and to lie about your age.
~ Lucille Ball
“Oh, grow up!” he often says to me when I’ve said or done something particularly ridiculous, a smirk dancing upon his lips, a glint of humor in his eyes. “Would you really want me to?” is my usual rejoinder. We revel in our youthful silliness and utter disregard for the rules of behavior that most seem so urgently ready to apply to folks of our age. Another birthday has rolled around and I am now squarely centered in that “woman of a certain age” category. I look in the mirror and see the lines on my skin and the silver threaded through my dark hair, I feel the weight of the years upon my shoulders, pulling me down with unforgiving severity, gravity giving me a less-than-youthful appearance. These old bones creak and the back has a tendency to slouch, the elevator has taken precedence over the stairs and fabric seems to strain at snaps and buttons. But for all of the outward changes, that slow but inevitable metamorphoses that we each go through, the visible traces left by the advancing years, I somehow feel an inward subtle shift in the opposite direction.
So the “Oh, grow up!” followed immediately by the “Would you really want me to?” is a game we play, just more childish banter between two who simply do not feel that the years have made us grow old. We laugh in the face of Old Man Time and hold onto youth joyfully, in an ironclad grip.
What a crime to waste it on children.
~ George Bernard Shaw
The body is some strange foreign vessel, almost alien in its outlandishness. There is an odd disconnect throughout our youth and well into adulthood, this relationship we have with our outer shell, as if wearing someone else’s ill-fitting clothing. As a child, we often have moments of not quite being able to control our movements nor do we quite understand the changes that happen seemingly overnight as we sleep; as a teen, there is discomfort and embarrassment in every lump and bump, every growth spurt and unruly, out-of-control development. There may be a brief moment when we achieve the perfect balance, when we reach some ideal age, that place in time where it all comes together effortlessly, without blemish, pure and sublime, our hair, our skin, our figure; we glance in the mirror and smile, content, self-confident, at ease and at peace with ourselves. “Ah, I have finally grown up and grown into the person I was meant to be all along!” we exclaim, nodding in approval as we turn to blow out the 30 or so candles. But the moment is fleeting; it rushes by, a whisper blown swiftly away on the wind. We wake up shortly after, minutes it seems, and the walls begin to crumble; the skin sags, ever so imperceptibly at first, but we notice it a bit more every day; the first gray hair sneaks in, almost as a fine joke; the knees creak and crack as we climb the stairs to the apartment and it seems just that much more difficult to push ourselves out of bed in the morning. We catch a glimpse of our face, our body as we walk in front of a mirror or plate glass window and are stunned, wondering when it was that we grew so old.
growing up is optional.
~ Chili Davis
Yet, although I reached my stride quite a number of years ago, my peak physical years have come and gone, and today, well, the lines are getting fuzzy, the streaks of sophisticated silver run their fingers brazenly through my unruly hair and keeping in shape takes more effort every day, my inner child is well and alive, thank you very much. Rebellious in nature, the youthful me bursts at the seams, a ball of energy, not willing to sit still and twiddle her thumbs allowing any old rather snooty Grande Dame to make the decisions. Some may say that there is something irreverent in the way I behave, that silliness does not become a woman of a certain age; others may shake their head in dismay at my adamant determination to simply not grow up, their eyes opened wide in disbelief at my jokes or antics. But although I have little control over the outer shell other than exercise, diet and a good haircut, a touch of makeup and the choice of what I wear, my spirit is my own to do with as I please.
If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.
~ Leroy "Satchel" Paige
Yes, another birthday has come and gone with much hurrah and I was spoiled and pampered by my men in their usual, quiet way. And as is the tradition every single year, I baked my own cake. French pastry shops are abundant in tarts of glistening fruit, creams of chocolate, raspberry or vanilla studded with poached pears or bright berries and crunchy with praline or biscuits, elegant verrines of layer upon delicate layer of mousses and bavaroises topped by froths of whipped Chantilly; one jaw-dropping gorgeous, ravishingly delicious delight after another, it is true, but a birthday is simply not a birthday without a layer cake. And there is no better way to have exactly what you love best than making it yourself. I toyed with the idea of repeating last year’s wildly successful Espresso Chocolate Cake with Mocha Mascarpone Frosting, as it had indeed been one of the best cakes I have ever tasted. And although I had finally settled on the same flavor combination – a favorite – I turned instead to my favorite chocolate cake recipe, one that was handed down from my father, and my simple chocolate buttercream frosting. Yet I twisted and turned and added espresso to both the cake batter and the frosting, whisked in a container of fresh mascarpone to the buttercream for a richer, smoother, creamier frosting and voilà I created my perfect birthday cake!
A childhood delight to bring out the youthful frivolity, the joy and delight in each of us; dense, ultra moist, devilishly chocolaty layers with a diabolically inspired kiss of espresso, a cake at once flirtatious with its voluptuous swirls of mocha cream and serious in its sinful decadence. And what a cake! A flash to whip up and bring together, and oh so easy going down. Kid friendly indeed yet oh so incredibly adult.
And a perfect romantic dessert for St. Valentine's Day.
CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO LAYER CAKE
Makes a 8 ½ or 9-inch two layer cake or an 7-inch three layer cake.
1 ¾ cup flour
2 cups sugar
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsps vanilla
1 cup prepared coffee *
* If you prefer, the coffee can be replaced with water or a mixture of water and fruit juice.
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Oil and flour two 8 ½ or 9-inch round cake pans or three 7-inch cake pans generously. (I oiled the pans, lined with parchment and then lightly oiled the paper and dusted with flour.)
Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Whisk or whiz them with the electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds until everything is well combined. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat on low until well blended then increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 2 minutes. Bring the 1 cup of coffee just to the boil and stir in carefully by hand until very well blended. Carefully divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans – it will be liquid. (If you want to make the smaller 3-layer cake and only have 2 cake pans: oil, line and flour the two pans and divide 2/3 of the batter between the two; the pans should be filled about 1/3 to ½ full. Bake the first two layers. When they are done, remove from the oven, allow to cool for several minutes, slide a sharp knife around the edges to loosen and invert (then upright) on cooling racks to completely cool. Clean, oil, line and dust with flour one of the pans and pour the remaining third of the batter into this pan and bake as directed.)
Bake in the preheated oven for 35 – 40 minutes or until the center is set (30 – 35 minutes for the smaller layers). Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 – 15 minutes on cooling racks before turning them out onto the racks to cool completely.
CHOCOLATE MOCHA MASCARPONE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
11 - 12 oz (325 - 350 grams) powdered/confectioner’s sugar
8 Tbs (120 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1.8 oz (50 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
4 Tbs very hot prepared coffee
3.5 – 5.3 oz (100 – 150 g) fresh mascarpone cheese
Using an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and the powdered sugar together. Add the cocoa powder and the hot coffee and beat, scraping down the sides as necessary, until well blended and fluffy. Beat in as much mascarpone as desired until smooth and whipped.
Chill in the refrigerator until firm enough so that, when spread and the layers are stacked, the frosting does not slide.
Frost the tops of the layers then stack, placing the bottom layer on a cake or serving plate. I slip strips of waxed paper or parchment under the edges of the cake before frosting the sides in order to keep the plate clean and frosting-free. Smooth the frosting on the sides of the cake. Pipe rosettes of frosting and decorate as desired. Gently slide the strips of parchment out from under the cake and retouch as needed. Chill in the refrigerator until the frosting has firmed. Because the frosting contains mascarpone, it is best to store uneaten cake in the refrigerator.