Happy Birthday, Mama.

My Mama
The Fancy Birthday Cake from the French Gourmet Bakery c. 1980something

Although this project is meant to be dedicated in equal parts to cooking (and writing about said cooking) and the memories of my mother, I have found it much harder to write about her than I have about the recipes and the food. While I struggle, to an extent, with the fickle friend that is my kitchen, I have found it even more difficult to share my history, her history, with strangers. I’m not sure why that is, exactly.  Though 19 years is a long time to be apart from someone, I quickly learned that the loss of a mother is one that defies all conventional sense of time.  I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life, since her death, that I haven’t felt that loss. I sometimes feel silly for still being so emotionally raw about something that happened so long ago. I’ve decided that today, the day of what would have been her 56th birthday, I am going to give myself all the time in the world to miss her the way I need to miss her.

In recognizing my extended vacation with grief and mourning, I have come to realize that I have failed to also focus on the good times. Not too long ago, I was at a gathering and one of my friends, in the context of the event, asked me to recount some of the happiest moments from my childhood – and I couldn’t think of any. I just sat there trying to find something to share and all I could do was shrug my shoulders and try to change the subject. But,  I know I have plenty of good memories from being a kid and I decided to share one of them with y’all today.


I seriously don’t know what it is with my family and baked goods but when I went rummaging around for old pictures to share, I found so many pictures of cake.  There are pictures of random tables just covered in all sorts of cakes; birthday cakes; children with frosting on their faces; children gathered around cakes waiting for candles to be blown; smiling faces awkwardly facing a camera whilst also trying to cut a slice for posterity.  The lesson you will most likely walk away with today is: we love cake!

My mother baked her share of sweets. And while Arabic sweets were high on her sweet-toothed agenda, she also loved baking cookies (especially of the M&M variety) and bundt cakes. Her absolute favorite cake was carrot cake and so I decided to make her recipe for a  bundt version of that cake to celebrate her birthday.  I think my mama would have totally appreciated this gesture.

I remember one Christmas (well I remember it because we have documented footage of the event) she baked a birthday cake for Jesus.  I want to say it was in the shape of a Christmas tree, but I’ll have to get back to you on that. We have video of my family standing around our kitchen table – a table that was covered in, you guessed it, cake, and singing happy birthday to Jesus. I’m pretty sure that is the first and only time that ever happened. It still amuses me to no end.

So, I’m sharing her recipe with y’all and hope that you’ll make it for someone you love someday – even if that someone is only with us in spirit.

Carrot Cake of the Bundt Variety

1 1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 1/2 cups sugar

4 egg yolks unbeaten

1/4 cup hot water

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour – sifted

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground clove

2 1/2 cups freshly grated raw carrot (about 3 large carrots)

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

4 egg whites


1 cup powdered sugar

tbsp. fresh lemon juice


Mix oil and sugar together and beat in one egg yolk at a time. Add the hot water.  ( Although not in the recipe, I added about a tsp. of pure vanilla extract to the oil/sugar/egg batter for extra flavor)

In another bowl, add all the dry ingredients into the sifted flour.

Slowly add the flour to the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth. Slowly add the carrots, nuts and egg whites to the mixture until complete.

Grease a bundt pan with oil, non-stick spray or butter and pour the mixture into the pan. Preheat the even to 350 and bake for 60-70 minutes depending on your oven.

The glaze can really be anything you want. You can opt to use a more authentic cream cheese frosting, but my mom went with a simple glaze that I ended up sprucing up a bit. If you go the simple route, just add a little lemon juice and a splash of water to a cup or so of powdered (confectioner’s) sugar and drizzle over the cake when it’s finished baking.I did that but also added a little vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg for an extra kick and to tone down the lemon a bit.

It’s a simpler, but still yummy, way to enjoy a classic cake recipe. Plus, I like saying the word bundt.

10 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Mama.”

  1. My mom has been gone for 7 years now and while others may say there is a designated mourning period, I hope that another 12 years I will still mourn her absence and it’s comforting to know that you don’t get over it, not completely, not ever. In fact, when things get really busy and I don’t stop to take that time to look at her picture or let a few tears go, I feel anxious for letting everyday life take priority over my inner life, and guilty that I might be letting her memory slip away. I think that mourning isn’t just about sadness, but solitude with the memory of someone we love. And it’s really good to talk about it because others might be listening and it might help them 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for this. Seriously. It was the perspective I needed to be braver about writing what I feel. xo

  2. Oh Nawal. Singing happy birthday to Jesus. Your mom ws very unique like that. Love her! Happy Birthday Nawal!!

  3. What a wonderful testament to your mom and the power of being a mother and the impressions it leaves on our children. You write with such heart and soul. I love your blog! When are you going to write a book!

  4. If you don’t mind…how did your mother pass away in such young age…?I don’t think you should stop mourning for your mother. You should always think of her and talk to her. Her memories should always be there with you regardless of what people say. She is an important part of your life and mothers are the most important person in our hearts. Mafi metloun….:) xxoo

    1. I agree with you that I should keep my mama’s memory alive. 🙂 I don’t mourn the loss as much now because, after 24 years, I am able to celebrate the memories of her more than I feel sad for being without her. I am less overcome with grief and more just grateful for the time I did have with her. I still miss her very much though and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her! And to answer your question, she had breast cancer. She was in her early 30s when they found it and, despite the treatment she received, the cancer was aggressive and came back a couple of years later in other areas of her body, namely her liver.

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