“How can we ever possibly know the “realms” we live in if we don’t test the boundaries? If we don’t push the limits just a bit to see if the walls that surround us are perceived or true to form? To see what the heart, the mind, the body can withstand? Running that extra mile, or playing with a new recipe – all test “runs.” More often than not, I find a surprise around the bend when I set out on an everyday adventure of this sort, and I am rarely disappointed — this IS the proverbial “glass half-full.”
Because there will be struggle, and from that there will be beauty, and we’ll find both as they exist within us and the matter at hand. And through it all we see who we really are. And then we go deeper.
There is a Sanskrit meditation – “Ham Sa” or Who am I? In yogic tradition, the response to this question has only one answer: So’ham’- in Sanskrit; ‘I am that.’ You are that, whatever you see.
If you see struggle, you are struggle. If you see ease, you are ease. If you see strength. If you see grace. You are them.”
I wrote those words – about a training for an ultra marathon with Derek, and about developing this Root Beer Cake recipe – nearly 6 years ago. A regular little soothsayer. Reading through them now, I’m transported back to a surreal place in life that felt very large, and very significant then…but feels like just a moment of awakening now. I’m pretty sure I said “well fuck” a lot less regularly then. I was more naïvely zen. And so very much on the brink of….everything. I don’t think that others would recognize that girl as me, but I certainly would; because, of course, she’s the seed of Now Me.
I wonder what Past Self would say if she knew I’d go back and rewrite the recipe and the story on a plane bound for Africa to race Cape Epic. Would she be horrified that I chose to ditch the “very-important-and-pivotal-story-of-an-everyday-trail-run?” Did she know that she carried enough curiosity sign right up for a grueling 8-day stage race, to sleep in tented desert camps and avoid highly venomous snakes all the way? Did she think this shit was funny? Attractive? Alluring, even? She must have. Something inside her was looking then, because I have become those things now.
“My legs are strong, my body able, my soul excited to splash through the forest. I’m pleased with the way this upcoming race is shaking out and I’m really excited to see what it feels like to run this crazy undertaking. I’m pleased to see that, after months of visualization, I am that. I am that chick that will finish strong, healthy.” I wrote.
I was so excitable. So impressed that we have the power to be whatever we want, whoever we want, whatever we envision for ourselves. Sometimes, now, this knowledge makes me a bit jaded because I see – in so many cases – this tremendous power being squandered. It was liberating then, like a door opening. It’s liberating now, only it’s also frustrating to look around and see that sometimes there are choices we wish we hadn’t made; we have the power to feel the right path, to visualize the things we want most in the world. But fear gets in the way of actualizing them. Despite this naysaying, at the end of the day, I’m still endlessly impressed with what we’re able to endure and achieve as human beings; what our bodies can conquer, what our minds can overcome. And I’m inspired by the idea that it’s never too late to become what we see, what we want. And in that way, the animated girl eager to find the limits of her world from back then is still very alive and well in me.
It’s not that things don’t change. They do change. Things are always changing, always building on the foundations we’re laying. The tricky thing to know is what sort of foundation you’re putting down. If it’s crooked, if its level, if its sturdy, genuine, enduring. No matter how strong I felt those 6 years ago, racing that little trail race, I could never have known how truly good the work I was putting in then was. It was work good enough to empower me now. Good enough to inspire me to be the sort of person that signs up for the uncomfortable so that she can relish the comfortable.
In the same way, I never could have known that the scrawl of a recipe, combining my mothers’ formulas with my own, was a keeper. This past week I pulled from deep within the archives of my recipe notes and smiled because it has survived all the other cakes that have come after it. It was a late night and I was looking for something soothing to do, once the craziness of preparing to pack was winding down. Six years ago, baking this cake was about exploration and experimentation. Now, as I baked away listening to classic hip hop, there was nothing but comfort around this cake; it’s as fudge-y, ever-so-subtly root beer laced, and just as worthy of hunky slices and vanilla bean ice cream on Sunday afternoons as I recall it to be. And there you have it; thank you, innocent and aware Past Self, for laying the path. For having the vision. For making it happen. Thanks for seeing that life is – at once – a struggle, and a cake.
A couple of cake notes: this one is ridiculously easy to bake, and while the recipe is written for a stand mixer, it doesn’t require one (you could use a couple of big mixing bowls and a great folding technique instead!) You need to make a root beer syrup for this cake and it is truly important that you let it cool amply before adding the eggs….or else you’ll cook the eggs, the cake won’t rise, and you won’t be pleased with your present self!
- 2 cups small-batch root beer (like Virgil's or Oskar Blues)
- 1 cup carob powder
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 c dark muscovado sugar
- 1/2 c light brown sugar
- 2 cups unbleached white flour
- 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp fine grain sea salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 oz dark chocolate
- 4 oz unsalted butter
- 1 tsp fine grain sea salt
- 1/4 c root beer, small batch preferred
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 2 1/2 c confectioner’s sugar
- Preheat the oven to 325F degrees. Spray or butter and flour your bundt pan. (Be careful! Too much flour and it will “coat” your cake!)
- In a small saucepan, over med/high heat, warm the root beer, carob powder and butter. When the butter is melted, add the sugars and bring to a gentle simmer, allowing the sugars to dissolve completely. This will take a few minutes and you'll know they've dissolved when a spatula dipped in the mixture comes out smooth, glossy, and slightly thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. (This is important - you don't want to cook the eggs!)
- In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and salt until completely combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs gently.
- Now, dip your clean pinky into the root beer mixture. When the carob/root beer mixture is about body temperature (but still liquid) whisk it into the stand mixer bowl containing the eggs, combining completely. Turn the stand mixer on a low speed and add to the flour mixture in stages, combining completely between additions. You want to mix the cake on low speed until the batter is well mixed and there aren't any dry patches, but not a moment more.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a skewer stuck into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.
- In a small saucepan over med/high heat, warm the chocolate, butter, salt, and root beer. When the butter is melted completely, remove from heat and stir in the sugars and cocoa powder until completely combined, and the frosting is glossy and smooth.
- Place the cake on top of a cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Then, gently pour the frosting over the cake, coating completely. If you miss a spot, you can lift the rack up gently and scrape up the frosting that has over flowed into the baking sheet and re-pour it over the cake. Serve and enjoy! Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week!