I wrote this blog posting a few months ago, but could not bring myself to post it until now. I was thinking about Shavuot desserts and remembered this spectacular dairy cake.
When tragedy strikes, some people lose their appetite and others cannot stop eating. I belong to the latter camp.
When my closest friend in the Washington, D.C. area, Suzin Glickman Bobeck z”l (second from the right in the photo), passed away this winter after a long battle with breast cancer, I sought out any bit of joy I could in the weeks following.
Although I knew for three years that her cancer was incurable, I was not prepared for the reality of losing “my person,” who I called or texted nearly every day to check on, to see what she needed or wanted or just to say hi. The loss is profound and there is a big hole in my heart from the lack of nourishment that I received from my friendship with her.
I spent the week of shiva at her house helping to organize food, serve meals to her grieving mother, husband and three children, and eating anything that looked good. People brought in tons of baked goods, as is the tradition, and I tasted everything, even bakery cookies that I knew would be disappointing, and a home-baked pumpkin cake that truly brought a smile to my face. Every pastrami sandwich and bagel I ate, food I tend avoid as a serial dieter, filled the hole only for a moment, and then the wave of sadness came back and I sought out the next bag of potato chips I could find.
On the last day of shiva, I was home and sat down and flipped through the January 2015 issue of Food & Wine Magazine, ironically subtitled “48 Delicious Recipes from Inspiring Women Cooks.” Suzin was certainly one of those. I came across this caramel layer cake and decided that if anything would make me feel better, that cake would do it: a buttery pound cake with caramel frosting. As the kosher baker, most of what I bake is dairy-free, so a butter cake seemed very decadent. This one contains five, I repeat, five sticks of butter.
I had to go out and buy buttermilk, which I have never baked with before. The bowl of my 4-quart Kitchen Aid stand mixer was a bit small for all of the batter, so when I got to the part where you alternate between wet and dry ingredients, I had to do some hand mixing before turning on the mixer, lest I get buttermilk and flour everywhere.
The batter is extremely thick and I thought it would stay put in my round pans. Alas, maybe the pans were not quite 10 inches round, as called for in the recipe. So the batter tsunamied over the sides, creating a mess that Suzin would have laughed at. I bailed out batter, cleaned the oven bottom twice, and just kept my faith that my cake would work. And that the smoke alarms would not wake up my sleeping teens.
The cakes were not very pretty when baked, but after they cooled I trimmed them to make them even, enjoying all the scraps. I then made the caramel frosting with the three sticks of butter in it. May sure you use a large saucepan to cook the frosting, and be patient. It takes longer to achieve the dark caramel color and 240°F temperature necessary than stated in the recipe.
A few more tips: place waxed paper strips under the cake to catch the drippings. The frosting hardens quickly so make sure you cover the sides well before it does. Finally, plan to give out most of this cake. It is very addictive and you really do not need so much cake sitting on your counter. I gave a quarter to Suzin’s husband Josh, a quarter to the freezer for another day when needed, and the rest, well, I do have three teenage boys.
Both baking and eating the caramel cake really did make me happy. I ended up eating about three slices over several hours to sustain the buzz.
The small pleasures in life that pile up are really what sustain us, not the grand vacations or checking off items on the bucket list. I learned that from Suzin, who over the past three years just wanted to enjoy more of the every day joys. I am so privileged that I got to share so many of those moments with her.
So I raise my fork of cake to her, and may we all remember to enjoy every small bite that life offers.
Here is the eulogy a gave at Suzin’s funeral. It is only a small slice of her, but a sweet one.
I am Paula Shoyer and Suzin Glickman z"l was my closest friend in this area.
Every Friday night we read the aishet chayeil, woman of valor prayer and it contains a quote:
Piha patcha b’chachma, v’toprah chese al leshona. She opens her mouth with wisdom, her tongue is guided by kindness.
Wisdom and kindness. I think that basically sums it up.
I met my Suzy Q at the end of 1997, soon after my family moved to Somerset, thank you Eileen Coen for having us both to Shabbat dinner. We immediately connected as fellow long islanders and understood each other perfectly. We spoke or texted nearly every day about what was going well, what was annoying us, the injustices committed by customer service agents, and when one of us got a great deal on a pair of boots. She listened to all my kvetches and I listened to hers. We sure packed in a lot in the past year. Suzin was also my lunch buddy and after years of paying $12 for salads, she started coming to my house for lunch because the prices were better.
She was the sister I never had, which also meant I had to suffer some tough love sometimes. Suzin was direct and really didn’t let you get away with anything, which was ok, because I always knew she was way smarter than me. Susan Barocas said “She was never afraid to speak her mind, accompanied by her brilliant smile to let you know she said what she did because she cared. “
She was my biggest cheerleader, especially when I was being rejected right and left. When I recently was chosen to be a woman to watch by Jewish Women International, her response was “about, [expletive,] time.“ My latest book is dedicated to her and I am grateful she got to see it. She always said. “with my ideas and your energy, imagine what we could accomplish.” Maria said that she would often say that Suzin’s brain had so much energy but her body just could not catch up.
She was a friend to so many and she brought so many of us together. She was a gatherer of people and she was the honey pot, that attracted only the best bears. And she was instrumental in spreading the TTYBS movement, thank you Sandy Orrick who started it. TTYBS is “talk to you before Shabbos,” what we text to each other and our kids away from home every Friday. This represented that she would always check in with you at important times. The take-a-way to everyone is, please check in with you loved ones before Shabbos, and anytime. This is a serious movement. As Suzin said, it’s a thing. [hold us the blue #TTYBS t-shirt Suzin printed]
The best example of how she collected people is Patrick Assayag, who flew in from LA last night. Patrick was like a brother to Suzin. She literally picked him up at Adas Israel Congregation. She noticed the handsome man in uniform in the back of the shul and went to sit next to him. The sanctuary was pretty empty so Patrick wondered what this strange woman was doing. She said, “what are you doing here?” He said. “going to shul.” She rolled her eyes and said that she knew that part. “What are you doing in DC,” she said louder. He explained that he was on detail to the Pentagon for a few months. “Do you have any family here?” When he said no, Suzin said “you’re coming to my house for dinner next Friday night, Find me after services and meet my family.” As a military man, Patrick knew an order when he heard one. He came for dinner and the one after that and every Jewish holiday that he was here, away from his family and soon Patrick was part of all of our families. Kindness.
She had her yearly events, Tashlich at the Somerset pool, Sukkot lunch with the women – and even made a scrapbook of pictures from the Sukkot lunches over the years. Boy did we all look good in those old photos.
My favorite idea of her was tea and tequila. The Adas Israel Gan preschool always had tea and tissues for the first time moms – a place to sit and cry about your babies going to preschool. So she decided the replicate it when the very same babies went off to college, only substituted tequilia for the tea. With a tequila machine. And Shelly and Doris were there too. Only Suzin. Wisdom.
Even when sick, she still wanted people to come for Shabbat. She loved to cook but meals were a hodgepodge of delicious food. Some she made, some we brought and there were awesome things found in her magical freezer.
And she would often teach us something during the get-togethers. She would gve us assignments to bring poems or bring readings herself.
And she took care of all of us like she did her family. Andrea Neusner barely knew Suzin when she showed up at Andrea house after Andrea had foot surgery. Lying in pain, Andrea heard a voice. GET UP! Get up?
It was Suzin. Though just diagnosed with cancer again, she showed up with freshly baked gluten-free muffins, turned on the lights, and declared, It¹s a beautiful day, you can’t sit in the dark! Wisodm and kindness.
Suzin was very private about her illness over the past few months and I thought that she was in denial. But she wasn’t. She’s an optimist and just wanted a normal everyday mom life. She didn’t want attention, didn’t want everyone to worry. When I told her that maybe she would want to hear all the things everyone would say later, she said that she already knew all those things because everyone had been doing so much for her for so long. She felt loved by everyone here.
The best gift Suzin gave us was herself (thank you Bertha for raising this unique beautiful soul) and I am a better person for having known her. What would Suzin do, will continue to be my mantra.
Suzin gave all of us her friendship, love and devotion. But as Laura reminded me, she never showed up empty handed and all you had to do was tell her you liked her shoes and then a pair would show up within days. So I will end with my list of gifts. As I walked around my house over the past two difficult days, Suzin was everywhere and I think the gifts show you who she was. This is what Suzin has given to me:
- Placemats meant just for my Sukkah
- Unusual kitchen gadgets – tongs in the shape of asparagus, antique silver serving pieces, some plastic things that remove the rosemary leaves from the stem
- Cookbooks. Really.
- A glass pitcher with the Koolaid smiley face.
- A green shirt with tanks that says “Tanks a lot”
- Soap that look like mah jong tiles when I started playing
- A bag of grits – because I loved the cheesy grits at the Peninsula hotel in Chicago when I took Suzin there 2 ½ years ago because she had never been to Chicago
But this one here is the most special one. An old fashioned ice bag that she and Abbie once walked into my house holding, so she bought me one. I will cherish this gift the most, because Suzin always made everyone feel better.