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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Green

Failure Cakes

I made an amazing failure cake over the holidays. It was a cooking day, one of many. I cut my thumb, burned a small patch of skin against the oven door, forgot to buy a key ingredient for my pomegranate chicken, and, finally, realized too late that the cake had risen over its pan and batter was burning in the oven.

It was just one of those days, with expectations that everything would go perfectly while reality was presenting a different story.

While Mom couldn’t be with us physically for the holidays, she was obviously with me in spirit. I remember the first failure cake I ever ate. My brother Simon and I were maybe six and eight, and Mom seemed to have forgotten an ingredient in a spice cake she was making. It couldn’t be served to guests. As the beneficiary of this mistake, I clamored for more. And, from what I remember, Mom kept making those failure cakes, especially for us.

So here I was trying to scrape burnt batter off the bottom of the oven while the cake was still cooking. I must have added too much baking soda. I placed a big piece of foil under the pan to catch any additional excess batter, and when the cake was ready, I decided to taste what the foil had caught. Wow, was that good cake! I decided that despite its messy looks, I would serve this cake in honor of Mom.

Mom’s life force is waning. When I visit her at her memory care facility, there is very little recognition of who I am. When I take a selfie of us, Mom points animatedly at our faces. “Who’s that?” she asks. Mom doesn’t even recognize herself. In her mind, she’s 40 or 10 or 20, so she obviously can’t be that old, grey-haired woman in the photo.

We start our visits with me saying hello as Mom is brought to the visitor’s room. The staff has asked me to stop talking to her while she’s walking in because it’s too distracting and Mom has difficulty focusing on moving her legs. I find this rather amusing, but I get the problem. Whether she’s with a walker or shuffling between two staff members, Mom will just stop in the middle of her walk to say something to me.

“Why are you here?” she asks.

“I came to visit you,” I say.

“Am I here?” she ponders.

Suffice it to say that my purpose in visiting has changed significantly over the past two years. Whereas before Covid, it was all about connecting with her and bringing joy to her day, now our visits are more about making sure she’s ok, that not much has changed since our last meeting, and that she’s reasonably comfortable in her surroundings. I know so little about her actual days, how she feels, if she interacts with others, how often she listens to music, or what she’s like in the morning when she refuses to brush her teeth. I find comfort in knowing Mom is ok, but the connection between us is much more tentative than in the past. Maybe I’m just steeling myself to the inevitable slide I know is coming.

So I just keep making cakes—and eating them!—despite my desire to lose weight. I take my pleasures where I can find them. Here’s one: I was thrilled to learn that we no longer have to make appointments to visit Mom. We can just show up. But we’re still required to take a home antigen test. Two steps forward, one step back. That’s the essence of life.

Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Failure Cake (Gluten Free)

Really, what can go wrong with these fabulous ingredients? I love everything peanut butter and chocolate. Just make sure you don’t double the baking soda amount by accident.

3 ripe bananas, mashed

1 cup peanut butter

1/3 cup maple syrup (or honey)

1 egg

Pinch salt

1½ tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

½ cup chocolate chips


Mash bananas in a large mixing bowl. Add peanut butter, egg, syrup, salt, cinnamon and baking soda and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips. Place in a greased cake pan of your choice (making sure to leave enough room for the batter to rise without spilling over). Bake at 325° F / 160° C for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

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