I'll tell you what you do, have the best time. ever.
The festivities were girly and giggly and pink.
And just a bit spicy.
Good times. Good times.
Because it was my birthday (and if that isn't a good excuse to eat crap, I don't know what is) I decided to shelf any health-conscious food choices for a couple of days. Okay maybe it was four days. Ease up.
I had been looking forward to a big scoop of salsa with chips, and sweet potato tacos from my favorite Mexican restaurant for months but it paled in comparison to the Shrimp po' boys for lunch, roasted veggie risotto for dinner and flower covered birthday cake that paraded into my life. Using my new-found-carefree-63-year-old sense of abandonment, I happily drove a fork into each one of them.
It was Heaven. It was gluttonous. It was the rumspringa of birthday happiness.
Now it's Friday. The glow has worn off and all I want is an Alkaseltzer and a buffet of raw veggies. Can you say salad bar.
Meanwhile, I continue to dog-ear travel brochures galore, marking places I mustmustmust go. Beginning plans I hope to complete. Making bucket lists for dwindling days. The lists read more like fiction than non. But even fiction has one foot in possibility.
speaking of which...
sixty three is the new forty three.
sixty three is not the new forty three. sixty three is not even the new fifty three. sixty three is the new sixty three. because, sixty three is sixty three. sixty three is good, sixty three is great, sixty three doesn't need to pretend to be anything it isn't.
I did not always feel this way. I mean, I opened my arms to fifty. or, said I was going to or something like that. I said I was ready, I said I wanted it. but I didn't mean it, I didn't want it, not even for a second. Then, I stood at sixty's door and just stared through it, hopelessly. and that cool woman I thought for sure I would be, the one who would embrace every wrinkle, every grey hair, every bit of sag and droop, the unashamed, unapologetic one who'd wear every imperfection like the aging champion she would surely be, that woman was nowhere to be found. truth be told, that woman was probably someone my twenty-something self foolishly invented. and so I began to see myself in photographs and think, is that what I really look like? and then: omg am I actually that woman? who sees herself in photographs and says things like that?
and then vanity became the least of my worries. things fell apart. my Dad got sick and I watched him die. heartbreakingly. some other sad things happened and I got tired. I blamed sixty. if this is what it means to be sixty, count me out. if turning sixty means things only get harder, that the hill before me tilts impossibly upward, no thank you. if it means I will care (more than I'd like to admit) about what kinds of clothes I should or should not wear, what shade of lipstick is age appropriate, where that one wrinkle came from or why I look so tired all the time (even when I'm not), if this is what sixty means, I don't want it. if it means wallowing in a tepid pool of nostalgia for the rest of my days, then you can have it. and more importantly, if it means watching the people I love die then I DON'T WANT IT, OKAY. I DON'T WANT YOU, SIXTY, I REJECT YOU.
so, I rejected sixty, I refused it. as you know, it does not work this way. as it turns out, this is not exactly possible. and when things finally quieted down, so did the crazy talk. I cannot tell you when things changed for me but they did. somewhere along the way, I softened. there was no aha moment, no woo-woo life altering experience. I just gradually found myself in that place, that good place you sometimes hear people talk about, that place you've earned simply because you have lived. and you love the way you look but you don't love the way you look and somehow, those feelings now co-exist in a way you never thought possible. you lose people you love and the heartbreak changes you so profoundly you cannot help but see your time in the world with new eyes, you cannot help but live with just a little bit of a lump in your throat every single minute. thing is, this is what makes the living good. better, even. the fragile, teetering part, the knowing part, the one that finally acknowledges that time is not infinite and you are not actually immortal. and when you see things with these eyes, the world around you changes. when you see sixty three with these eyes, 63 is beautiful. because you are alive and you know what that means, what that really, really means. you are both flawed and flawless, broken but completely intact, imperfectly perfect. you are in your own skin, your own God given skin. finally. and it feels good, even if it is changing, it feels right.
which is when you realize sixty three is the new sixty three. calling it anything else would be an insult to the decade you've worked so hard to find your way into. pretending it's anything else means you've missed the point entirely. sixty three is amazing and what you know in your
my favorite lemon layer cake
My favorite lemon curd
Just double it, then set aside to cool, as you proceed...
Lemon curd freezes beautifully, oddly enough. Moreover, it stays pliable, meaning you can get a little fix immediately, as needed. If you want to use it in a dessert, defrost it a few hours in the fridge, then stir to smooth over. I always make a double batch.
I once read lemons are sprayed 7 times, on average, before they come to market. Since curd relies so heavily on the zest, conventional lemons make me queasy, here. more money, organic lemons, but worth it in this one. Please note, you'll need a fine-mesh strainer (or regular strainer, plus cheesecloth). Pull out your microplane and stick blender if you've got them. Fine holes of a box grater and/or a standard blender make fine substitutes.
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (3-4 lemons)
1/4 cup freshly grated lemon zest, from organic lemons (2-3 lemons)
pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons salted butter, softened, cut into pieces
Wash and dry lemons. Zest lemons, measure out 1/4 cup of the zest, and set aside.
Juice lemons, and measure 1/2 cup. If you have a stick blender, add lemon juice, eggs, egg yolks, and sugar directly to a medium, heavy pot, and blitz 30 seconds or so, until mixture is smooth and no clumps of egg remain. (If using a standing blender, blitz juice, sugar and eggs on high for 30 seconds, then pour into pan.) After blending, add lemon zest and salt to mixture, then place pan on medium heat. Heat mixture for 8-12 minutes, whisking occasionally, until mixture thickens noticeably and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, then whisk in butter, one piece at a time. Set a fine-mesh sieve (or cheesecloth-lined strainer) over a large, heat-proof bowl, and pour in hot curd. Strain curd (to remove zest), nudging as needed with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Remember to scrape free the nice slick of curd on the underside of the strainer with a spatula. cool.
2 large, plump lemons, organic if possible
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter, softened, sliced
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups full-fat buttermilk, well-shaken
Preheat oven to 350°. Cut parchment circles to line two 9" cake pans, then butter or spray pans, and line with the paper circles.
Zest both lemons, and set aside. Juice one of the lemons, or enough to yield 1/4 cup of fresh juice. Measure buttermilk, then add lemon juice to the buttermilk. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, measure flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine and aerate, and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, place butter, sugar and lemon zest. Fit mixer with the paddle attachment, and beat butter on medium speed until very pale and fluffy, scraping sides occasionally, 3-5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping sides between additions. (Mixture may curdle, but soldier on—it will come together). Turn mixer to low, and alternating between wet and dry, add buttermilk and flour mixtures in three batches (1/3 buttermilk, 1/3 flour, repeat twice), mixing briefly between each addition. Scrape sides, return to medium speed for 15 seconds, then turn off mixer.
Divide batter evenly between both cake pans, and smooth tops. Bake 30-40 minutes, until edges are golden, center is no longer wobbly or shiny, and a knife or wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in the pan 10 minutes, then invert gently onto cooling rack. Peel parchment from bottom, then cool completely, about 1 hour.
Whipped Cream Frosting
5-8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, on low speed, beat cream cheese and sugar until combined. Turn mixer to medium, and beat 30 seconds, until fluffy. Drizzle in a quarter-cup (eyeball it) of the cream, and whip until it begins to fluff up and stiffen, around 30 seconds. Continue to drizzle and whip, waiting until new cream is incorporated and begins to hold its shape before adding more, scraping sides occasionally, until all the cream is incorporated and the frosting holds light, fluffy peaks, 3-4 minutes total.
When cake is completely cool, level tops with a long, serrated knife (such as a bread knife). To do this, simply position the knife horizontally to the lowest point on the cake's surface, and gently saw sideways, across the cake's top. It need not be perfect; frosting covers a multitude of crooked.
Place one layer on cake stand (or whatever your ultimate serving surface), and spoon over a liberal amount of lemon curd, up to half the batch. Spread gently near (but not quite to) the edges, then top with the second cake. I like to invert the second cake, such that the cake's bottom becomes the top—the bottom providing a smoother, less crumb-y surface for frosting.
Next, apply the first coat of frosting. The first coat, a crumb coat, is simply a thin, preliminary layer of frosting, so-called because it gathers all the unsightly crumbs a cake inevitably generates. Think of it as the frosting's first draft. Using an icing knife if you've got one, a long table knife if you don't, apply a thin layer (1/4-1/2") of frosting to the top and sides of the cake, chinking also the gap between the two layers.
Next, spoon the balance of the lemon curd on the top, or as much as you think you might enjoy. Using the back of a spoon, gently spread the curd toward the edges, again stopping 1/2-1" short of the rim.
Rinse your icing knife (to remove crumbs) and dry, and continue on to the second, final frosting layer. I used a pastry bag with a small circle tip for the polka dots, and a medium star tip for the flowers, around the top. Fast, easy, fun. Flowers could be applied all around, or dots, or other shapes, keeping in mind only that this is a big-picture frosting, not up to the minute detail of a swiss buttercream. Think rustic.
Alternatively, apply the balance of the frosting thickly and evenly to the sides, then give a few gentle swooshes of the knife, for a lovely billowy sort of look. Or, rinsing your knife in warm water between efforts, position the warm, clean knife parallel to the cake, and smooth the sides for a sleek, modern effect. Or... you get the picture. It's whipped cream. It's guaranteed lovely.
Refrigerate cake, if not serving the same day, up to 24 hours in advance. Remove 1-2 hours before serving, to return to room temperature. Cake is best served within 24 hours of assembly, and tastes magnificent still, three days out.
please eat responsibly.