1. Maybe it’s Hollywood, 1930’s. Pepper trees line the boulevards. Down Vine, my grandmother makes almond cake for what they call entertaining. She can’t get used to her new life. My grandfather lines up cigarettes in ashtrays around his typewriter, two or three burning at a time. Bob Hope calls. The clacking sounds to her like machine guns through the stucco. Sometimes, there is a bang. Start with a three layer yellow cake, whatever you’re used to, or just make it from a box like she did. Sometimes, nothing comes through the wall but silence.
2. Cook ¼ tsp instant coffee, sugar, corn syrup, water, and almonds in a small saucepan until it reaches hard crack stage. 290 degrees. Add soda, for fizz. The spines of her cookbooks line up against the milky tilework. Betty Crocker holds a cake up, hair backlit. In the pale kitchen, Grandma is nineteen—her hair is like a movie starlet’s, waved and shellacked—a gardenia behind one ear. Her waist no larger than two hands, white crinoline flouncing around her knees. When she needs to reduce, the doctor gives her pills.
3. Pour onto an ungreased pan, bare and cold. The mixture will grow brittle as it cools. Layer the cake with whipped cream. Grandma will tell us over and over again about schmaltz and gribenes too, but she will never describe how to make them. Too heavy, she will say, and anyway she hasn’t eaten that way since she was a child. There are no kosher butchers at Ralph’s on Santa Monica. Wrap a hammer in a towel and crush the candy into shards. Press them into the top and sides. She displays the cake, elegant and brown, on a white pedestal.
4. The beautiful part is you can freeze your cake ahead. It will slowly thaw under the icing until tender and light, ready for company. Food is more wholesome this way. No one plucks a chicken like they did among the tenements, blood drained, the meat blessed and waiting.
- Nora Brooks is a writer whose poetry, fiction and cultural coverage has appeared in PopMatters, H.O.W. Journal, Alimentum, Monkeybicycle, The Best American Poetry blog, and elsewhere. A recent graduate of The New School, her short prose chapbook How to Boil an Egg and Other Recipes was this year's runner-up in the prose contest of George Mason University's Gazing Grain Press, and a mini-chapbook will be published in 2015. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and too much taxidermy.