Something kept gnawing at me on Friday, through the foggy morning and the hours at the computer and the coffee breaks Danny and I took together before going back to work on our own projects. My stomach could not sit still. The flu? Not quite. Instead, my head felt frenetic, like I could not settle, and no matter how quickly I typed, the words would not whittle themselves down to a sentence that satisfied me. Writing. Oh man, writing. But I wasn’t writing anything keen or funny or important at all. A series of emails, business dealings, things that had to be done. Was it that? Too much attending to the details that allow us to do the work we love, instead of doing the work we love? I tried to put it all away and chip away at an essay I’m writing. No go. My heart still wouldn’t calm. Maybe it was just one of those days.
And then I answered the phone. A kind voice with information we needed: the time of Lucy’s surgery on Tuesday. When she can last eat, when she can have her last drink of water, and a reminder to bring her favorite stuffed animal for the OR. I thanked the scheduling nurse, then told her what I have been telling myself, the calm rational voice I’ve been practicing in my mind for days. We’ve been through this before. The skull surgery she had at 9 months was 9 hours long. This one is only 90 minutes. We’ll only be in the hospital for 2 nights this time, instead of nearly 2 weeks. She’ll be okay. She’ll be okay. And then she said something that made all the fluttery finger-pushing words that didn’t come out right all day just explode off the page: “You’re right. You have good perspective. But it’s worth pausing to feel it too, to help her feel it. She’s going to be going through a lot. It’s okay to say that.”
I hung up the phone and cried. Danny climbed the stairs to find out what was wrong. I told him. He hugged me and cried a bit too. We’re in this together, always. I told him, “Yeah, I wasn’t really stressed out about the bills or the emails, was I?”
And then I went downstairs to bake. It always calms me. Pull out the flour, the powder and soda, the salt. Mix them together. One of the steps done. Set the stand mixer on the counter. Find the paddle. Where is it? Oh, Desmond put it in his play kitchen in the other room. Got it. Plop the eggs in and watch them whirl. Slowly add the sugar and watch them become something else together. Pour in the oil. Combine it all together. I have a mission, a goal, something concrete to do. Fill the little cups 1/2 full of dark chocolate batter. Put them in the oven and watch them rise.
Baking made my heart feel settled. It always does. And since Lucy had a Halloween party to attend that night at the home of our dear friends next door, I made her Halloween cupcakes. That evening, I stayed home to put Desmond to bed, then watched the World Series by myself. Lu, however, walked out the door with Danny happy, proudly bearing this platter of cupcakes to share with all her friends.
p.s. I wrote and scheduled this post before her surgery. By the time you read this, the surgery will be over. She’s going to be going through a lot. And she’s going to be okay.
gluten-free chocolate cupcakes
This chocolate cupcake recipe is a variation on the yellow cake recipe from our latest cookbook, American Classics Reinvented, one of the many cake recipes in that book I love. Once I figured out how to make a light, fluffy yellow cake for every birthday party and special occasion, I had the template for chocolate cake as well. Replace some of the flour with cocoa powder and you have great chocolate cake.
If you cannot tolerate dairy, you can replace the sour cream with a thick non-dairy yogurt here. There are also some good vegan sour creams on the market. In fact, someone who bought our book just wrote today to say, “I just made your yellow cake from American Classics Reinvented gluten-free and dairy-free for my daughter’s week at school. It is AMAZING — light, flavorful, perfect texture. You guys just literally made our week.” Now that’s what I was hoping would happen when we worked on that cake. Make these chocolate cupcakes and see if you feel the same.
210 grams all-purpose gluten-free flour
70 grams cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups organic cane sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup full-fat sour cream
3 to 6 tablespoons strong dark coffee (decaf if feeding to kids)
Prepare to bake. Preheat the oven to 350°. Fill a 12-cup standard-size muffin tin with cupcake liners.
Combine the dry ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, soda, and salt. Set aside.
Cream the eggs and sugar. Add the eggs to the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar and mix them together on medium speed until they are light and fluffy. With the mixer running on low, slowly pour the melted coconut oil on the side of the bowl. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Finish the batter. With the mixer running, add approximately a third of the flour mixture to the cake batter. When the flour has disappeared into the batter, add half the sour cream. When the sour cream has blended in with the batter, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Repeat, varying between the flour and sour cream, ending with the flour. The batter should be light and fluffy, sliding easily off the paddle. If the batter is too thick, add the dark coffee, 1 tablespoon at a time with the mixer running on low, until the batter is pourable.
Bake the cake. Fill each of the cupcake liners halfway. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes.
Repeat with the remaining batter.
Cool the cake. Let the cupcakes rest on the counter for 10 minutes. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting them.
Makes about 18 cupcakes.
Feel like playing? You could try a little cinnamon or chile powder in here for a Mexican hot chocolate cupcake. And of course, use this batter in an 8-inch cake pan for a wonderful chocolate cake. Double it for a layer cake.