My friend Ellen always did things with artful style, accentuated by her flair for the dramatic. A winter death, while she was still beautiful and vibrant, engaged with the world to the very last second, was her final gesture. She won’t be replaced.
When Ellen moved to Fresno (or FresYes! as we would say to each other) she found that her backyard came equipped with grapefruit, orange, tangerine, and lemon trees. I taught her to make marmalade and to can the jewel tone jelly in a water bath. Because she was an amazing graphic artist, our housemade marmalade even carried its own custom label:
Lady Wolf Marmalade Supreme.
I miss her so much. Life doesn’t stop, birthdays don’t stop coming. Baking never stops, for me. We still have to laugh, in the midst of crying. None other than Dolly Parton’s character in the movie Steel Magnolias assures us that “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!” I may never be as evolved as our dear Miss Dolly but I aspire.
When the first coconut cake broke in half while being turned out of the pan, breaking into chunks, I thought that would amuse Ellen no end. When the second coconut cake turned out with just little divots broken off, I imagined Ellen telling me to just add more coconut and more cowbell and everything would come out fine.
I turned the broken cake into Lamingtons. Lamingtons are a popular Australian petit four, dipped in jam or chocolate and rolled in coconut. I froze those big chunks of broken cake and then sawed them into as many little squares as I could, setting them on a rack, and replaced them in the freezer. I microwaved a jar of raspberry jam and strained out the seeds. I stirred in a tablespoon or so of a berry liqueur, to flavor and slightly thin the syrup. Taking one cake square at a time, I dipped one in the raspberry goo and then rolled it in coconut. I nestled one small, fresh raspberry atop each Lamington. These stayed fresh in the fridge for several days.
A fiercely creative person herself, Ellen was encouraging to her sister artists, always guarding the space in which art would flourish. She encouraged me in all my endeavours including our tea book, website, and this blog. I don’t know what life is going to look like, after Ellen. I will continue to bake her favorite rum cake and her luscious coconut cake. I’ll try to remember to laugh when cakes break into pieces and listen hard to see if I can hear her tell me to just throw more coconut on it, but whatever I do, do it with style and conviction and with wild abandon.
Ellen Zensen 1967 to 2019