(by Laurie Kirk)
Deciding early on that coronavirus was nothing to be trifled with, I suggested that my
24-year-old daughter Eleni move to Pennsylvania with us to weather the storm. She agreed, grabbed her (blizzard, zombie apocalypse) "go" bag, and headed out. There are now six of us here: my husband (her stepfather), our three teen-aged sons, Eleni, and me. The bedroom she inhabits is technically a guest room. But she visits frequently, so it's her room.
Eleni and I have more than a mother/daughter connection. It's spiritual, psychic, profound. We differ radically on some issues, but it doesn’t matter. The bond is unbreakable. I’ve always cooked, making pastry while prepping two or three meals for the following week all at once. Eleni eats take-out. She can cook but usually opts out because "cooking for one sucks." She does help me and is always ready to suggest desserts to get through this crisis. Somehow, cakes are the best medicine to fight a pandemic.
Irony alert: Eleni is the writer. I am the actor. And yet, here I am, writing, and Eleni is in the kitchen, cooking. The weirdness and juxtaposition of life right now is fabulous. Everything is upside down, and we jump into whatever challenge presents itself, no matter if it's in our comfort zone or not.
Today we had a great discussion about the women in our family. We talked about how the mistakes of past generations can lead to strength and focused attention to change in the next. Active rejection of bad decisions, not just whining and wishing, but decisive, forceful momentum to end disastrous cycles.
My mom went through a bad divorce in the 1960s and never really got over it. She let poor eating habits and deteriorating health consume her. Obesity, more junk food, not confronting problems. I grew up with very bad eating habits and still struggle, but am conquering it. I also had to train myself to discuss problems with people I trust and not just ignore them. I've raised my children in the way I wanted to be raised.
Laurie: 1, learned behavior: 0.
Eleni's father's side of the family is a story of addicts, abuse, and every “Investigation Discovery” show. Her paternal grandma struggled early in life with a trifecta of drugs, alcohol, and domestic violence. Later in life, she developed cancer. She didn't handle it when she could have; I don't know why. She and my mom both died too young and for no damn good reason. I will live to be 150. That is non-negotiable. I have pounded away at (I mean, gently taught) my kids to make sure they don't repeat these mistakes. It's possible to love people and sympathize with them and forgive them and reject their decisions—all at the same time.
(Getting re-married, with Eleni as flower girl)
I'm where I am today, and Eleni has become an amazing powerhouse, because my childhood needs were not met. We share the power of intention, thought, and creation of outcome. These qualities will hopefully be celebrated by future generations and not cast aside or forgotten. You can't choose your history, but you can choose which parts you carry forward. The importance of knowing that you have the power to change your life is something that cannot be overestimated.
We love to "fix" everything. If you have a problem and want to whine, call Oprah. If you want it fixed, give us a ring. We do tend to exhaust ourselves by either trying to help everyone or wondering why they don't want our wonderful, thoughtful advice. Plowing ahead, bringing along all who want to ride our train to happiness, is the objective.
Another thing that cannot be overestimated is the power of "Eleni Cake,” an amazingly rich chocolate confection that brings our family together and gives joy—but it's gone before you know it.
Laurie Kirk is an actor who lives in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. She can be found in her kitchen, under a pile of dogs, or at Backstage.
Eleni Chocolate Cake
2 c. flour 2 c. sugar 1 t. salt 2 sticks (8 oz.) butter 1 c. water 6 T. cocoa powder 2 eggs 1/2 c. milk 1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. baking soda
1 t. white vinegar
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Sift together flour, sugar and salt in large bowl; set aside. In a medium-sized saucepan, melt butter in water with cocoa powder.
Bring to slight boil, and set aside. Combine eggs, milk, vanilla, baking soda, and vinegar in small bowl. Add butter mixture and egg mixture to large bowl, mixing well. (The batter will be very liquid.)
Put into 13 x 9 inch pan (I don't grease it because we serve straight from the pan) and bake for about 20 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean.
1 stick (4 oz.) butter
6 T. milk
6 T. cocoa powder
1 t. vanilla extract
4 c. confectioners’ sugar
In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter.
Stir in milk and cocoa powder.
Pour into a large bowl and add vanilla.
Add confectioner sugar, about 1 c. at a time, until it reaches desired consistency.
Note: There are two ways I make this cake. The first is the traditional way: Cool the cake, then frost it in the pan. The other way is that when the cake comes out of the oven, I frost it immediately, creating something like a rich brownie.