My mother's life has not been easy; she was very sick as a child, in and out of convalescent homes until she was about 9 years old. She survived a sickness that one of her friends did not. She married my father, gave birth to my sister and to me, and after just 16 years of marriage, lost my father to a sudden heart attack. She was faced with the task of raising two daughters on her own. Like everything else she does in life, she faced her new role with grace and joy. She did not feel sorry for herself, nor did she ever allow us to feel sorry for ourselves. The message was clear: life would go on, and we would be happy. My father would have wanted nothing less. Even as a kid, I marveled at her strength, and as I got older and became a wife and a mother of two girls myself, I was more and more in awe of this amazing woman.
One of the best decisions she made was to return to college, earning her Bachelor's degree while working and raising us. She had lots of help; she knew the benefits of surrounding us with our extended family. My grandmother and grandfather, who lived just upstairs from us, and my Nana, were always there to support us, as were our aunts, uncles and cousins who lived so close by (several on the same street!). When Mom finished school, she worked hard to put my sister and me through college, and she always managed to find time for fun. She continued to travel, and spend time with her friends and family. She was active in our church, starting a food pantry for families in need, volunteering her time and energy wherever she saw a need. She continues to be willing to try just about anything, which is one of the secrets to staying youthful.
I have not often written about my mother, and the reason is this: it is hard to find words to fully express the depth of love, respect, and gratitude I feel for this woman. She is my mentor, my sounding board, and my friend, and I cannot find words adequate to express all she means to me, to Michael, and to my girls.
Though my mother claims not to be a good cook, the truth is that she just doesn't enjoy it. She loves having people over, and is the very best at organizing and presenting a heck of a dinner party. For her birthday this week, Michael and I had a dinner party in her honor. We had several of her dear friends, and my Aunt Judy and Uncle Bobby. Auntie Judy, my father's younger sister, has the same birthday as my mother, so it turned out to be quite a party. While my house is not nearly as immaculate and organized as my mother's, the food and especially the company were quite fabulous. I wanted to bake a cake as unique as my mom, and I stumbled across this recipe I had cut out some time ago from a newspaper. I made a few changes, added some whipped cream, and it was delicious. A great ending to a wonderful celebration!
Orange, Almond, and Olive Oil Cake
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 cup flour
1 tbsp baking powder
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form pan, and spread the sliced almonds in the bottom. Finely grind the blanched almonds in the food processor until they look like bread crumbs. Beat the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer until frothy. Add the sugar slowly, and beat the mixture until it is lemon colored. Add the ground almonds, baking powder, and salt. Mix quickly, and then add the flour in slowly. Add the orange juice, the orange zest, and the olive oil, and mix just until combined. Pour batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Serve with whipped cream.