An Understated Chocolate Cake

by Laura on June 29, 2012

This cake has been part of our repertoire for more than a decade; I bet I’ve made it more than 20 times now.  It’s from an era when I still cooked and baked from recipes, and one of the rare ones I still pull off the shelf.  I make other chocolate cakes, of course, but I find myself returning to this one when we want something understated and bittersweet.  I made it for a hen’s night with friends most recently and we ate it with earl grey ice cream, but my Sweet Boy and I celebrated the end of an era with the last slices, straight from the refrigerator with a glass of cold milk, when he got his driver’s license.

We’ve spent a lot of time together in the car these past 18 years: in car-related antics, in conversation, braving bad weather together, and learning to drive.  When he and my Honey Girl were little and my Dear Husband’s frequent travel was upsetting to them, we had a set of rituals, for just the three of us, things we would do together only when he was away.  It was a way to offset the pain of his departure just a little, and one of the favorites was that during these weeks I would sing ridiculous songs at the top of my lungs in the car as we drove, as many as they requested.  Oh how they would giggle in the back seat.  We were in a grocery store parking lot one such afternoon and I was singing, in my best Louis Armstrong, “Roll out the Barrel.”  My Honey Girl and my Sweet Boy were cheering, “Louder!  Louder!” and laughing so hard they bucked against the back of the seat and forward until the seat belts caught them; I was surprised they could get the words out.  Then I realized that there were pedestrians in the parking lot looking at me rather strangely as they made their way to cars with carts.  They had rolled down the windows in the back of the car.  Still, at 21 and 18, they’ll roll down the windows in the car and ask if I’ll do it again.  And I’m grateful whenever that happens because it brings us back to that time together, which is ending.

I won’t be driving my Sweet Boy anymore.  Won’t be listening to Wiz Khalifa and Mod Sun and all of his music.  And he won’t be listening to mine anymore—at least together in this way.  I’ll go back only in memory now.  To the car pranks, to barreling towards the brick wall of the middle school the first day we set out to learn to drive together, to listening to his stories and concerns.  He still comes on errands with me sometimes, but our time together in the car is largely over.

Freddy had just turned six when I first made this cake; he had just finished Kindergarten.  Now he’s 18 and has just graduated from high school.   There are other cakes that have become part of the family, but this one feels like his.  I’ve made it with him in mind almost every time it’s gone into our oven, even for the hens’ night, since I knew he would be here for a slice.   This is for you, Freddy.  Make it often on your own now, and I’ll make it whenever you’re home.


*Postscript:  I found Annie, our little terrier, in my desk chair, licking the cake plate on my desk with her paw on my keyboard.   “Mmmmmmmm,” she typed on the recipe.  Indeed.

The Lazy Man’s Banoffee Pie

by Laura 27 May 2012
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While my Honey Girl and I were on our way from Connemara to Dublin to see my Sweet Boy’s choir perform at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in April, the kind of trip that breezes past, carried by enthusiasm for the event to come, we desperately needed to stop.  As we were driving through a nameless town, [...]

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Baby Barmbracks with Sherry

by Laura 9 May 2012
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My Honey Girl and I spent the first week of April together in Ireland.  Beneath a cornflower blue sky and tucked into the soft Connemara mountains, celadon in sunlight, black in shadow, we settled into the Cashel House where Mrs. McEvilly and her soft-spoken staff surrounded us with their incomparable care, tucking hot water bottles [...]

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Pink Grapefruit Curd with Honey

by Laura 14 April 2012
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This pink grapefruit curd is buttery and silky and pleasantly piquant with a strong note of honey. Eat it smeared on toast, biscuits, or scones; stirred into plain yogurt or oatmeal or porridge; rolled up in a jellyroll or between cake layers; or piped into plain cookies. Share This: Recommend on FacebookShare on PinterestShare with [...]

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by Laura 23 March 2012
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Spring came in with such a rush this year.  By mid-March—mid-March!—the snow had receded, the grass greened, the buds burst, the crocuses bloomed, and people were out swilling cold beer on patios, the smell of charcoal grills in the air.   A week later now, the ice on Lake Minnetonka has gone out, the first vinca [...]

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Italian Cream Cake

by Laura 21 March 2012
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Work is so engrossing for me that, when my Sweet Boy is away, I often realize I am sitting in total darkness, the sun has set, the black sky has swallowed up the day, and the moon has appeared out my window.  The television set in my neighbor’s window flickers across the way and lights [...]

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Simple, Perfect Roast Chicken

by Laura 3 March 2012
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Cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Reed asked me about myself when I first met her.  I was nervous, writing about a local gem in Minnesota, my first such piece, and I didn’t expect to talk about myself.  I think I said something about it all being a blur, which is not what I meant to say, or [...]

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by Laura 2 March 2012
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It’s thirteen degrees here this morning.  The young pines are bending under the weight of heavy, wet snow, threatening to break, and the tall shrubs are splayed out like snow-covered wreaths strewn along the pathway I’ve shoveled to the house.  Annie, our little terrier, thinks the snow is a platform across the patio out back; [...]

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Braised Lamb Shanks

by Laura 1 March 2012
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My grandma was a letter writer.  I have sheaves of her letters, all typed and on thin, pale green paper.  They detail the buses she took, and in what weather, to the bank, to Mass, to help with the church rummage sale; the breakfasts and lunches and dinners she ate—toast with butter or peanut butter, [...]

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Apple and Lingonberry Upside Down Coffee Cake

by Laura 21 February 2012
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It’s been a pallid winter.  I don’t mind.  The fog that’s wrapped the house today is lovely and soft and has lingered nearly ‘til midday.  And the mild temperatures have made everything here easier.  I can scamper out to the chicken house in my nightgown and bare feet, across the bit of dry land under [...]

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Beer Battered Cheese Curds

by Laura 19 February 2012
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Every August we make a pilgrimage to the Minnesota State Fair for a shortlist of deep fried foods on a stick.  When we spotted fresh cheese curds at our co-op this week, we had to try frying them at home.   Salty, oozing cheese and crisp batter—and in less time than it takes to get them [...]

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