I have been waiting so long to write these words: Catherine Newman, of Ben & Birdy fame, of Catastrophic Hapiness fame, is the author of this week’s guest-post on family rituals. I’m not sure there is any tradition that embodies the concept of my new book more than her Yay, It’s Wednesday Cake. I’ll let her tell you all about it. Thank you Catherine!
I am so thrilled to be guest-posting here. Not only because Jenny is one of my favorite people and writers and recipe-sharers and inspirers, but also because her new book How to Celebrate Everything is my life, put between covers. She so gets it, what makes memories for kids—what makes it all special (spoiler alert: it’s food). And she so gets what’s in it for her. I could have written this, from the intro, myself, only not as eloquently:
“Maybe my instinct to ritualize everything is an attempt to convince myself that I have some measure of control over how fast everything is moving, that if I can manage to connect all these small happy moments to the larger narrative of our lives—if I make a conscious effort to stop and celebrate as much as possible—then maybe, just maybe, my daughters’ childhoods can last forever?”
Probably they can!
(Oh, dear Jenny.)
But, yes, yes, yes. I am an everyday celebrator too. Without school-day lovelinesses, all I’d do is wait for the weekend, wait for the summer, wake up a hundred years from now, my whole life wished away, my children’s childhoods wished away, shaking my long-bearded and regretful Rip Van Winkle head. So I try to celebrate the here and now, which is all we’ve really got anyway, right?
Does this mean that every school night is a party? It does not. Dinner: A Sob Story is definitely a book I could write on some hand-wringing evenings—the kind where you’re trying to figure out whether clementines, if you pile them attractively in a bowl, can count as a vegetable. The kind where you’re trying to figure out of whether, if you put enough nutritional yeast on it, popcorn can count as an entrée. But I’ve learned to spin straw into gold: If we’ve got a can of chickpeas, then I can whip it into hummus, serve it at the coffee table with lit candles and piles of celery sticks, cocktail napkins and wine glasses, and I can feel like I’m hosting a tiny perfect little party rather than serving the lamest dinner ever. It is all in the presentation.
The Yay, It’s Wednesday Cake! cake comes from this very same thrifty tradition of spinning an absence of delight into delight. Because there may be no more mundane celebration than a Wednesday night. It comes around and comes around, and it is neither an appallingly heinous weekly milestone (Ugh, It’s Monday Cake!) nor a spectacular one (Huzzah, It’s Friday Cake!). It is Wednesday, and we’ve made it this far, and there is a weekend light at the end of our work-a-day tunnel, and we are in it together. We are together. Also, when the kids come home and say, genuinely thrilled, “Yay, it’s a Yay It’s Wednesday Cake! cake!” it always makes me laugh. I should mention that the name comes from a reader’s idea sent into FamilyFun magazine years ago, when I worked there. I’d assumed, from her description of a “Yay It’s Wednesday cake” that the cake would say only, “Yay, It’s Wednesday!” But in the photo, it actually said, “Yay, It’s Wednesday Cake!” right on the cake. So that is what I always write.
The cake pictured is a very good cake: a classic yellow cake, as tender as a boxed mix but with the from-scratch tang of righteousness. And the frosting is a great frosting: A luscious whipped chocolate ganache that everybody loves. But the thing is? It doesn’t really matter. I will make a different cake; I will scrawl on a boughten loaf cake; I will buy a bag of cider donuts and tie on a tag that says, “Yay, It’s Wednesday Donuts!”
And not always, either, to be clear. This is a tradition, but not a set-in-stone one. They don’t count on it, the kids, but they love it when it happens—and I love to see them love it. It’s not the same as the big eyes watching me cut their hot dog into a million unchokeable pieces, watching me blow on their scrambled eggies to cool them. No, these are the colt-limbed people with calculus to do and electric guitar to practice, the ones with the adultness emerging, like the faces from Mt. Rushmore, if Mt. Rushmore had been chiseled out from baby fat. These are the people I share my home with, the graceful beauties who are half gone already, more than half grown, but it doesn’t stop their big eyes from sparkling. It doesn’t mean they’re not psyched about cake.