One of these days I might just put up a cot inside my local Greek eatery, as I tend to spend far more time there than in my own kitchen. And if you’d ever tasted my, what some people might refer to as, cooking, you’d understand why.
I enjoy going because, (A.) it’s indoors with air conditioning and (B.) I’m a creature of habit and am addicted to their Greek salad, veggie wrap and Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) appetizer, so regardless of choice, it’s a freshly prepared meal with lots of veggies and I can feel rather superior about my healthy selection.
Oh, yeah, they also offer the greatest freaking coconut cake on the planet, and I am its willing slave. That’s right, I order my glass of water with lemon, please—oh, no, not sweet tea, makes my teeth bleed, how can anyone drink something that sweet—I’ll have plain old water with lemon because lemon helps keep the body’s PH level in check, according to several memes, so it must be true. And then I shall have my Greek salad with that lovely balsamic vinaigrette—no sugary or milky Thousand Island or Ranch dressings for me, you know, just oil and vinegar. How happy is my cholesterol! How responsible to my cardiac health! And then … why, yes, Samantha, there is one other thing before you bring the check. Can you bring me a Flintstone-sized slab of that coconut cake? I’d like to freebase the frosting as quickly as possible, please?
Except yesterday, as I devoured my dolmades, my ears pricked up like a German Shepherd hearing a sudden noise in the garage. A woman—I’d never seen her before in the joint—ordered a slice of that coconut cake. It was the last slice. Excuse me, that would be my slice, madam.
“Is it good?” she asked the waitress, two booths away from mine.
“It’s horrible!” I wanted to yell, panic rising in my throat. “It’s full of rat poison! Don’t order it!!”
But how could I?
“Oh, it’s good,” I found myself replying, sighing.
She turned to look at me and raised an eyebrow. “Is it as good as my grandmother’s?”
“Yes,” I said, with full confidence. “Yes, it is.”
I returned to chewing my dolmades dejectedly, no cake to look forward to. Nothing to live for, really. A few minutes later the woman approached me.
“I have to tell you that that cake was every bit as good as my grandmother’s,” she admitted, then smiled.
I made a couple of polite queries into her grandmother’s cake and whether she’d ever tried to bake it.
“I haven’t,” she said, “But my mother’s in assisted living and as I was going through her things, I found my grandmother’s recipe book and the recipe for the cake is in there. I remember as a child, sitting under the kitchen table watching my grandfather hammer a hole in that coconut and my grandmother pouring the milk into the bowl and then scraping out the rest. She made every bit of it from scratch and it was heaven.”
“Well, you must make it,” I urged her.
“Oh, I don’t think I could…” she hesitated.
I didn’t let up. “That’s a precious gift to have that recipe. You must bake it as an homage to her. Maybe for Thanksgiving or Christmas."
“You know what?” she said. “You’ve inspired me. I will bake it. And I’ll think of you when I do.”
Samantha, I need an extra napkin when you get a sec. I’m not crying, dammit. Are you crying? I’m not crying.
I dabbed my eyes and when I looked up, another middle-aged woman I’d never seen before loomed over my table.
“I have to tell you I heard y’all talking about that coconut cake,” she said. “And my grandmother used to make that cake, too. But you can’t just cut out one hole in a coconut, or there won’t be no airway for the milk to pour out. You know how coconuts look like a monkey’s face? Well, my grandmother used to take a paring knife and carve out three holes at the eyes and the nose, and then she’d pour the milk out into the pan. Then we kids got to play with the coconut monkey face. And she’d cook the icing. It’s called 7-minute Italian icing. At least, that’s what she called it.”
I was rather dazzled. “And have you baked it?”
“Oh, no,” she said, “I’m diabetic.”
“You could give it to me?” I suggested, in all seriousness.
She chuckled then said, “I’m pretty sure the folks here get their cake at a store in Greer. I’ve seen it there.”
I’ve never bolted across a parking lot so fast in my life.