It's been a LONG year.

For better or for worse, I feel like I've been using it to make up for a lot of lost time. Maybe just misplaced time?

It hasn't been uniformly intense. Mostly, it's come in flashes of intensity. That's enough. Sometimes, more than enough.

It's been a slow rain of puzzle pieces clicking so gently into place, that I sometimes hardly even notice until weeks later.

There's been a lot of redefining, reprioritizing and rethinking. And it isn't done, not by a long shot. But there's been a journey. Maybe only a few steps worth of one - but it's something.

Maybe all we need is to WANT something. Anything, however impossible it is. Because when you want something, REALLY want it, you will want it badly enough to WORK for it, to do battle for it. And even if you don't get it in the end - you will find that you've still come out better for having done all of that. Better prepared to make your next choice, and to pursue it. Stronger, smarter. Better for having fought; not worse for losing.

The history of disappointments is the cartography of the heart. The cracks make the map.

Better to limp along a guided path than to sprint nowhere.

I'm still mapping mine. Even as I limp along.



My new favorite place to hang out is actually an old favorite place to hang out.

It's called Karma and it's one of the last bars in New York where you can smoke inside. (My other favorite is Circa Tabac.)

It's not a "scene" bar. It's not trendy. It's not glitzy. It bills itself as a hookah bar, but I've never actually seen anyone smoking one of the slightly dilapidated hookahs. (Then again, I usually come there during off-peak hours.) Really, it's a dive bar with a few half-hearted nods to its vaguely Middle Eastern motif. And I like it that way.

A few years ago, I used to have a friend in Philadelphia who would come into New York every few weeks. Karma was usually our first stop. (Partly because we could smoke there, partly because it opened at 1 p.m.) We would go in, catch up over several cocktails, and, by the time dinnertime rolled around, we were ready to face the world (and our dates).

I actually hadn't gone to Karma in a few years. For some reason, I remembered it a few weeks ago and went. I'd forgotten how wonderful the vibe was. A relaxed, somewhat scuffed decor. Bartenders who are neither pushy nor rude. Decently priced drinks. A clientele who is far more interested in socializing with their own party (or in reading a paper) than in "meeting new people." It's a (good) coffee shop of a bar is what it is.

And unlike many bars, they serve coffee. A personal French press pot for $2. Or a glass of cheap red (I happen to like cheap red) for $4.

That's my usual fare. A pot of coffee (sometimes with a shot of Bailey's, when I'm feeling festive) or a glass of sweetish Shiraz. (Usually, I alternate.) I pick a table, I open my notebook and I write. More freely than almost anywhere. A few cigarettes, a few pages, and another round. Repeat until I've finished whatever I wanted to finish.

No one bothers me. No one talks to me. No one asks me stupid questions. ("Are you writing a book?" No, a suicide note. Fuck off before it becomes a homicide note.)

Since I've rediscovered this place, my journal's been plumping nicely. And I've even made progress on a few pieces that had been rattling around for months. There's something magical about Karma that way.

If you should ever have an hour or two to waste on the Lower East Side, stop in. And if you see me there, writing, feel free to say hello. But say it quietly and warmly. It's that kind of place :)


Chocolate-Guinness-Bailey's-Walnut-Rum Raisin-Rum Ganache Cake

This cake is based on Nigella Lawson's recipe for Chocolate Guinness cake. Her original recipe is in bold type. My additions are - flavouring the topping with Bailey's, adding rum raisins and walnuts to the cake itself, and putting in a middle layer of chocolate-rum ganache. And also (heh), adding just a splash more Guinness to the batter than the recipe calls for.

*Note: I came very close to using whiskey instead of rum, but didn't have whiskey raisins (they got eaten before they could be baked), so we decided to keep the rum trend going. Try it with Jameson's. That was my idea to begin with.

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes (*depends on your oven and on how many shenanigans you engage in while making this thing. Allow 2 hours at least. Seriously.)

For the cake:
Butter for pan
1 cup Guinness stout
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar (*cursory online research shows that you don't NEED superfine sugar for baked goods; regular sugar will do)
3/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
*2/3 cup chopped walnuts, roasted (can be more?)
*1/3 cup rum raisins (should be more!)

For the topping:
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 (I used 1/4) cup heavy cream.
*1/4 cup Bailey's (heh, more like 5/8 or even 1/3, depending on how strong you want the flavour)

*For the ganache:
4 oz dark chocolate
3 oz heavy cream (it's usually just one-to-one ratio of chocolate to cream, but we added other liquid - the rum - so we used less cream)
3 tbsp rum (or more, depends on how much flavour you want - just don't make it TOO runny)

*Rum raisins - pour handful (er, like half a cup? I dunno, how many you want?) of raisins into a small bowl. Cover with rum of your choice. (We used Bacardi. Next time, I'll use Captain Morgan, if I don't use whiskey.) Cover bowl. Let sit overnight, or longer.
*Walnuts - take walnuts, toss 'em in one of those aluminum baking sheet thingies, put in the oven for like 10 minutes. Or just buy roasted walnuts. Then, crush them in your hands or chop them. Sift the walnut skin out if you want. (I think you're supposed to get rid of the skin, I dunno. My kitchen veteran boyfriend says so.)
*Ganache - Chop the chocolate up into small pieces (like 1 cm across). Put pieces into bowl. In saucepan, bring cream to boil. Then pour hot cream over chocolate. Gently stir with rubber spatula until it is a smooth, "silky" consistency. (Basically, till the hot cream melts the chocolate.) Pour in the rum. Gently stir again, until it is even and "silky". If you're having trouble getting it to even out, sing a sea shanty. Hey, it worked for me. Anyway, then, presto, ya got rum ganache. Let sit at room temp for a while, or pop into fridge (stir every 10 minutes if you're using the fridge method), until it reaches a spreadable consistency. (Not too hard, not too liquidy. Kinda like Nutella or creamy peanut butter. You'll know, since you'll keep sticking a finger in to lick it. Yes, you will, you know you will.) Don't let the ganache sit too long and get too hard - start making it after you've popped the cake into the oven.

1. For the cake: heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.
2a. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth.
*2b. Fold in the rum raisins and the walnuts. Folding means you pour them in and gently move them through the batter with a spatula, "folding" the batter over them. This all sounds like a needless formality, but again, I defer to the kitchen veteran boyfriend. (A note - the walnuts did settle on the bottom of the cake in the end, but not in a bad way.)
2c. Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. (*Our oven took about 1 hr 15 mins to produce a wonderful, moist cake. Last time, it took about 1 hour 20-25 mins to produce a wonderful but slightly LESS moist cake. We used the toothpick test.) Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan. (Sniff occasionally. Exclaim "WOW, smells GOOD!" Have a shot of Bailey's to tide you over.)
3. For the topping: Using a food processor or by hand, mix confectioners' sugar to break up lumps. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Add heavy cream (*and Bailey's), and mix until smooth and spreadable. (Taste it. Taste it now. Mmm. OK, now stop or you'll have nothing left. Have a shot of Bailey's instead.)
4. Remove cake from pan and place on a platter or cake stand. *Let it cool a bit more before the next step.
*5. Using a serrated knife, cut the cake horizontally. Yeah, this is fun. What can I tell you, watch some videos online, ask a more experienced friend to help or just say a prayer. And sing a shanty. Anyway, cut that thing in half horizontally, remove the top portion (but withOUT crumbling the delicate cake into bits between your awkward, hamlike hands; at this point, sing a shanty, sacrifice a Druid, curse the limeys, I dunno; good luck). Let cool a bit more, as the inside is quite warm. Spread the ganache over the top of the bottom layer. Slap the top layer back on that. Do a dance of joy that the whole cockamamie procedure actually WORKED and didn't ruin the cake, then have a shot of rum to celebrate. (I am presuming the Guinness and Bailey's are already gone by now.)
6. Ice top of cake only, so that it resembles a frothy pint of Guinness. (Frothy, my ass. It looks NOTHING like a Guinness, don't expect it to, but it tastes good, so it's OK.)

Yield: One 9-inch cake (12 servings). (Bullshit. 8 servings for normal people. 4 servings for women with no men around and no cruises in the near future. 2 servings for women who've just been dumped. 1 serving for a woman who's just been dumped for a man. 1/2 serving if it's for a man you used to date.)

So, that's all. Serve it with Irish coffee, Guinness, or one of those chocolate stouts. Or a White Russian. Or hell, all of those. Chase with an Irish Car Bomb cocktail. Then bellow Pogues songs all night and enjoy the Bailey's flavoured belches till morning.


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