in search of entenmann's cake on my mother's birthday

in entenmann's cake eating, as in many things mothers and daughters can and should do together if they are well suited to one another, my mother and i were a perfect match. the little white box would appear on the counter with its window to the chocolate confection below. when she peeled back the sides and popped open the box i'd find the littlest spoon i could and ease the silky chocolate frosting from the top, ever so delicately, revealing the chocolate cake below. then she would move in with her fork, making slow headway on the landscape of the naked cake i'd just unearthed.

she did not want to eat the frosting. i did not want to eat the cake. and so we shared this delicacy, wasting not a crumb.
my mother, never shy with her opinions, and never short on them, either, taught by example that it is okay to like what you like and avoid what you don't. many people do not like marzipan, she explained when i was disappointed to discover that a friend's homemade yule log decoration--a small animal i popped in my mouth whole with excited anticipation--tasted...well... like marzipan.

she was right. many people do not like marzipan. i do not like marzipan, even when it is cute.
though my mother did not go around broadcasting her dislikes, she also did not apologize for them, either. it startled me that she did not regret not liking things most other people with active taste buds like: hershey's kisses and doritos and starburst. they were not for her, she did not like them, and that was fine.
this lesson extends well beyond food. i just recently stopped feeling ashamed that, despite both critical acclaim and glowing recommendations from friends, i have never been able to muster the energy to get beyond the tenth page of 1000 years of solitude. i do not like it! it is not for me! and that is fine!

so i do not apologize when i want to eat the frosting off a cake piece for dessert. i do not feel embarrassed when i simply want to spoon chocolate tahini straight from the jar into my mouth at the counter as my second dinner after the children are asleep. because it is okay to want what you want and eat it the way you want to eat it.

i am made fun of for tailoring dishes to my liking at restaurants. i do this, i hope, within reason, and with a smile. i ask for the otherwise perfectly lovely sounding goat cheese and beet salad to be served without walnuts, which i do not eat in most cases, and for the otherwise perfectly fitting bowl of roasted vegetables and poached egg to be served without bacon bits, which i do not eat in any case. i am not ashamed to do this. my mother taught me this.

she also taught me it is also okay to agree with people who like something you've made.
my mother once told a friend of hers how lovely she thought this friend's grandchild was and how beautiful. "thank you for saying that" the friend responded and my mother thought this was very odd, and essentially another way of saying thank you for the compliment, which is not a compliment that is true.  i overheard my mother telling my father this and i was confused. she explained that it was more the way it was said. and that when someone compliments her own children, she proudly agrees. i was young then, and tried to imagine it.

friend: oh, your daughter is so nice to babies and so good at making friendship bracelets.
my mother, smiling knowingly, nodding: i agree. and you should see how well she plays kick the can.

i felt embarrassed that she would so boldly take credit that way, but she was not. she made us, and she took great, deep, easy, satisfied pride in us. (which isn't to say she did not see our flaws.) i understand it better now that i have my own children in whom i take similar pride.

i understood this episode better later, and as it related to food. she was not a frilly cook. her dishes were not extravagant, and she did not garnish them. but she was a warm cook, and her food was delicious and comforting and a happy thing to eat. if someone complimented a particular dish and she, too, was enjoying this dish, she would agree and say yes, isn't it good? this was her way of saying yes, i am enjoying it with you, the same as you. but if she did not think a particular dish was very good, and she was not enjoying with the person eating it, the same as the person eating it, she would say thank you. that is all. thank you. which, i think, she understood to be the equivalent of "thank you for saying that."
sometimes my mother's confirmations about the deliciousness of her food would surprise people who might have expected a more subtle response to a compliment. but why? why is it odd to outwardly take pleasure in something you've made as a way to share it with someone else? it is not vanity. it is delight. sharing in delight. she meant the things she said, really truly, and similarly she only gave compliments when she felt them to be true, and she did not much care if other people did not feel them to be true. she used to tell me i looked like a movie star, which i did not, and which i knew i did not. but i knew that she believed that. and of course, knowing that she believed that felt deeply good.
she made so many people feel deeply good. she brought delight.

today is her 67th birthday. i meant to bring home a chocolate chocolate entenmann's cake and share it with my children. my 5 year old would have nibbled at it slowly, more excited by the idea of it than the reality. my 3 year old would have licked the frosting off, discarded the cake, and asked for more. she, too, prefers little spoons. my 2 year old would have ask for me to cut her piece up, and then she would have eaten it all.

it wasn't to be. i could find this cake nowhere. not at giant, not at cvs. at safeway, a nice man suggested a carvel ice cream cake. he did not understand. it is my mother's birthday.
my mother's six grandchildren on their birth days

after dinner i gave each child a chocolate chip cookie, on top of which i generously spread chocolate frosting. i told them about the way i used to eat entenmann's chocolate cake with her. they smiled and giggled and asked questions with chocolate covered tongues. my mother would not have eaten this dessert. she would not have liked it. but she would have approved of the indulgence of three of her six grandchildren in her honor. she would have delighted at the sight.


  1. I am so touched by this tribute to your mum. You were blessed to have each other.

  2. Thank you for writing and sharing this. It sounds like your mother was an extraordinary woman.

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  4. Keep cooking, keep remembering, keep writing and taking care of your beautiful family. And of course, you already have permission and blessing to lick the spoon !

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