Mocha mousse cake

Mocha mousse cake

Mocha mousse cake

I was sewing some felt owls the other month, as one does. The seams flying through the machine, somewhat sloppy and uneven, brought to mind a phrase my mother uses. “Loving hands at home.” The phrase, taken as a whole, is an adjective, and it describes work that is not technically perfect, but that is made with love. It’s such a nice expression, particularly if used by a mother, because a mother’s hands can be so magically comforting. When my boys were little I could soothe an achy belly with a tummy rub, and Malcolm still asks me to put cool hands on his forehead when he’s feverish. The exact shape and size of your mother’s hand seems to be imprinted in the memory of your own hand. My mother’s hands are calloused from cello-playing, but they’re always very soft and warm. I have a vivid memory of a train ride to Washington DC. I must have been in middle school. It was just after Christmas, and the train was very cold, but we all sat close together in the cramped compartment two facing seats make. My mother’s hand rested on my knee for some time, and the warmth of it felt good. When she took her hand away, it was as if the whole train became a little colder – not just the place where her hand had been, but every place.

I’m grateful to have grown up in a home that celebrated a loving-hands-at-home aesthetic. If the expression is taken not as an absolution of mediocrity or a justification for lackluster effort, but as an appreciation of the imperfections that make something unique, it becomes very freeing. I find that I’m raising my own boys this way. We color outside the lines. Sometimes, we don’t even make lines first! We find more beauty in lack of symmetry, in less-than-clean lines. An irregularity in fabric or wood is not a flaw but an opportunity to make something distinctly lovely. By hand, with affection for the work and the object that it produces, like true amateurs. I believe this is what they now call “artisanal.”

What’s this? A chocolate cake recipe in January! Nobody wants to see that! We all want light and healthy, dammit. Well, I’m a rebel, so here it is: four layers of dense, dark chocolatey, cinnamony cake with 3 layers of light mocha-cinnamon mousse, with the whole being topped by melted bittersweet chocolate. Actually, I made this cake for my mom’s birthday back in November, but what with one thing and another, I haven’t gotten around to telling you about it yet. My mom likes not-too-sweet things, she likes dark chocolate, and she used to eat these candies called “coffee nips,” which came in a yellow and brown box. I combined these ideas to make this cake, which is dark and rich, but not too sweet. She said it was the best birthday cake she’d ever had!! Of course, it might have been a cake that only a mother could love.

Here’s Peter Tosh with Equal Rights, because my mother likes it a lot. And so do I.

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