Wednesday, September 21, 2011

good riddance

Another month, another friend leaving New York. Over the past few years, we’ve watched our friends take off in different directions – Vermont, Washington D.C., Austin, San Francisco, Anchorage(!) – for new jobs, homes, cheaper rent and a different sort of life. Living in New York is hard. It’s expensive and can wear you down, and for those reasons and others, our circle of friends is getting smaller.

One key person in that circle is E, who’s off to Chicago, God knows why. I mean, Chicago? (Actually, I was just in Chicago and it’s a lovely city.) E is what I like to call a “connector.” Everyone has a friend like him – someone who runs the fantasy football league, flirts shamelessly, throws good parties and seems to be friends with everyone. The first time I met E, we found ourselves getting very, very drunk in the company of several nondrinkers. Things got totally out of control when he offered me a tall glass of "water," also known as vodka. I adored him immediately.

If you knew E—charming, incorrigible, wonderfully profane, deeply kind—you’d understand why everyone else loves him too. And that’s why I can bake him a cake that reads “Good Riddance.” This is a guy who regularly asks me when I am leaving Dan. Our friendship's like that.

I’ve been thinking about friendship a lot lately. I’m at that point in life where people start to value other things more than friends. They’re focused on work, or starting a family, or buying a house. They disappear into relationships. They substitute Facebook for actual friendships. Or sometimes friendships blossom, full of promise, and then inexplicably fade away for no apparent reason.

Solid, stick-by-your-side friends are few and far between, and when those people move away, it’s a true loss. E’s departure is an important one — I wonder if I will see half of the friends we share now that he won’t be around to rally everyone or play host in his big apartment.

A surprising thing about E is that he’s a very good cook. Single guys don’t tend to know their way around a kitchen, or even care. But E’s a master of the Crock Pot and enjoys feeding his friends and family from time to time. And getting them very drunk. I still think about a lamb ragu he made for us one Christmas Eve.

I’ll miss his parties and potlucks. I’ll miss him eating dinner on our living room sofa, getting louder and louder as the night goes on. (Sorry, neighbors.) I’ll miss his constant propositions and tasteless jokes. But mostly I’ll miss him. Bon voyage, E.

Hershey’s Easy Chocolate Layer Cake

This is the best basic, foolproof chocolate cake for not-so-hot bakers like myself. It's often listen on the back of the Hershey's cocoa box, but you can find it here. Don’t be scared by the vinegar in the recipe—it magically interacts with the baking soda to create the perfect moist crumb, leaving no vinegar aftertaste whatsoever.
(Makes one 9 ½- by 13-inch sheet cake, or one 9-inch round layer cake)

8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups water
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 tsp. vanilla extract (or dark rum)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 ½- by 13-inch baking pan (or two 9-inch round baking pans lined with parchment). Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler or medium-sized bowl set over a small pot of simmering water. (Or place the chocolate in small microwave-safe bowl and heat on medium for about 1 minute, until the chocolate is melted.) Stir together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add the melted chocolate, water, oil, vinegar and vanilla (or rum). Stir until well blended. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely before removing the cakes from the pans and/or frosting.

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

Via Smitten Kitchen, adapted from The Dessert Bible.
This frosting provides a nice sour counterpoint to the sweetness of chocolate cake. And because it’s made without butter (or a mixer!) it’s so fast to whip up. I cut the recipe in half and it was just enough frosting (about 2 ½ cups) for a sheet cake. For a layer cake, make the recipe as written below.
(Makes 5 cups)

15 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 tsp. instant espresso powder
2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 cup light corn syrup (or more, if needed)
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine the chocolate and espresso powder, chocolate in a double-boiler or medium-sized bowl set over a small pot of simmering water. (Or place the chocolate in small microwave-safe bowl and heat on medium for about 1 minute, until the chocolate is melted.) Remove from the heat and let chocolate cool to room temperature.

Whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the corn syrup and vanilla extract until combined. Add the chocolate slowly and stir until the mixture is combined and smooth. Taste for sweetness, and if needed, add additional corn syrup in one tablespoon increments. (I found ¼ cup to be fine.) Let the frosting cool in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, until the frosting is thick enough to spread.


dana said...

so sorry that you're losing "E" in an everyday way. Given the way you've described him and your obvious affection I suspect you'll keep him as a friend. here's some good news, I'm at a very different point in my life (I suspect much older) and I have come to value my friends more (and have acquired the skills to juggle 12,000 things as you certainly can already do) and more. We've made 3 big moves to very different, in every way, parts of the country and have left but retained friends in each. They've moved around and so we're everywhere and it takes time, money, and effort to keep all of those friendships vital. I think I'm pretty good at it and it's one of the best way to spend resources. I'll have most of these people in my life forever and that's a wonderful thing.

Lisa said...

Thanks for your sweet comment, Dana. I agree that seeing friends and family is always worth the time and money. Wish I had more of both!

Daniel said...

Seeing friends is always worth the money, so E, anytime you want to pay for us to come to Chicago, we'll be there, buddy.

Valerie said...

Love your cake! Too funny!!

Anne said...

Incorrigible, indeed - as usual, Lisa, you have captured quite perfectly something as elusive as our E! But I'm so glad it's him moving and not you because that cake was fantastic! ;)

Anonymous said...

I miss you so much, even though I'm in Anchoarge.

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