What Southern Folks Eat – Life, death and Dream Cake
Recent weeks have brought events into my life that have taken me from one end of the emotional spectrum to other; I’ve cried happy tears, and I’ve cried tears of sorrow. I am one of those people who cries when anyone nearby is crying, and life has given me the opportunity to do so a number of times lately.
First, the good news. My oldest son, Justin, married a beautiful young woman named Sarah. You folks with married children know already that it just runs over your heart backward and forward to see one’s child wed the person he loves. There is joy because your child is happy and loved, and it’s exciting to welcome a new daughter or son into the family. Sarah is a wonderful person, smart as a whip, as my dad always says (she’s a meteorologist), and she truly loves my son.
Of course, there is the bittersweet feeling of letting go of that first child. Yes, we raised him and prepared him to be independent and strong and able to face the world boldly, now with a wife by his side, and we are so proud of him. As proud as I was, though, I also sat in the front row on their wedding day, trying my hardest not to picture him as a 2-year-old. Shedding a few tears is one thing, but sobbing openly in the middle of a wedding ceremony might just make the new relatives wonder what kind of mother-in-law Sarah had signed on with. I had to maintain my composure, y’all, and it was a struggle on such a beautiful, emotional, joy-filled day.
Exactly one week later, one of life’s much more difficult things happened. There was another wedding, in Van Zandt County, just an hour away from our home in Texas. The wedding party had gathered at a lovely large estate to prepare for the joyous occasion. The bride and her attendants were laughing and getting ready, a photographer nearby to catch their happy moments ahead of the ceremony.
Then, they noticed the winds picking up on what was already a rainy day, and they began to worry. The woman who made the wedding cake told a reporter friend of mine that as she was setting up the cake, she looked up and saw an uprooted tree fly by the window, and as the houseful of people was stricken with panic, everyone trying to reach the tornado shelter, the walls of the house began to crumble “as if the house were made of Legos,” the baker said.
They suffered bumps and bruises and a few broken bones, but they found that outside, the worst had happened. A few of the men from the wedding party had left the house to go out to a detached garage to view a collection of cars, and one of the cars that was elevated on a lift fell on the bride’s stepfather, killing him. I don’t know those people, but I shed tears as I listened to their story on camera.
I can’t think of a time in recent years in personal experience when life has shown itself to be such a lesson in contrasts. There will be good, and there will be bad. Sorrow and hope. Joy and pain. Fun and ennui. Hunger and satiety. These moments serve to remind us that we are human and are at the mercy of forces larger than ourselves.
At this moment, I am sitting on the porch of a beach house, watching the waves roll in and out on St. Joe Beach, the place I call home no matter where I am. The sun is shining, the sea gulls are calling out to each other, and the surface of the water is calm. But there have been occasions when I’ve seen hurricanes blast through the area over the decades, damaging homes and washing out large portions of Highway 98. It’s that recurring reminder: things change in life. We have to suffer through the bad to enjoy the good, I suppose.
For me, the greatest comfort has always been that God has never left me through the difficulties I have endured. Through financial struggles, health struggles, the loss of my mother, and other things that life has thrown my way haven’t been easy, I’ve always been comforted to know that I am not alone in it, and that things do get better with time.
So what I take away from all of this the resolve to enjoy every beautiful moment that God gives me; all of the porch-sitting, tea-sipping, laughing-until-you-cry moments spent with people I love. The moments when I sing with my sister and our voices blend in perfect harmony, or sitting around the dinner table with our whole family, as well as moments sitting alone on this beach, marveling that anything so lovely and peaceful could actually be displayed right there in front of me. That is abundance. Those are the things I value, and I won’t allow the fear of difficult times to come steal my present joy. I hope you won’t, either.
To help you celebrate life today, here’s a recipe to make in your own kitchen and perhaps share with some folks you love. This sweet, pretty cake will make everyone’s day a lot brighter, I am certain. Enjoy!
Steph’s Strawberry-Lemonade Dream Cake
One boxed white cake mix, prepared in a 9”x13” cake pan as directed on box
3 ounce box strawberry Jello mix
½ cup lemonade
6 to 8 ounce jar lemon curd
Large can whipped cream, or at least two cups homemade whipped cream
1 pint of fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and stemmed, then sliced
1. Bake the cake according to package directions. When it comes out of the oven, allow to cool 15 minutes as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
2. Mix together one cup of boiling water and the Jello mix, whisking for two minutes or until completely dissolved. Add the lemonade to this, and whisk in.
3. When 15 minutes have passed, poke holes all over the top of the cake in the pan, using a fork or small skewer. Pour the Jello mixture all over the cake.
4. Pu the lemon curd in the microwave for 30 to 40 seconds to soften it, then stir well. Pour out onto the cake, then use an offset spatula to spread evenly, covering the whole cake.
5. Refrigerate the cake for at least three hours.
6. After the cake has chilled and you’re ready to serve, cover the top of the cake with whipped cream, and then decorate generously with the sliced strawberries.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com.