There’s a lot to love about running, but among the many things, is that you don’t need anyone else. You don’t need anything else. Just you, your own two feet, and a path. Empowering and freeing, you can achieve a kind of simple euphoria—physical exhaustion, mental relaxation—on your own terms. Runner’s high is a very apt phrase.
You don’t need an instructor, or a fancy studio. Or a non-fancy studio! You don’t need music. You don’t need the right conditions, or a schedule, or group, or a trainer bellowing at you. You do not need to pay $30. Not needing any of those things is freeing in another way—less goes wrong. Even a bad run is a great run. It’s just you out there. In structured exercise, I find myself prone to fixating on so much: is the room too hot, is the girl next to me fidgeting, how’s the volume of the music, and so on.
When I run, I just run. I think a lot actually—but I turn over thoughts and ideas in my mind. It’s a bigger, more expansive kind of thinking. A therapy of sorts. I feel present: my feet pounding the soft trail around the reservoir, my muscles tightening, the wind in my hair. On days—or sections—where discomfort crops up, I feel that fully too: a cramp in my side, my fingers numb with cold, sore and tired legs that stubbornly resist every step.
And you know what? It feels really darn good to just be. For a few brief miles—or hey, on some days, a few brief minutes (editor’s note: at first I accidentally typed “brie” instead of “brief” there which honestly feels appropriate)—you just exist. In pain, maybe. Tired, maybe. Thrilled and feeling great, maybe. But it’s just you and your breath and the dirt path.
It got me thinking about how much we’re constantly on a quest to change ourselves. Often it seems like everyone I talk to is focused on something they’re working towards changing—being nicer, meditating more, getting promoted, losing 2 pounds, getting stronger, doing more Pilates, eating less sugar, drinking no alcohol, and so on.
What if we just woke up each morning and we were just like “yeah! I'm in just the right place, just the way I am” and then we went about our day, doing work and calling our mothers and kissing our family and being creative. What if we pulled a Colin Firth/Bridget Jones move and mouthed to ourselves in the mirror: “I like you very much just as you are.”
Let’s at least consider that we have that option. How freeing would it be? Think of all the energy we’d have to spend on other things, instead of focusing on tiny elements we think we’re unhappy with. We could all write novels! Cure cancer!
Well, at the very least, we’d have time to devote to perfecting the ideal marble cake. This cake should have the dense, close crumb of a pound cake. It should be moist but not heavy, buttery but not too rich. The vanilla should taste like vanilla. The chocolate should taste like chocolate.
And here it is. We achieve all that by tweaking the classic pound cake template and adding in a little baking powder to get a higher rise. We add a little sour cream for richness. We use both cocoa powder and melted chocolate to give the swirl a richer, deeper chocolate flavor—and we add a dash of espresso powder, which further enhances the taste of chocolate. (You can leave it out if you don’t have any.)
To get a really good swirl, you just need to practice and play around with the technique of swirling the two batters together with a skewer or knife.
My best advice for getting the cleanest swirl is not to overdo it. Don’t swirl the batters too much or the swirl won’t look precise. This batter is thicker than many, so it helps to keep the two colors intact and create that dramatic look.
Chocolate Marble Pound Cake
Makes one 9” x 5” cake
1 cup (226g, 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 ounces semisweet chocolate (chopped or chips), melted and cooled slightly
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 5” loaf pan.
Cream together the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix to combine well.
Whisk together the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla. Add the egg mixture slowly in a steady stream to the batter, beating constantly. Mix until combined but don’t overmix.
Pour slightly less than half of the batter into another bowl. Whisk in the cocoa powder, melted chocolate, and espresso powder until smooth.
Pour 1/2 of the plain batter into the bottom of the pan and tap gently to level. Dollop big spoonfuls of the chocolate batter on top, the repeat with the remaining plain batter.
Using a knife or skewer, swirl the two batters together (don’t over-do it here or the marbling won’t look precise).
Bake for about 70 minutes—start checking after an hour (and sometimes it can take almost 1 1/2 hours depending on your oven). The cake is ready when the top springs back when you press it lightly.
Remove from the oven and let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip it out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.