I turned 30 this last weekend. It was a birthday that both crept up and one I had been thinking about for a while. When I was a teenager, I imagined I’d have my career and life 100 percent sorted by now, already fabulous at or well on my way to being a professor/dean/mom/farm wife/NGO executive/etc.
Hah. The last decade has taught me life doesn’t work so linearly. I’m only just beginning to give myself the opportunity to reach for the career I think will fulfill me–the one that doesn’t have more emphasis on the glamorous or romantic title or idea of it but will actually make me feel full in the daily in and out. And I know now I may well pivot in process. I’m learning we change our minds as time goes on.
I’ve also learned that second, third, fourth, and more tries are often necessary to get something right. For instance, and definitely on the lighter side, I made myself birthday cake. I do almost every year as I love the opportunity to experiment with exactly the flavors of cake I want to enjoy, but I also don’t care for cake or sweets often. Last year I made myself a cardamom vanilla cake with cashew cream frosting. I know because the (failed) recipe was sitting among my draft blog posts for the whole year. This year, I was torn between re-experimenting with that flavor combination and making my absolute favorite, carrot cake. I chose the cardamom vanilla. I even nerded out completely and experimented with three different frostings ranging the full spectrum from all natural/nutritious ingredients to completely not. I generally don’t even like frosting.
The finished cake was gorgeous.
Even if one finger lick of the frosting gave me an immediate sugar rush.
It was pretty, rustic, and exactly the effect I was going for.
Looks can be deceiving.
I’ve learned that multiples of times over the past decade as well.
The vanilla cardamom was no good. Too dry even on the second attempt and following ratios I know should have worked. The cardamom’s flavor was barely apparent.
Now over any desire to eat cake but with a fridge full of two more (much less sweet) frostings, I found myself with the overwhelming desire to go bake that carrot cake. I adapted this old favorite recipe.
It looked humble.
It tasted delicious.
I found myself eating much more than I needed* and not caring.
A light lesson for sure, but somehow it was fitting that my grand plans for a 30th birthday cake that had more outward beauty than actual enjoyable substance failed completely while the humble, comforting old favorite won out the day.
The same could be said for the day itself as I had visions of a big party or grand adventure to bring in the new decade, and ultimately decided to do exactly what I wanted, i.e. went out to a quiet dinner with William at a very Eugene restaurant, chose a table in the back corner that was a bit like we were eating in a cozy closet/backstage, enjoyed a meal that was basically a tasty plate of spinach, and then wandered home to watch an also very Eugene movie. And then I woke up the next day, my actual birthday, stayed home, baked cake, read, made a nice dinner but nothing more special than normal, and generally just relaxed.
It was the best.
*Also, no one really needs cake.
But sometimes the process–of failing, of trying again, of eventually succeeding, and of getting to share the experience and result with loved ones, whether it’s baking and eating cake or something much more challenging and life changing–is simply good for the soul.
I’m learning that too.
The Best Carrot Cake (gluten-free + vegan optional)
makes two 6-inch layers 1/2 cup raisins, soaked in warm water or black tea 1 cup whole-grain gluten free flour mix, below (or 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour) 1 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. baking soda 1/2 tsp. salt 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (omit if not making gluten-free) 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/4 plus 2 Tbs. canola oil 6 Tbs. aquafaba, 2 Tbs. ground flax + 6 Tbs. water, or 2 eggs 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups finely grated carrots (about 2 large) cream cheese frosting:
4 oz. vegan (or regular) cream cheese
3 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
3 Tbs. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease, flour, and then line cake pans with parchment paper.
- Soak the raisins in a small dish of warm water or black tea.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, xanthan gum, cinnamon, and cardamom together in a medium bowl.
- Whisk the brown sugar and oil together in a large bowl. Then add the aquafaba, flax mixture, or eggs; every method works well so use whatever you prefer. Then stir in the applesauce, vanilla, and flour mixture.
- Drain the raisins from their liquid, and then fold them and the carrots into the mixture until combined. Divide the batter amongst the two prepared cake pans, and then gently lift and drop each filled pan on the counter to remove air bubbles. This will allow for more even baking and a flatter cake top. Bake until the layers are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and cool about 10 minutes before removing from the pans. Then set them aside on a rack to cool completely.
- For the frosting: Blend the cream cheese and coconut oil together in a food processor. Then add in the vanilla and maple syrup. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set up before icing the cake.
- Sift all the flours together. Use 1 cup for this recipe and save the remaining for other uses.
If you’ve read this far, you’re in for a treat. Birthday playlist below!