This weekend is my birthday. And it’s a big one. As my father asked, “Isn’t there a six involved?” Yes, Dad. Yes there is. We’ll be in Nola to celebrate and I’m planning on drinking gallons of champagne. At all hours. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because on your birthday you get to do whatever you want and everyone has to be nice to you. I’ve had some truly wonderful birthdays and some that lean more towards, “Well, maybe next year will be better.” That was almost the case when I turned 14 or 15. Around then was when Mama and I started growing apart…squabbling and constantly butting heads. I woke up that morning and it was already hot out. Cranky and spoiling for an argument I came out of my room for another splendid breakfast of Cheerios and, as luck would have it, Mama was the first family member I encountered. “Good morning, Cielo, and happy birthday. Could you please make certain your bed is made before leaving the house today? Thank you.” Hackles up and muttering under my breath, they might as well have been fighting words. I don’t know why I thought she was the enemy but I did and I did everything in my power to let her know it. All through the day I huffed and puffed, I slammed doors and scowled at whoever made the mistake of trying to talk to me. Late in the afternoon I spied an enormous brown, cardboard box in the living room. We always opened our birthday presents in the living room after having had our choice of anything we want for our celebratory dinner. Oh, and the opposition, that would have been Mama, hadn’t asked me what I wanted that night for dinner so I assumed it would be the usual dried up chicken with burnt to a crisp zucchini and tomato slices. Anger gently simmered under my skin right next to indignation. I looked closely at the box but to no avail. There was nothing printed on it…anywhere. It was just a big, brown box. I snarled at Mama, “What’s that?” She stopped what she was doing and sighed. “We know you’re not going to like this but your father and I feel your schoolwork is suffering and we felt you should receive something for your birthday that you truly need so we got you A SET OF ENCYCLOPEDIAS.” Encyclopedias. Are you freaking kidding me? Talking to myself but making perfectly sure that she heard me I said, “I hate you. I truly hate you.” and with that I sang out with artificial happiness, “I’m going over to Kit’s house! Be back in time for dinner!” Kit was another bone of contention. My parents didn’t like her…at all. They said she was a “bad influence” on me. And guess what? She was! She lived only one island away, just a quick bike ride for me. I spent the afternoon complaining to Kit how horrible my life and my mother were and returned home before we sat down to eat all the while continuing the bratty act of spreading irritation and negativity. Honestly, I don’t know how my incredible mother put up with me. I would have…well, I don’t know what I would l have done but I know I was hateful and I do regret having put Mama through the wringer. At any rate we were called to the table and, lo and behold, she had prepared my favorite dinner. Rare roast beef, mashed potatoes with the pan juices of the roast, asparagus, salad and Pepperidge Farm rolls that weren’t even scorched. I don’t think I had the grace to thank her and acknowledge that she had prepared my #1, best-loved meal. Ugh, I was awful. We made it through dinner without anyone getting sent to their room, i.e. me, and moved to the living room for presents and cake. Wretch that I was, that box had me worried. It was all about me and I couldn’t be concerned with anything that didn’t directly affect me. Daddy urged me, “Go ahead! Open it!” Mama was silent. I recall thinking, “Why? It’s not like I’m going to use them or anything. You might as well just take ’em back wherever you found them.” For once I didn’t vocalize my thoughts. I slowly tore the brown packing tape and opened the cardboard flaps. Tommy and Pamela, who would have been seven and six at the time, had the good sense to keep still and not say anything. They sat on the sofa with big eyes willing to wait for a piece of cake. As I peered into the dark shadows of the box I realized there weren’t any leather spines, no golden gilt edges. No. Shame washed over me. My parents had simply teased me and I had responded in an ugly, ugly fashion. Nothing was said as I pulled out a turntable, speakers, a complete stereo system. Reeling with the enormity of how hateful I had behaved, I looked up at Mama beseechingly with eyes that begged for forgiveness letting out a sobbing, “Oh, Mama!”. And Mama, loving me and knowing me so well smiled and said, “Oh, Cielo.” Some birthdays are good, some not so good.
This is a go-to Devil’s Food Cake from The New Basics Cookbook. I use this recipe for both cakes and cupcakes. It’s dark, luscious and rich…everything you want in a chocolate cake. There’s not much more I can say except it won’t let you down and you MIGHT gain weight.
Kathleen's Devil's Food Cake
- 3 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
- 3 eggs
- 2 1/4 cups cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Pre-heat oven to 375°. Place cupcake liners in pans or grease and flour 2 9-inch cake pans. Set aside.
- Place chocolate in a small, heavy saucepan and melt over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
- Cream the butter and brown sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. With the mixer on low-speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, Stir in the melted chocolate.
- Combine the cake flour, baking soda, and the salt. Alternating between the two, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the chocolate mixture in three stages ending with the flour. Then slowly stir in the boiling water and the vanilla.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans, half full for the cupcakes or divide the batter in half fi making the cakes, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 18-20 minutes for the cupcakes, 30 minutes for the 9-inch cakes.
- Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool on wire racks for 5 minutes. Then invert cakes and place the cakes back on the racks.
- Ice when cakes are completely cooled.