Lemon Cake

pic by kaboompics

My girlfriend slouches into a pile of pillows propped up against the wall behind my bed, with a laptop balanced on her chest, as she reads my story. I’m curled up in the fetal position, facing away from her, scrolling through my phone, bracing myself for any criticism. I’ve been having a particularly difficult day — one where I feel like I’m nowhere near talented or hardworking or emotionally stable enough to get anything I want in life (then I panic because I’m not even really sure what that is).

“It’s good,” my girlfriend says with no real inflection in her voice. When someone is critiquing my writing, I’m investigating every syllable and pause.

“What?” I say. Justify my intense hatred for myself.

“It’s not my favorite,” she says.

I snap. I begin to sob and can’t stop. My girlfriend is asking me questions, but I can’t answer. I’m trying to breathe, but it’s just silence and my pained, knarled face wet with tears.

This is another shitty essay for another shitty website that nobody gives a shit about. Where has any of this gotten me? I’m not waiting to be discovered; there’s clearly nothing to be discovered here.

I don’t stop sobbing until around midnight, at which point I promptly pass out and start snoring.

The next morning, I wake up around 6 a.m. to scroll through the internet in an unconscious attempt to feel even worse. A good 15 minutes go by before I begin to sob again. As my girlfriend gets ready for work, she reassures me that I’m okay, that I’m doing my best — but it all sounds condescending and forced, and, like, of course she’s saying that, she has to, she’s my girlfriend.

She kisses my forehead, asks me if there’s anything else she can do, to which I shake my head “no” into the pillow, and she leaves.

That’s when my cat — an equally anxious five-year-old, 15-pound Maine Coon whose claws I haven’t cut in a while — jumps on my face, slicing me in between my eyebrows and leaving a gash on the side of my left eye. I stand up in a rage and throw him out of the bedroom. I continue to sob as blood drips down my face.

I can’t do this. Why am I doing this? There’s no point to any of this.

Sitting on the side of the bed, shaking, blotting at the cuts on my face with a tissue, I text my girlfriend to tell her I’m having a full blown panic attack.

“I don’t think I can do anything today,” I write. “There’s no point.”

Out of ideas, and having already reassured me countless times that I’m more than enough, my girlfriend makes a suggestion.

“Why don’t you bake?”

I consider throwing my phone against the wall as hard as I can just to watch it shatter. But instead, I take a deep breath, text back, “okay,” and then go to the grocery store in my sweatpants to get milk and eggs.

Now here I am, — after years of talk therapy, dealing with countless misdiagnoses, putting up with rude and judgemental psychologists, and guzzling gallons of CBD — baking a lemon cake.

Maybe this will do the trick.

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RECIPE

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 2 cups gluten-free flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • 1 tbs lemon zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cream cheese

For the Glaze

  • 2 tbs pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a standard loaf pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, maple syrup, coconut oil, coconut milk, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla extract. Then add in the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. During the last few minutes of baking, stir together 2 tablespoons of maple syrup and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to make the glaze. As soon as the lemon bread is done baking, remove it from the oven and pour the glaze on it while it’s still warm in the pan. Brush the glaze across the loaf with a pastry brush to distribute it evenly.
  6. Let the cake cool completely before removing it from the pan.

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The key to baking this lemon cake is you have to stop crying first. So I dry my eyes with the last remaining tissue, wipe the dry blood from my face, throw on a coat, and make the five-minute walk to the grocery store.

Whitney Houston’s “I Want To Dance With Somebody” is playing as I make my way through the produce section. People who work there are unloading boxes, and for a second I think the store might not be open yet, but then I remember I didn’t leave my bed until noon and they’ve definitely been open for several hours.

I get eggs, coconut milk, coconut oil, and chocolate pretzels I end up eating over the sink while I bake. As I walk home from the store, my next door neighbor sees me struggling with my bags.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“Yeah!” I lie.

When I get home, I start to mix the ingredients — stopping only to Google if coconut milk is supposed to be chunky (it is) — while listening to a podcast about the Real Housewives. This is how I define “self-care.”

After putting the loaf in the oven, I realize I didn’t add the cup of cream cheese. I stare at the oven for a moment.

“I’ll make another,” I say.

Once again, I start chiseling away at the coconut oil, shaving the zest off another lemon.

Now I have two lemon cakes — one with cream cheese and one without. I’m still depressed and anxious and not totally sure what I’m doing with my life, but the cakes are okay. Honestly, they’re not great. My girlfriend prefers the non-cream cheese version but I can’t taste the difference between the two.

Now I have two very just okay lemon cakes. And while I have no idea what I’m going to do with 40 slices of lemon cake, I did manage to get out of bed, brush my hair, go outside, effectively communicate with three (3) human beings, and stay off the internet for two and half hours. And that, at least for today, will have to be enough.