I started a pot of water to cook some pasta. Somewhere, I don't know when, I lost interest and forgot about it until I heard the stove top hiss with the sweat of the hot pot. I let it boil.
I took out a bunch of vegetables, tender, ripe and green and placed them next to my cutting board. With my knife splayed across the top, I stepped back a moment to take in the serendipitous still life. And then I took another step back and left the art to remain art and not become my dinner.
Then, I eyed the box of mac and cheese (the earth-approved kind) and though I toyed with the idea of a familiar fall back, I put the box down after thoughtfully shaking it around in my hands. All the while, I scanned the rest of the pantry for some sort of salvation from this restlessness.
Take-out was one idea. Delivery another. For a split second they both seemed viable, even good. But as soon as I picked up the phone, my mind chimed in with ennui. Again?
A quick run to the store? Or maybe not fix a meal at all. Just a seat on the couch and a date with what's left of network television. I imagined eating raw cookie dough. But that would mean I would have to make the dough which would require me to soften some butter. Apparently, I didn't not have 30 minutes to spare.
In the end, I found myself heaving and sighing. Listless in my dark kitchen, T.V. blaring in the background. This indecision plaguing me not only in the kitchen but in my office, in my car. Is this (whatever it was) really what I wanted? Or was I settling? In my aim to be responsible, planned, calculated, even how did it come to be that the proverbial Plan B became the Plan A?
More than anything, I was hungry for an answer. I really wanted someone to feed me. Console me with a bowl of soup I prayed to no one or nothing in particular. Shed some light on my life with a slice of pie. Guide me with chocolate cake.
Food is more than sustenance. Much to the dismay of therapists and nutritionists worldwide, it is my most powerful prescriptive capable of the greatest good and the greatest damage in forkful. But this night, after listless guessing my mind finally honed in some acceptable form of comfort and its name was chocolate rum cake.
Baking is a loving, yet precarious act for me. I am not terribly good at it, but I am more than willing to try. Loaf cakes and quick breads are allies and stand-bys. Cookies a wary friend. But full-on frosted glory cakes -- those were another creature I hadn't really stared in the face.
It's amazing what social obligations force you to do. For some, it is the petrifying matter of public speaking or a toast. For me, it was baking a cake for Mother's Day, for The Voracious One's madre, a kind lady who despite her Mormon provenance absolutely adores a heady chocolate rum cake.
Truth be told, I went into it a bit punch drunk the night before. Still working through a bottle of wine and the high of fine company only a few hours before, I stood in the quiet kitchen and just went at it. Flour without thinking. Measurements without peripheral worry. And before I knew it I had the beautiful mess of melted Pralus Djakarta chocolate spindled over my countertops and its aroma rising from my oven like a mythical creature, a siren of near-dangerously roasted beans with all its sweet whispers of sweet tobacco. As I watched an episode of Doctor Who, I let them cool enough so that I could saw at them delicately with a long knife into something resembling an even surface. Then a brushing of the apricot rum glaze that made the layers glisten.
Then I went to bed.
The next morning, the mess was less artistic and more horrific. The lovely scene became a chore. Then I remembered there was frosting to be made and a cake to be frosted. At this point luckily, the Voracious One was awake and took the spatula out of my hands. He employed his engineering and carptentry skills to evenly, thoughtfully, precisely frost with the buttercream I had apparently made with copious amounts of rum the night before. Making this cake had turned into some tricked out episdoe of "Lost," with me trying to piece together how these components mysteriously came about. By the time I recollected these moments, the cake was serene in a cloak of cocoa.
"You have tiny hands," TVO said handing me a bowl of toasted coconut (another revealed mystery!). "You coat the cake." And so I did. I held the heavy, dense chocolate cake, the rum smelled just as potent as it did from the bottle. Just the way his mother would like it. Over the sink, I took a handful of toasted coconut and patted it onto the sides, rather like making a sand castle from long ago before I taught myself to think and worry.
When the cake was cut later that night, the heaviness hid a silky softness to the crumb and the melt of the buttercream. It was punchy like a slap to the face, the kind only a bartender can give you in a glass. But it was also welcoming with a maternal, earthy chocolate note that sang in my mouth, "Child, stop worrying. You are loved."
And when I think of it in the restless moments that plague me from time to time, when I distrust my gut instinct and everything that's around me, I think of that slice and the serendipity that was the chocolate rum cake.
Though it glowed in my head like a grand idea, I never ended up making it that night. A consoling consolation so powerful, the memory of it was enough.
I put down the box of macaroni.
Chocolate Rum Cake A Mother - Or Anyone - Could Love
4 ounces melted dark chocolate like Pralus Djakarta (found at stores that actually give a shit about chocolate) * 2 cups and 2 tablespoons all purpose flour (sea level folks won't need the 2 spoonfuls) * 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda * 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg * 2 sticks soft unsalted butter * 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar * 1 teaspoon vanilla OR bourbon * 4 eggs * 1 1/2 cups buttermilk * Buttercream (see below) * toasted coconut
Preheat the oven - real or imaginary - to 375 degrees.
Take a medium bowl from the cupboard in your head or from the kitchen and stir together the dry ingredients (all the way to the nutmeg).
In large bowl (or a stand mixer bowl) cream the butter and sugar together until it's pretty fluffy. Scrape the sides of a bowl with one of those indispensible rubber spatulas. Beat in the vanilla and eggs (one at a time into the bowl) until blended. Slowly drizzle in the buttermilk. Then add the dry mixture to the butter using a low speed. Add the chocolate and scape down the sides again and mix until it's evenly, smoothly, gorgeously glossy and dark.
Divide the batter between to 9-inch cake pans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Like other cakes, you know it's done when the toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let it cool completely. Now is a good time to fall asleep, if need be.
Use a knife to trim the cake into a uniform thickness. I can't vouch for technique other than a long, sharp blade (like a bread or meat carving knife), an inclination for OCD or even a leveler if you're that way. No matter, because the frosting is what will save you. Frost the top of one cake with the buttercream and top it with the other layer. Frost the top of that, then down the sides in a sloppy, non-chalant way. It will still look good. Using your hands, press the toasted coconut onto the frosted sides (get it? it's like glue) until the sides are covered and nothing but the luscious top shows.
Serves 12 polite people; 8 greedy ones; or 1 restless soul.
1 stick soft unsalted butter * 4 cups sifted powdered sugar * 1/3 cup earth brown cocoa (I'll plea to not use alkalized so that some flavor comes through; I used Pralus cocoa powder to echo the melted chocolate in the cake) * 1/2 cup dark rum
Beat the butter until soft and fluffy. Add half of the sugar and beat until smooth. Scrape down the bowl and add the rest of the sugar, cocoa and rum until it's smooth and spreadable. If you're the plan-in-advance-type, this will keep covered in the fridge for a day or two.
Recipes adapted from Susan G. Purdy's Pie in the Sky baking book.