I have met a hundred people this week and cannot remember anyone’s name. I gave thirty-eight cents to a homeless man and didn’t look him in the eyes. I think I am coming down with a cold, my body is achy. I slept for fourteen hours and made biscuits in a skillet my sister got me for Christmas. I haven’t kissed anyone in ten days.
This week has been distinctively marked for me. One night, I had decaf coffee for dinner. Another, a bowl of white rice. My body doesn’t need sustenance the way it used to. Instead, I listen to the small taptaptap’s of the dog in the apartment next to mine and that is enough for the night. I have nightmares about bugs crawling in my mouth and on my skin and I take two showers a day, because I do not pay for water at my new place. I am always thirsty and I cried reading an old poem I wrote to a boy once. I notice my oven is gas range and I can smell it strongly when I first preheat it. I am scared of the ice on the roads, of cancer, of losing the last vestiges of my good, good life that I had before I decided to pursue independence.
This week was my first week of my new job as an administrative manager for a hotel down in San Antonio. Meeting upon meeting, I was told how I can improve the site, how many granola bars we need to order, how to increase revenue and profits for in the next quarter. I saw the words, the business idioms, but they are hollow. In the back of my head, i think about how all I want to do is write, bake, sleep. When I get home, I look at the wilting flowers that stood erect a day before, and I trim them to be used later for decoration somewhere else. Nothing can be wasted right now, everything preserved, so I don’t have a reason to leave the house. Eggs used for meringues will make a custard with the yolks. Scrambled eggs, give the embryos to the stray dog that scratches at houses in search of leftovers. I used old parchment paper as scratch paper, a quick drawing I did of a logo I want for packaging. I used some lip balm on my cold and dry hands. It’s been raining here, cold at nights. The space heater next to my bed runs and squeaks all night. I am just not used to this sort of life yet.
But I have time to think now, to bake and to write. I find inspiration in those half-dead and cut flowers. They were beautiful in their youth and I wanted to lay them on a pillow of buttercream. I put them on a vanilla cake, poked their stems into the meringue, and served them to my employees in an effort to show I cared. When I came home, the flowers had wilted, and my record player was still spinning from when I forgot to flip it over that morning. Noiselessly, it ran and I laid down on my bed, mouthing the words to a song that wasn’t playing. It rained that night and in the morning there was ice, but at least I made something beautiful. I have time for beauty now.
Vanilla Cake with Italian Meringue Buttercream
For the cake: Use Molly Yeh’s Vanilla Cake recipe to make a two layer 8″ cake
For the Italian Meringue Icing:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/8 cup water
- 3 egg whites, room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/8 cup sugar
- 1 cup butter, room temperature and cut into tablespoons
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (alternatively, use any other extracts, floral essences, or zests –or coffee!–that you may want to try. I just went with the basics here)
- In a mixer (i suggest stand mixer here, but that is not to say a hand mixer would not work), beat eggs with sugar until stiff peaks begin to form and the white triple or quadruple in volume.
- Add vinegar to stabilize the meringue. Add the vanilla.
- Continue to beat. Set aside while you work on the simple syrup
- For the simple syrup necessary to cook the egg whites and create the meringue, Place 1/2 cup sugar and water into small saucepan and put on medium-high heat. Be mindful that it does not start to burn, due to the small surface area of so little sugar and water
- When the temperature on an instant read thermometer reaches 238 degrees Fahrenheit (or, if it becomes really tacky as it bubbles, or if you do the water drop test), the syrup is ready
- Turn the mixer back on and slowly drizzle in the syrup, making sure to take your time. Keep beating the mixture for a few minutes until it has cooled down (if you add the butter too soon after the hot simple syrup, you risk the butter just melting and clotting and your meringue to be oily)
- Once the mixture is cool enough to touch (you can tell by touching the bowl), start adding the butter one tablespoon at a time. Have the mixer on and make sure the last tablespoon is full incorporated before adding a new one. It may start to curdle and separate as you add them, but it will reconstitute once it works into an emulsified state
- When the last tablespoon of butter goes in, mix to incorporate and you should have a beautiful, not-too-sweet and silky buttercream that is elegant and simplistic.
- Assembly: As Molly’s cakes cool, put on on the plate, add a layer of buttercream, put other cake on top. Slather cake in buttercream, decorate, enjoy!