I will look at you with the focus I gave to my birthday candles

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Guess who’s back? But also about to leave again? But also perhaps, in a way, never really left at all? But perhaps, in a more literal way, literally did leave? Also by “back” I mean, back in the city of Wellington? The answer to all these questions – to any question ever, in fact – is me. Like a beloved TV character who moved away because in real life they started to get movie roles but is contractually obliged to make occasional appearances, I’ve returned for a big party, in this case my dear friend Kate’s Russian Doll-themed 36th birthday. The thing about leaving your full time bartending job to move far far away to a rural village is that you still end up seeing your friends roughly the same amount anyway, but this visit did feel especially special since it has been a relatively long time since we’ve all been in the same area code and I’ve been missing them so much it sometimes feels like my heart is trying to relocate under badly-managed witness protection to my elbows, or something.

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Though I lack initiative, I do love being useful – it’s a real rare treat for me – so I jumped at the chance to help out by making a birthday cake. As you can see, the cake is decorated very specifically, that’s because I was emulating the cake that was actually visible in Russian Doll, (which is, to clarify, an incredible TV show on Netflix that you should absolutely watch.) This cake is quite similar to the one I made for the eleventh anniversary of hungryandfrozen.com last year, but I tweaked and simplified it a little and also – I’ll be honest with you – I just wanted something to blog about while I was down here in Wellington so am happy to opportunistically shoe-horn this in.

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Birthday Cake (aka, a simple vegan chocolate cake)

A recipe by myself.

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup good quality cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup soy milk or similar
  • 1/3 cup plain oil such as rice bran or sunflower
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or apple cider or malt vinegar, but balsamic goes beautifully with the chocolate)
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or similar eg maple syrup)
  • 1 cup cold water

Set your oven to 180C/350F. Use baking paper to line either one 22cm springform cake tin or two 20cm cake tins if you want layers. Or you can do what I did and make one big one, panic that it is overcooked, make a whole entire new one, realise the first one isn’t really overcooked, and then layer those up!

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Pour in the wet ingredients – I like to dig a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the liquids into it – and then whisk together to form a thick batter.

Spatula the mixture into your chosen cake tin or tins. Bake for about 25 minutes if you’re making two small cakes, or around 40 minutes for one big one. However, this will depend on your oven – you may need more or less time. When the top is firm and bouncy, the cake is ready to come out.

Allow the cake to cool thoroughly then ice however you wish. For the white buttercream I used four tablespoons of olive oil-based vegan butter, two cups of icing sugar, and the juice of half a lemon, plus a tiny splash of strawberry essence. It didn’t make the icing taste of strawberry, but balanced out the flavour of the vegan butter really well somehow. It was honestly just a guess on my part, but it worked. I then melted 200g dark chocolate to pour over the top, this does set very hard though so I had to use a skewer to make indentations for the birthday candles to sit in.

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This cake is extremely low-effort to make – a real one-bowl affair – and it gives you a big, friendly, old-fashioned chocolate cake, the sort that everyone is always pleased to have a slice of. It’s moist and springy and rich but not ridiculous, just an old-timey proper cake that you could give to your grandmother, in fact, I did make it for my own grandmother’s 85th birthday in July. The hardest part was writing “happy birthday” on the top, I kept making the letters all wonky and then taking them off and eating them and then writing them even more wonkily, growing ever more frantic and sugar-riddled, but as you can see from the photos, I…eventually stopped doing this. Fortunately the party was not only dark, it was illuminated by a series of different-coloured lights, as per the aesthetic of Russian Doll itself, which the cake – indeed, all of us – definitely benefited from.

It was a wonderful party, so so good to see so many people I care about in one place and to celebrate the sweet birthday baby Kate while having an opportunity to dress up fancy and glue great quantities of glitter to my eyes – not so much call for that in the rural countryside.

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Guess who else is back! Ghost the dog’s modelling career, that’s who!

It’s sweet and strange and kind of wildly over-stimulating being back in the city that I spent thirteen years in, not least because it’s really easy to drink like three pints of strong filter coffee without realising, and I know if I blink too hard I’ll suddenly be very far away from it again, and I haven’t achieved half the things I meant to, but I am so so happy I got to spend time with the people I love, and to feed them cake, and then to hear them say that the cake was really delicious. That’s what friendship is all about.

title from: Love Ridden, by Fiona Apple. She really knows how to make a song that crawls all over you.

music lately:

Mariners Apartment Complex by Lana Del Rey. Hold onto your tear ducts, there’s a new Lana album. This song is so, so lovely and late-sixties sorrowful, it has these melodic echoes of numerous songs – one that leapt to mind was Never Learn Not To Love, the Beach Boys song that was originally a Charles Manson song. “They mistook my kindness for weakness” is a great line, “I’m your man” is a great line.

Waves, Normani feat 6LACK. This is dreamy and swoony and aerated and lush but with this crunchy bassline holding it down. It feels reminiscent of Mine by Beyoncé in its silky spaciousness, so if you like that song you’ll probably enjoy this, if you don’t like that song then I don’t know what to say to you to be honest!

The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss), by Cher. The sheer ebullience coming off this song is unreal. My friend Charlotte showed me the 1990 film Mermaids, which is where this song is from, and even though I’d never seen the film before I also felt in my bones that I’d watched it once a week since I was five years old, you know those kind of instantly comforting films? I also recommend the original 1964 version of this song by Betty Everett, it’s gorgeous.

Next time: Not sure, but I’ll be back in the countryside, and I’m STILL looking for a good seitan recipe!

PS If you derive any particular enjoyment from my writing, there exists the shrewd business opportunity to support me directly on Patreon. A dollar a month gets you exclusive blog posts, two dollars a month gets you that plus further exclusive content and access to everything I’ve already written this year. It’s easy, and it’s extremely appreciated!

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