The last cake

This is a story about a girl and a cake. And a question: If you could never eat cake again, what would your last cake be?

Rewind: Last week I was asked to bake a last cake for E, a friend of mine who is going in for gastric sleeve surgery. Gastric sleeve surgery is similar to the better known gastric band, which restricts your stomach’s ability to hold much food – only this operation is irreversible and takes out 80% of your stomach. (For a comparison of different types of gastric surgery, there’s more info here.)

A gastric sleeve operation is pretty drastic. What it means for eating is that for two weeks before the op, you have to go on a liquid diet. Following the op, you stay in hospital for two days and when you go home, again you can’t have anything other than liquids for 8 weeks. For a whole year you can’t drink alcohol! And when you start reintroducing solids, you’re never going to be able to eat what we think of a full meal ever again. You’ll be able to eat a starter. You won’t be able to eat a whole cake, or even manage a whole piece.

So you see, making this cake was a pretty big deal.

My friend E is indomitable. When I first met her she was a friend of a friend and we just sort of went from there. She’s a big fan of Dog, and baking, so obviously we’re going to get on. T and I like meeting new people and it turned out we had more mutual friends. E is pretty out there. She’s not shy and she never gave the impression that she cared what people thought. Yes she’s a larger lady but she always seemed at peace with herself in a world of skinnies. This is someone who’s never knowingly underdressed, who introduced me to Hell Bunny (quirky 50s style dresses with a modern twist) and rocks a floral headband at any given occasion. Flamboyant and vocal and not about to be cowed by anyone’s ideas.

So her decision to go in for irreversible surgery was a big one. A drastic gastric! And I figured a lot of thought must have gone into it to make a decision like that. It soon became apparent that there had, when she blogged about it. As a friend I wanted to support that so it makes sense that I would express solidarity the main way I ever do: through baking. I feel like I know a bit about silent hurt – all of us in this community are all too familiar with private pain. And making life changes. A few years ago I uprooted my entire life and stepped into the unknown. I knew I would want to do something to help mark the occasion of E’s big change.

I was honoured to be asked to make someone’s last ever cake. But also a bit scared: What would happen if it wasn’t as great as a last cake should be? What if her memories were always of a mediocre final indulgence? I knew I’d have to make a serious effort!

E said to me that she wanted something white, because they were going to a huge event for a final blowout: Diner en Blanc. That’s dinner in white to you and me. Everything is white themed so the cake had to fit in with that theme. She also said that she wanted something sparkly and fabulous. And I knew she liked raspberry jam. I had an idea…

I started with a sponge base. I used my trusty Madeira recipe – it scales up or down pretty well and is a bit denser than normal sponge to take icing well. The night before, I baked the cake and let it cool. Cuddled Dog. I think it’s important to bake with love!

Then came the icing. (Frosting to my American friends!) I layered three slabs of cake with vanilla buttercream and raspberry jam. I got the posh raspberry jam rather than the cheap one – it had to be the best for a last cake! And then I iced it all over with ruffley petals, apart from a central sprinkling of bronze sugared honeycomb pieces. When it was complete, I added a sprinkling of fairy dust so the cake would shimmer in the light.

When I was done, this is how it looked… All ready for a last supper, a dinner in white.

E said she loved the cake. (Hopefully if it was a bit shabby they’d already have had an excellent meal and some wine to help them along!) More importantly, she’s getting ready for one of the biggest changes in her life. A whole year of not drinking, 10 weeks of only taking in liquids and a lifetime of changing the way she eats, permanently.

It’s a huge decision and it’s nobody else’s but hers. I have the utmost respect for anyone who makes these difficult decisions to change their lives, as I know how hard it can be. When I moved to London a few years ago, I left behind a really comfortable life. I wasn’t mistreated and I had security, a house, a husband, and a life I’d built up over a decade – pretty much my entire adult life.

I left behind a lot of happinesses and some pretty big sadnesses. And I went into a year of screwing up and trying to rebuild myself with no guarantee of happiness. It was pretty scary. A lot of people judged me. I lost friends and I lost my partner and the worst thing is, it was my decision. And what I learned is that everyone has their reasons for doing things and judging them doesn’t help. For E, it’s not about the rights or wrongs of being larger or smaller – it’s about taking control of her health and wanting to live a long and happy life. I mean, who doesn’t want that?

And you know what? I’ve been fatter and thinner. At one point in the bad year I was 20 kg lighter than I am now. So either I’m pretty huge now or I was a stick insect then. I would love to lose weight but I also know that my weight has very little correlation with happiness. I’ve been sad and skinny and I’ve been happy and chubby, and vice versa. For me, the key to contentedness (an ability to accept the happy and sad and net out on the happy side) really does come down to that old clichΓ©: acceptance. But not just acceptance: also putting yourself in the right place to accept stuff. Grabbing opportunities when they arise and actively seeking out the positives.

For E, this means getting herself to a place where her health is better and she’s less likely to have serious health problems in the future. Because she has a lot to live for and a lot to contribute to others.

For me, it’s about being okay with who I am: trying my best to be a good person; accepting that I may never have children – but I’ll do my best to take any opportunity I can – and I’ll try to maximise happiness in my daily life.

As my friend Stealing Nectar puts it: squeezing sweetness out of whatever the day brings.

And me? My last cake will be a big chocolate one.

 

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49 comments

  1. beanie

    That cake is GORGEOUS! I took a cake decorating class and quit cause I just could.not.get.it. As for my last cake? I think a fudge cake with Nutella frosting. Maybe some peanut butter worked in there somehow lol

    Good job!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nara

      Thank you! Full disclosure: I do have a mini venture on the side so I have been to a class and learned some decorating skills. I’m quite bad at some stuff but for some reason I am alright at baking and decorating! It appeals to the creative side of me.

      A fudge cake sounds great! You could definitely do a peanut butter chocolate fudge cake… I once made peanut butter brownies and my colleagues loved them! πŸ™‚

      Like

  2. Courtney

    That cake is just beautiful! I’m a cake girl… I love eating cake, I love making cake, and I love decorating it! I don’t do it often but when I do, it calms my nerves. That cake looks very calming and peaceful to work on!

    My last cake would be similar to what you made, but with the raspberry in between each layer with icing. A nice, dense white wedding cake, real BUTTERcream frosting, with ribbons of raspberry. No decoration, just frosting. Oh yes!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The crazy stork lady

    I generally have an open mind cake-wise, but for the last cake I’d have to go purist: Victoria sponge with lashings of raspberry jam and buttercream icing between the layers. Great post- you’ve made me really crave some cake now though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nara

      Yeah, I may have to reconsider. Vanilla sponge is very nice! Although pink snow reminded me about carrot cake… Ahhh choices! Maybe I’ll just have to never have a last cake. πŸ™‚
      I have some pretty great friends as well… I try only to have amazing people as friends! πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

      • My Perfect Breakdown

        why would you want anything less than amazing friends? You my friend, only deserve the best!
        And no carrot cake for my last cake. Maybe if I were visiting my grandma, then I’d eat carrot cake (her icing is amazing), but otherwise nope. πŸ™‚

        Like

      • Nara

        Ah but carrot cake has cream cheese icing! That is amazing! I don’t know. So many cakes, so little time. That’s what afternoon teas and mini cakes are for! πŸ™‚

        Like

      • Nara

        PS I like to think of my friends as a set of perfectly curated individuals that I’ve hand picked. I take full credit for their awesomeness when really it’s more likely that I just happened to be in the right place at the right time – but I’ll take it! πŸ™‚

        Like

  4. RJ

    Wow you did an amazing job on that cake! I think my last cake would be a carrot cake. What a great post. I think I am also working toward acceptance of what may not ever be. It’s just so hard to do that with so much unknown.

    I would also like to commend you stating that everyone has their reasons and judging them doesn’t help. I know this. And I honestly strive to not judge other people because it just makes you negative, and sometimes bitter. That’s no way to live a life. Good for you learning this difficult lesson and sharing it!

    Like

    • Nara

      Thank you! Another vote for carrot! I’m leaning that way today… I do love a good squidgy carrot cake! Plus I could share it with Dog.

      I’m not as well adjusted as it occasionally might sound – I try and work through thoughts on here so I’m just figuring out stuff as I go along. I really do feel like I learned a lot in the bad year though about judgement and how judgment I’d probably been in the past. I’m sure we all have our judgy moments but I try to give myself a talking to when that happens!

      I definitely have days of struggling to accept stuff so I get where you’re coming from. It’s the dreaded time of the month today so I’m feeling a bit morose… Although at least it helps me to try and rationalise why I’m feeling sub par (I wondered why I was so hungry yesterday – it’s about a week early so wasn’t expecting it!). I think we all need to try not to be bitter… It is such a wasted emotion. But I do feel right now that I’m surrounded by pregnant people and babies!

      Like

      • mamajo23

        Ugh with the pregnant people and babies. I kind of wish we could press a ‘help’ button and have a short reprieve of anything pregnancy related so we can recharge. Also- carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is my vote!

        Liked by 2 people

      • RJ

        Yes, I am also surrounded by pregnant people and babies. I try so hard to be happy for people but I just feel so sad for myself. Sounds so lame but I know lots of ladies feel the same as me. It’s nice to feel not alone in that regard.

        And I am judgy sometimes too but I really try hard to reign in those feelings. I never want to be judged, and I feel sometimes like I am judged because of my miscarriages (although I hope that is just the insecurities rearing their ugly heads).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nara

        Oh I’m so sorry you feel like that! I do really feel sad with all the pregnant women and babies (esp when there’s yet another birth or pregnancy announcement – today it’s the birth of twins on Facebook, and a pregnant friend who needs to reference her pregnancy every – single – day). I do feel bitter about it quite a lot, but I’m probably shallow or distractable enough that it passes quite quickly.

        I really don’t feel that anyone would judge you for having had miscarriages. Well I’ve never heard of that before. I am so sorry if that’s happening to you. X

        Like

  5. mamajo23

    I really really enjoyed reading this. Your philosophy on friends and life resonates so strongly with me. You sound like and amazing friend- and I love this strong and brave pal of yours. Wishing her so much luck. It’s funny how reading someone’s words can be more intimate than meeting in real life sometimes. There are a few other bloggers that I know I would be great friends with in real life and I can totally tell you are one of them. Thanks for a great post!

    Like

    • Nara

      That’s so nice of you to say! I think we would be great friends too – I always read your comments and think “She sounds so nice!” πŸ™‚
      You will have to tell me your blog address though because I don’t think it’s linked to your profile and I think you posted it once, but not sure if I managed to follow it? (I’m still new to WP and can’t seem to get it to do half what I want it to do, depending on whether I’m reading on laptop, tablet or phone!) Thanks so much for the lovely comment! x

      Liked by 1 person

    • Nara

      We all need more cake! πŸ™‚ It’s a much nicer idea than sitting at work, that’s for sure! Although I need to eat a bit less cake and a bit more lettuce. (Yuck!) πŸ˜€ xx

      Like

    • Nara

      Thank you! The cake itself underneath all the ruffles is pretty basic. And I’m very messy in the kitchen… The whole work surface is covered in dustings of sugar! πŸ™‚ This design is one I made up myself but actually compared with a lot of the designs I do, it’s quite easy! I like using buttercream and piping rather than fondant or sugarpaste as it feels somehow more creative to “draw” stuff in the air. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. thegreatpuddingclubhunt

    Your friend E is very courageous, and you made her a stunning last cake. So lovely.

    I have to say that I am always on the look out for things to go in my ‘retirement tea shop’ (When I retire I will open up a tea shop in the cotswolds and people will travel from afar just for my cakes) and your cake has inspired me to try out this icing pattern! It’s gorgeous! I’ve got about 30 years to practice it, perhaps by then I could get it almost on a par with yours!!!

    Like

    • Nara

      Ooh I want a shop too! Well a cafΓ©/bakery. I’ve already thought of the name. Sadly it is probably an unattainable dream unless I win the lottery! But it would be dog friendly! This pattern uses a large curved tip. I use petal or leaf tips for most of my cakes… I’m all about piped buttercream! πŸ™‚ You could definitely make this one – it’s one of the technically easier ones to do as it just used one tip. Usually I end up using loads of different ones! Anyway I’ll look forward to visiting your tea shop! πŸ™‚

      Like

  7. elizabetcetera

    This is such a lovely post … and the cake well, I’m sitting here wishing I could have a piece! And please forgive me, I didn’t catch what the center of the cake was. What is in the center?

    Your friend E is lucky to have you. And I hope she has great success with her gastric bypass — it’s a life-changing event for sure!

    Like

    • Nara

      The central sparkly bit is bronze honeycomb pieces (cake decorations). Usually if I pipe flowers I pipe the whole thing out of buttercream, but I think those bits make it a bit more sparkly!

      If you mean the actual filling, it was raspberry jam and more buttercream! πŸ™‚

      E has a lot of great friends and I can’t pretend to be her closest – we haven’t known each other for that long but we get on well and have had some great times together. She’s definitely a social butterfly and I’m sure this next year will be hard, trying to figure out a way to socialise without eating or drinking – so I definitely want to be supportive!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Nara

      Hahahahaha. It could be, but I’m not sure how much of a friend it would be after you’d cannibalised it! πŸ˜‰

      It is a good listener though…

      Like

    • Nara

      Brits unite! πŸ™‚ I think a Bakewell tart could just edge in as a cake! I never managed to acquire the British habit of custard – I love cream, but custard’s a step too far! Growing up in a hot climate we didn’t have it, so it always felt weird to put it on desserts! I quite like Bakewells but couldn’t eat a whole one! πŸ™‚

      Like

  8. ourgreatestdesire

    That cake is gorgeous! I love how you are supporting your friend and hope you’ll update us on her progress and the surgery. I’ve never baked a cake or pie from scratch (okay, the pie thing is because I’m not a fan of pie unless it’s chocolate cream and you don’t need to bake those). Now cookies, those are my thing! I love baking cookies.

    Like

    • Nara

      Thank you! She does have a blog. If you search on aussie foodie journey you should be able to find it. I don’t want to speak for her as it is her story to tell. I’m sure it will be a great one. x

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Amanda

    I loved reading this post. I’m having the same procedure as E in 4 days. I should have totally had a food funeral party-what an amazing idea! Your support for her is amazing and will be really appreciated by her, especially as she embarks on this journey post surgery. I have told only my closest friends and the only the world wide WordPress :). But judgement is what I don’t need right now. Maybe later when I live myself more and just don’t care, eh? Beautiful cake and beautiful post. Thank you. I’m thinking my last cake should have been a banana cream pie… πŸ˜‰

    Like

    • Nara

      Oops not sure that posted. I am wishing you all the best for your journey! I bet it will be amazing. Though really hard at first. I’m not even sure I would be able to do the dieting bit beforehand. I am so bad at doing stuff like that! I would have totally done the food funeral bit but not sure I would do the surgery after! πŸ™‚ Anyway you could be blog buddies – search on aussie foodie journey to find hers. I hope you have a great recovery. x

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Arwen

    OK that cake looks INCREDIBLE!! I truly hope she enjoyed it and kudos to your friend for making such a decision, go her!
    I am a total chocaholic but when it comes to cake my all-time fave is lemon drizzle so I’d have to have that as my last cake!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nara

      Ah, I love lemon drizzle too! I have never made one though… I’ve made plenty of lemon ones but drizzle is usually a loaf. I need to try it! That reminds me, we also used to make coconut lime cake. I’m not mad on coconut or lime, but somehow it was great in a cake – think it was a Delia recipe. I’ll have to try that, too! πŸ™‚

      Like

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