I have made a tiny cake every day since the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine. For my family, that started on March 17th, which happened to also be my 36th birthday. Each day I make a 6-inch version of an old favorite recipe, something new inspired by a cookbook or the internet, or something my brain just sprouted. There is no real purpose for these cakes- no friends to share them with or dinner parties to wow. Most of the cakes don’t even make it to social media. I just keep baking while it seems like the world is going belly-up.
The cakes are tiny because, like far too many people, I don’t have a lot right now. Groceries are limited and risky to obtain; money has all but dried up with my COVID-induced unemployment. Luckily, I’m no stranger to rationing and making things work on a budget. Sometimes, I treat it like a fun project, an opportunity to exercise my creativity. But, there are other holes in daily life that hurt and don’t seem easily patchable. I miss social interaction and going places with other people. Without work, it’s not just money I miss, but also the feeling of being useful and productive.
I find myself thinking about what jobs I still have while technically unemployed. I have an 18-month-old baby and a dog to feed, bathe, house, and keep safe. In addition to the death of life as we know it due to a pandemic, I am two months into grieving the death of my mother. This, too, is work. There are bills to pay, emotional baggage to unpack, and logistics to organize. Another responsibility I’ve identified is this: I need to make moments of joy every day for my daughter and for myself.
She and I appreciate the moments of joy that come to us, like the sun streaming through the window just right so it looks like a twinkling rainbow, the daffodil that graciously opens its petals for us to sniff, the bird that cheerily chirps in our backyard. We are thankful for the dog that walks past our house giving Hazel someone to wave to and greet from afar. The serendipitous things that just happen on their own and make us smile are great. But, we need more. I am not willing to ration joy.
I look to my community for hints about how to make more of this essential joy bubble up. My sister brings her kids out to the backyard for animal cracker happy hour and makes bird feeders with them out of seeds and gelatin. My friend in Colorado bundles her kids up and pulls them around her snowy yard in a wagon. My friend in California hikes her toddler up to the top of the State Park behind her house so they can gaze at the San Francisco skyline together. My friend here on the island uses her daughter’s nap time to make homemade dyes so they can decorate Easter eggs together. It’s not always easy. But I’m learning that strong, creative people put in the effort to make these sweet moments because this is important work, now perhaps more than ever.
What do I have to work with to this end? I have an egg. And a cup of flour. And a good stockpile of sugar. Hazel and I crack an egg together and marvel at the golden, yolky interior. We watch the stand mixer spin round and round as it creams butter and sugar together into a fluffy nest. Hazel’s eyes widen as I plop the batter into the pan. We both wave and say “ciao!” as the cake goes into the oven. When the sweet smells of baking cake start wafting from the kitchen to our living room, we break from our game to scrunch up our noses and inhale the perfume. When the cake is ready to come out of the oven, Hazel excitedly squawks “hot! hot! hot!” She grins when I confirm that she is correct. When the cake is cooled and final touches made, Hazel sits down at our tiny toddler table, and I do my best to coax my big body into the child-size chair next to her. We say “cheers” as we clink our forks together and we dive into our tiny slices of cake. Hazel looks at me with her 8-tooth-smile, raises her eyebrows, and nods- her way of saying, “it’s good.” And it really is good in that moment.
So, yeah, I make a lot of cakes, not because I want to drown in decadence, but because I need more good moments with my girl. A tiny cake a day has brought us a huge amount of joy.
I’m compiling my recipes into a tiny cookbook of tiny cakes using mostly pantry staples. I don’t know when it will be ready and I don’t know how fancy it will be. But let me know if you want a copy. It feels good to put something sweet on the horizon, no matter how distant. :)