Friday, December 2, 2011

Carrot Cake for Rebecca

I’m feeling emotional as I sit down to write and am having a difficult time knowing how to begin. Today is my dear friend Rebecca’s birthday. Rebecca died of cancer three years ago.

Rebecca and I met the beginning of freshman year at Boston University. She danced and twirled into English class that first day and I was struck by her glowing, happy confidence. We immediately bonded over big hair, nail polish, jean skirts and sun worship. I was drawn to Rebecca’s joyful embrace of life, her gracious and kind spirit, her distinctive snorting laughter. I soon learned Rebecca loved bunnies, Italy, lemon poppy seed scones, the color green, bananas, classic films (I’m listening to the soundtracks for Casablanca and Breakfast at Tiffany’s as I write), her friends and, most of all, her family. She was full of thoughtful gestures, like slipping a cute card into your statistics notebook, calling to take a walk in the first snowfall or knocking at your door with a bottle of Kahlua (don’t tell the R.A.!) and a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies.

We ate dinner together most evenings while at B.U. and often discussed the merits of a particular dish in great detail, even if said dish was being served in the dorm cafeteria. After college graduation, we lived together in Los Angeles and our eating and cooking rose to new levels (having a real kitchen and jobs helped immensely!).

Over our years of jobs, graduate schools, living in different cities, our weddings and our children, Rebecca and I made plans. We continued to dream of where we would travel in order to gather stories and recipes for our cookbook together. Rebecca collected quite a few recipes that I’ll share with you in future posts.

She lived her life with grace, humor and dignity. She was full of gratitude and never wavered in her belief of “how truly sparkling life is.” Rebecca is always with me and still inspiring me. She was a big motivation for me to take a leap and start writing Blue Kale Road. She would have loved this chapter of my life.

To celebrate Rebecca’s birthday, I am baking her favorite carrot cake, one that has been baked in her family for many occasions. This really is a marvelous cake – I love that the carrots are cooked and pureed before being added to the batter, infusing the cake with a smooth, carrot flavor that is punctuated with toasted walnuts, fruity pineapple and tropical coconut. I double the cream cheese frosting since I like to slather it on in thick layers.

As I write, the scent of the baking carrot cake fills the house. I’m sipping rooibos tea with honey. Rebecca feels close by. I know the best way to honor her is to live in the moment, to share time with loved ones, to see each day as a gift and not to let the noise and clutter creep into my life. Today is a day to celebrate a beautiful friend who lived life well. And loved to eat cake.

Rebecca’s Carrot Cake
From the recipe created by Sheila Lukins’ mother, Berta
Serves 12

2 cups all-purposed flour
2 cups sugar (I used 1 1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup corn oil (I used canola)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/3 cups cooked, pureed carrots
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup crushed pineapple, drained
Cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottoms of two 9 inch round cake pans with parchment paper and butter the sides. (You can also bake in a 9x13 inch cake pan as is instructed in the original recipe.)

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add the oil, eggs and vanilla and beat well. Fold in the carrots, walnuts, coconut and pineapple.

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake until the middles of the cakes feel firm when gently pressed, about 35 minutes. (The original recipe calls for baking 1 hour, but mine were done in 35 minutes.)

Remove cakes from oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cakes, unmold and remove the parchment paper. Continue to cool on a cake rack for 1 hour.

Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Spread half of the cream cheese frosting evenly over it (I like the contrast in color, so I don’t frost the sides). Gently set the other cake layer on top and spread the remaining frosting on top.

Cream Cheese Frosting (this is doubled from the original recipe)

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar (I ended up using only 2 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

In a mixing bowl, cream the cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Slowly sift the powdered sugar in and beat until mixed well. Stir in the vanilla and lemon juice. Generously frosts a 2 layer cake.


  1. Such a sweet post and a lovely tribute to a dear friend. The cake looks wonderful...

  2. I know she is loving this right now. My thoughts are with you.
    I love carrot cake too.

  3. What a great tribute and way to remember a special person

  4. Hannah, This is Beth, Rebecca's cousin, we met at her memorial service.....Rebecca inspires me every single day.....Her spirit is huge and embracing....I can see her giggling with carrot cake crumbs on her lips:)

  5. Thanks for sharing a deeply personal story with me Hannah. I am glad you have all the memories a friend would want. The cake looks wonderful and is a perfect tribute. I hope the pain inside eases a bit with each slice. Lots of love

  6. I can't think of a better way to celebrate someone than with carrot cake. Sounds like you had a beautiful friendship (and a beautiful cake!).

  7. I am so sorry about your friend. A true friend like that in life is rare. This is such a lovely tribute.

  8. Hannah--
    This is Amy Swarr--I just wanted to tell you how much I loved reading this--you captured Rebec perfectly and wrote such touching memories of your friendship. Also, Blue Kale Road is beautiful and the pictures of the carrot cake are gorgeous--that is a favorite dessert in our family. Thank you Hannah--I hope all is well with you!

  9. Thank you for sharing your memories of Rebecca.
    It was very touching and you captured her well.
    I only knew her for a short time, but she will be remembered forever!

  10. @Brooke
    Thank you, Brooke - I appreciate your kind words.

  11. @Piper
    Thank you, Piper - I really appreciate hearing from you (and knowing that you are a carrot cake lover, too!).

  12. @Sara
    Thank you so much, Sara - she was indeed a special person to many.

  13. @Anonymous
    Hi Beth, I am so happy to hear from you and clearly remember you (and from Rebec sharing lovely stories about the family gatherings at the shore). Hold onto that image of Rebecca giggling! I hope you are well - Merry Christmas to you.

  14. @Kitchen Butterfly
    Thank you for your kind words, Kitchen Butterfly. Baking and sharing this cake definitely eases the pain and helps me feel close to Rebecca. I appreciate hearing from you.

  15. @Lauren
    Thank you so much, Lauren - it was a beautiful friendship, and Rebecca continues to stay with me and inspire me. I appreciate your comment!

  16. @Kim Bee
    Thank you, Kim - Rebecca was a rare friend indeed. I appreciate hearing from you.

  17. @Anonymous
    Amy! I'm so happy to hear from you. Thank you for your kind comment. We need to catch up - your mom keeps me posted on your sweet little boy. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas season. xo

  18. @Anonymous
    Hi Anon - thank you for your comment. I know Rebecca touched many people and made such a loving impact. She was a gem.

  19. A beautiful post Hannah & Rebecca sounds like a truly wonderful friend.

  20. @Mairi@Toast
    Thank you so much, Mairi - Rebecca was the loveliest of friends and her friendship is a gift I hold close.


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