How to make rainbow cake

Happy Pride from the cis version of myself from an alternate universe

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Emily VanDerWerff

Jun 28 2021

20 min read

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(As you might recall, last spring, an angel appeared to me in a dream and presented me with access to a most holy and beautiful artifact: Mrs. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the cooking blog that Emily Rogers, my cisgender self from an alternate universe, writes. What might seem to be a cooking blog at first is, instead, a window into the multiverse, and since I last checked in on the other Emily at Christmas, I thought I would see what she, an ostensibly cishet woman, is up to for Pride. It is important to note, as always, that photos do not survive the transmission between universes, but the alt text descriptions of those images is provided in place of them.)

Caption

Happy Pride, Emmy's Army! It's me, Emily Rogers (she/her/hers), and I couldn't be happier to have it be a bright and sunny June day.

IMAGE: A blonde woman in a sundress stretches her arms out dramatically to the sun in a city park.

You can see little signs of the world coming back to life here in Milwaukee, and one of those signs are those rainbow flags everywhere. I loved rainbows when I was a kid, because I knew from Sunday School that they symbolized hope. So even when people tried to tell me the LGBTQIA2S+ people in my life were bad and sinful and wrong, I knew those people didn't know what they were talking about. Hadn't they seen the rainbows?

IMAGE: A small city street, rainbow flags hanging in the windows of various businesses, along with a few trans flags.

So today we're gonna make a rainbow cake, both for our friends who celebrate Pride and for all of us who could us a little hope right now. And we're going to make a rainbow cake because it's delicious!

IMAGE: A two-layered cake, covered in white frosting, each layer containing three of the colors of the rainbow. Between the two layers is another thin strip of frosting.

Looks like a cloud, doesn't it? Even Hubby David loves this one, and you know he's not a big fan of sweets! [I like some sweets. You just put too much sugar in everything.] Stop it, honey. I do not.

IMAGE: A man somewhere in his 40s puts a bite of rainbow cake in his mouth, a clear look of terror in his eyes at having been captured on camera.

But we have an even greater reason to be celebrating Pride with rainbow cake this year, and that's some news we've been thinking about how to tell you for a while but that some of you have noticed already. You've probably noticed how few pictures there have been of M, my oldest, on the blog lately. Some of that is because M is 7 now, and a little more irritated by how many photos Mom takes. But some of it is also because M wasn't the initial I used to use for my oldest, as many of you have pointed out. And as many of you have guessed, yes, M is a girl, not a boy. She told us so late last year, and we've been figuring it out ever since. But I couldn't be prouder of her. When she told David and me, it was obvious how scared she was. But she said it anyway, and we just love her to bits. [I'm just so happy she's happy!]

So here's what you're going to need to make rainbow cake!

IMAGE: Two boxes of white cake mix, two cans of Diet Sprat [certain items have different brand names in Emily's universe, and "Sprite" seems to be named "Sprat" there], and food coloring. Two cake pans sit off to the side.

Yeah, this isn't quite goat cheese jalapeno popper and hot dog casserole in terms of cleaning out the fridge, but it's something you can throw together quickly if you've got family coming over and you want to make sure the LGBTQIA2S+ folks in your family feel welcome! Plus, it just looks really pretty, and it's delicious to boot.

The thing everybody asks me about first is the soda. Now, this is an idea I got from Aleta Meadowlark over at Omnomicon, and I just loved it. The soda takes the place of the oil and egg in the cakes. You could just make the cakes normally, but I like the extra fizz you get from the soda. And if you don't want to use Diet Sprat, well... regular old Sprat will do too. My family just likes the way the Diet Sprat is a little less intense.

But this is a really simple recipe, to be honest! Just pour the white cake mix into a bowl...

IMAGE: A big bowl with a heaping mound of white cake mix in it...

...then pour in the soda and mix well!

IMAGE: The younger of the two Rogers daughters helps her mom mix the soda into the cake mix, creating a foamy, bubbly mixture. The older daughter is nowhere to be seen.

Could you make this cake from scratch? Sure. But the reason I love this cake so much is because you can do it in some spare moments on a busy morning. But if you have a favorite white cake recipe, go ahead and do that instead! I would add a little soda (to taste) for some extra fizz, but that's totally optional. Cooking is all about expressing yourself, as you probably remember from my second book, Expressions in the Kitchen with Emily.

IMAGE: A book cover. The blonde woman, a perturbed look on her face, holds up a rubber spatula covered in some sort of batter. The wall behind her is painted with an abstract smear of something that is clearly also the batter. A toddler stands on the counter, hands covered in batter. She is dressed in stereotypically boys clothes.

So the hardest part of this recipe is that you have to do a lot of math. You have a kitchen scale, right? That's going to make everything easier. Measure out the weight of your soda/cake mixture, then divide it by six if you're a normal person...

IMAGE: Six bowls, with equal amounts of mixture in them.

...or 12 if you are an absurd perfectionist like me!

IMAGE: Twelve bowls, with equal amounts in them.

Then comes the part M loves most: mixing in the food coloring. Gel food coloring really works best for this because it's so bright and happy. You want all the colors of the rainbow, except indigo, because who even knows what that is? So do your ROY G BV, and get equal amounts of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. (One per if you only have six bowls; two per if you have 12.)

IMAGE: As a large hand with perfectly manicured nails pours green food coloring into one of the small bowls, a much smaller hand with chipped red nail polish stirs the mixture together.

Get two cake pans, grease them (some of you always forget this step!), and dump the little cups in one at a time, one in rainbow order, and the other in reverse rainbow order. (My high school bestie Beth was obsessed with rainbows. I probably should have known she was a lesbian even then, but I just thought she liked colorful things.) You'll get what looks kinda like a Jackson Pollack splorpy painting. Splorp splorp! [Please stop saying "splorp."] Never.

IMAGE: Two strange, Rorschach ink blot reminiscent blobs of color, filling two cake pans.

Then just stick 'em in the oven as long as you need to. (It'll take a little longer than the box says if you're using the soda method, so just plan accordingly.) I usually make a basic buttercream frosting to frost the cake with, and you can rely on my world-famous buttercream frosting recipe for that!

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The link to Emily's buttercream frosting was lost in the transport between universes, so I will link you to this recipe I found listed as "best buttercream frosting." I'm sure it will be fine! -EV]

When Beth came out to me, I was so far down the list that I only got a courtesy call a couple of weeks before she published her big essay on breaking off her engagement because she had fallen hard for the wedding planner. She places it all against the backdrop of Prop 8, which was at that moment the law of the land in California. She had gone from nearly marrying a man after filing a couple of documents to not being able to get married at all to the love of her life. (They got married as soon as California made it legal for them to do so. You probably remember my post!)

IMAGE: The blonde woman, wearing a sky blue dress and visibly pregnant, hugs a brunette woman in a white, perfectly tailored suit.

You've probably read Beth's essay. She spends a lot of it talking about how she'd always wanted to live in a romantic comedy, but when she finally did, it was terrifying and destabilizing. And she says in it that she didn't know she was gay until she met Kelly. But that had to have been B.S. I knew it had to have been B.S. So I called her up after the essay published.

"You knew you liked girls in high school!" I said.

There was a long pause, and I was worried I was going to have to remind her who I was, when she finally said, "I didn't, Em. I didn't know at all."

So I listed a whole bunch of memories for her: how obsessed she was with No Doubt after the first time she saw Gwen Stefani; how she hauled a ratty old poster of Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy everywhere she moved; how furious she was that There's Something About Mary ended with Cameron Diaz ending up with boring old Ben Stiller, but she was furious in a way where I just knew she thought she should have ended up with her. She admitted I had a point. But she also said that I had that Buffy poster, too. And I did. I probably still have it somewhere. [It's in the attic.] Well, then the rats have probably chewed it up. Sorry, Buffy!

That night after I hung up the phone, I walked all through that first apartment David and I shared as a married couple, and I felt deeply, desperately sad. Whatever had happened between Beth and me felt incomplete and unfinished, even though we had just talked twice in one month, the first time we had talked to each other in nearly 10 years. I knew whatever I thought was missing between us was something I could repair. And I did. I did repair it. Beth and I spent all of the Covid-18 quarantine having a weekly Zoom check-in. It was wonderful. I feel almost closer to her than I did when we were kids, which I didn't think was possible.

But I lost something, too.

IMAGE: Two teenage girls, in a slightly faded photo. They're both wearing life jackets and are standing on the shore of a lake, hair dripping wet. Their arms are slung around each other in the manner of two people who assume their physical contact is a constant, like oxygen. This is obviously Emily and Beth.

In the summer between our junior and senior years, Beth went off to be a counselor at a camp for gifted kids. We had both been campers there, but I had never had much interest in being a counselor. Beth was a natural, always ready to be there for a camper in need. I wanted to find my own things, which was what I said as an excuse for wanting to spend the summer with my boyfriend. But after a few weeks, he didn't want to be my boyfriend anymore, and I was left alone in a sticky Florida summer.

That was the year they did the first one of those AFI lists of the 100 best movies of all time, and one of the cable networks was showing a bunch of them. My brother, Bryan, was home from college for the summer, working at his internship at dad's office, and he and I would stay up really late watching these classic movies we'd never seen. That summer was maybe the closest we ever were.

One night, we're watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I say something, like, "Beth has gotta see this movie," because I'm sure I was constantly bringing her up that summer. I missed my best friend, you know?

Bryan waits a long moment while these monkey people are beating the shit out of each other with bones, before he says, "Are you in love with Beth?" I laugh, because I wasn't in love with Beth, and I say, "Bryan. Come on." One of the monkeys throws the bone up into the sky, and he says, "It's okay if you are. You can tell me." And I don't say anything, because the bone turns into a spaceship (like whoa!) and we're thinking about that. But I also don't say anything, because I'm afraid of what might come out of my mouth.

So here I am, 40, telling you: I was maybe in love with Beth. A little bit. It wasn't like the love I felt for my boyfriend and certainly not like the love I feel for my husband. And I have to say "maybe," because it was a door I didn't dare unlock, unless I absolutely had to. And I never had to. I liked men just fine. I liked some men a lot. But what if there's a whole room inside of myself I've never even looked at? What do I do then?

After M told David and I who she was, I walked around our house that night, listening to the wind howl. We were still up in Door County at the tail end of quarantine. I felt sad again, incomplete, unfinished. At first, I thought I was sad at "losing a son" or whatever the people on the "parents of trans children" forums I found would say. And I suppose I had to let go of some idea of who M might have been had she been a boy. But I was letting go of some idea of who she was from the moment I met her. I'm used to it.

IMAGE: The blonde woman, holding a tiny bundle wrapped in a blue blanket in the hospital. She looks so very tired.

What I realized was that I was sad for me. Yeah, some of that was because I felt embarrassed about all the posts here tagged with #BoyMom, and some of it was because I didn't have the foggiest clue how I was going to tell my family. (Bryan is still the only one who seems to have mostly rolled with it.) But a lot of it was because M had the words to speak herself into being, and I never did. I used the words other people gave me, because they worked for me, and I never asked myself if I needed to find other ones. The one time somebody did ask me, I just shut up.

I wrestled for a long time with how to tell you about M, because I was embarrassed in how I reacted that night and because I felt like the people who kept asking me why there weren't any photos of M any more were prying, and you know how I feel about when you pry, Emmy's Army! [She doesn't like it.] No, I do not.

But I also wasn't sure how to rethink myself as M's mother, knowing that it would automatically drag me into the realm of politics, which you know is a place I don't like to be. But I owed it to her to try. I owed it to her to let her live in this blog in the way she used to.

There must have been hundreds of thousands of millions of girls like M all throughout history, and so many of them collapsed into themselves, either exhausted or despairing or bitter. I can feel that hollowness sometimes in the voices who insist M must not know what she's talking about. (If there's one thing you know from reading this blog, it's that M is just like her dad. She always knows exactly what she's talking about.) "I didn't have these words," those voices seem to say. "Why should you get them?"

Some words are keys for doors we need to unlock. If there's one thing I know from reading lots and lots of my favorite books to M and G, it's that when you have a room that's been kept locked up for years, you need to let in some light, because that's the place you'll find the answers that help you put together the end of the story or find the secret garden or whatever.

And that's why, when a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean and you have let it cool and you have covered it in your world famous buttercream frosting and you have gathered your wonderful oldest daughter, you cut open your rainbow cake.

IMAGE: A glorious kaleidoscope of a cake, colors bouncing off colors.

And you sit, and you talk, and you listen to the words she uses for herself, and you try to find new words to use for yourself, and you look for doors that have been sealed a long time and find out what's behind them.

IMAGE: The blonde woman and a little girl sit at the table together, forks poked into the rainbow cake. You would never mistake them for anything but mother and daughter.


Talk back to me: As always, thank you for indulging this incredibly weird thing I try not to do every single week (THOUGH I COULD). Also, the recipe above is heavily adapted from Aleta Meadowlark's wonderful recipe for rainbow cake, which is well worth trying out. And please: Tell me in comments or in email what foods you think would make delicious treats for Pride?


What I've been up to: Over at Vox, I took a look at how TV therapy took on the pandemic, but I also explained my Fast & Furious boys and gals, as one of America's top film franchises vroomed its way back into theaters.

Why does [the franchise] work at all? Well, look at [Dungeons & Dragons]. In the classic role-playing game, characters are supposed to continually level up. In a traditional campaign (a story that unfolds over many sessions and often many years), the heroes start off facing low-level monsters and criminals threatening their tiny village, but as their powers grow, they tackle more existential threats, like enormous dragons or sorcerers who threaten to end the world.
In any good D&D campaign, the core characters grow and change together. Their bonds become solid and even unshakable, no matter what strife they face. The story is as much about the ways they become an ad hoc family as it is the bigger, badder monsters they face off against.


Am I saying the Fast & Furious franchise is a really good D&D campaign where the stakes keep rising higher and higher because they have nowhere else to go? I’m not not saying that.


What you missed if you aren't a paid subscriber to Episodes: Gosh, this Allison Darcy piece on how she became more comfortable with calling herself "disabled" after attending a Florence and the Machine concert is just a tremendous one. You should absolutely check it out! (I also recapped "The Beach," easily one of my favorite Avatar episodes.)

Anyone diagnosed with a chronic illness or disability as an adult can tell you that the moment of actual diagnosis is not necessarily one of doom and grief, the way movies and able-bodied friends imagine. If anything, the moment often comes with a sense of relief: This pain, these strange symptoms are real. You were right. And though I certainly did feel that when my all-too-brief appointment ended with exactly the diagnosis I thought I would eventually be given and the finality attached to it — no, my pain would not go away; no, there was not a known cause or fix — I surprised myself with crying. A part of me, it turned out, had been holding out through all the Band-Aid fixes and tests. A part I didn’t know existed had still thought this could be simple and curable, that I could somehow be wrong about the diagnosis that all my symptoms fit.


Read me: This Matt Zoller Seitz interview with Barry Jenkins about the making of The Underground Railroad (easily the best TV series of the 2020-21 TV season) is mesmerizing. I love how frank Jenkins is about just... how hard he worked to feel his way through the project.

The thing I wanted to be extremely real is this man is being hung up by his wrists, and he’s being attacked by this whip. And we often see these photos of the formerly enslaved, and we see the healed wounds on their back. But we’ve never been allowed to see what happens if you suspend a 300 or 250 pound man by his wrists and serrate his flesh. That’s going to do certain things to that flesh, and I have never seen those things. To understand the absolute brutality of what the system of American slavery was, I wanted to show very organically what that process would look like.
And so I made the choice: This is going to be the place, this is going to be the time, this is going to be the one image that I’m not going to look away from. If the audience wants to look away, they can. But I cannot allow them to deny the fact of this image.


Watch me: I have been thinking a lot lately about the ways in which our stories about "difficult" artists prop up a lot of horrible things in our culture, and YouTuber Maggie Mae Fish got there, too, and maybe even better, with this video about Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch's very different approaches to roughly similar stories.


And another thing... If you have the time, please check out this episode of the wonderful fantasy podcast Unseen, which Libby and I wrote. It stars our Arden collaborator Libby Woodbridge. It's a creepy summertime tale, and it's completely standalone. If you've never listened to the show before, you can still listen. We're very, very proud of this episode!


Opening credits sequence of the week: I don't entirely know what the show Ladies' Man was about, but the opening lyric of "How do I fit in in a room full of women when they don't even know that I exist?" is pretty damn eggy.


A thing I had to look up: A suitable recipe for buttercream frosting was not a thing I just knew off the top of my head! I also had to double check that the first AFI list came out in 1998, as I remembered. It did!


This week's reading music: "Give Me a Kiss" by Love Axe.


Episodes is published three times per week. Mondays feature my thoughts on assorted topics. Wednesdays offer pop culture thoughts from freelance writers. Fridays are TV recaps written by myself. The Wednesday and Friday editions are only available to subscribers. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox.

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