Now that I’ve run through the last of my excuses – writing is hard, staring a new job soon, had friends in town, recovering from AIDS LifeCycle, enjoying the shit out of my summer – there’s not much left to do but brush the dust off this little corner of the interwebs and get back into the swing of things.
The summer is off to a good start around here, in terms of life and food. The first week of June I spent riding my bike (whose name is Leslie, thank you for asking!) from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money for the SF LGBT Center and karate chop the living daylights out of the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. I posted pretty consistently on the ‘gram throughout the ride, and I feel good about how I left it there so I’ll continue leaving it there. Have a look. Just before that, we went to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks over Memorial Day weekend, which, okay fine, I’m bringing up so I can make the point that all of the National Parks I’ve ever been to are fucking amazing and completely worth every dime of tax dollars allocated for their upkeep. While I’m on one, I’d also like to point out that National Park Service’s yearly budget pales in comparison to what our wig-wearing Voldemort-in-Chief is estimated to have spent just in 2017 so far in visits to Mar-a-Lago. Listen, I won’t harp, mainly because I understand it’s unbecoming. But I also won’t apologize. Food is life, life is political, this is my space for creative expression, and this is what’s on my mind.
Despite that ever-present, mid-grade ambient anxiety, however, the days have been sunny and long with lots of celebrations lately, and it’s been increasingly easier for me to let myself slip into the moment and just exist for a change. A new, very welcome feeling is settling in and I hope it sticks around. Cosgrove’s birthday happened to fall on one of those easy days, too. It happened smack dab in the middle of a week that my friend – my beloved fellow tall girl, my college dance partner and mischief maker, the one and only bayou goddess, Elsa Kern – was visiting the Bay. Amidst the assorted city shenanigans and wine tasting, we spent an evening partying all the way down on behalf of the start of Cos’s 39th trip around the sun. The next morning I interviewed for the new job that I’ll be starting soon. It was an auspicious week, to be sure, and some sweet smelling breezes were blowing in my direction. I never want to forget this place I’m in right here and now, especially how so many things have gone well despite the fact that they never really have to. Some things I’ve busted my ass for, and others that are sort of more the luck of the draw. The fact that nothing is a promise only makes me happier with my lot.
Having Elsa as my co-conspirator for cake decorating was not the least of the things that are giving me these admittedly kumbaya vibes. Little things are important, okay? I’d been brainstorming a while on ways to take Cos’s birthday cake to the next level by the time she made it to town. But of course she had all the answers, because making small suggestions that push things over the top so that they become the best versions of themselves is, quite charmingly, Elsa’s forte. She started with a few questions – what was Cos into before he started lawyering? Any forgotten hobbies? Does he have other nicknames? [Answer: art, snowboarding, and a graffiti name, “Peak 9.”] And thus the ChocoMountain Cake was born. Mountains, as a play on his lifelong devotion to snowboarding which has only recently taken a backseat to career stuff, and a hand-lettered “Peak” as a callback to his old graffiti tag. It’s fun going the extra mile to show some love to the people you love. Everyone was really into the cake too, most importantly, the birthday boy himself.
Feels good to be back.
Black Magic Cake, from Hershey's (though Ina calls it "Beatty's Chocolate Cake")
Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Line two 8-inch round baking pans with parchment paper, then coat with butter.
Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes (Batter will be thin). Pour batter evenly into prepared pans.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes for round pans, until a wooden dowel or knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Loosen cake from side of pan, remove parchment, and transfer pans to wire racks to cool completely.
Mocha Buttercream Frosting, adapted slightly from Ina Garten
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl. Melt chocolate over a pan of simmering water, stirring until just melted OR melt in the microwave, cooking in 30 second bursts and stirring vigorously in between. Set aside until cooled to room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy.
Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Scrape down the bowl once last time to make sure the coffee concentrate is well incorporated. Do not over whip! Frosting should be silky and swoopy in texture. Use immediately on the cooled cake or store in the fridge until needed, allowing the frosting to return to room temperature before using. Make sure to set aside about a 1/2 cup for decorating your choco-mountain!
Choco-Mountain and Cake Assembly
*These measurements were eyeballed, which probably makes me a bad food blogger, but what you want here is a texture that's firm enough to shape (so more crispies than the traditional crispy treat recipe) but soft enough to eat.
5 oz, half of a 10 oz bag, of marshmallows
4 cups, about 1/3 of a 12 oz box, cocoa crispy cereal
Neutral oil for greasing your hands
Decorations, which can include anything, but we used:
2ish tablespoons coffee grounds
Turn one of your cake pans upside down and use this as the base of your choco-mountain so that it will fit perfectly on top of your cake. Using greased hands, shape the mountain to your liking. Once shaped, transfer the mountain to the top of your iced cake. Spread the reserved icing all over your mountain as a base to help the decorations stick. Decorate the crap outta that cake, just the way your booboo would like it. Another idea I had, but ran out of time to try, was to make a small batch of plain buttercream to use for the peaks and some snow at the bottom of the mountain.]