One of the very first places Raleigh ever took me when we began dating in high school was to his grandmother's house for Friday Night Supper. His grandmother, Nan Nan, had an open door policy to her children and grandchildren every Friday night and whoever was in town was free to stop by for dinner. These dinners would range from slow cooker recipes like roast beef with mashed potatoes or down-home fixins like country fried steak with fried okra, and sometimes she even served up hot dogs with chili. It didn't matter how long she prepared the food, it was all good, every single time. Even though we had just started dating, Nan Nan would make sure my plate was piled high with food, and she didn't hesitate to offer me seconds. I knew immediately that these meals were special, and I felt very special to get to sit at her table.
After supper, Nan Nan would always have dessert. She took pride in baking her own cakes, and dessert would often be a seven layered chocolate cake or a whipped cream pound cake. Over the years, Nan Nan had taken cake baking and decorating classes so she could bake cakes not only for Friday Night supper, but also for her grandchildren's birthdays. Once Raleigh and I got married, I asked Nan Nan if she could teach me how to make cakes like the ones she made. Some of my favorite talks with Nan Nan over the years have been around the art of cake making and decorating. In Chapter Nine of Invited book, I share some of her tips on baking cakes and making icing from scratch:
Whenever I would envision the cover for my book, Invited, I always pictured a cake.
To me, a cake captures the art of celebrating and welcoming people with hospitality, kindness, and love. However, I didn't want a perfect cake created with fondant and cut-outs that looked like they were from a magazine. No, I wanted a cake that was perfectly imperfect, something that readers could make themselves, in the comfort of their own homes. That's when I knew that I needed Nan Nan's help.
Recently, Nan Nan showed me how to make her whipped cream pound cake and I thought it would be fun to turn her pound cake into a naked layered cake with fresh flowers and berries. Together, we determined that the best way to create the cake was to make three layers in eight inch trays. To do this, we had to double her recipe. Then, in between each layer, we piped icing in a circle and then spread it out to cover the surface of the cake. I really love how it turned out, don't you?
While this cake captures the message of #connectionnotperfection, making it with Nan Nan was truly a special memory that I'll never forget. Cake is how we connect, it is the unspoken language of how she and I like to live a life of invitation. Baking this cake with Nan Nan took several hours and while it was cooking we would snack on peanut butter crackers, drink Diet Coke, and she'd show me pictures of all the cakes she has made for her family over the years. I wanted to freeze this moment, because I knew it would be one worth keeping in my heart again and again.
I'll be the first to admit that sometimes it is easier to buy a cake from a store rather than making it from scratch. For some occasions it is totally worth the money to pay for a cake so you don't have to stress. But sometimes nothing beats mixing together flour, butter, eggs, and cream. There are memories (and messes!) to be made cooking in the kitchen and it truly is a great time to connect with your family or friends. I hope that Nan Nan's story of cake baking might inspire you to invite someone you love to make a cake from scratch with you too.
Here's to baking (and eating!) cakes!
p.s. - the recipe for Nan Nan's whipped cream pound cake can be found inside the Party Planning handbook at the end of Invited. It's delicious as a chocolate pound cake too!