For JG - Thank you for all that you have done for us.
The preschool director at Son's school, who was also the preschool director for both Daughters, exemplifies to me an excellent leader of a school. As the director of our preschool, her jobs are many, but it is in the details where I see her dedication and excellence as a leader. I can wax eloquent about her leadership, her intelligence, her spirit and vision for the school, but it is in her action in all the small ways for which I will always remember her.
Everyday, when I drop off my child, she greets Son and me by our first names. She smiles, says "Good morning" to every single person that walks in front of her. I remember being frustrated when dropping off Daughter #2, for she would warmly greet Daughter #2, only to have Daughter #2 avert her eyes and shy away. I would scold Daughter #2 and say "At least WAVE" to which the director always warmly said, "It's okay. Each child greets in his or her own way." Even so, every single day, without fail, at drop off she would greet Daughter #2. There is something about seeing the captain of a ship, first thing, every single morning that just made things feel like the boat is steady and moving in the right direction. Rain or shine, the director was front and center every single day.
One year, Daughter #1 was featured in a news article showcasing the school and the work it had done with senior citizens. Daughter #1 had gone to a senior center, and worked with someone, creating gift baskets to give to those around the holidays. I had completely missed the article, hadn't seen it, and the director asked me if I had seen it and went out of her way to send me beautiful picture of Daughter #1, hard at work with someone. She knew my daughter's face, knew how to email me, and sent me such a warm and loving email.
Each year at the preschool, there is a teacher appreciation luncheon hosted by the parents. I've always cooked and baked something for the appreciation luncheon since the first year I've been a parent at the school. Last year, I happened to be nearby when parents who had cooked and provided food for the luncheon were walking by to pick up their dishes. I watched her individually thank different parents for their dish, complimented the different dishes and warmly hug and smile at every single parent she could. I also got a hug and a "Your cupcakes were wonderful" and I remember thinking, how did she remember all those parents? Because she cares, and it's clear that she does.
It's therefore bittersweet, that this year, after 26 years of serving this school community, JG is going to retire. I do not begrudge her retirement, for it is long deserved and well deserved, but my heart aches a little bit because Son has ONE more year at the school and she will not be the familiar face greeting us at the gate.
For the teachers luncheon this year, I volunteered my usual Tomato Orzo Feta Salad (this year made with toasted almonds instead of pinenuts) and for a change of pace, Chocolate Banana Cupcakes. However, the organizer of the teachers' luncheon, JR, emailed me, asking me if I wouldn't mind baking a lemon cake instead. The plan was to honor the director of the school with a lemon tree for her many years of service, and the theme of the luncheon was lemon and lime. The only other request was that the words "Thank you Judy" be somewhere on the cake. I hesitated for more than a few moments because layer cakes, as we all know, are not my strong suit, and it felt as if this was going to be something that was going to honor the director. That kind of pressure and I do not get along.
However, because of my deep regard for the director, I hesitantly said yes. I would come up with a new lemon cake recipe and figure out how I would pipe the words onto the cake. Friend SH came up with the idea of not having me actually do something on the cake (which I was very stressed about) and instead try and make a cake topper of some sort so I wouldn't have to stress. I thought her idea brilliant and ran with that. I made tiny bunting, used zots to attach it to bamboo skewers, and stuck them into the cake. I liked the look and am very happy that I didn't have to write lettering with icing. (Bunting here.)
The cake turned out deliciously, although I did tweak it in the second round (which is the recipe posted here) because I had some concerns about the overall structural integrity of the cake. But regardless of the outcome of the cake itself, I was honored and blessed to be asked to make a cake for someone that I so deeply admire and respect.
Thank you JG, for your love and care of my children. You will be truly missed at our school, but it is with best wishes that we send you to the next phase of your life.
The candied lemon peel, I used this recipe on Bon Appetit. I halved the recipe (I had three smaller lemons) and it worked out very well.
Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Lemon Peel
Makes 9-inch layer cake, serving 12 to 14
2 cups regular sugar
2 tablespoon lemon zest
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs (taken out of the fridge the same time as the butter)
1¼ cup buttermilk
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350. Spray two 9 inch cake pans with cooking spray. Cut out parchment sheets the same size as the pans and line pans and spray once again. Set aside until needed.
In a food processor, pulverize together lemon zest and sugar. (Doing so releases the lemon oils.)
In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, blend softened butter and lemon sugar until thoroughly combined. Add eggs, one at a time and beat until well mixed, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure that everything is well blended.
Add half of flour mixture and mix until just combined. and add half of buttermilk and mix until just combined. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add remaining half of flour mixture, mix until just combined and then add remaining buttermilk. Mix until just combined.again. At this stage, the less you mix the better for your cake. (too much mixing makes for a tough cake.)
Divide cake into prepared pans. Bake for 40 minutes, or until cake springs back when gently pressed with fingertips. Cool for 20 minutes, then remove cake from pans and cool on wire racks until completely cool.
1 cup of butter, softened
8 oz of cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons lemon zest
5-6 cups of confectioners sugar
In a large mixing bowl, mix butter until it is softened and uniform. Add cream cheese and beat together until it is uniform. Add 3 cups of sugar to the mixture and mix. Add lemon zest and 2 more cups of sugar. Mix again until mixture is creamy and spreadable. Add more sugar if necessary, otherwise prepare to frost cake.
Carefully line your cake plate with a few strips of parchment. This allows you to be slightly messy with the frosting but prevents your cake plate from being completely messed up. Place one layer on top. Place about one cup of frosting on top, and spread evenly over the cake. Top with another layer. Plop another cup of frosting on the middle and work from the middle outward, spreading frosting towards the edge of the cake. Slowly frost the sides by applying a thin layer of frosting with a knife, spinning around the cake. In order to prevent excess crumbs from ending up in the frosting, you can put the cake in the freezer to set it. Add another larger amount of frosting, once again working round the cake to fully frost the sides.