Saved By Cake

by Carilyn on April 24, 2019

Recently, I found myself feeling more content than I have in months. I was in my office, staring at my wall of “dreams” – photos of gorgeous English landscapes, cards from my sister with little girls in crowns and gowns flying in cardboard planes, a blown glass cross from Todos Santos, Mexico, and one of my World Championship lanyards – remembering who I was, and who I aspired to be, when we started commuting to Pasadena a few years ago.

But then our kids grew up and moved on. Running went back to being a hobby. We became empty nesters with a need for new challenges, new dreams.

We started traveling a lot, trekking through various parts of the world, eating some amazing (and some strange) food. We worked on our house. We got a new dog. We tried new diets and we quit new diets. But despite the concerted effort to adapt to this new phase in life, I felt slightly adrift, askew, as if I was tilting a bit while trying to get more solid footing. And then last week, I realized I didn’t feel wonky anymore.

I think it started with a cake.

Or, maybe, it was the comfort I found (again. always.) in the kitchen on Monday in the midst of an epic hangover. After a three-bottle-of-wine evening out by the fire with Tim when he returned home from a long, stressful weekend away, I struggled through Monday morning, doing laundry, paying bills, and arguing with myself about whether practicing law would be a better option than housewifery.

But an olive oil cake beckoned me.

When we first got to Pasadena, I felt like a lion released into the wild of the Serengeti. I could not get enough of the variety of tastes, colors, and smells. In Pasadena, home of Le Cordon Bleu, good food was everywhere, and I felt like I had accidentally ended up in Nirvana. Every day, I found a new place to eat – food truck, three-table taco stand, upscale cafe. At night, I indulged my culinary curiosity by making my kids whatever sounded tempting. Favorites included: pork tender with apricot/mustard glaze, roasted fingerling potatoes with rosemary, and fresh haricots vert with browned butter; a million variations on bread pudding; double fried chicken; homemade chicken wontons with peanut butter and jelly chile sauce; calabacitas.

We lived a block from Whole Foods, and two blocks from Trader Joe’s. I frequented one of these (and usually both) every single day. My running blog morphed into a food blog, and by the end of our five year stint, I had graduated from The New School of Cooking Professional Cooking Program.

Back in Texas, I landed with a dull thud. Both my kids were gone, one in England, one in NYC, leaving me to figure out how to build a whole new life without three of the passions that had sustained me for most of my adult life – my kids, my running, and food. By the time I got home to El Paso, Tim was heavy, I had lost my “runner physique”, and we were both missing our children. We rekindled our love of continuous cohabitation with each other, but quickly learned that the way I’d been cooking for two growing teen boys was going to lead to our early demise. So, to add insult to injury, not only was cooking relegated to the back burner (pun intended), the little I was doing was morphing into “healthy” cooking. Ugh. Truly, there were days I simply couldn’t see the point.

Over the span of eighteen months, we lost weight (Tim 50, me 12), figured out a satisfactory running regimen (adventuring, no racing) and got (sort of) used to entertaining ourselves sans kids (albeit, at the beginning, way too much alcohol was involved).

But I was still honestly a little aimless and sad. Yes, being healthy and svelte is wonderful. Yes, marching through the days perfectly on schedule, rarely thrown off course by a call from school about a sick child, or the need for a diorama of prehistoric cave dwellers by the next day, or two dozen cupcakes for a bake sale no one mentioned until 8 p.m., made for a less frenetic life. But…

I missed the going, the doing, the franticness. I missed spending a huge part of my day thinking about what I was going to serve my tribe AFTER the diorama was presented, the paper finished, the test taken. I missed the cupcakes.

So after a final foray into the the “ultimate diet” (carnivory) that only lasted a week (five days, really), I made a cake, spurred on by the aforementioned hangover. And I sent pictures to my kids, then ate a slice at the counter, looking out on the backyard with it’s empty treehouse and placid pool. Yes, my kids are all grown up. No, I’m not a professional runner anymore. Yes, Tim and I are middle aged empty nesters who cannot eat ALL THE THINGS, all the time.

But, I can still love food, make food, and feed people I care about. They just don’t always have to be sitting at my table. And everyone seems to appreciate a piece of cake once in awhile.

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