Friday, September 24, 2021

Life's uncertain, eat dessert first.

When I was a college student, there was a pub-like place at the edge of campus where my parents would sometimes take me on weekends when they'd visit. They had a vast glass case full of cakes of all sorts, and I loved going there, not for the food, but for the treats; in fact, the menu they'd hand you had the desserts listed first. And their motto, printed on every napkin, was "Life is Uncertain: Eat Dessert First."

I've been thinking a lot about that recently, for a lot of reasons: a while ago, one of my best friends from college -- with whom I was woefully incommunicative -- effectively dropped dead when his heart stopped beating, and in a stroke of amazing luck, it started again, but now he has a pacemaker. And then there's the whole pandemic, which finally motivated me and my husband to write our wills, because we realized that it's actually possible that both of us might die at the same time.

And then the other night, my daughter confessed to me that she doesn't like to be alone at night, because she starts, in her words, "remembering that I'm a person. And people die ... but I don't want to die, and I don't want YOU to die."

Deep existential thoughts for a ten year old.

We talked a lot that night, in the dark, lying side by side in her bed, about how it's true, people die, and it would be wrong of me to deny that, or even to promise her that I will live a long life. Because the truth is that none of us know. And thinking about that IS scary. I tried not to tell her how often I worry about this, too: that my miracle child will leave me, that I won’t have had enough time. We talked about how children who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses sometimes have to come to terms with that, too, and how incredibly unfair that feels. We did not talk about pregnancy loss, but we’ve talked about it before, and she knows that this is there too, the specter in the background.

And then we talked about how people sometimes deal with the uncertainty of life and death, with the help of religion, with the help of community, and with the humanistic approach of just making the most of as many moments as we can, remembering that we are human and celebrating it, rather than worrying about it.

Basically, eating dessert first.

This week was my son's fifteenth birthday. He's now taller than I am, and he'll be driving before I know it (he's taking driver's ed in school this year), and he has a lot to say that I don't always agree with. My daughter is starting to show the signs of growing up, too. It's a lot. It all reminds me that I'm a person. So I'm trying to get to the band competitions, and go for walks with them, and listen and play and talk, knowing that I don't have forever, even if I don't always get it right and do my share of yelling and don't always remember that it matters. Because given what we don't know, it's the most any of us can do.

Chocolate Cake

3/4 c. vegetable oil plus more for greasing pans
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process) plus more for dusting pans
1 c. water
3/4 c. well-stirred canned unsweetened coconut milk
3 large eggs, warmed in shell in warm water 5 minutes
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 3/4 c. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt

Heat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Oil pans and line bottoms with rounds of parchment, then dust sides only with cocoa powder, knocking out excess.

Whisk together water, coconut milk, 3/4 cup oil, eggs, and vanilla in a bowl until well blended and smooth.

Sift together flour, sugar, 3/4 cup cocoa powder, baking powder and soda, and salt into a large bowl. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

Divide batter between pans, and bake until a tester comes out clean and layers just begin to pull away from side of pans, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool cake layers in pans on a rack 30 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pans and invert cakes onto rack. Remove parchment and cool completely.

Frost with your favorite frosting ... I like white, because it makes for a nice contrast.

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