One of the the most valuable lessons I’ve learned, mainly from reading Chekov, was that in order to inspire emotion in a reader, the narrator must remain cold, not given to sentimentality. As heaps of bad things befall his beloved characters, Chekov’s narrator always remains achingly present, but distant, merely there to tell the tale. I find this to be true of the winter too. The outside is no longer your friend. Instead, it’s the cold backdrop to which we must provide the emotional landscape, whether adding romance to the snow falling or anger at wading through the slush.
Everything in winter must be earned. Maybe that’s why I tend to fall in love a little more in the winter, accepting the warmth from the people around me that is fiercely absent from the background of the days and nights. I’m more receptive to kindhearted gestures and even occasionally fall victim to the shine of false rubies. Winter is about armor and arsenal and I’ve been taking stock.
Overwhelmed and over-committed is the name of the game during the holiday season. It comes racing in like a herd of wildebeests and often leaves me feeling like the little calf struggling to catch up, knowing that the lions are waiting. Because of this, I’ve always categorized baking for the holidays as a task for women who’ve traded in their hot tickets and ambition for mom jeans, curlers and pearls. Quite the unfair assessment, I must say. Especially because there is so much joy that goes into the details. Baking is a personal art form, a skill to be honed and a cathartic way to focus inward, while sharing the spoils with the people around you. It’s not the self-sacrificing ode to merriment fraught with fussing and wrapping that I had always imagined it to be.
This year, I decided to embrace the holiday baking. The complex flavors in this cake, imbued with the essence of the season, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, fresh ginger, forced me to slow down and savor the moment, my blessings and the joy in this time of year. Eating it forced me to move just a little more slowly, appreciating the flavor at the pace of the spilling of the viscous, dark molasses that formed the cake. Wishing you all good moments for the season, an armor not too thick to be penetrated, but thick enough to keep you safe and warm. And a wonderful gingerbread cake!
Gingerbread Cake- adapted from lovely Laura’s Gingerbread Cake over at her beautiful blog, The Seasoned Traveler
- 1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- 3 tbs. freshly grated ginger (in a pinch, ground ginger is fine)
- 1 tbs. ground cinnamon
- 1 dash each: ground nutmeg, ground cloves, ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 4 tbs. unsalted butter (3 oz) at room temperature (or else it wont blend well)
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
- 1/2 cup warm water or for a mocha taste, use 1/2 brewed coffee (a…mazing)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking dish and dust with flour. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and salt until well blended. Set aside. In another bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, until blended. Continue beating and slowly add the molasses. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the egg mixture and stir until incorporated. Add the water or coffee and stir until blended.
Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until the gingerbread is slightly puffed and a toothpick or fork inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature, with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.