cardamom brown sugar cake with strawberries and honeyed cream

(I have run out of clever ways to title cakes. I figure easiest is to list out every ingredient without use of punctuation and hope for the best.)

So, I am officially a uni graduate. Well, maybe not officially. There is still the diploma ceremony to be had; all tradition, all that pomp-and-circumstance silliness. I am supposed to graduate in a garden, once the main, 5000+ person ceremony is (finally) over. I also think it is going to rain next weekend. This will be exciting, in any case. I may fall to the floor weeping if it rains.

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My days post-finals have been spent working full time and searching for full-text PDFs of modern fiction novels to read during lulls in scanning. The big project I’ve been tasked for my last few weeks at Digitization Services is a 1500-page stack of handwritten letters and manuscripts by Walt Whitman. You would think it would be exciting to scan things that Walt Whitman actually touched with his hand. I mean, I like Leaves of Grass (whose pages I begin to digitize tomorrow) as much as the next fan of pseudo Romantic early 19th century literature with overtly sexual undertones. But Walt was a real jackass. Flaunting his successes in letters addressed to “my darling adoring fan”, lamenting the trivialities and dullness of life in 1850 America, and similar nonsense. Which, in retrospect, I suppose is unsurprising. But it makes the entire ordeal rather dull.

In short, it does very little to keep me from the edge of panic that seems deep-seated in 80% of uni graduates. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset that it’s over. Uni was fun, but it wasn’t perfect. Dear god, but how imperfect it was. I’ve always found myself quite disillusioned by the entire academic system anyway, for reasons that could fill the pages of a book of Dostoevskian proportions. All those people who spent my teens telling me that uni would be the best four years of my life? Um, no thanks. And in any case, it seems odd to quantify years in such a superficial way. Almost equating the entire undergraduate experience to a Jay Gatsby orgy; vibrant for a summer, only to be followed by bleak grayness, alcoholism, and years of therapy.

(I also very recently watched the new Gatsby film, which, despite scathing reviews, I found perfectly in-keeping with the superficiality of the novel. Enjoyable, gorgeous, a perfectly anachronistic soundtrack. And I quickly realized that if I could, I would spend every waking moment of my life in a three piece suit and Oxfords.)

There was also a horse race sometime in between, which basically consisted of a Tommy Hilfiger magazine advert come to life with the accompaniment of high quantities of liquor. Very typical of my uni.

There was also a horse race sometime in between, which basically consisted of a Tommy Hilfiger magazine advert come to life with the accompaniment of high quantities of liquor. Very typical of my uni.

But, it was fun. Met some amazing people, received some of the best advice of my life from some incredible professors, walked away with some unforgettable memories. There will, I’m sure, be a much more sentimental post to come once the cap and gown have been worn, but for now, I’m ready to be done, I think. A 60-page thesis built upon three semesters’ worth of research will do that to you. I’m ready for zero obligations for a short while, before a trip abroad for a few weeks and cover letters and grad school applications to look forward to in the fall. Unemployment, rent, loans, internships, uncertainty. Cue panic.

Now, I have a story to tell. It takes place on May 10, in a nondescript theater in east-cupcake-nowhere Virginia, The Great Gatsby playing vibrantly on the big screen. There’s a particular moment in the film — a stunning montage of Daisy and Gatsby twirling down spiral staircases with Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful as a melancholy backdrop. I sit there, watching, colors reflected in my eyes like twinkling stars. And then, I feel my throat close, tighten, and it’s almost painful. My eyes burn. I take my left wrist in my right hand and press down sharply, hoping to use the pressure to distract me from the bizarre mental breakdown fast-approaching. Grab my water bottle and take a gulp, hoping the liquid will quench the sudden dryness in my mouth.

It wasn’t a particularly moving scene, by any means. About as beautiful as the rest of the film up to that point, showcasing two of literature’s most depthless characters.

But…to my left, in the theater, there sat an elderly couple. The gentleman had his arm around his wife’s slight shoulders. Their heads were almost touching. They were leaning against each other. Watching it with a sort of awe, and…sadness. And it hit me, then.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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There sat the elderly couple. They must have been in their…70s? 80s? If I had to guess. FSF wrote Gatsby in 1925. Seventy to 80 years back…putting the couple in the 40s, at the very least. Gatsby for them would have been a modern piece, much like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for me now. They’d have read it in school, I imagine, just as we did many years ago. Maybe they loved it, maybe it was a favorite book (like Yusra’s), maybe they didn’t care much for it at all and it was just another assignment to get through (like me). Maybe it lay forgotten for a few years. Decades. And all of a sudden, it’s 2013, and childhood is brought to life on a screen, in a form that, back then, would have been unimaginable.

And I, at 21, sitting there in the theater, with them. Sharing an experience about an experience we would never share. I couldn’t relate to that time. The 20s, New York. A world of opulence, grandeur. A different world. But maybe it was their world. Now, 2013. If I’m stuck in a Jay Gatsby orgy in New York, then that couple’s already lived the despondences of the real world and moved to the Midwest. If these were the best four years of my life, then I’m all but doomed to decades of alcohol addiction, depression, and disappointment.

So what is there to look forward to?

Beauties I could never imagine. Change. Life.

This couple, readers of Gatsby, grew up in a moving world, one that returned a childhood in vibrant brilliance. I wonder if, when they read it as kids, they would have thought it would come back to them in such a way. In any way at all.

Unemployment, rent, grad school applications. Terrifying now, but in 80 years I’ll be sitting in a cinema, watching something I never imagined I’d see. Maybe that’s what all this is for. Maybe, it’s really all about waiting to experience the things you don’t know are coming.

So, for now, I’ll choose not to worry. For now, I’ll look forward to a week in Charleston, Stephen Colbert (our valediction speaker — my uni isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly cooler than yours), that silly old pomp-and-circumstance, well-wishes and bittersweet goodbyes. For now, I’ll take a slice of cake — a mother’s day treat for a woman who’s living proof that there is joy beyond the trepidations — and toast all the wonders and excitements of days to come.

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Cardamom and Brown Sugar Cake
Adapted from Adventures in Cooking
Yields one 2-layer 8-inch cake or one 3-layer 6-inch cake

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup [2 sticks] butter, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour cake pans and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cardamom, baking powder, and salt until blended. In a separate small bowl, combine milk and vanilla. Set both aside.

In a mixing bowl fitted with paddle attachment, cream sugars and butter on medium speed until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce mixer speed and alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour.

Divide batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cakes. Allow layers to cool completely.

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Honeyed Cream
Yields 2 1/2 cups of frosting

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tbsps honey
  • 2 tbsps confectioner’s sugar

Method:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Use a stand mixer to whip the hell out of it until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency.

Cake Assembly:

To assemble cake, place one cake layer, flat side up, on a prepare serving plate. Frost with a good amount of honeyed cream. If desired, evenly place sliced strawberries over the cream. Place second cake layer on top of the first. Frost and layer with strawberries. Place final layer on top. Frost the entire cake with the remaining honeyed cream. Garnish with sliced strawberries. Refrigerate until serving.

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