This has been a season of loss for me. I travel to Colorado next week to say goodbye to my dear uncle, as he has been given 1-3 months to live since discovering advanced cancer. Over the last two years, my beloved father has dipped deeper and deeper into the fog of dementia, a disease that steals so much from everyone — not only the person who has it but the family and friends who surround them. I can’t say enough how unfair this is. But life is unfair at times. After my trip to Colorado, I’ll stop in at Albuquerque (making sure I take that left turn) to check on my dear dad, who is now in a nursing home.

So, as I often do, I turn to food to inspire me, comfort me, and nurture my family. My son turned 19 (?!?!?) on July 9th, and I’ve always made him some sort of decadent chocolate concoction. This year, I wanted to re-create a favorite cake of my childhood: strawberry cake. There was one cake when I was eight that was shaped like a Barbie doll. Another one had fresh daisies on the top. But for this one, I mainly wanted real strawberry flavor, so no jello added to the recipe. I reached out to the experts and was given excellent advice. Armed with that and my own research, I started out on this cake.

This cake turned out just the way I wanted it to. It was fun to make and delicious. My son loved it, and my husband and I enjoyed it again two days later on my own birthday.

I’m giving myself lots of room right now to grieve, to lean into it and come out the other side. However, I’m learning that grief never really leaves you; it just takes up residence in another room in your house. In this case, grief was transformed into sweet nostalgia. I’ll take that.

*Do Ahead: make the strawberry purée the day before, or several hours prior to making the cake.

2 1/2 c. Cake flour, sifted before measuring
2 tsp. Baking powder
1/2 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. Salt
*Whisk together all of the above and set aside

3/4 c. (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter at room temp.
1 3/4 c. Sugar
*Cream the above in a stand mixer or with a hand held until smooth and no longer grainy in texture.

5 large egg whites at room temp.
*Add to creamed butter and sugar mixture and blend on high speed for 2 minutes.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl at many intervals to make sure the mixture is evenly mixed.

1/3 c. Sour cream at room temp.
1 tsp. Almond extract
*Blend into the egg white mixture on medium speed until just incorporated
*on low speed add the dry ingredients until just incorporated.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl at many intervals to make sure the mixture is evenly mixed.

1/2 c. Whole milk, at room temp.
*add while beating on low speed until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl at many intervals to make sure the mixture is evenly mixed.

1/2c. Strawberry purée
*fold into cake mixture and make sure no lumps are in the batter.

*Divide between two 9” greased and floured pans, tap on the counter to release any air bubbles that might be trapped in the cake.
Preheat and bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. If a Skewer or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, and the cake has pulled away from the sides of the pan slightly, it’s done.
Cool on wire racks until completely cool. Turn out, frost, and assemble.

2 c. Freeze-dried strawberries, ground into a dust to make 1 c.
16oz. Room temp. Cream cheese
1 c. (2 sticks) soft unsalted butter
4 c. Powdered sugar
1 cup strawberry preserves

Spread the preserves over the bottom layer of the cake. If you want, pipe a band of cream cheese frosting around the edge of the cake to seal in the preserves.
Top the bottom layer with the top and frost according your taste. I used an oversized soup spoon and spread organic divots and swoops. It was fun.

*NOTE: it’s a good idea to chill the cake for at least 2-4 hours prior to slicing and serving.