Counts for Easter

lamb cake
He is eaten.

Among my mom’s many mildly annoying sayings was “Well, this counts for eatin’.” I was never sure what it meant, whether she hadn’t really enjoyed the meal or she really had. Or maybe that she wasn’t hungry but felt obligated to eat. Or maybe it referred to something specific the first time and she enjoyed saying it so much she just kept doing it. If all the annoying habits of my family could be charted on a huge tree there’d be a dotted line running from “Well, this counts for eatin’” to her mother-in-law’s standby, “I wonder what the poor people are eatin’ tonight.” I believe that was meant to be a compliment to the cook.

Saturday night I saluted the end of Lent with a cold glass of sake at Katsu, where Dave and I went with Xeena and Buck. Usually we meet at our old standby, Midori, but we decided to try somewhere new because there are a million restaurants in Chicago, for Pete’s sake. We agreed that the quality of the sushi at Katsu may be superior, but we enjoy Midori more. Not just because it’s cheaper, though that helps, but we’ve gone there together enough that it feels like ours. I crave my favorite rolls there, and the margaritas, and the familiar faces.

At the table, Xeena said she misses ritual. “Holidays come and go,” she said. For Easter they were having her family over for barbequed fish tacos.

“I thought we were going to try going to church sometimes,” I reminded her. We had talked about it maybe a year ago, on a Sunday morning when we were all at Ann Sather, how we could check out churches of different denominations around town.

“We were,” Xeena agreed. She asked Dave and Buck, “You guys interested?” Buck stared blankly ahead, just as he did when she mentioned it at Ann Sather. She added quickly, “We could go to brunch afterward.”

Dave replied in the same words he used the first time, “Couldn’t we just go to brunch?”

Our Easter dinner was mostly traditional. Ham at my brother Rolando’s. They also served eggplant parmesan for the vegetarians, and many side dishes. I laughed more than I have in weeks, sitting with my brothers and their wives and their kids and Dave and cousin El, who’s more like a sister. El made two lamb cakes, just like last year, and this year both their heads stayed on. However, one lamb fell face forward into the green coconut grass, so it seemed to be sniffing the other lamb’s butt. Also, the upright lamb’s ear fell off so she re-attached it with a dental floss pick. She swore it was unused.

After just a few years of El bringing two cakes instead of one, I now expect two. The first time she was trying to make up for her ugly homemade one with a bakery one, which froze  and shrunk in the car so it actually looked worse than the homemade one. Last year she made two recipes, pound cake and chocolate zucchini. This year they were both pound cake, the difference being that the upright one with the dental floss pick ear had white frosting while the toppled-over one had white frosting plus a layer of coconut flakes. I’m not sure how many years it takes for a pattern to become a ritual, but there’s a little place in my heart now that longs for a pair of lamb cakes this day every year, ever striving for perfection, always failing in their own perfect way.

Just Desserts

lamb cake
Take me to your Leader.

Lamb cake is one good thing that came out of the B days. My brother R and his wife started inviting L and B for Easter a few years ago, and they started bringing a lamb cake. The first year L got a fancy one from a bakery, all fluffy and perfect. But she left it in the car while she was at work and it froze, and all the buttercream frosting shrunk. So when it thawed, it tasted good but looked like a wizened, ancient lamb.

Was B out of the picture after that first year? Or was it the next? I don’t remember. Like the lamb cake his fluffy good nature hardened and staled, and today he graces someone else’s table. Probably in a diner and complaining about the service. Single again, L started making her own lamb cakes. She found  a mold, I think of her mom’s, a smallish, upright lamb. Very English. Very delicious but the head kept falling off. So when she served it the first year, the head had to be displayed separately. R’s wife froze the head and hid it in our freezer at Thanksgiving. I passed it on to L’s freezer sometime after Christmas.

This year L made two lamb cakes, using that same mold. One regular yellow cake and one chocolate-zucchini. The yellow head had stayed on, but the chocolate-zucchini head fell off. L solved this by sticking it on with skewers which she decorated with mini-marshmallows, so they looked like fluffy antennae.

The lambs lay on a bed of green coconut grass and gazed at each other. It was hard to decide which one was uglier. Both bodies were perfectly molded; it was their faces, where L had only her cake-decorating tubes and imagination to work with, that things went so Halloween.  The white one – actually, they were both white because the chocolate one was covered in mini-marshmallows – the yellow cake one looked drunk, while the chocolate-zucchini one had more of a stricken, please-don’t-eat-me, I’m-new-to-this-planet expression.

They were the perfect centerpiece for post dinner discussion about weird religious bits that no one really talks about. Why didn’t anyone recognize Jesus when he came back from the dead? If you believe that, is it an argument for reincarnation? And what exactly happened between those few recognition moments and His ascension into Heaven? Shouldn’t there have been some kind of festivities, gatherings, sermons-on-the-mount where He could be like, I’m back, now do you believe me? No, He just sort of faded up to Heaven.

L said she’d called our Auntie M this year for advice on decorating the lamb cakes. Auntie M said the lamb should wear a blue collar, that there was some religious significance to that but she couldn’t remember what it was. L didn’t have a blue decorating tube so her lambs are collarless. Like Jesus and B, they’re free. Except they’re made out of cake, so actually the rest of the chocolate-zucchini one is in my fridge and I’m going to eat some right now. Unless some Martian-lamb miracle has occurred and this is just a verse in someone else’s bible.