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Coconut Southern Comfort Layer Cake from Bon Appétit

I forget how old I am.

It started when I turned 36. Someone asks me how old I am, and I have no response. I stare at them blankly and have to reply...

I forget.

That reply usually gets an uncomfortable laugh from the person who is waiting for my response. They don’t know if I’m joking. Or being a jerk. Or being coy about my age (I’m 29. Again. For the fifth time. Heh.) (Gross.)

I know what year I was born. 1973. 

But somehow I’ve lost the ability, on command, to have an immediate response to the simple question of “How old are you?”

Even when I began typing this, I had to force a number to appear in my brain. It always appears in the area above my eyes. In sadly dim, yellowish lights. 


And then I get a feeling that my brain has lost its place, as the brut force of all these years come pushing forward from somewhere in the back of my memory. Rushing forward against the 39, which elongates and explodes from the pressure of it all. Too many memories that seem timeless and immediate and unearthed from a completely forgotten part of my past, mixed tightly with bedtime stories that I just read to our kids.

Our son. He is five. He asked me to read from his copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends. And I instantly remember our family friends, the Delps from Plymouth, who came to our house when I was five and gave us two books and three giant coloring books of Red Skelton clowns. The two books...James and the Giant Peach. And Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Our son. He asks for me to read him some of the jokes in the book. He calls them jokes. I said they were poems. Funny poems sometimes. Sort of jokes. Sometimes. And he just stared at me for a moment. “Oh. I thought they were jokes.”

And a bit of silence as he sorts it out, looking at the book in his hands.

He got the book for his birthday. When he was two. I remember that. I know his birthday. How old he is. His sisters. My wife. I know their days.

“What are poems?” he finally asks.

“Oh. Um. They are stories. Sort of. Sometimes they rhyme. Sometimes not. Sometimes they’re short. And sometimes long. And they’re jokes, sometimes. And sometimes sad. And sometimes they just make you feel something that you can’t explain. But you can feel a poem inside you. Because every word matters in a poem. Every word is there for a reason.”

“Every word matters.”

“Yep. That’s right. Every word matters.”

And so we read three poems. Jokes. Sometimes.

The one where the Earth Is Flat.

Captain Hook.

Hug of War.

When we finished, I asked him how the poems made him feel inside.

“Happy. And a little sad.”

Were they good?

“Yes. Pretty good.”


“Dad? Can I have a hug?”

Yes. Always.

I am 39. This is my birthday cake. It is unforgettable.



Recipe | Coconut Southern Comfort Layer Cake from Bon Appétit


And for another incredible coconut cake, check out our friends at Smith Bites with their Coconut Cake from Saveur. 

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Reader Comments (15)

Beautiful Cake, enjoy it! I am grateful I stumbled upon your tweet. It sweetly reminded me to visit your blog, it's been far to long since I've been here. Also too, the Birthday story poem left me with that feel of something you just can't explain, but know... Happy Birthday!

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeorgie

I've started forgetting how old I am already, and I'm younger than you were when this started happening. But I can relate. I love sharing books from my childhood with my children and seeing how they react to them. They are priceless memories, impossible to forget, even though I forget myself sometimes.

Happy birthday! Looks like you found a fabulous way to celebrate it!

This is a lovely piece. Thank you!

I'm learning to love my 40's, but I mostly ignore it....

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Kim

Your posts are unforgettable. Truly. Happy Birthday!

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaula

A memorable post. The first one I read today and truly happy I started my day with this piece. Happy Birthday. The cake looks divine. I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate it.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBaker Street

Beautiful cake and nice post! Happy birthday, buddy.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenniferA

It's kind of sad. I have all these blogs tagged to come back to and read at some point where there is more time. Yours has a tag, a star, and a couple of scribble-y notes that I can't quite make out anymore. Now I remember why. I've just plowed through 2 dozen or so of the posts captivated for the past 38 minutes.

I thoroughly enjoy your writing. ... . I'm going to have to add another marker to insure another 6 months doesn't slip by..... maybe a flaming skull... with a cake.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterToby @ Plate Fodder

I miss you when you don't write. Lovely.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMir

will you save me some cake if I promise to drive down to ATL? Holy moly that looks delicious!!! And what a beautiful, poetic post!

I;ve been calculating my age according to how old my oldest son is for years, no lie. So I have to do the math every single time someone asks. Except for the past six months... this last birthday I was stunned to realize that I was *just* turning 43, and here I'd been saying that was my age for months! LOL


April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMicaela

Chris, I always adore it when you write about the kids. Your soul comes out on the page, and it makes me want to cry. Sometimes happy. Sometimes sad. Just like the poems. I hope that you had a wonderful birthday, and maybe even got a treat from the Cake & Ale bakery on top of this beautiful cake.

I'm still fantasizing about those black and white cookies, AND bought the book. You and Karen are trouble!

Lovely cake, lovely story. I've forgotten how old I am, too. Unfortunately, my firstborn reminds me at every opportunity. Should have never taught her to count. Good to see you writing here again.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLucy

i miss you . . . i miss seeing your banter on twitter . . . i miss coming here and reading what you're up to . . . i miss your fabulous finds in recipes . . . i miss Karen . . . i miss you two together . . . beautiful writing, beautiful boy, beautiful birthday cake

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSMITH BITES

Aw, Happy Bday you young whipper snapper, you! Wish I could share this cake with you. Hugs!

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWinnie

I miss you! Can you read me poems?

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Such sweet words. I love the way you connect your heart through words to food and family.

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

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