The truck inched around the tight bend of the parking garage. It seemed to have swallowed several other trucks in the process, making each maneuver hinge on the impossible. Valets attempted to corral drivers who wouldn’t be able to handle parking lots on a slow day.
Once inside the grocery store, darting from one aisle to the other felt like a video game with constant obstacles- a rogue cart, an unaware shopper, an oblivious person fixated on a recipe printout while the employees did their best to maintain.
‘Tis the season!
Yet within that chaos, a man in a Santa hat played “Away in A Manger” on his violin. He wasn’t a member of the city’s symphony or a student from the local university’s esteemed music program. It was simple and heartfelt. The song could be heard throughout the jams of people, carts and kids grabbing at everything while their parents did their best to survive. A few shoppers took the time to sit in the cafe and really listen, tucking tips into the simple plastic cup on the table.
Up a level on the parking garage and on to the wine store, where human bodies nearly outnumbered the inventory. A dreaded sound emerged- that of falling, clanking glass. The cashier froze in anticipation of an even worse sound- shattering glass, but miraculously, the bottles survived fully intact. Her fellow coworkers burst into a round of applause, shouting, “It’s a Christmas Miracle!” Customers joined in the celebratory cheers.
All this is to say, maybe the Christmas spirit really does exist? In any case, here’s to finding the joys among the stresses, and may that sentiment continue into the New Year.
Merry Christmas Eve!
Whole Grain Apple Cider Layer Cake (Gluten Free)
adapted from Brooklyn Homemaker
Servings: 12 to 20
About this Recipe: Classic holiday spices combine and a hint of whiskey combine in a moist apple cake with a dark chocolate frosting. It’s gluten free to please a holiday crowd. This cake was part of my “Wrap Party” story, so I went really festive on the garnishes, but the cake stands on its own if you’re not feeling so ornate.
2 medium Granny Smith apples, cored, and roughly chopped
2 cups apple cider
1-2 Sprigs of fresh rosemary
3/4 cup organic buttermilk, at room temperature
2 Tablespoons whiskey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 1/4 cups gluten-free flour mix (such as King Arthur Flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature (plus more for pans)
1 1/4 cups organic raw cane sugar
3/4 cup packed organic light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature (cage-free/organic)
1/3 cup safflower oil (non-gmo/organic)
chocolate cream cheese frosting (recipe below)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch springform cake pans with butter.
In a medium saucepan, bring chopped apples, cider, and rosemary sprig to boil over medium-high heat. As the apple begins to fall apart, remove the sprig of rosemary, stir and whisk with a fork to try to mash and break up the apples as much as possible. Reduce heat slightly and simmer and reduce, stirring frequently, until the mixture measures approximately 1 ½-2 cups, about 20 minutes.
Cool the apple rosemary mixture for at least 5 minutes in a large measuring cup before mixing in buttermilk, whiskey, and vanilla. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add oil and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute.
Decrease the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the apple mixture, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Increase speed to medium and beat mixture just until combined, about 30 seconds.
Evenly divide the batter between prepared pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean, rotating cakes halfway through baking, about 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer the cakes to a cooling rack for about 20 or 30 minutes, before carefully removing the cakes from the pans to cool the rest of the way.
Cool completely, about 1 hour, before assembly. Just before assembly, remove the parchment if still stuck to the cakes.
Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (Guittard Akoma Extra Semisweet)
16 ounces organic Neufchatel cheese, room temperature
16 Tablespoons organic unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring until smooth. Let stand until just warm, 10 to 15 minutes.
Put cream cheese and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Mix in melted chocolate until combined. Use immediately.