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The Cake in the Refrigerator: A Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Sunday morning, I was in the basement and the kids were upstairs, on their own for a few minutes. When I came back, I found Nina beaming. “Dad,” she said, “Pinta and I were having a really big fight, and I said ‘Remember, we have a cake in the refrigerator.’”

She was talking about a means of keeping the peace that Santa Maria and I picked up from Thich Nhat Hanh’s latest book, “The Art of Communicating.” In it, he has a passage that goes like this:

The Cake in the Refrigerator

One tool we can use to improve our communication is a cake. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a baker, don’t have a cake, or are gluten-free. This is a very special cake that is not made of four and sugar like a sponge cake. We can keep eating it, and it is never finished. It is called ‘the cake in the refrigerator.’

This practice was developed to help children deal with their parents’ arguing, but it can also be used by adults in a relationship. When the atmosphere becomes heavy and unpleasant, and it seems that one person is losing his or her temper, you can use the practice of the cake to restore harmony.

First of all, breathe in and out three times to give yourself courage. Then turn to the person or people who seem upset and let them know you just remembered something. When they ask you what, you can say, ‘I remember that we have a cake in the refrigerator.’

Saying, ‘there is a cake in the refrigerator’ really means: ‘Please, let’s not make each other suffer anymore.’ Hearing these words, the person will understand. Hopefully, he or she will look at you and say, ‘That’s right. I’ll go and get the cake.’ This is a nonjudgmental way out of a dangerous situation. The person who is upset now has an opportunity to withdraw from the fight without causing more tension.

The person goes into the kitchen, opens the refrigerator to take out the cake, and boils water to make the tea, all the while following their breathing. If there is no real cake in the refrigerator, something else can be substituted—a piece of fruit or toast or whatever you find. Preparing the snack and tea, that person may even remember to smile as a way to feel lighter in body and spirit.

Santa Maria taught this to the girls, and when they needed to resolve their difference, they tried it today. I was stunned. Usually when they need to resolve their differences, things—mostly insults, sometimes LEGOs—end up getting thrown.

Pinta said, “We went into the freezer to look for pumpkin bread, but we couldn’t find any so we made some toast.” They were at the table, munching on buttery bits of warm semolina-sesame bread as they told me this.

It nearly broke my heart to know that we’ve been able to teach them something so useful. I suggest you give this a try if you’re having a fight with someone you care about. And later that evening I found a bit of Santa Maria’s frozen pumpkin bread (which is delicious fresh and which freezes well and toasts up wonderfully), and I was reminded about how good it is. Here’s the recipe, as adapted from “Joy of Cooking” by the incomparable Santa Maria.

Santa Maria’s Peace-Making Pumpkin Bread

2 9x5-inch loaf pans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Sift together

            2  cups sifted all-purpose flour

            ¼ teaspoon double-acting baking powder

            1 teaspoon baking soda

            1 teaspoon salt

            1 teaspoon cinnamon

            ½  teaspoon ground cloves

            ¼ ground fresh nutmeg

In a large bowl, beat together:

1/3 cup sugar

¼ cup Canola Oil

3 eggs

Add and beat in:

            1 can cooked pumpkin (15 oz)

Now add the sifted dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with:

1/3 cup milk

Pour batter into a greased pan and bake about 1 hour our until bread tests done (baked batter does not stick to inserted sharp knife).

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