Strawberry Summer Cake.
July 4th came and went in London pretty painlessly. Except for a broken water glass and a picnic blanket smeared with unrecognizable food things it was a heart warming day. Girlfriends gathered, husbands (or husbands-to-be) joined and children played together running around, hiding, kicking balls over walls and finding any number of reasons to go upstairs, no downstairs, no wait – back upstairs, nope – definitely downstairs again.
The women in attendance were friends I first made a decade ago when I was new to London, having just moved from New York City. We were mostly single, all childless, all career driven and all trying to make sense of yesterday and establish a plan for tomorrow. We spent the dazzling summer of 2006 together drinking rosé on Parson’s Green, talking about each other’s love lives, registering friends for MySingleFriend.co.uk and occasionally crying on one another’s shoulders. By the end of that summer I had met my soulmate and, later that year, due to a teeny little visa infraction, I was forced to leave the UK. I hadn’t seen it coming and as a result I chose to return to my hometown of New Orleans for what I thought would be six months spent listening to music, eating crawfish and spending time with my family.
Six months turned into seven years and instead of just passing the time I rediscovered New Orleans then. I found out that not only did I love the architecture, but I also loved the heat, the flip-flops, the art scene, restaurants and, at the time, being near my mom. Nick loved it as well and though it wasn’t always easy for him he fell into a significant relationship with the city’s contemporary art scene, peculiar traditions, politics, food, music and the easy lifestyle the city engenders. The biggest surprise, though, was that I made or remade the most incredible friends.
And this is what made our recent choice to leave New Orleans incredibly difficult. Loads of material things made it sad (my car, our house, that swimming pool) but above all the most bitter pill I had to swallow was leaving my extraordinary companions. Similar and different, old friends and new, parental figures and mentees, these are people I call to discuss careers and fashion, politics, or child rearing. We travel together. We drink tequila together. We discuss art, community, religion, families and history. We learn together. We argue. We cry. We know and understand the dichotomy that makes us all who we are. The country roads and Louboutins. The late nights at a dive bars and the weekend trips to New York. The ambition to be the best at everything we try – and the desire to relax in the moment and enjoy our little sliver by the river. I feel like a part of me was left behind when we landed in London. A part that, no matter how well I get to know people, will mean I will never be whole on this side of the world.
And then, with some incredible sense of irony, July 4th brought my liberation from that erroneous fear. I realized, while looking around at the women gathered in our pocket-sized yard that while they might not have yet visited the house I grew up in, or be able to argue the best margaritas in New Orleans, they do know that I struggled through a divorce that glorious summer years ago. They knew me single and working in the restaurant industry. They came and watched the World Cup at my pub when I was bartending. They were with me when I met Nick. They were along for the ride when we had our first child. They knew me quitting work and travelling and then giving up my career for my children and husband. And now they know me back in London struggling to find my place.
I have spent so much time mourning the life I left behind in New Orleans that I haven’t been fully open to embracing the wonderful life I have here in London.
I have an incredible group of girlfriends in London and Independence Day reminded me that it is time that I allow myself a chance to fold them back into my life. Katie is available nearly every night for dinner or drinks. Renee has childcare on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Kristina lives in Surrey and we have an open invitation to her great big yard for us to go run around in. Lisa is getting married in Tuscany, has the world’s best fiance and is up for dinner whenever our schedules mesh. And If I stop being so sure that I’ll never have friends like I have in New Orleans, I might just realize that I have some pretty wonderful friends right here who are ready to do what friends do.
It is not easy to make friends once you are a grown up. It can be as intense as dating, and you have to learn to be cautious and respectful of people’s territories, just like in the initial throes of a romantic relationship. You have to give, and you have to ask. You have to be cautious and honest and if you are extremely fortunate you’ll meet a few really special people. I was fortunate to do so twice, once upon moving to London and once upon my return to New Orleans.
I wish I could gather these two groups of incredible women together for a party. I would bake the biggest cake and I would make it pink in the middle with freshly pureed British strawberries. I would serve cocktails and rosé and we would allow husbands and boyfriends entry and insist upon lots of kids running around. I would play music and I would have the sun shining bright but with a slight chill in the shade. I would have the party we had on Saturday in London. And I would tell them all that I am the luckiest person in the world to have the best group of friends one could ever hope for.
- 4 1/2 cups cake flour
- 3 cups caster sugar
- 5 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups strawberry purée (blend strawberries in blender or food processor until a smooth liquid)
- 6 egg whites at room temperature
- 2 whole eggs at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 6oz whole milk
- Preheat the oven to 176C (350F). Spray three 9-inch round cake pans with a baking spray and then line with parchment rounds and spray again.
- Whisk together the egg whites, eggs, milk and vanilla in a bowl and set aside.
- Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Blend on low for about 60 seconds to make sure everything is well mixed together. Add the butter and strawberry purée and mix on low for about 30 seconds, then raise the speed to medium-high and beat for 3 minutes.
- Add the egg mixture to the flour + butter mixture in three batches blending only enough to mix after each addition - about 10 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl remembering to scrape the bottom as well. Blend for 10 seconds then remove from mixer.
- Bake the cakes for 15 minutes, then rotate them 180 degrees in the oven to promote even baking. (While rotating cakes, keep the oven door open for the absolute minimal time possible to prevent too much heat from escaping.) Bake for another 15-17 minutes without opening the oven door. Cakes are done when the top feels resistant to the touch or a wooden toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before flipping them upside down onto cooling racks and peeling off the parchment paper. Let stand until completely cooled before assembling the cake. Alternatively, you can freeze the cakes for up to a week and then take out, let thaw for about an hour and then assemble the cake.
- Cake flour can be difficult to find in the UK but Ocado delivers this one.
- 15 oz unsalted butter, softened
- 350g confectioner’s or icing sugar, sifted (don't skip the sifting)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- pinch salt
- 3 tablespoons cream
- Place butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Whip for 3 to 5 minutes until the butter is super smooth and really light in color (this is important if you want white frosting).
- Add the salt, vanilla and cream and blend on low until fully blended.
- Add the confectioner's sugar (or icing sugar) a cup at a time mixing first on low before turning mixer to high for 10 - 15 seconds. Repeat this step tasting the frosting frequently to get your desired sugar content.