I listened to his laughter escape and travel over the sound of the riding lawnmower and the wind pushing its way past the spring buds and infant leaves on the trees in our yard. Rain was coming and we had work to do. The children needed to play, I needed to garden, my husband had to mow the lawn, and my father simply needed some company. This is new for me. His presence.
We’ve lived in different states for nearly 20 years, and now he visits us weekly or bi-weekly or stays for days because his granddaughter was very curious about the kind of “jammies” grandpas wear to bed.
While I was covered in dirt and straw laying cardboard down for weed suppression in the pathways of our garden, I heard my old-soul of a son laugh like the child he is — uncontrollably and with abandon.
I looked up and realized the kids weren’t bickering about who would swing next. My daughter stood patiently by the poll of the swing set, while my dad pushed my son, higher and higher. My initial instinct was to quell the experience, “It’s too high,” I thought, “you’re swinging him too high!” But then I noticed the engagement on their faces. All three of them waiting in anticipation until the moment our son’s rear end was even with the roof of the tool shed, and then suddenly in unison I hear their voices free of concern and full of joy and exultation yell “BUTT EVEN!!!!” and then laughter, fits upon fits of uncontrollable laughter. I’m sure it was because they took risks — swinging higher than before, they used a bathroom word (butt) with the permission of a grown up adult and didn’t get in trouble and they invented their own game that for the rest of the night was heralded by all as the best game in the world! Afterall swinging high enough for your butt to get even with the roof of a shed is feat worthy of the adoration of any six and four-year old child.
This went on for at least an hour. As the evening wound down, my son and I were the only two who could tolerate dinner in the outdoors with the wet, lingering chill of spring. Together he and I shared the best meal of my life, we ate bratwurst wrapped in a slice of wheat bread, and talked about butts and swing sets and grandpas. We all went to bed late, and thoroughly depleted of energy.
It’s so rare that I get the chance to observe my children. I’m always in the fold with them, lugging toys, meeting requests, preparing meals, cleaning them up … shuttling from one moment to the next, but that’s the gift of letting others participate in the fold of our families, specifically of grandparents who aren’t babysitting, but simply having fun with their favorite tiny people.
The rain did come, though later than expected and we all slept like babes with the sound of it whispering in through the sliver-sized cracks we left in the windows. Time in the garden, listening to my children laugh, knowing they were safe, and my mind had the freedom to wander and wonder a bit about life and that which connects us. My love of food is really just a pathway to show people how much I love them, it’s not about the food at all. It’s my go between — like the Saints to God, I use food to connect, often when I feel like words fail me, and they often do.
It has been a long, but joyful week in the kitchen, feeding thirty people for a birthday party, cooking meals for family, reporters and friends. The week began with my daughter’s birthday cake and was punctuated by chocolate cupcakes with cinnamon mascarpone icing for my son’s classroom. On Saturday, after the coffee was brewed and the kids were herded toward the door and off to swim lessons I checked my email. A woman who tried one of the cupcakes I sent to school asked for the recipe. Her grandfather will be 85 soon and she want’s to make him a cake. I imagined her briefly as a child and wondered how he must have inspired her. So much so, that now, as a grown woman, she wants to show her love for him with a cake.
Chocolate Cake with Mascarpone Frosting
For the Cake
- 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
- 1 3/4 Cups Granulated Sugar
- 3/4 cups Dark Cocoa Powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 Large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cups organic canola oil,
- 2 Tablespoons Frangellico or hazelnut liqueur
- 1 Scant cup piping hot coffee
For the Frosting
- 8 Ounces mascarpone
- 8 Ounces cream cheese (softened)
- 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
- 1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar
- 2 Cups Heavy Whipping Cream
- 1/4 Teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 Teaspoon cinnamon extract
- 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
|For the Cake|
|Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cut parchment rounds to fit three 9-inch cake rounds. Butter and flour the pans. Set aside. |
In a large bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and hazelnut liqueur. Poor the wet ingredients into the to dry, and stir together with a stiff spatula. Pour in the piping hot coffee. Stir until combined. The batter will be thin. No worries.
Divide batter among the pans (about 18 ounces in each). Place in oven for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean.
Note: You can use hot water and 1 tsp. of vanilla extract instead of coffee and hazelnut liqueur.
|For the Frosting|
|In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together both cheeses, both sugars and salt until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl a time or two. Slowly pour in the heavy cream in a thin stream. Stop halfway through and scrap down the sides of the bowl. Add extracts. Whisk a bit more. The frosting should be thick enough to spread, but still light and creamy. |
Note: Variations on the frosting. Using the same cake base replace the cinnamon extract with orange extract, and top with candied orange peel as I did in the photo.
|To Assemble the Cake|
|Spread the top of the first cake layer with enough frosting so some will squish out the sides. Add the second cake round. Repeat with frosting. Add the third cake round. Top with frosting. Start at the center of the cake and work your way out to the edges. Finish with the sides. Dust with cinnamon along the edges. |
Note: If I'm feeling fancy and I have some laying around, I will spread each cake round with a layer of chocolate ganache before spreading on the mascarpone frosting.
Note: The coffee and liqueur flavors are more pronounced the same day you make it. They will fade the longer the cake goes uneaten, but I've never actually seen the cake go uneaten.