Muhammad Ali, sweating, is crunched up on a long board and is doing another set of his 2500 daily sit-ups. He is preparing to fight George Foremen. He needs to have abdominal muscles made of tensile steel. Throughout this set he talks continuously to Bundini Brown and for a while riffs about all the food he will eat once the fight is over. Wilfred Sheed observes that Ali has a fat man inside him who cannot wait to take over. * Maybe Ali dreamed of cake.
I inherited a sweet tooth from the O’Donnell side of the family. My Aunt Gladys made the best chocolate and walnut cakes I have ever eaten. My mother made an apple pie so rich and American that it deserved to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I make a mean cheesecake, smooth and deeply cheesy. When winter arrives and the sun loses itself in gray sheet-metal clouds and sleety rain is falling, I begin rifling through recipes in my own meager salute to fat men everywhere. I do dream of cakes.
Patti and I made a Lemon Layer Cake ** on a recent leaden afternoon. The cake and frosting together required fresh lemon juice, 14 eggs (purchased from a neighbor – the yolks are so orange I thought of using the color for a painting of the sun), 3 ¼ cups of sugar, and enough butter to clog hearts by osmosis.
We followed the recipe meticulously. In baking, chemistry is God, and the acolytes of God are precise directions. We made a mess. We sifted, stirred, beat, mixed, tasted, boiled, combined, layered, baked, waited, waited, waited, iced, ate.
Maybe it will be a long winter, and storms will sweep down from the Dakotas in great, yeasty bumper loads, and the snow will rise and rise, and when spring comes sunning itself, I will emerge from the cocoon of our home, enormous and smiling.
**Saveur Magazine; “Sweet Southern Dreams” by Ben Mims; March, 2012, page 58.
Everyone may have a slice of cake except for the poor dog who maybe dreams of squirrel pie instead.