Eileen’s Chocolate Cake

IMG_1392My mother-in-law was  a lot of things, but fancy wasn’t one of them. And even though in the end she would wind up living on a golf course in Florida and belonged to one of the swankier beach clubs on the Jersey Shore, she stayed pretty true to her humble Pennsylvania roots. She saved rubber bands and plastic bags and twist ties and presumed birthday candles were good for a few birthdays. Why chuck perfectly good candles out after just one use?

She was also good at getting the job done. A real pragmatist. So when her youngest of four was old enough, she went back to school to get her master’s degree, often carting him along and depositing him at some childcare situation on campus. She landed a job as the librarian (back when we had librarians) at one of the local high schools where she worked for 25 years and retired right as the Dawn of the Internet approached and her long-practiced methods would become obsolete.

So when she cooked for her family, her offerings were basic but good. Comforting. The broccoli casserole covered in mushroom soup on Christmas. The savory baked beans she’d prepare for a summertime bbq. The pot roast she brought over the night I came home from the hospital with my own fourth child.

Of course she baked all sorts of cookies around the holidays and put them out on her fancy tiered plates on Christmas Day for us to nibble on as we opened our stacks of presents. And she would make a peach crumble in the dead of winter using canned peaches that brought me back to my childhood desserts of the 70s. When my mom would serve us bowls of peaches floating in that sweet syrup straight out of the can. Those nights were so much better than when she’d open the can of fruit cocktail with the sour pieces of grapefruit lurking within. #buzzkill

But my favorite of my mother-in-law’s desserts was her chocolate cake that is as no-nonsense as she was. A real workhorse. It’s always a crowd pleaser and couldn’t be easier to make and when served a little warm with a big dollop of freshly whipped cream (or perhaps a scoop of ice cream), measures up to some much more complicated recipe. But who has time for that?

Life is short, people. Bake a cake and share it with the ones you love.



  • Box of Devil’s Food cake mix
  • Box of instant chocolate pudding
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a tube pan (Eileen’s trick: use the cake mix as your flour). Mix together everything up to the chips and then throw them in at the end and pour into your prepared tube pan. Bake around 45 minutes to an hour or until the cake looks firm and not jiggly. Let it cool for a bit before removing from pan and serving to your happy family. Taste the love.

What mommy doesn't want to feed her baby cake (and apologies for blinding flash but I'm really a much better writer than photographer and have to live with that deficit every day)?

How to Cope After a Miscarriage

Credit: John O'Neil

Credit: John O’Neil

Someone I know had a miscarriage last week and when I called to tell her how sorry I was for her loss, she said she never expected to be so sad, and stopped to cry some more.

“Just in disbelief,” she texted later, and I totally got it.

I had three early miscarriages in my quest to have four children and while some might have seen the difficulty maintaining a pregnancy as a red flag – a sign from the universe that perhaps I shouldn’t have four kids – my uterus and I persevered.

Too bad I didn’t bring the same determination to other avenues of my life.

But I understood when she cried how truly devastating it was to lose a pregnancy, no matter how brief.  As soon as that stick turns pink, the baby is real. It already has an approximated birthday, name and Ivy League school that that soon-to-be-brilliant child would some day attend.

There are so many hopes and dreams pinned to that tiny little ball of cells that when it turns out that that’s all it really is — just a ball of cells that don’t quite know what to do with themselves – it makes for a very sad revelation.

But it’s also something that nobody ever really talks about. It’s like we need to keep that sad news to ourselves because it’s going to ruin everybody’s day. Like it wasn’t a big enough deal to trouble anyone else with.

But it is to the woman who, however briefly, patted her belly thinking she was carrying a new life. A new member of her family.

And this doesn’t even take into account the moms who lose full-term babies or actual children. Like, I can’t even go there, it’s so terrible. That type of loss is in a whole other ballpark.

And then there are the women who just can’t sustain a pregnancy. Another ball of sadness wax.

But in the world of loss, suffering a miscarriage falls quietly somewhere on the spectrum of grief.

You’d have thought by now that some marketing genius would have identified this as an underserved market that’s yet to be tapped. I’m surprised Hallmark hasn’t come come up with condolence cards or that Always hasn’t created special sanitary pads marketed for the miscarriage. Maybe some K-Y product designed for after the coast is clear, when the time is once again right.

I told the kids that someone we knew had lost a pregnancy and they were super-sad. They are ready for a new baby, especially my youngest child.

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I had three miscarriages before I had you.”

“Wait,” he said, his big blue eyes growing even bigger. “Does that mean I would have had, like, six brothers and sisters?”

“No, dummy,” his teenaged sister said. “That means you might not have been born.”

And you could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t really know what that meant.

But I did. It meant that, somehow – no matter how sad – things really do work out in the end.