There are several reasons for the delay in this post–and I promise, I have been dying to share some of my latest recipe creations with you folks, because they are A+ crowd-approved. But this is going to be a fairly serious post. If you want to skip straight to the photos and recipe at the end because you’re not prepared for a Debbie Downer kind of post, I won’t be offended. Promise. (Plus, I have no way of actually knowing, so take your virtual anonymity and run with it.) And despite the lack of attention it’s going to get here, this Italian Creme cake is actually really, really amazing. Again, more about it in the recipe box below.
We had two major losses in our lives last week–one member of our family, and one dear, dear friend passed away. So we have been understandably busy attending the memorials and services, not to mention grieving. They will be missed dearly.
As with any major loss–especially a first loss–I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking. About life, but also about a lot of things you wouldn’t think you’d think about when everything’s so crazy you just don’t have time to stop and…think.
When I started this blog one year ago, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to accomplish. To a certain extent, this is still a question that hangs over my head every once in a while. I love creating great content, I love writing, I love making and sharing my food adventures, and I sure as heck love every single ounce of support I get from all of my friends, family, and–of course–you, readers. But this is also in many ways a self–and therefore selfish–blog, and it offers an outlet for my thoughts in a way that I don’t always get in the “real world,” talking to “real people” for whom I feel held accountable to explain myself. So with that rambling premise, I proceed on my (even more rambling) ramble. About thinking, mostly.
This has been a very crazy year: I have been through so many changes in my personal life, my living situation, my relationships with others, and my priorities. Most recently, I have been studying for a crazy exam that I have thankfully pushed back to January (hopefully) and that I am still feeling guilty about not studying for at this very moment. I can’t tell you how INSANE it feels when every little moment of your life is filled with this constant, insatiable guilt about not working harder than you already are. Even if you are already doing the inhuman and trying to finish a bajillion and one books and remember them all and you are CONVINCED you are the ONE legitimate person in your program who suffers from Imposter Syndrome. Because there is no way anybody could be less prepared than I am to pass this test. And despite the super supportive “You’ll do great!”‘s and “Dude, you’re going to blow this exam out of the water”‘s (all of which I appreciate, don’t get me wrong), I still don’t believe it. I’m not even trying to be cautiously optimistic. I just can’t believe it at this point. This is my current thought process about my qualifying exams, in a nutshell. And I’m okay with that…sort of.
So this brings me to thinking. Or not thinking. With the whirlwind that has taken my life by storm recently, I have left zero time to think. Not even close to zero. I mean, zero. This blog post might be the first time I’ve actually stopped to think about anything that has happened since last school year, and every damn time I try to stop and think, I feel as guilty as John Wilkes Booth. I don’t think it’s apathy. I think it’s numbness. Self-willed numbness. When I received news of both passings, I was shocked. I felt floored. Then I wondered whether I would be able to meet my self-imposed deadlines for reading that night, or whether I would be too busy being “distracted” with thinking to get anything done like a real non-failure would do. No, I didn’t think–nor do I currently think–this is reasonable. But it’s just how I feel. And believe it or not, I was able to pick up my book. Sure, I cried. I broke down and cried quite a bit, actually. But I read. And I still find myself counting down those days to the next deadline with a dread and anxiety that feels more real than the grief, which feels almost…unreal. Disembodied. Like somebody else is really feeling those emotions, but that it’s not going to hit me until all of this is over and done with. As I said, there has been no time for thinking, before right now. And there probably will not be much thinking after right now, because I can already feel the end of the night creeping in with pages still unread, knowledge still “unlearned.”
To my awesome, amazing, dedicated friends who tell me to “take it easy” or “give yourself some you time”: I totally and completely appreciate this. I would not be still relatively sane without all of your support. But I think I’ve gotten to the point where what I really need is just this: “Yes, you’re in a study strait. We know you realize that this isn’t everything, and we know that you realize this will pass and come what may. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. So go do it. We’re behind you.” I keep trying to tell myself that every single day, and every single day I come away a little less whole, a little less sure of myself, and a little more scared.
Still, I do make time, and I’m trying my darndest to take it in stride as I work my way through what seems to be superhuman swaths of work. It may seem self-punishing and it may seem unreasonable, but I don’t need to know that it will be OK–I just need now to happen, and I need to know that I have done it with all my heart. I will probably walk away from this post feeling like I just took away half an hour of valuable reading time, and that’s just a fact of things right now. It’s just something I need the people around me to know.
My on consolation is that I can say the next statement sincerely: My most heartfelt love to the two amazing people in my life who are not lost, but simply a better part of everyone whom their lives touched. My deepest sympathies to the rest of their family and friends who, like us, are grieving. No matter what I am going through right now, and no matter what I say about not having time to stop and think–know that you are always, always in my thoughts. (Thanks for reading.)
Italian Cream Layer Cake I haven’t gotten a chance to properly vouch for this cake in my post. MAKE. THIS. I am decidedly NOT a cake person–and neither are many of my friends, but I made this for a friend’s dinner and the family went over the moon about it. I left the other half of the cake at home–and it was gone before I knew it! A wonderfully nutty taste of coconut and almonds thrown into one of the richest, most indulgent cakes that you have never tried. Try this to wow your next dinner party guests! Yield: 1 3-layer 9-inch cake Slightly adapted from Bake at 350 For the cake: Ingredients:
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 5 eggs, separated, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature (you can make your own using 1 cup minus 1 tbsp of milk, and then adding 1 tbsp vinegar and letting it sit for 5 minutes. Voila–instant buttermilk!)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup flaked coconut
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease three 9-inch springform baking pans if you have them. (I had only ONE springform pan and this worked out just fine–you will simply need to bake and cool in 3 different batches. If you do not have a springform pan, you may also use a regular 9-inch round baking pan, line it with parchment paper, and lightly grease the paper for easy removal of layers.)
- Cream together sugar, butter, and oil until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add in egg YOLKS one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Dissolve baking soda in buttermilk. Stir salt into 2 cups of flour.
- In three separate additions, alternate adding flour and buttermilk mixture to batter (make sure to begin and end with the flour).
- Fold in coconut flakes and vanilla extract.
- In a separate bowl, beat egg WHITES until they form stiff peaks. Note: The best way to beat egg whites is to use a completely dry copper or steel bowl; start your hand mixer on a low speed. After a minute or two, once your whites begin to foam, increase mixer speed to “beat” setting and continue beating until your whites pass the droopy peaks phase (the 2nd stage) and start to hold their shape in stiff peaks (the 3rd stage). Depending on the power of your mixer, this process can take anywhere from 10-15 minutes–be patient, and be sure to KEEP GOING so you can get those voluminous peaks!
- In three additions, fold egg whites gently into cake batter.
- Pour 1/3 of cake batter into each of the three prepared pans.
- Bake for 25 minutes (or until lightly golden) in preheated oven. Allow to cool in pan for at least 15 minutes before attempting to remove. Allow to cool completely before assembling.
For the cream cheese almond frosting:
- 1 1/2 cups chopped almonds (you may also use pecans for a more traditional feel)
- 1 (8 oz.) tub marscapone cheese (you may substitute cream cheese for a sweeter frosting), room temperature
- 1 (8 oz.) block cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup coconut flakes.
- Place almonds or pecans in a thin layer on a cookie sheet. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, stirring at the 5-minute mark to prevent burnt nuts. Remove from oven and set aside when nuts are nicely toasted.
- In a large bowl, cream together marscapone, cream cheese, and butter until smooth. Beat in 4 cups powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla; it will be easiest to add these ingredients one cup at a time.
To assemble cake:
- Place a cooled layer of cake on a round cake base. Spread approximately 1/3 cup of frosting on top; sprinkle with about 1/2 cup toasted almonds; then add another 1/3 cup of frosting on top of almonds. You may need more or less frosting, depending on how thinly you spread it.
- Top with second cooled cake layer. Repeat frosting from Step 1. Top with third cooled cake layer.
- Use remaining frosting to completely cover sides and top of cake. I reserved about 1/2 cup frosting to decorate the top of the cake by piping a shell border pattern around the edges, and a shell pattern and heart in the middle of the cake.
- Sprinkle remaining chopped nuts and coconut flakes around edges and top of cake.