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Under the Redwoods

(by Lisa Leonard-Adler)

My twin brother Bob and I were born three months after my parents had the foresight to move from freeze-your-patootie-off Michigan, where they’d both graduated from college, to the sunny Bay Area of California, where my dad was offered a job at Lockheed. We were bookended by my sisters Beth and Susan.

(I'm in the pink dress.)

What my mom handled still amazes me: four children in five years. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, 365 days a year. She relied on a rotation of standards when we were young and got more creative when we were older. Sunset magazine was her bible. I was always at her side while she prepared dinner, and she let me participate. I thought it was wonderful when she showed me how to fold wontons, until that became my job every time we had them. Neither of my sisters seemed to be around when Mom was in the kitchen, and my brother did not inherit any kind of cooking gene. I can't believe we're even related because he won't eat onions.

For years we ate Thanksgiving dinner at a picnic bench in the redwood forest because Mom read an article about it in that darned magazine. Turkey was too pedestrian for our family—one year we had bouillabaisse. My siblings and I always lamented the fact that we couldn't have a “normal” Thanksgiving inside, warm and cozy around a real table. I realize now that those were the best moments of my childhood.

Birthdays were, and still are, a big deal in our family, and Mom was determined that her twins felt special and individual by making each of us a birthday cake of our choosing. Bobby always had German chocolate, and I had angel food with fresh whipped cream and strawberries. Everything was made from scratch. There were no shortcuts.

My husband and one of my best friends share a birthday, but I don’t have to do double-duty as my mom did—they’re both happy with my carrot cake.


Lisa Leonard-Adler is a corporate art dealer and interior decorator in California.

Lisa's Special Carrot Cake

3 c. flour

3 c. sugar

1 t. salt

1 T. cinnamon

1 c. canola oil

1/2 c. carrots, cooked in salted water and puréed

1 c. crushed pineapple, liquid squeezed out

4 large eggs

1 heaping T. pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 c. chopped walnuts

1 3/4 c. packed shredded sweetened coconut

Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting

1 lb. whipped cream cheese

1 lb. unsalted butter

7 c. powdered sugar

1 heaping t. pure vanilla extract

2 T. fresh lemon juice

Pinch of salt

1/2 c. walnuts, crushed with a rolling pin

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Sift dry ingredients together in a bowl.

In another bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.

Add dry ingredients in thirds until well combined but do not overmix.

Divide among 3 greased 9-in. round cake pans.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool on racks.

Split each layer in half.

Combine all ingredients for frosting.

Spread frosting on each of six layers and sides of cake.

Press crushed walnuts into sides of cake.


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