A note to the chef (in icing) (featuring Birthday Cake)

Three years ago today…

My cell phone rang from my purse and I bolted upright in bed.  I was lost for a second- my mouth bone-dry and stale, my hands shaking, my stomach upside down.  Where am I?  OK, I’m home.  I was still in my dress from the night before.  How did I get here?  No idea.  Max must have brought me.

Phone rang again.   I knew it wasn’t good.   I knew there was bad news on the line.  I reached over to grab my bag and the room spun.  I held to the side of the bed till the room felt level again and lifted the phone to my ear.  It was my dad.  Really bad news.

Because three years ago yesterday…

I asked my parents to throw me a birthday party.  I was broke and knew I couldn’t get my act together to throw one for myself.  My father is a great cook and was thrilled to give me a night out of the kitchen.  I invited my best friends, some of whom I had not seen in years, and my brother Max and his girlfriend.  I felt so honored to feel so comfortable with my friends and family.  It had all the makings of a perfect night, full of pasta and laughter and wine.  And wine.  And wine.  I don’t remember the end of the night but I know it was bad.  I know I was a mess.  I know no one was too surprised either.

“Honey, we have to talk.”  My dad said on the phone.  My hands were shaking so much I could barely hold the phone and I started to cry.  “This has gotten out of control.  I’m scared for you.  I’m really scared and I think you need to start taking this seriously”.

“I know Dad, I know.” I gasped for air through tears.  I felt as if the bottom of my very shaky teeny tiny private world had just fallen out. I cried for hours.  I cried and screamed and cursed at myself.  How could this have gotten this bad?  How could I have let this go?  Even after I buried my best friend 6 months earlier when she drank herself to death, I did not stop.  I used to be smart, I used to be pretty, I used to have desires.

But then I realized… I had done something.

I had called all my closest and dearest friends and family members together and then proceeded to get blackout drunk.  I had been in therapy for a year or so and had the information for one of the best alcohol counselors in the city.  I had subconsciously set myself up to fall with a net right under me.  I had outed myself.  So I thought, “Fuck, Alison.  You did this to yourself.   On some level you did this so that you would be called on it.  You clearly want to change even if it doesn’t feel that way.  Listen to yourself.  Take yourself seriously.”

And I did.  I took myself seriously.  Probably for the first time in my life.

Three years ago yesterday was the last time I raised a boozy glass to my lips.  Getting sober was, without question the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the most rewarding.

So today I made myself a cake…

A letter to myself
A letter to myself

(And it says “You did this.  You did something for yourself that was neither selfish nor greedy.  You chose to keep yourself alive when it was the last thing you wanted or thought you could do.  You did this.  Happy Third Year. Now eat this cake.”)


White Birthday Cake

(adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible)


  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the egg yoks, ¼ cup milk and vanilla.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds.  Add the butter and the remaining ¾ cup milk.  Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Increase to medium speed and beat for 1 ½ minutes to aerate and develop cake’s structure.  Scrape down the sides.  Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure.  Scrape down the sides.
  4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula.  The pans will be about ½ full.  Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  5. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then invert onto a greased wire rack and cool completely before frosting or wrapping.


Classic Buttercream Frosting


  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature


  1. Have a 1 cup greased heatproof glass measure near the range before you begin.
  2. In a bowl, beat the yolks with an electric mixer until light in color.
  3. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is boiling.  Stop stirring and boil to the soft-ball stage (238 degrees).  Immediately transfer the syrup to the glass measure to stop the cooking.
  4. If using an electric hand held mixer, beat the syrup into the yolks in a steady stream.  Don’t allow syrup to fall on the beaters, or they will spin it onto the sides of the bowl.  If using a stand mixer, pour a small amount of syrup over the yolks with the mixer turned off.  Immediately beat at high speed for 5 seconds.  Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup.  Beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Continue with the remaining syrup.  For the last addition, use a rubber scraper to remove the syrup clinging to the glass measure.  Continue beating until completely cool.
  5. Gradually beat in the butter.  Place in an airtight bowl.  Bring to room temperature before using.





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