We’ve got some goofy traditions in my family, but the one that seems to roll the most eyes–and my favorite–is the one we affectionately call cake-and-milk. We put a piece of cake into a bowl, cover it with milk, and eat it with a spoon like cereal. This only applies to one type of cake, however: my mom’s black magic cake with caramel frosting. The best part is finding bits of frosting at the bottom of the bowl after the cake is gone. Mmmmm.

That cake represents more than dessert (or breakfast). Over the years, that cake has become a bond. It finds its way to most family gatherings. Its breakfast value is a family secret even the in-laws struggle to understand. It has been the subject of countless hijinks between my brother and me. (Telephone rings. Guess what I got. A cake. Mom likes me better; this proves it.) When black magic cake arrives on the scene, the bowls and spoons come out without a word. Everyone just knows.

The upcoming holidays–and the fact that I baked this weekend–prompted me to reflect about my family’s special cake. I’m constantly looking for connections to thread together and make sense out of life, and it occurred to me that not every important connection has to have some direct professional application. Recognizing connections and finding common ground in any situation make us better in every situation. This one may be intensely personal, but that doesn’t make it less valuable. In fact, I can’t think of a more important connection than family.

Now where are those bowls?