When Life Gives You COVID, make Lemon Cake

(Episode 27, Breathing Out Stars Podcast)

Before I begin I want to say a thing about carrying on. It is said that at the top of every mountain is the base of the next mountain. This is a super important lesson for us to get – that when we finish something, accomplish something, we are not done…it is just time to start the next thing. When I reached 25 episodes it was a lovely benchmark. A milestone. Not an easy thing in a difficult time. But rather than resting on my laurels I sat down immediately and began episode 26. Because now I am onto the next mountain. It is a lovely mountain, a blessed mountain. I am delighted to be hiking this mountain, walking this path. This is episode 27. Thank you for walking with me.

Maybe it’s because I was a Girl Scout.

Or maybe, for other reasons I am hyper-vigilant…like when the house was burning and I was on the front lawn calling the insurance company to tell them the house was burning — and they thought I was kidding — cause no one calls to report a house fire while it is still on fire.

Except me.

But hey, everyone has to be good at something.

I may be repeating myself – but I have so many opportunities for grace right now.

Yay for Grace.

So two years ago when I began to hear about a new virus and then it was on our shores — and I felt like we were about to have a transformational earthquake — that everything would be changing…

I began to buy alcohol wipes.

And other things that you would need if you were sick.

When the kids were little, I put together little boxes for them which I called their Sick Box. In the sick box there were little word search books, coloring books, crackers, lifesavers candies (remember those?), perhaps some matchbox cars or polly pockets — some little thing that the children didn’t usually get to play with so that it seemed new to them.

Plus, by the time our third child had come along, I was an old pro and bought the board game Sorry. And when she was sick we played Sorry over and over and over.

In hindsight – sure it’s a fun game – but perhaps subliminally I was teaching that life gives us setbacks – and pivots – and ‘sorry’….but we still get a roll of the dice.

Also — a thing about myself — and whenever things get a little dicey — I organize.

Organizing is my way of dealing.

I was born that way.

So when the thing we have been working so hard to avoid for two years welcomed itself in our home (I mean, clearly, this guest marched right in, made itself at home, opened the freezer, finished the ice cream, found my chocolate stash, left its socks on the floor, put its feet on the furniture….

When covid marched right in and made itself at home…well, I was ready.

My husband said — do we have enough alcohol swabs for the thermometers?

My response: do we ever!?

He handed me a sharpie and we labeled thermometers with people’s names.

Because — of course we did.

I broke out the supplies I bought two years ago. I even bought wintergreen lifesavers.

Of course I was prepared.

And yet I was not.

Because when the thing you have been trying to avoid makes itself at home in your home it takes quite a bit of internal pivoting. Especially if you REALLY have been doing all the safe things.

Does it feel like failure?


Well yes.

Well no.

But it feels like a steamroller has rolled over us.

It feels like eventuality.

I cancelled a whole helluva lot – and yet here we are. But hey – after we are completely better we are going to go to an actual restaurant – and sit indoors – and eat food that I didn’t have to prepare myself. Something amazing to look forward to.

And yet…

It feels like the wolf has come to the door, turned the knob and left muddy footprints all over the front hall.

I am making noodles in broth and peanut butter toast. And tomato soup. And tea.

I made brownies. My husband calls them Bat Brownies – because, you know, COVID.

And I am planning a cake. A lemon cake.

But more about that later.

I have been reading that planting lilac bushes by your back door brings luck. And although I had to cut back our lilacs quite a bit several months ago I have ordered more lilac bushes.

And I have read that I need to plant them with rose food. And I have made a plan.

And I am thrilled that they are coming in a few months.

We have a lot going on over here. That is definitely for sure. And yeah, I wish that we were past this part – that we could fast-forward…but I also want to say that this may not be a great idea.

Years ago I saw an Adam Sandler movie – called Click. In my humble opinion it may be the best one he has ever made.

It tells the story of a man who is dissatisfied with his life. He has a wife, some kids, a roof over his head. A job. He goes to do an errand at Bed Bath and Beyond. At the end of one of the aisles he sees a large sign that says “Beyond”. He enters the Beyond area and there is a divine figure there who hands him a remote – like a television remote. The figure tells him that whenever things get tough in life he can fast-forward over that part of his life so it is less painful…until things calm down again.

The catch: he can fast-forward…but he can never rewind.

Adam Sandler’s character is thrilled. He has a renewed sense of control over his life. He goes home and his wife is there. They have a heated discussion. He pulls the remote out of his pocket thinking, I don’t have to have this fight with my wife. I can fast-forward. And he does.

And soon he finds himself fast-forwarding over all the unpleasant things.

But soon, too soon…he is old. He is at the end of his life and he has found that he fast-forwarded his life…but the things he fast-forwarded over were not just the bad parts of his life….they were actually his life.

And he cannot rewind and get them back.

And he is so very sad. And regretful. He wants his life back. He wants ALL of it back.

So yeah…these times are not idea. They are painful and scary. And uncertain.

But we are present in them.

We are learning to be comfortable with discomfort.

Because this is our life.

It is for this reason – that as long as I am up to it, that I am making a lemon cake today.

This lemon cake is the cake I make every February.

February – the season of the beginning of the lunar new year, the rising of the sap, the waking of insects on the Asian calendar…the very beginning of the spring energy.

In my life I begin to crave lemons every February.

First of all – there is that Yellow of Lemons. The thing about the lemons is not that they are sour – although it is a wonderful sour – but that they are the most glorious color of yellow.

My first pet – when I was a very little girl – was a yellow parakeet which my father brought home one evening after dark in a gold cage. I named him Lemon Lellow.

The color yellow – which makes my heart sing and reminds me that I can focus on the joy of the yellow – and not the sour. Because there will always be sour.

But that yellow.

My gosh, the yellow.

I am going to share the recipe with you here – but it will also be on Lesliecoff.com if you want to be present the sweetness and sourness in life – because life will give you the sweetness and the sour at the same time.

And this is our reminder.

This cake is vegan – I make it gluten free so that is possible as well.

4-1/2 cups of flour

1 box mori nu tofu – its not in the refrigerator section.

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ t sea salt

1 cup milk (plant)

½ cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup safflower oil

1-2/3 cup brown rice syrup or agave syrup

2 tablespoons lemon extract

2 tablespoons lemon zest

3 tablespoons poppy seeds

For the glaze – one cup brown rice syrup.

1 cup fresh lemon juice

4 teaspoons kuzu or arrowroot powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil pans. Combine all dry ingredients and set aside.

Combine wet ingredients, including silken tofu, in a separate bowl and whisk or mix until well- blended. Add wet to dry ingredients and mix well.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Cook until top springs back when pressed — in a standard cake pan around 40-50 minutes. If you are making cupcakes or mini-loafs it will be about 15-18 minutes. Cool cake(s) completely in the pans on a baking rack before taking out or glazing.

Lemon Glaze: Combine brown rice syrup and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Dilute kuzu in a small amount of cold water. Add kuzu mixture to saucepan when lemon syrup is hot, stirring until glaze begins to thicken and boil. Let cool and drizzle over cooled cake.

I garnish this cake with fresh pansies – which are also edible. And also – what is cooler in life than the ability to eat flowers?!

The thing that I may have said before is a thing I am saying again. How we have had to be creative, reinvent, find resourcefulness within ourselves is a thing that is a hallmark of the last two years.

We have shown that we can be present in difficult times. When we most wanted to run and there was no place to run – when we have wanted to fast-forward through the tough stuff – we stayed with it.

And honestly, for this you should applaud yourself.

At my end, we are opening up the sick boxes, making soup and resting.

And hoping that we have no long-term effects.

One more thing I have my list for today – and yeah, of course I have a list. There is this beautiful book (and HBO max series) called Station Eleven.

It is the story of a pandemic (not this one) – and about how people reinvent themselves and find joy amidst trauma. It is an unexpectedly beautifully story – and beautifully told.

I recommend it.

So yeah — I am organizing and reorganizing like the best of them – cause that’s how I deal with change. Everyone has had their toast – I have started the noodle soup for lunch and have pulled out the ingredients for tonight’s tomato soup – as is my nature.

On the counter I have amassed the lemons, the flour, the poppy seeds.

Mixing the sweet with the sour – because when life gives us covid – I make a lemon cake.

This is Leslie Coff – this has been Breathing Out Stars — and thank you for listening.

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