Alright, I'm back. I took the summer off for a whole variety of reasons, some of them good, some of them dumb. Here's what happened while I was away:
I quit my job.
We visited Isle of Mull with friends who came to Scotland from Atlanta.
I started a new job 2 days later.
We spent a weekend in Amsterdam, where Judson had a conference.
I surprised Judson with a week-long trip to Tokyo for his birthday.
We went to Mont Saint-Michel, France, for a long weekend.
The Edinburgh Festival kicked off, and with it went all my evenings, weekends, and yes, even mornings.
We visited Athens for a few days with two friends over from the US.
One of my closest friends visited Edinburgh and then she and I headed to Paris for a few days to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the day we moved there when we were at university.
I shall cover all of these things in turn, but first, the thing that most affects my day-to-day life and the biggest reason I inadvertently took the summer off. You might know we moved to Scotland three years ago so that I could get my master's degree in history of art from the University of Edinburgh. I did that, then got a job at a marketing agency doing... basically the same thing I did before I got my master's degree. It was fine, but I was still hoping to work more in the field I had gone back to school for, so I took the initiative and put in my notice at work back in April. Within a week, I had a job offer at a fine art auction house here in Edinburgh, working on their marketing and events, and within a month, I had started working in my new position... less than a block from my old office.
It's been an incredible experience so far-- I've learned more about art and auctioneering than I thought I would, I've gotten to try on giant diamond rings, handle beautiful paintings by Bellany, Fergusson, and others, and seen more weird taxidermy than you can shake a stick at. (Favourite so far: a stuffed frog posed as though he were jumping, wearing a top hat and tuxedo coat). I've got a lot more to go before I'm happy with myself, but for entering a brand-new industry, it's not too shabby for 3 ½ months in.
It's great getting to work for a company I believe in, doing work I enjoy, and interacting with beautiful objects day in and day out-- so while it's still stressful, and I still have my off days, I wouldn't trade it for the world... Except for the fact that somehow everyone thinks I am the go-to person for any and all IT issues that come up in the building. ME! If you've ever met me, you know that A) I still don't know how to work the TV that Judson and I have had since we got married, B) I only sync my iPhone about once every six months because I'm always afraid I'll erase something, and C) I don't really even understand how the internet works. Inevitably, trusting me as an IT resource has ended badly, but despite the fact that it's not in my job description, people keep coming to me with questions. All this means is that I average one open ticket a day with our external IT management company, who now know me by heart whenever I call. I guess the bar for tech knowledge is just low in my office.
So I needed a few months off after starting the new gig-- the first few weeks were so mentally exhausting that it was all I could do to make it through the day, then by the time I got home, I was ready to go to bed at 7pm. There wasn't time for cooking, much less for photographing, writing, typing up a recipe and getting it all online, so the hiatus commenced and continued for much longer than I wanted it to. The truth is, once you stop, it's hard to start back up again. Not because I didn't want to, and certainly not because I had nothing to say, but the mental barrier of 'but I don't even remember how to do it anymore!' can really mess up your mind. I spent the summer reading instead, and polished off so many great books I had to start a GoodReads account to keep track of them all.
So this is a recipe to make on a weekend. It's a little bit time consuming, and because of the nature of icing, you're going to make a mess. But it's so worth it. I made it with special imported chocolate chips sent to me by a dear friend-- a baker who knows I can't get them here, so she sends me bags of chocolate chips a few times a year. This cake looks fine, but it isn't really a showstopper in terms of it's looks-- it's not the kind of thing you want to take to a party, but it is the kind of thing you want to make if you have houseguests coming over, or a stressful week ahead when you know you're going to want a treat by the time the evening rolls around. It's got a perfect velvet texture, and the dense chocolate frosting is made with so much actual chocolate that it firms up to a perfect shell around the incredibly soft, moist cake. But just before all that soft, dense texture gets to be too cloying, the crunchy nut filling breaks it up and adds the perfect counterbalance to the frosting. It's rich, delicious, and a perfect recipe to welcome fall.
Before I took my hiatus, I was making a chocolate cake every month. Consider this your first post-hiatus cake-- more still to come!
4 spoons out of five. It's delicious, but I'm knocking off a spoon because unless you work really fast when this comes out of the oven, it's difficult to get out of the pan and the frosting thickens so quickly that I had to frost it while it was still over the double-boiler.
One year ago: Zucchini Nut Bread (Courgette Walnut Tea Cake)
'Can-Do' Carnival Cake
Heat oven to 175C/350F.
Grease and flour well 2 round cake pans (8” or 9”).
Measure all cake ingredients into large mixing bowl, blend 15-20 seconds on low, scraping bowl constantly.
Beat 1 ½ to 2 minutes on medium, scraping bowl occasionally.
Pour into prepared pans.
Bake 30-35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in middle comes out fairly clean (a little chocolate on it is fine).
IMMEDIATELY turn cakes out onto a cooling rack (otherwise chocolate chips will set and cement them into the pans forever).
Cool while you prepare filling and frosting.
In saucepan, mix sugar and flour, then stir in milk.
Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.
Boil and stir 3 minutes.
Remove from heat.
Stir in butter, nuts, and vanilla.
Allow to cool thoroughly before spreading between cake layers.
Spread filling between layers of cake, then stack layers.
Combine chocolate and shortening or butter.
Melt in a double-boiler over hot water.
Remove from heat.
Stir in vanilla and salt.
Pour into mixing bowl.
eat in sugar alternately with milk until frosting is fluffy and thick.
2 c flour
1 c dark brown sugar
½ c sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
½ c shortening (or Stork, if you're in the UK)
1 ¼ c milk
1 ½ tsp vanilla
½ c semi-sweet chocolate chips*
¼ c brown sugar
2 tbsp flour
½ c milk
2 tbsp butter
½ c pecans, chopped
2 tsp vanilla
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate**
1 tbsp shortening, Stork, or butter
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
1 ¼ c powdered sugar, sifted
3 tbsp milk
*These were supposed to be finely chopped, but I literally didn't notice that until just now, so mine were whole and
I daresay the recipe was better for it.
**I didn't want to waste my chocolate chips on this, since it
just gets melted, so I used baking chocolate. If you live in
the land of chocolate chips, feel free to use those instead.