The spare chair next to my desk is often used by co-workers, or as a place to set my coat or the latest cookbook that came in the mail. But since last week, I’ve been looking at it as the place where my friend Arlene DeMestri will no longer sit.
Arlene passed away Nov. 2 at 86. Her husband, Bill, was our chief photographer for decades; he taught me to use a camera. I often heard about Arlene from him, but didn’t meet her for a long time.
Then, Bill retired and started a new routine: He and Arlene would arrive at the paper, usually on a Friday morning. Depending on the time of year, sometimes Bill would work on the rose garden out front of the building while Arlene parked herself in my spare chair. I’d get her a cup of coffee. Black. Arlene always brought a cake or a dessert. She didn’t eat any; she left it for us.
Often, that cake was from a recipe I’d found for her or she’d gotten out of the food section.
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I’d hear her before I saw her: “Suzanne, I made that recipe you had in the paper last week ...”
In the late summer, we talked about all the ways to use zucchini. (We always thought Bill grew so much that one of her ways to get rid of it was to feed it to us.) She’d show me the latest photos of the grandkids or talk about what was going on at church.
Bill always kiddingly complained about his wife of 61 years when they were here: “Oh, she slows me down; she’s always talking.”
We’d laugh because Bill did his share, too. Eventually, they’d amble off toward the elevator, Arlene waving at us and smiling. “I’m comin,’ I’m comin,’” she’d say to Bill’s back as he grumbled ahead of her.
Back in March, Arlene had me searching for a recipe she just had to have. It was Cherry Marshmallow Magic Cake: marshmallows, yellow cake-mix batter and cherry pie filling. The magic? When it bakes, the cherries sink to the bottom and the marshmallows rise to the top. It works with apple pie filling too, ‘cause I tried it. I’m repeating here. Next time I make it, I know I’ll be thinking of Arlene.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, 618-239-2664 and follow me on Twitter @BoyleSuzanne. Write to 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427.
Cherry Marshmallow Magic Cake
1 box white or yellow cake mix
1 1/4 cups water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 whole eggs
4 cups miniature marshmallows
21-ounce can cherry pie filling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Prepare cake mix batter using water, oil and eggs. Beat in a large bowl on low speed 30 seconds, then on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.
Sprinkle marshmallows evenly over the bottom of the pan. Pour batter over marshmallows.
Spoon cherry filling evenly over cake batter.
Bake 30 to 40 minutes. Top of cake will be bubbly and marshmallows will be sticky.
Let cool before serving.