lemon olive oil cake {day 313}

I’m staring at the screen not knowing what I want to write, yet here I am letting the words free fall from my mind to the page. Something happended on day 313, actually it’s been slowly unfolding and today it came full circle.

I don’t look for signs, yet they seem to find me when I least expect them. Last Thursday morning, I went downstairs to the kitchen and watched the sunrise over the buildings in the backyard. It feels like I’ve found my groove again, at least in my morning routines. Before Mikey passed away I’d rise before the sun and go for a run, do some meditation and get a jump on my workday. He’d often joke that I got more accomplished before he woke than he could get done in a whole day.

I loved the feeling of cool air stroking my face as I ran with Arcade Fire carrying my feet faster with every step. For that ever so brief run, usually two miles, the freeing feeling of running and not being tied to any label—mother, wife, writer, was akin to wiping the slate clean each day. An energizing rebirth of my mind and body.

Last Thursday, day 313, as I sat at my dining table, the sun flooded the room. I heard the birds singing, and then looked on the roof to see two mourning doves. It felt like a sign from Mikey, and then my mind wandered to Three Little Birds. I brought the song up on my playlist and suddenly a third bird joined. Next thing the roof was covered with a dozen or so mourning birds, and two cardinals soared into the tree behind the house. We used to gaze at the cardinals and let them serenade us in our old backyard.

Tears trickled from my eyes to the corners of my mouth, my tongue rescuing them. I didn’t realize I needed some reassurance that day, but he did.

Today, day 317, as we left the house Virginia stopped as she walked down the front stoop and noticed a dead baby bird. Sadly, we see them a lot around here. Tiny little guys, not a feather on them, that have just been hatched but not destined to ever open their eyes and see the world. We were in a rush, so I comforted her as we walked towards school.

When we finally came home 10 hours later, she stopped to look at the bird again. I told her we could bury him and give him a peaceful resting place under the tree in front of our house. She began sobbing as I used a twig to gently nudge the tiny body onto a leaf. She wanted me to leave it, and let it live, even though the bird was forever frozen in time from the moment it fell from its nest. The tears gushed from her eyes as she said it reminded her of daddy, and that he died too.

I held her and said it was okay to be sad and cry. She sobbed a bit more, then we went to the tree, dug a little hole with a twig and placed the baby bird in it. I covered it gently with dirt and Virginia and Isabella laid some hydraganeas a friend had clipped from their yard for us.

Sometimes it’s just a bag—and sometimes it’s so much more. Mikey’s sign to me came as a way to say it’s okay to move forward, there is much more life left to be lived. For Virginia, his sign was to help her accept that he is gone.

Lemon Olive Oil Cake

serves 10 to 12

The morning this post started taking shape in my mind, I was putting the finishing touches on this cake for an event at Isabella’s school. She was unveiling her Mount Vesuvius project as part of her social studies unit—the third graders were celebrating different cultures and she had chosen Italy. I chose to make an olive oil cake for two reasons—it was breakfast friendly, and I figured I could easily adapt my lemon poppy olive oil muffins into a cake which would be more likely an Italian recipe than muffins. Like our own lives, it’s interesting what you can do with the same ingredients when you look at them in a new light.

1 2/3 cups (238 grams) flour, plus more dusting the pan

1/2 cup (125ml) extra virgin olive oil or regular

1 (200 grams) cup sugar

2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder

3 large eggs (150 grams), at room temperature

Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon (50ml)

Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) coarse sea salt

1/2 cup (125ml) milk

Confectioners’ sugar, to dust the cake (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Coat the sides and bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with butter. Lightly dust with flour, and set aside.

Whisk the flour, lemon zest, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, olive oil and lemon juice together until well blended. Add the  flour mixture and pour in the milk, stirring well with a wooden spoon to combine. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 minutes, until the edges are golden and a metal skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it cool completely. Before serving, dust with the Confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

{Make It Vegan} Swap in almond milk for the cow’s milk, and 3/4 cup soy yogurt for the eggs.


  • Wendy

    Sorry your family is going through so much. I think about you guys all the time.
    The recipe says it can be vegan, bit includes eggs as well. Is there a swap for the eggs?
    JP’s Note: Thanks for that catch Wendy! Yes, you can swap in 3/4 cup soy yogurt for the eggs—all corrected now 🙂

  • gayle

    Oh Jenny – what a wonderful story – and i must say i write this with tears in my eyes – you can’t know how this story comes with exactly the same message to me – you see, a dear friend has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), diagnosed a year ago, and is now at the very end –
    and his favorite song is Three Little Birds. In fact his teenage daughter has had it tattooed on her shoulder with the three birds representing herself and both parents.
    So timely, you have no idea how your words have carried on your message of hope and love and loss and tears and sharing.
    thank you.

  • Susan R

    Jenny, I have been thinking about you, and hoping you are okay. It is amazing that time moves forward. That the agony lessens. It is good for you to know that above all else, Mikey would have wanted you and the girls to be happy and to move ahead. My husband passed away 13 years ago on June 14. It was a hard day. But I count my blessings. I tell people I am Cinderella, with the best life ever. I had a great love, and in some awesome stroke of luck, I have another. I am remarried, and essentially living a different life, but it is a wonderful life. I wish this for you and the girls.

  • minnie@thelady8home

    Jenny, I didn’t know you about an hour ago. Now I feel I know you more than many of my friends that I have known for years….
    I have no clue how you are surviving the counts. I spent last one hour, trying to gauge extent of pain and heartbreak, trying to find the source of the immense strength that you have.
    It is not going to be easy….few of us have the good fortune of knowing the love of a wonderful man. And I’m glad you feel your strength through him still….

  • Hannah

    I found a quiet moment to read your post this morning – I teared up while reading, and also felt grateful to have a whole new day ahead. As you wrote, “there is much more life left to be lived”…so true! I admire your strength and positive outlook. And I’m loving this lemon olive oil cake.

  • Deborah

    We are on a very close time line as to when we lost our husbands and I can sense where you are in this proces, just by your stories. Thank you for sharing the pain and the healing moments. For me just when I need help someone or something is provided. Again thanks.

  • joyce goodwin

    Jenny, this is the most heartfelt, beautiful post, an expression of acceptance, courage,
    strength, and that amazing ability to see the wonder of Life that surrounds us.jg

  • Heidi

    This is an absolutely beautiful post. Thank you for sharing this story with your readers. You are an amazing woman!

  • Rio

    Jenny, I stumbled on your site just this morning and spent almost two hours reading through it. Thank you for sharing your story and your gift with all of us.

  • Jenna

    Just sitting here, letting your posts sink in as usual. Thinking of you. I think of you often. Way more often than maybe normal for someone I’ve never met. But your story resonates with me. You do as well. May each day be one tiny step forward for you and your girls.

  • Jacqueline

    Once again, I am deeply moved by the honesty and raw emotion of your writing. Thank you.

  • Paula O.

    Your writing amazes me. I have been so moved by the way your words so fittingly describe your triumphs, your pain and courage to take one more step, get through one more minute… I hope you have an explosion of joy & that it surprises & amazes you & your girls. Then I hope you have many more and life becomes more beautiful for you. About your upcoming trip- remember the wonder of being new at something- a bit scary but the initial novelty will capture you & the girls and thrust you into an exciting adventure.
    Seuss les bins voeux (only good wishes.)

  • Sarah

    Just wanted you to know that I continue to think of you each Sunday and send good wishes and positive energy your way. Hope that you have a calm week.

  • Min

    Jennie, I found your blog through a friend, who recommended one of your recipes. I am in awe of your strength and honesty, and enamored by your writing style and your story.
    Oh how I have searched the Cuisinart blog for your coconut custard pie recipe…the most I can narrow things down is still to over 500 posts. The comments on your post here are closed, which is why I am here…I am dying to try that pie. Can you please provide a direct link?

  • Betty Ann @Mango_Queen

    What a lovely post. Sorry I haven’t been around your posts in a while, but you are in my thoughts always, Jennie. Always glad to know you’re writing, posting and sharing with us, no matter what. Cheers & hope your summer is going well.

  • sharon

    I was so glad to see your post, and to “hear” how you and the girls are doing. I think of you often. Sending up prayers on your behalf!!

  • Saffoula

    I made this cake for the 4th of July and it was a delicious (white) base for macerated strawberries and blueberries topped with whipped cream. Super easy and yummy. The lemon and olive oil are well-suited to my Mediterranean sensibilities and I will be making this regularly.
    I see you are in Paris and loved your post about produce buying. Have had similar cultural highs and lows in Greece where the people can be super hospitable. Hang in there and perhaps you may want to look into taking a train for an overnight or two out to the countryside to get away from the din and bustle of the city? Or a day trip at least?

  • Kelli

    Your writing is beautiful but your cake….swoon, this was one of the best cakes I have every eaten and could eat it every day of my life. Thank you.

  • Alicia

    Jenny, you don’t know me but I follow you on Twitter. I think about you and your little girls often and I wanted to see if you were doing ok. Well, as ok as you can be. You are in my thoughts and prayers often. Hang in there sweet lady.
    My twitter name is: ShakenNotBlurrd
    Hugs to you and your girls.