Thanks to the recommendation of the renowned artist and writer Sue Clancy, http://sueclancy.com, I was introduced to the incredible work of Amie McGraham, https://amiemcg.substack.com. Her thought-provoking and insightful pieces on substack are a testament to her undeniable talent and passion for the craft. If you haven’t had the chance to explore her work yet, I highly recommend giving it a read. Trust me, and you won’t be disappointed!
What follows is a profoundly personal salute to the two Moms in Amie’s life. Her Mother, Karyl, is pictured on the left, and Amie’s stepmother, Judy, is on the right.
A Tale of Two Mothers
Not long ago, I came across a recipe for Lemon Yogurt Cake, featured in my mother’s cooking newsletter thirty years ago. “Lemon is my favorite flavor,” she wrote, “and this is a cake to love.”
This is not the first vintage family recipe I’ve encountered lately. Not by a longshot. My mother wrote and illustrated Cook & Tell for more than three decades, working her way into the hearts and kitchens of thousands of home, hobby and professional cooks all over the world. So there are recipes. Many, many recipes.
But this recipe is different. It involves both of my mothers.
In a curiously harmonic convergence of motherhood, my stepmother sent my mother this recipe in 1982. By then, my parents had both remarried after their divorce. By then I had begun the slow drift through a life fueled by bad decisions and half measures: a short-lived marriage; half-formed dreams of California; the first semester of a college degree that would take nearly two decades to finish.
I played the cameo role of daughter for years—short, sporadic phone calls on Sunday afternoons between hangovers in those days of long-distance phone charges; brief cross-country visits tied to business trips. The return to my family was painstakingly slow, found only through the clarity that comes with sobriety, and eventually, becoming a mother to my mother almost ten years ago.
The recipe for motherhood, it turned out, had been there all along.
The years I cared for my mother taught me how to live in the present, and with it came an unexpected gift: a deepening of the bond with my stepmother. Through sadness and sunflowers, dementia and depression, her love was solid and steady.
And when my mother passed away two years ago, my stepmother was there, her embrace as sweetly comforting as the first velvety bite of our favorite lemon cake. “You’re not alone,” she said, as we watched an orange meringue sunset at our lake cabin. “I am always here for you.”
In my quest to keep the family foodwriting legacy alive, I recently launched a digital reboot of Cook & Tell. For my mother, it was much more than a newsletter. What she wrote and drew, every month without fail, was a love letter—to food, to her readers, to her family, to her friends.
Both of my mothers expressed love for their families through food, and baking brought us together. Sharing our passion for cooking through words and recipes is my love letter to my two biggest fans—celestial and terrestrial—and to you, dear readers.
Lemon Yogurt Cake
2 2/3 c. sifted flour
2 t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1 c. butter
1 t. vanilla
1 ½ c. sugar
3 eggs, separated
1/3 c. sugar
¼ t. cream of tartar
1 c. plain yogurt (Greek or regular; full-fat is best)
1/3 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ c. confectioners’ sugar
In large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In separate bowl, cream together butter, vanilla, sugar and egg yolks. Set aside.
In small bowl, beat egg whites until foamy, then add cream of tartar. Gradually beat in 1/3 c. sugar until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
Add flour mixture to creamed mixture alternately with yogurt, beating only until blended after each addition. Fold in egg whites (batter will seem thick and heavy).
Turned into greased tube or Bundt pan and bake at 350 for 35-40 min or until lightly browned on top. When cooled slightly, remove from pan. Mix lemon juice and sugar and pour over cake.
Amie McGraham grew up on an island in Maine where she summers as curator of family ghosts and recipes. Her writing has appeared in anthologies and literary magazines including Brevity, Hypertext Review, Maine Magazine, Wild Roof Journal and Exposition Review. Her essay was chosen as winner of the 2022 Intrepid Times “Wrong Turns” travel writing competition.
For more on mothers and daughters, check out the latest issue of Cook & Tell.
Thank you so much Amie for sharing this intimate portrait of three special women, you, Karyl and Judy. I look forward to reading more of your posts at substack.