a blast.

It is hard to take yourself seriously with paint all over your hands and a mashed potato moon on a 33 LP, you know? What could I do but laugh? I laughed a lot. And it felt good.

I’m sure I’m never going to win any contests with my art, and I’m pretty sure that I won’t display any of it ever, either. But I am glad I didn’t let 5th grade Linda get in the way of having what turned out to be a fabulous time tonight painting and making art.

Of Corned Beef and Cabbage

Thinking of my Mom on this St. Patrick’s Day, and corned beef and cabbage. I don’t know that we had it every year for St. Patrick’s Day, but often enough that I remember it. Mom was an excellent cook, she took on Italian, Filipino, Chinese, didn’t matter, she’d try it. But St. Patrick’s Day dinner with corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes, some good rye bread, today that’s the one that’s standing out in my mind. There isn’t a lot that is associated with Irish food that we think of as really tasty, the first thought most people have is of potatoes, right?

And I don’t go out of my way for corned beef any other time of the year, though I do remember corned beef hash in a can that my mom would make from time to time for breakfast with some eggs.

But the real deal, the meat that she’d buy from the butcher and cook in all the right spices with big wedges of cabbage and potatoes, that was something special. I guess because it was really a once a year kind of a thing that made it more so. Not like the spaghetti we had every Sunday, which I still never got tired of, by the way.

Corned beef and cabbage dinner was a sign. That winter was over, spring was on the way. Easter was just around the corner. Days were getting longer, and temperatures warmer.

It was never a big party, never the big drunk fest that St. Patrick’s Day has seemed to become here in the states. Instead, we would just have dinner. As a family. My parents, brothers and sisters, and whichever relative or friend had set up temporary camp in our home for the time being.

And we were sitting in our own kitchen, around our own dinner table, not at a restaurant. And there was no whiskey involved, either. My parents were not much about drinking, only occasionally when they had friends over for a party, but on a regular basis, I don’t remember much at the dinner table except water, milk and pop. Yes, we called it pop. Still do.

But back to the dinner. It was something special not only because it was a once a year feast, but it was one thing we did as a family that represented my mother’s heritage. She became such a part of this big noisy Italian family on my dad’s side that it was easy to forget she was an Irish-Scottish girl from a small farming town in the middle of the state.

This feast once a year allowed us to tune into that side of our family, to honor our mother’s ancestry. Her father who came from Scotland to work in the coal mines,  ultimately settling in that small Midwestern town, dying young from black lung disease. Her mother, who was raised in a house with no indoor plumbing or heat, who had a phenomenal garden, a knack for sewing, and could run a bar like nobody’s business.

I’m grateful to reflect on them today, grateful they are part of who I am. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!