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And Then, Cake

[On the table, Sunday, November 2010.]

Sunday afternoon — after an early-morning wake up, after the time change, after running 6 miles in the rain — I drank sparkling wine and ate a piece of chocolate cake. Surely there was laundry to do and phone calls to make and emails to write and thoughts to organize but for a beautiful once I took it off. I mean, wouldn’t you? The sun came out and I was tired and happy, so there was nothing else to do for it other than to simply celebrate the day — just a day, of course, but still, a day.

Lately time feels as though it is waterfalling past me in a cascade of hours; the mornings go from 6:30 to noon in a flash and at night it’s even worse. Thanksgiving is so very close (less than two weeks!) that finally I’ve accepted my fate (as in, no, July was not mere days ago) and have forced myself to sit down and really think about it fully. It’s not some ethereal concept down the road/for later/at some point — no: I can count the days off ’til on my fingers and as I am probably doing the bulk of the cooking this year, including the (gulp) turkey, I cannot let myself slide up the day unprepared. Add to that two looming deadlines to accomplish by the end of the month and, well …

But: Thanksgiving. What to cook? As always I’m drawn to a bit of the traditional mixed with a bit of my own tastes. And, o, the Thanksgivings I have known! Perhaps my best-loved was the one I had for a small group of friends in Washington, after I’d moved into my own apartment for the first time; after I became in charge of cooking the turkey that afternoon because my friend’s oven wasn’t working (apparently it was the best bird of all the years we shared together?), after we sat down late, after most of the vegetarian option (mushroom pie) was consumed and I chased my formerly vegetarian brother through my tiny apartment and yelling him about eating turkey only half-jokingly, I thought I’d like to host all and sundry for the holiday every year. I still do think that.

I love Thanksgiving because it is about vegetables (the harvest! and yes, turkey as well) and savoring food and gathering together in large or small numbers and feeling grateful. It’s lovely to do this every day, of course, but sometimes we forget or don’t have the time to take the time (see that whole rushing time thing). I certainly don’t mind a yearly reminder.

So: Thanksgiving. What to cook? So far the ideas rattling around in my brain have included starting with a very vegetable broth-y cauliflower-leek soup (or a butternut squash-and-apple soup, or maybe a potage jaqueline? (a sweet potato soup garnished with lemon slices)). There must be potatoes, of course, and mashed, but with wilted greens and scallion added, too? I’m seriously considering maple-roasted brussels sprouts or at least a sort of brussels sprouts mash. Certainly an apple-pear pie with a brown sugar/olive oil crust. Lightly sauteed vegetables such as green beans and carrots. Polenta-stuffed baked acorn squash? Or …?

First things first, though: next weekend I’m throwing a dinner party because why not cook a lot a few days before cooking a lot yet again? (Well, I do love to cook.) Perhaps I should attend to that menu first — all I know right now is that the main dish will be [redacted*], the vegetarian selection will be [redacted], and the whole meal will be very fall-centric and making good use of whatever produce looks good at the farmer’s market that morning.
* redacted in case the guests read this in advance

And I’ll probably also serve this chocolate cake (with vanilla ice cream, please) for dessert, if only to remind myself how necessary it is to take an afternoon to lie on the couch and read the Sunday Times, to savor the slivers of sunshine drifting through the blinds, to be at rest. I hope that night it will taste just right — the perfect finish — and will keep us all right there in one fleeting, delicious moment.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache, adapted from all over but particularly David Lebovitz

For cake
9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup coffee
½ cup whole milk

For ganache
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter two 9″ x 2″ cake pans and line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper.

To make the cake layers, sift together the cocoa powder, flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar about 5 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated.

Mix together the coffee and milk. Stir half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, then add the coffee, and finish with the other half of the dry ingredients.

Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Meanwhile, put the chocolate in a bowl. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat warm the cream until almost boiling. Immediately pour over the chocolate and whisk until all the chocolate is melted and combined. Let cool until thick and cool enough to spread. Use to fill and frost the cake layers.


  1. So excited to be home for Thanksgiving this year… it is truly the best holiday! We tend to go traditional, down-home Thanksgiving, but this year, I will attempt to make a pumpkin Cheesecake and probably throw in my super carroty carrot cake for good measure! it is oh so delicious! And don’t forget the sweet potatoes with brown sugar and cinnamon please!
    Love you to bits and hope your holidays are full of cheer!

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