From birthday to birthday, there are cakes. One cake for each year of life. That's my birthday tradition, and it continued in a full-on, chocolate-hazelnut force as I hit the big 3-3.
“What do you want to do?” they asked, peering at me expectantly across the half-consumed cocktails and artisanal small plates. With only my “fancy” burger and tallow fat fries standing between me and this interrogation, I stared at them rather blankly, wishing for more layers of protection. Oh this question again! I felt young again- in a a bad way- all the anxieties and life questions of my mid-twenties emerging from some hidden recess of my body. I thought I had killed and buried those stressors? Apparently not!
What I want to do is “projects.” I want to change courses and follow whims and inspirations, but try explaining that to an esteemed film critic and a dedicated film festival director as they plead with you to devote your life to filmmaking! I was flattered and confused, surprised by how much the question left me stammering and surprised by how much that bothered me.
In high school, our teachers taught us to rack up the extracurriculars, earn perfect grades and contribute to humanity in some generous way. The end goal was college acceptance and eventually, a good job and happiness (probably in the form of a 2-car garage and a family). The end goals didn’t work for me, but throwing myself into various activities did! ‘What I want to do’ may never be a question I can answer succinctly but who I want to be? Maybe that’s a starting point that won’t leave me stammering.
Who I want to be is someone who pays it forward, who fills the world with beauty, who leaves a footprint- not the carbon kind, but the kind people commemorate. I want to be a person who feeds and nourishes people. I want to be a person who brightens days and helps those in need, who leaves a mark on friends, on my city, and hopefully, in a broader context. How do you relay that across an adult table of whiskey and patés?
If SEO weren’t a thing, the title of this post would be “The Pay It Forward Cake,” but then those creeping search engines would never bring humans to me. I baked this cake and gave it away. I can’t vouch for the flavor, the richness, the fruity notes of carob or the dark bittersweet bursts of ganache, but what I can vouch for is the way my friends’ eyes lit up when I appeared at their door with a surprise layered treat. I want to be the person who sweetens days and delivers surprises, so that’s what I’m doing for the moment.
Whole-Wheat Carob Apricot Cake
About this Recipe: For my layers, I used a 6″, 7″ and 9″ springform pans, but you could experiment with uniform layers. I used a soured whole milk for the cake as a way to waste less, but you can substitute regular whole milk or buttermilk. It’s helpful to have a lazy Susan for assembly but not necessary. If you’re newer to cake frosting, here’s a helpful tutorial from Martha Stewart.
The holidays can mean holding your breath- in anticipation, excitement, and even in stress. In the midst of my holiday baking and cooking, I’ve often found myself holding my breath while focusing all too deeply on achieving a perfect outcome. Fortunately, there were a few serendipitous moments to make me take a deep inhale and exhale, ignore perfectionism and attempt to soak in a moment.
The first came as I left Whole Foods, mentally making sure I had purchased all the ingredients on my list. All of a sudden, the scent of fresh pie FILLED the parking lot like never before. Even walking by bakeries and working in bakeries, I’ve never experienced such an overwhelming pie smell. It was as if a giant were baking an apple and pecan pie hybrid somewhere in the night sky above me. I wanted to leap into the air and inhale as many pie breaths as possible! The second moment came when my neighbor was burning wood in his backyard, pot-bellied stove, and it smelled like smoky cedar. Christmas filled the air!
These overwhelming scents reminded me to inhale, to exhale, not to stress so much, and that perfection is just “fear in really good shoes” as Liz Gilbert says. So on this Christmas day, I wish, for you and for me, magical scents of giants’ warm ovens and all the freshest cedar trees distilled into a Christmas fragrance that follows you through the frenzied aspects of the day. I also wish you intense flavors of chocolate and cardamom and a table full of laughs and love!
(or simply, a really great Friday if you don’t celebrate)
About This Recipe: I can’t get enough of beautiful Sift Magazine. This is another recipe adapted from its beautiful pages! The original recipe is for cupcakes, so I included options for cupcakes or a layer cake like mine. You’ll need a food processor to grind pistachios into the flour, making a dense, moist, nutty cake to complement the rich, dark chocolate ganache.
April 2014 Sometimes my sweet tooth demands something fast but flavorful. Sometimes I push up my sleeves, don my apron, carve out an afternoon and set my sights on something rich and fancy [I'm not talking gold…