When I was younger, I considered museums and poetry to be in the same category: things I should appreciate but have to really fake enthusiasm for. One summer in high school, I spent a month living in Spain with a group of other American students. We lived for 2 weeks all together in a gorgeous rococo-style apartment just off the park near the Arc de Triomf, discovering the joys of Nutella-smeared bread and ogling cute European boys and giggling at the topless, gorgeous Spanish women who confidently sunbathed on every beach. You know, being seventeen.
I remember a weekend trip to Madrid to see the Rothko paintings at the Museo Reina Sofia. I couldn't understand the fuss: It was just stripes of colors on a canvas! I wasn't moved by it, not the way I was moved by the epic scenery of our weekend hike to the frost-bitten, rocky tips of the Pyrenees or diving into the warm surf on the scalloped beaches of Sitges. Nature is my museum. My church.
I hope I'll learn to appreciate art more and more as I get older. (Ditto with wine!) I hope that I can stand in the MoMA and nod thoughtfully and mean it, rather than nodding because I'm thinking about the very stellar cheese plate in the MoMa cafe and also how nice it will be to take off the tight jeans I'm wearing and put on sweatpants. (Look, this is all between you and me, okay?)
Poetry, though. Poetry I suddenly get. Why? It used to sound like a foreign language to me, and now it feels like there are dozens of writers who are peering inside my head and transcribing what's in there. And beyond the poems that feel familiar, there are so many that transport me, even if I can't relate to the feelings. I know there's been a lot of poetry here lately, and I'm sorry to keep borrowing other people's words, but really, can you read this without melting, from picking flowers, by Nate Marshall.
a man carries flowers for 3 reasons:
• he is in love
• he is in mourning
• he is a flower salesman
i’m on the express train passing stops
to a woman. maybe she’s home.
i have a bouquet in my hand,
laid on 1 of my arms like a shotgun.
the color is brilliant, a gang war
wrapped & cut diagonal at the stems.
i am not a flower salesman.
that is the only thing i know.
Or this poem: "All I Ever Wanted" from Katie Ford:
When I thought it was right to name my desires,
what I wanted of life, they seemed to turn
like bleating sheep, not to me, who could have been
a caring, if unskilled, shepherd, but to the boxed-in hills
beyond which the blue mountains sloped down
with poppies orange as crayfish all the way to the Pacific seas
in which the hulls of whales steered them
in search of a mate for whom they bellowed
in a new, highly particular song
we might call the most ardent articulation of love,
the pin at the tip of evolution,
In the middle of my life
it was right to say my desires
but they went away. I couldn’t even make them out,
not even as dots
now in the distance.
Yet I see the small lights
of winter campfires in the hills—
teenagers in love often go there
for their first nights—and each yellow-white glow
tells me what I can know and admit to knowing,
that all I ever wanted
was to sit by a fire with someone
who wanted me in measure the same to my wanting.
To want to make a fire with someone,
That was all. Oh, but also, I wanted to eat chocolate cake at night with my fingers, standing at the counter, licking the frosting off each one in turn. I wanted to climb the carpeted stairs after I rinsed my dinner plate, sticky with short rib sauce and bits of fresh rosemary, in the sink, and take off my crisp navy pajamas. I wanted to pull back the covers in the cold bedroom and curl myself around the warmth of someone sleepy and sturdy. I wanted to be quiet. I wanted my teeth brushed and flossed, my alarm set, my day ahead busy and planned. I wanted not to want anything but this, for now.
Maryland Fudge Cake
Adapted from an incredible vintage cookbook called Maryland's Way, this cake is a perfect example of how mystifying the alchemy of baking can be. Just a few simple pantry ingredients are transformed into cake with a delicate, souffle-like top and a moist, dense, brownie-like interior. Skip the frosting if you aren't a hardcore chocolate fan and opt for a dollop of loosely whipped cream instead.
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup (2 1/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped black walnuts (or regular walnuts)
For the frosting
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons hot brewed coffee (use hot water or warm milk if you don't want coffee flavor)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9" round cake pan and line it with parchment paper.
Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool slightly.
Cream together the butter and sugar until very pale in color and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each to incorporate it fully.
Add the vanilla and mix well. Fold in the cooled chocolate and mix.
Add the flour and salt and mix until just combined. Don't overbeat the batter here. Fold in the chopped walnuts.
Scrape the batter into your prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the top is very puffy and a tester inserted into the center only has a few crumbs clinging to it, not wet batter.
Remove the cake from the oven and run a knife around the edges to loosen it, then let the cake cool fully before turning it out of the pan and frosting it.
For the frosting: Beat together the butter and sugar, then add the cocoa and hot coffee and beat until fluffy. PRO TIP: This makes just a very thin layer of frosting, so you can double the amounts of everything if you want a thicker layer.
Spread the frosting over the cake, slice, and serve.