It’s quiet and dark, and the only thing lit is the garland on the bar in case Fau wants to go into the kitchen; sometimes, he gets up at 3am, like me, and goes in for some cookies or toast. Just 20 minutes ago, it was wild. Fau and D were wrestling and Anna and I were the screaming audience. Chaotic, yes, but one of the rare moments when I get to experience the three of them fully enjoying one another. Fau is on a different planet but he kind of melts with Anna, and I melt when I see her reach out for him and him running to her. So... trees lit, cake baking and the babies and the unicorn playing peacefully. Bliss.
The babies are asleep now and Fau is downstairs watching reruns of The Office with Kongo. He’s always had THE best sense of humor. The best laugh. Like, he got comedy that wasn’t for him to get when he was really little. I was the same way; I was probably the only 12-year-old in Tijuana obsessed with Cheers’ Sam Malone and Diane Chambers. Obsessed. I had no interest in leaving my room. Cheers, Murphy Brown, Golden Girls… American comedy was my escape from reality and I love that now it’s one of the things I share with the unicorn. No matter how busy I am, I try to stop and sit when he asks me to watch an episode with him or a compilation of funny fails on his phone. Belly laughs ensue. I’m so ON him all the time that I think it calms his soul when we share a giant belly laugh... snorts and all. I try so hard to remember those moments with my mom.
Warning: this will be weird to read unless you’ve actually lost your mom. It’s the only major loss I’ve gone through so I don’t know if what I’m going to describe is familiar to someone going through a different kind of loss or, heck, even the same loss. But last week we tested and photographed a more presentable version of my mom’s incredibly popular sandwich cake, a staple in Tijuana baby showers, first communions, and general gatherings while I was growing up. They're probably still super popular. Originally Swedish, I guess the sandwich cake made its way to the US in the 70s and 80s, and then made its way down to Mexico. Now it’s, like, a national thing to have a “sandwichon” at your kid’s first communion. Here’s a link with a slide show in case you think I’m nuts.
Anyway, once it was done, I gave my currently vegan self permission to go to town on the sandwich cake. I wasn't even testing for quality control (I trust anything Isa puts together will be phenomenal!), but just because I needed to be taken back to that time, even if it was just for a minute. I think, as some sort of defense mechanism, I’ve blocked out a lot of the things that made my mom magical. It is as if I’ve buried it all and it comes out in bits and pieces. I think my body knows that, if I think of it all at once, it’ll be unbearable to think that I’ll never know that magic again. When she died, I locked those feelings in a box and put them on a shelf and wrote a cookbook and got my ass to work because she was my and Fau’s only support and she was gone. I didn’t have time to grieve. And, now, it's in moments like this one that I remember her face and her magic and what it felt like to be protected by her... and it’s almost too much to bear. I have to let it back in small quantities. Like, I can’t see the computer screen right now because I'm thinking about her laugh.
I think it’s also why I try so hard to create these magical moments and spaces with my children... in case I’m ever gone, all they’ll have are these memories. I really want them to be magical, in the same way that I occasionally allow myself to remember my mom. She certainly wasn’t perfect. In fact, a lot of my life is about making a conscious effort to do many things differently than her. And actually, it took a lot of work to be able to say that... but I think that’s the greatest realization and gift you can give yourself as an adult: the permission to see your parents as humans with flaws. With good intentions, but flawed. It’s a good place to be at, filled with strong emotions, but also filled with truth. So she was magical and she was flawed. And I miss her so much sometimes I feel like I need to sit down and get my shit together so I can keep moving forward without that protection. But, after I compose myself, I move forward. I always do. I also pray that my kids are able to see me and love me as well with all my truths. To love the magic and forgive the mistakes. But, today, all you get is her magic: the sandwichon.
The flaw in this would have been my mom's horrible sheet-pan presentation with flowers made out of canned olive halves. No, ma’am! I need things to look Pinterest-worthy and this, if I do say so myself, could be on the cover of the Pinterest Cookbook of Reinvented 70s Food. Honestly, it might seem totally weird or gross or foreign or just kinda plain to you, but I could sit down with a fork and this cake (maybe with a can of pickled jalapeños to nosh on between bites) and eat the whole thing. For my followers who grew up in Mexico, I know this will take you to a special place. For my US friends, I’d love to learn if this was something you grew up with as well. I think I remember someone mentioning it was really popular in Texas. I’m curious. Tell me everything. Or just tell me about your mom or how you miss her, too. I read everything and I love when you guys talk to me. What you HAVE to do, though, is try this recipe. It’s actually pretty easy to put together and you can have any sort of fun with the garnishes.
So now I'm headed to bed... it's Anna’s first birthday tomorrow and I have to get up early and finish her cake. Making those memories. Working on that magic. Goodnight familia… Thanks for reading me.
- 4 cans tuna, drained (use your preference of water or oil)
- 1/2 cup mayo, plus 5 tablespoons
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 1/4 cup jalapeño pickling juice (save jalapeños and remaining liquid to serve with sandwich cake)
- 3 tablespoons chipotle adobo sauce (transfer remaining chipotles in sauce to glass container and transfer to fridge. Save for another use.)
- 3 1/2 bars cream cheese (each bar is 8oz), room temperature
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Fresh ground pepper, to taste
- 2 pickled jalapeños, sliced lengthwise (from where you got the pickling juice)
- 1 1/2 cup diced ham
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 14 slices american cheese
- 24 slices white bread, crusts removed, sliced in half
- 1/4 cup evaporated milk
Line a 9-inch form-spring pan with plastic and set aside.
In a medium bowl add tuna, 3 tablespoons mayo, mustard, jalapeño juice, chipotle adobo sauce and 1/2 bar cream cheese. Mix to combine and create tuna salad. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until assembling sandwich cake.
In a food processor combine 1/2 cup mayo, ham and olive oil. Process until smooth. Season with salt.
Place 6 pieces of bread cut in half on the bottom of the form-spring pan to cover the bottom (cutting the bread in halves makes it easier to fill the circle). You may overlap them to make sure there are no gaps in between pieces. Spread half of the tuna salad mix on top of layered bread. Place 7 slices of cheese on top of tuna. Add half of the jalapeño slices on top of cheese layer, scattered on top. Place 6 pieces of bread cut in half on top of the layer of cheese. Spread ham mixture on top of bread. Place 6 more slices of bread cut in half on top of ham mix. Spread remaining tuna salad on bread following with remaining slices of cheese. Add remaining jalapeño slices on top of cheese. Top off sandwich cake with the remaining pieces of bread cut in half. Remember to make sure there are no spaces or gaps in between pieces of bread. This will help all layers stay in place. Cover and refrigerate for about 2-3 hours.
In a stand in mixer with whisk attachment, add 3 bars of cream cheese, remaining 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and 1/4 cup evaporated milk. Whisk until cream cheese mixture is smooth. Consistency should be frosting like. Season to taste with salt.
Remove sandwich cake from prong-form pan. Place on a platter. Using a rubber spatula, frost cake with cream cheese mix. The first layer will be a bit messy. Refrigerate cake for about 25 minutes before spreading with second layer of cream cheese. Remove from refrigerator and continue to spread cream cheese on cake, make sure it is smooth and there is enough to cover the first layer. Refrigerate for about 3-5 hours before serving. This sandwich layer cake can be made up to 2 days in advance. For garnish, you can use a mixture of chopped herbs, I did chopped basil, chives and parsley. Very thinly sliced zucchini or radishes can be used or any design with olives and roasted red bell peppers.