A go-to cake recipe, and (final) Magical Journey readings

lemon cakeI long ago lost count of how many times I’ve made this lemon cake.  The recipe, clipped from the Boston Globe in the pre-internet age, is pasted with rubber cement into a notebook of recipes I began keeping the year before I got married in 1987.  The pages are all loose now, held together with a rubber band.  But I know exactly where the yellowed, glaze-spattered cake recipe is, should I ever need a quick refresher.  In fact, as I realized while creaming the butter and sugar yesterday morning, I don’t really refer to the recipe anymore. I know it by heart.

Years ago, when the dad of one of Henry’s classmates was dying of cancer, I made this cake every day for nearly a month.  Richard and I had become close during his illness, and I usually spent part of each afternoon, before school pick-up, at his house.  He and his wife had decided that his would not be a lonely death, but rather a carefully, lovingly populated one.  They wanted company.  They wanted their home to be filled with life and laughter and the sound of children’s voices even as the end one young father’s life drew near.

It was an education for me to be a part of that thoughtfully orchestrated leave-taking, an honor to be invited in, and an indelible memory that returns each spring as the daffodils bloom in my garden.  One day that early May, struck by the disconnect between the explosion of life and color in the world and the slow leaching of life from my friend’s body, I cut every single daffodil in my yard, well over a hundred in all, and arranged them in jars in his room.

It seemed right, somehow, to take everything of beauty I could put my hands on and deliver vessels stuffed full of springtime into this household.  Everyone had some version of the same impulse it seemed — to meet death with life, grief with love. Other friends brought music, artwork, foot rubs, poems to read out loud.  The kitchen was always full of people, the tea kettle always on boil, the refrigerator always full of good food.

But as Richard’s appetite waned, there was just one thing he wanted to eat, just one treat that actually tasted good, even if he could manage only a bite or two: a sip of coffee and a small slice of my lemon cake.  I couldn’t do anything about the relentless progression of his illness, but I could make cake.  And so I did, again and again and again. Even now, thirteen years later, I never begin the process of grating lemon peel without thinking of Richard.

Yesterday, the daffodils were blooming at last in my New Hampshire garden.  The forsythia buds were opening before my eyes, the grass greening by the hour. And I found myself feeling  just a touch blue as I considered the fact that after many months of sharing readings and appearances with my friend Margaret Roach, author of The Backyard Parables, we were facing our final “duet” together.

We weren’t sure how many people would be willing to leave their back yards on such a glorious spring Sunday afternoon to go listen to a couple of authors talk and read.  But for the two of us it was a bittersweet moment, the end of the road for this book publication journey we’ve shared since our memoirs came out within a week of each other in January.   I wanted to mark the occasion, to offer her a sweet something by way of saying “Thank you for being my friend and partner.”  (What we’ve both learned is that book tours are lots more fun with a buddy!)

There was really just one thing to do:  make my lemon cake.  As it turned out, about forty-five people came to the bookstore and yet I’m pretty sure everyone who wanted a sliver got one.  We talked together about friendships and endings and the fact that nothing lasts.  And we shared stories and celebrated spring and acknowledged the beauty of beginnings.  For those of you who couldn’t be with us, I’m sharing the recipe.

Glazed Lemon Cake

(Simple.  Dense. Lemony. Sturdy.  Good.)

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups sugar (I use half a cup less)

3 eggs slightly beaten

3 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

2 heaping tsp. grated lemon rind

3 tblsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice

Set your oven to 325.  Grease a ten-inch tube pan, line the bottom with piece of waxed paper cut to fit exactly, grease the paper, and then lightly flour the pan.  Set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one tablespoonful at a time, beating well after each addition.  Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt, and add to to dry ingredients with mixer on its lowest speed, alternating with the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the flour.  Beat in lemon rind and juice.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake on middle rack of oven for 65 minutes, until the cake begins to pull away from sides of pan. Cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and glaze (optional) while still warm.

For the glaze:  In a mixer cream together 2 cups confectioners sugar and 3 T. butter.  Add 3 heaping T. grated lemon rind and 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice.


 Magical Journey — my last three readings (for a while, anyway)

I would love to see you at one of these events! And if you can’t make it, please put the word out to friends in Nashville and Minneapolis.  

Thursday, May 2, 6:30 pm:  Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN  

Saturday, May 4, 7 pm:  Seventh Annual Motherhood & Words Reading, The Loft, Minneapolis, MN. 

Monday, May 6, 7 pm:  Common Good Bookstore, St. Paul, MN.

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for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Forty five people is thousands and thousands of people in book worlds.

    You really did have such a beautiful tour.

    I only wish you could have come this way.




  2. Katrina,
    Thank you for the beautiful reading. It was so great meeting you. And this cake was delicious- thrilled to have the recipe. Were those pansies that were scattered across the top? Grace insisted they were, but I wasn’t sure. xox

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Yes, they were little pansies from my garden — edible, of course! So glad you two came together.

  3. Hi Katrina:
    Had dinner with my daughter last night – so lucky she goes to school close enough for Rob & I to pop in and visit from time to time – and we were talking about baking so I’ve sent her your link.
    Congrats on your success with your latest book, have a wonderful spring and
    be sure to let me know the next time your book tour takes you to New York or Connecticut so I don’t have to wait til another Reunion to see you! 🙂
    Take care,

    Am tweeting link to your recipe too @campyphotos

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Thanks for sharing my cake! Realizing that our next reunion isn’t that far off. . .two years?

  4. Yum! So happy to have this recipe. Even more happy to have your book. Your words here are a weekly dessert.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Thanks Pam! Will be thinking of you at Kripalu week after next (finally, Jack and Rolf will meet!)

  5. Lovely!! thank you

  6. Linda Marten says:

    Thank you, Katrina, for the precious recipe. I will think of your story when I make it for others & remember to cherish the preciousness of life, friendship, the present moment & daffodils!
    Best wishes,
    Linda Marten
    Los Angeles, CA

  7. Katrina,
    I weep at the thought of so much love and beauty at the end of one’s life. I remember the day my father died. There were five of us sitting/standing around his bed waiting for him to take his last breath. Willie Nelson sang in the background. It seemed like it should be a solemn occasion – and it was on many levels – but I remember now there was also laughter, though I’m not sure about what. It’s been 2.5 years, and I’m just now remembering that. I wish there’d been lemon cake.

    On a lighter note, about 17 years ago when I was a nanny, I helped make a pansy cake for the little one’s Christening. Your cake has triggered many happy memories.

    Is TN as close as you will come to Jacksonville, FL? I’d love to attend one of your readings.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Willie Nelson sounds just right to me, too. There may be a little more travel when the paperback comes out next year; who knows, maybe Florida.

  8. Katrina, This story is beautiful–the daffodils and lemon cake–I can picture them. Your generosity and attention to detail is inspiring.

    I look forward to making your delicious cake–I love a good recipe. Thank you for sharing. All the best as you and Margaret finish your tour together. Hope you come my way in the Fall!

  9. “I could make cake.” Someday we realize what all the old grandmothers knew: how to say goodbye.

  10. I’m making my grocery list this morning… adding some lemons… 🙂

  11. Maria C. Vigil says:

    Thank you, I came to here to read you at the right moment.
    I’m a spanish speaker but I love reading; somebody send me the video about your last book, I was so… put it this way I lost my mother a month ago and your words were a reminder of her life.
    Thank you so much. Now you have a new follower, and I going to make the cake for my father who is 95 years old. HE LOVE CAKES.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Thank you Maria, and I’m glad you’re here. So sorry about the loss of your mother. Cake doesn’t make grief go away, but I hope it brings a smile to your father. Blessings to you.

  12. Alison Rhodes says:

    I’m new to your blogs Katrina, they are beautiful, thought provoking and inspiring. Thankyou. I’m from England and was wondering the equivalent of ‘two sticks of butter’ what is that in ounces or grams?
    Many thanks.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Greetings Alison, and I’m so glad you found your way here. Each stick of butter is 4 oz., so it would be 8 oz total. (I use unsalted.) Thanks for your kind words!

  13. Carrie Eklund says:

    I’m struck by your compassion and thought for other people. It’s inspiring. I know a lot of times I’m stuck inside my head dealing with my own stuff. I consider myself a compassionate person too but it reminds me to try to focus on others more.

    I will enjoy trying your cake recipe and see how it turns out gluten free as I can’t have regular flour.

    Enjoy these last days of your tour and I will look forward to more blog postings over the summer.

  14. This brought tears to my eyes – the image of you gathering every piece of beauty from your yard and filling Richard’s room with it, especially.

    I have to say, I’d leave my backyard any day to hear you read in person … but that would require a couple of flights from Nebraska to New Hampshire, so probably not going to happen. We have a sweet independent bookstore here in downtown Lincoln though, in case you ever come this way.

    I’m going to print this recipe and make this cake – maybe even today. Because every day is the perfect day for a slice of lemon cake (even when the cold winds and snow! are blowing back into the Great Plains).

  15. Maureen says:

    Hi Katrina Your lemon cake is in the oven baking as I write! This cake is for a happy occasion, a young couple having an open house in their new home. I hope in their journey they appreciate the gifts that you examine in your writing. I had fun at your reading in Portsmouth and I thank you for your books and blog and the recipe.

  16. Dear, dear friends are moving away near the end of the week. Even though I’m not much of a baker, I’m going to give your recipe a try. I wish I knew what a tube pan was, and what the equivalent measure to a sick of butter is. Google, here I come!

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