When you grow older you start to see death in ways that wasn’t revealed to you in childhood. Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies, wrote Edna St. Vincent Millay, and it’s partially true. In youth, death is rarely personal, rather it’s obtuse, relegated to that pet we loved or that elderly grandparent whose passing caused a reverberation, a whisper that it was indeed time. Regardless of how much we hurt. Death doesn’t ghost your home; you don’t wake up to it and tumble into bed with it — it’s at a remove, it’s something that happens not now, not now.
Yet something shifts, and the change catches you by surprise. You’ve grown older and you haven’t realized it. Where did all those years go? Why did every moment seem so endless when you were young, and then suddenly clocks wind faster with the passing of each day. Now, death occupies the space in which you breathe, reminding you that it was always here. I’ll never leave you.
I read an article where the author talks about death as being the “great equalizer,” which is to say that we return to the place from which we think we’ve come, and the things that we carry in the journey back don’t accompany us, instead they remain and age while we whittle into the earth. In the past decade I’ve witnesses people I know ravaged with sickness, taken too soon, and just this week a writer I used to know casually — this giant light of life — took his own life. It put my heart on pause because there will come a day when the clocks cease ticking and the heartbeat slouches to a quiet.
There will be a day when I will no longer be here, and the thought of my finiteness frightens me more than you can imagine. Nights used to be terrifying as I’d wake in a panic and pace my apartment just to feel my feet against the hardwood. I used to say: I’m still here, I’m still here. I’m still here. I’d stand and I’d breathe my quickening heart down to an easy rhythm before I’d go back to sleep. Before I train myself not to think about the specter that alludes all us…death.
I thought about death as a plane I boarded shook over the Pacific Ocean. I closed my eyes and told myself not to panic, that this great flying machine won’t hurtle into the water. I’ll be fine. I thought about death when I called my pop last night and asked him if he’d like to take a trip with me to Dublin, his home, so that I may see it through his eyes. You alright? he asked. Because you sound funny. Perhaps he detected the urgency in my voice when I said, We should do this now because you never know. We could die next year. To which he responded, Or tomorrow. You’re not comforting me, I thought, and as if reading my mind he said, It’s good to want to live your life, really live it. But don’t cram all these plans like the clock’s running out. That’s no way to live, he laughed, get it? My dad doesn’t fear death like I do, and part of me longs for that calm, that peace.
It occurs to me, as I type this, that I’m asking my pop to take me back to the place where he was born and raised, and the irony of that doesn’t escape me.
Honestly, there’s no seamless segue to a lime poppy seed cake, other than to say that I took a trip, one of many, that reminds me of how great and beautiful this world is. And if I can travel more and steal bits from the places I visit, I will go into the dark not with possessions, but with the knowledge that I lived this life.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of The Australian Women’s Weekly (I picked up this magazine in Melbourne, and I can’t wait to bake my way through it!)
For the cake
¼ cup (40g) poppy seeds
½ cup (125ml) milk
250g butter (2 sticks), softened
1 tbsp finely grated lime zest
1¼ cups (275g) caster sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
2¼ cups (335g) self-raising flour*
¾ cup (110g) plain flour
1 cup (240g) sour cream
For the lime syrup
½ cup (125ml) lime juice
1 cup (250ml) water
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
*If you don’t have self-raising flour, simply add 3 tsp of baking powder + 1 tsp kosher salt to the same amount of measured all purpose flour. Essentially, you’re adding this to 3 cups of all purpose flour.
Preheat oven to moderate (180°C/160°C or 350°F). Grease base and sides of deep 23cm-square cake pan. I used an 8inch round cake pan and I was totally fine.
Combine poppy seeds and milk in small bowl; soak 10 minutes.
Beat butter, rind and sugar in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined between additions; transfer mixture to large bowl. Stir in sifted flours, sour cream and poppy seed mixture, in two batches.
Spread mixture into pan; bake about 1 hour. I always check my baked goods fifteen minutes before time. My cake was done in 50 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine ingredients for lime syrup in small saucepan. Stir over heat, without boiling, until sugar dissolves. Simmer, uncovered, without stirring, 5 minutes.
Stand cake 5 minutes, turn onto wire rack over tray. Pour hot lime syrup over hot cake.
NOTE: Before grating the lime, make sure it is at room temperature and roll it, pressing down hard with your hand, on the kitchen bench. This will help extract as much juice as possible from the fruit.You can substitute the same weight of other citrus fruit — lemons mandarins, blood oranges, oranges, etc — for the limes if you wish.