My Grandmother is old. I say that because she just turned 90. And let’s be honest….90 IS old. But the funny thing is that in my mind, she’s always been old in an ageless sort of way. As a child I didn’t really understand the concept of age. I was young. Everyone not young was old. There was no in between.
So imagine my surprise when, as an adult, I did the math and figured out that my grandmother was only a few years older than I am now when she and my grandfather took on the responsibility for raising me and my brother. I’m no young whippersnapper but I’m certainly not old either. Yes, I’ve reached the point in my life where the ghosts of all kinds of youthful arrogance and naivety come back to haunt me.
Some of these moments amuse me….like how I’ve become the crotchety old lady on the block who doesn’t want the kids loitering around my yard. Others make me think that I’ve always had a guardian angel on speed dial….let’s just say age has made me rethink the wisdom of some of my youthful decisions.
But back to my agelessly old grandmother….as an adult I’ve had the opportunity to see her through a completely different lens. It was when I started to see her as her own person and not merely a wife, mother, or grandmother, that I realized I did not give her enough credit for the life she has lived. She used family, work, and faith to define herself. I didn’t used to understand that. Now I see it as her way of declaring I believe, I love, and I think for myself. I may not agree with her choices but I understand they were hers to make.
Way too often we never manage to see the people closest to us as being independent of us. We define and understand them in the way that suits us best without regard for whether or not this takes into account the fact that they are imperfect people with their own flaws and struggles.
I’m lucky. I have had the opportunity to reach this realization and see my grandmother for herself….not for who I wished she were…and appreciate her beautiful imperfections. I can only hope that Libby learns this life lesson a little quicker than I did. I’ve got my fingers crossed that one day she will understand that while I may not be the person she thought I should be, I am more than a list of my imperfections.
I also hope she can tell by looking at pictures exactly how much joy she brought to one old lady. It makes me sad to know that Libby won’t remember these early moments. So part of my job is to share with Libby the stories about the lady who called her “My Sunshine”. I can tell Libby how she made her very first trip to Lexington Market to pick up crabcakes for her Great Grandmother’s 90th birthday lunch. And that when her Great Grandmother tasted this Angel Food Birthday Cake, the making of which Libby supervised from her highchair, she said it was the best one she’d ever had.
two elizabeth’s – one old and one young – are the bookends of my life
Angel Food Cake
Adapted from Melissa d’Arabian
BAH Note: If you don’t have, or can’t find, superfine sugar in your grocery store, just give plain old white sugar a whirl in a food processor or spice grinder for about 15 seconds. It may give your workbowl a sandblasted look but life is full of enough aggravations and finding sugar shouldn’t be one of them. Be sure NOT to grease your loaf pan….the foam needs to be able to grab onto the pan to get that beautiful lift.
BAH Tip: You do need to be vigilant about not getting any egg yolks in your whites. Your best bet is to separate the eggs one at a time into a separate bowl. If you get a clean catch, transfer the white to the bowl of your mixer and proceed with the next egg. If not, you haven’t contaminated your entire batch of egg whites. And be sure to keep those yolks for something like custard or frittata.
- 3/4 cup superfine sugar
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 7 large egg whites at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/4 tablespoon kosher salt
Heat your oven to 325 degrees.
Whisk together the flour with half of the sugar in a small bowl and set aside.
In the workbowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together the egg whites, vanilla, cream of tartar, and salt on medium low speed until the mixture begins to just get a bit foamy. Slowly add the other half of the sugar and continue to mix until soft peaks form. It will take a few minutes but be patient here and let the mixer do its thing. If crank up the speed thinking you’ll save time, you might overmix your whites.
Once you have soft peaks, turn off the mixer. Sift half of the sugar/flour mixture onto your egg whites and use a spatula to fold them in. Sift the remaining sugar/flour and fold to incorporate. Pour the batter into an ungreased metal loaf pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven, take a deep breath, and turn the pan upside down onto two cans (there should be one can under each of the pan’s nubby handles). I promise, the cake will not fall out. Allow to cool for 1 hour and then run an offset spatula, knife, or pancake flipper around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the sides of the pan. Turn the cake out to cool completely on a rack. Use a serrated knife to slice.