While the world out there gets smaller and smaller, the world we live in gets wider, larger, farther away.
With the click of a button we bring everything into our livingrooms and offices, the world at our fingertips. Television and internet bring natural catastrophe, man-made disaster and human drama, love and violence, astounding beauty and grisly horror up close and personal. Via the means of in-your-face news, we never need miss anything ever again and we feel as if we are there. Reach out and touch the screen, turn up the volume and listen to the wailing of voices, the rumbling of the earth, the rushing of water and the deafening noise of the bombs. Miners are trapped deep in the bowels of the earth and we are down there with them, a tsunami strikes on the other side of the world and there we are, watching the raging waters with those perched, terrified and awed, on a hilltop just out of reach. Explosions, bombs, hurricanes and there we are in the center of the action. Sitting warm and safe in our own homes far away, we become, nonetheless, a part of the action. No longer must we wait days or even weeks for the news to reach us in impersonal musty black and white. No more whispers in town squares or behind church stalls nor gossip and speculation over the dinner table or at the corner bar once the news has traveled over road and ocean to reach us, filtered, diluted and hazy. No longer do we need to use our imaginations to fill in the gaps or feel the emotions felt by those immediately affected, the survivors or the rare reporter who dares inch his way towards whatever he needs to bring to the rest of the world. Distance is now an illusion and within minutes, nay seconds can we, too, see and feel, experience and share what happens anywhere, absolutely anywhere on this now tiny, tiny planet of ours.
We travel, we move from one country to another with ease, comfort and convenience and experience strange, exotic cultures without needing weeks and months to return home again. We step onto an airplane and within the day, one rotation of the earth we now know by heart, we are back in the arms of those whom we hold most dear. When we have the means the ways are surely there.
Through the magic of telephones, Skype and e-mail we can now visit loved ones in the
farthest corners of the globe as if they were at the other end of the apartment. Voices are strong, loud and clear, their faces smile at us out of the screen bringing back memories of old Jetsons cartoons and the fascination those futuristic videophones in their extremely cool Skypad apartment hovering far above the earth created in our young, naïve minds. We get the news of joy, celebration and birth or illness and death, share it all as it happens and be there, flying faster than the wind, before the warm bundle of joy is brought home or the body laid to rest.
Thanks to modern technology, what just a generation ago was only experienced through science fiction and the imagination of writers, directors and special effect artists, we now communicate with dozens of people at a time, family, friends and strangers, with the mere click of a switch, the ping of a button. We announce our news and pour out our souls to virtual strangers and the sympathy spills in from the four corners of the world from people whom we’ve never met nor seen. Tragedy strikes and we can give money, donate food and clothing in the place of a warm hug or comforting words.
This past week, we have seen destruction, tragedy and war. We watched as the earth trembled, homes were washed away, the sky lit up with the fire of bombs and filled with radioactive plumes of smoke and although we see it all as it happens, breath held, eyes wide with horror and dismay, yet how far do we feel at the same time? Far in our helplessness and inability to act, to help, to comfort, to truly understand. I have also, once again, realized how difficult is the life of an expat in all of the excitement and discovery; no one can understand as an expat just how far away far is. A dear, dear friend lost her father and we cried together at the loss, her own stirring up mine. We cried together at the helplessness we feel as expats living so very far from our families, at how fast and easy it is these days to travel over land and sea yet how difficult and complicated. No, we cannot drop everything at a moment’s notice, leave husband and job behind to rush to the bedside of loved ones who may need us. Questions nag at us, do we go, do we wait, is it really necessary or will it be more important next week, because traveling for a day or longer one cannot jump over there then back again and repeat the following week. We live with the burden, the guilt of not being there haunts us every single day until it burns into our heart and eats away at our soul, but our two distant lives, separated by miles and miles, pull us back and forth, back and forth in a never-ending question mark.
And now, at times like these, we realize just how huge this planet is, how great is the world, how small we are.
- Victor Borge
And at times like these, we switch off the television set, turn off the computer and go into the kitchen and bake. What we need is a little comfort and I find it in little handfuls of chocolate cake topped with something rich and creamy and slightly bitter, the better to wash away bittersweet tears. These delicate, moist, light cupcakes are full of heavenly, comforting chocolate flavor with a dash of the warmth of espresso. Each is topped with a dollop, just enough, of a bittersweet Mocha Frosting, improvised, made with about half a cup leftover Bittersweet Mocha Sauce whipped with half a cup fresh mascarpone until just fluffy enough, just creamy enough, just chocolatey enough. Just perfect. Now take one or two of these little cupcakes, set the plate on a tray with a mug of hot café au lait or milky tea and curl up in your favorite armchair and sit and listen to the silence as you think of only the wonderful times you’ve had with people you love.
CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO CUPCAKES
With Bittersweet Mocha Mascarpone Frosting
6 ounces (175 grams) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
5 ounces (150 grams) sugar
1 tsp fine espresso powder
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup (150 ml) warm milk
2/3 cup (150 ml) vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C). Line 12 regular-size muffin cups with pretty paper liners. There should also be enough batter left over for 4 or 5 mini cupcakes as well.
Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, sugar and espresso powder in a large mixing bowl and whisk to blend. In a separate mixing bowl or a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the warm milk (heat cool milk for about 30 seconds in the microwave), the oil, eggs and vanilla.
Now it is simply a question of pouring the wet ingredients into the dry and blending well either with a whisk, a wooden spoon or a hand mixer, although I prefer using a whisk here. The best method for doing this so you don’t end up with stuff splattered all over your countertop and so you end up with perfectly smooth, lump-free batter is to first make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour about a quarter of the liquid ingredients into the well and, with small, brisk circular movements, whisk with just enough of the dry until you have a thick, smooth, lump-free batter in the center. Add some more of the liquid, pull in a bit more of the dry, and briskly whisk again until aha! your batter is perfectly smooth. Continue until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into your (now) lump-free batter, add any remaining liquid and give it a go. Pour the batter carefully into your cupcake cups (transferring the batter into a large measuring cup with a spout makes this an easy, clean process), filling about ¾ full.
Bake until the center of your cupcakes are risen, slightly cracked and just firm to the touch, set but still moist in the center, About 25 minutes more or less depending on your oven.
Remove the cupcake tin to racks, let cool for about a minute then very carefully lift each cupcake out onto a rack to cool completely before frosting. They are, I might add, just scrumptious without frosting as well.
These cupcakes are also perfect frosted with my Simple Chocolate Buttercream Frosting or a Chocolate Ganache chilled just until thick enough to spread.