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.