devil dog cupcakes {thankful thursdays 02.10.2016}

In the quiet of my house, the words for what I want to share come naturally. They wait, ever so patiently, at the threshold between my mind and reality, the moment when they can spill from my fingertips to the keyboard. But I’m not in the quiet of my house at the moment. I’m in a half-crowded cafe in D.C., and while the noise isn’t unbearable, it’s the background chitter chatter that makes writing feel too disjointed. Oh, and the fact the the top of my tea pot just dropped into my mug, splashing dots of chai all over the table, well, yeah, that didn’t help. Speaking of the chai, the one they serve at Tryst is a good substitute when I’m not making it at home (recipe is in the new issue of City Girl. Country Kitchen).

See what I’m talking about…such lack of focus when I work in cafes or coffeeshops. I applaud people who do this on a daily basis. I much prefer the peace of my house upstate. I felt more productive this past weekend than I’ve felt in a while. Last fall, a renter from Airbnb left me the kindest note, and commented that my house had wonderful energy. He and his girlfriend felt it from the moment they walked in. I knew exactly what he meant. I feel it every time I’m there. Even in the loneliest of moments, usually at night, when darkness falls all around, leaving you feeling isolated from the world, I know what joy daybreak brings. 

I’m sorry, I got lost in my own thoughts, as usual. You’re all a very patient bunch to stick with me these last seven years. Did my mind always wander like this, or have my words just become stray cats, seeking shelter the last few years? Well, the reason I’m here today is to say a thanks, and share a very special recipe.

Devil Dog Cupcakes, a must-make recipe! |

Last Sunday was Michael’s birthday. He would’ve been 56 years old. Few people believed his age, his youthfulness manifesting itself in a face free of wrinkles, his rich brown, bordering on black, head of hair, and a physique that stumped even the doctor who performed his autopsy—”most fit body he’d ever seen, that didn’t match the cause of death stated at the scene”. Some words just live with you, forever.

Back to the cupcakes. It all began with lunch at The Roost. The girls and I used to stop in every weekend for breakfast or lunch when we lived upstate. The service is always friendly, they strive to source good quality ingredients, and the food is generally solid. I loved that they switched to using sun-dried tomatoes for their BLT’s during the winter, since tomatoes are not in season. It was crowded when we popped in for a late lunch on Sunday, so the only option was to snag a few seats at the counter. There was a cake plate with a lone football shaped whoopee pie, and I asked the waitress if she could put it on the side for us. She assured me there were plenty more in the fridge, and not to worry.

During lunch, Virginia and I talked about it being daddy’s birthday. She wanted to sing happy birthday to him around his tree in the front yard. I told her I thought about making a cake, but wasn’t sure how her and Isabella felt about that idea. In her lispy little voice, she told me we could just buy the whoopee pies. I thought to myself, “It’s okay. You don’t have to be wonder woman; a homemade treat from someone else’s kitchen could be a suitable substitute”. The other thought that creeped into my mind was that he’s not alive anymore, so what did it matter if it was homemade or not?

Now, I should take a few steps back before going further. I promised to be kind to myself on his birthday, and let the day unfurl as it needed. I never really know how I’m going to feel on these bigger occasions, and wanted to bounce around like a balloon a bit, perhaps letting his energy blow me in the direction I needed to be in that day. So, that explains why I felt a little wishy washy about baking a cake. I felt I needed to do it, but wasn’t sure it was I wanted to do, so I held back.

The kids tore into their whoopee pies before buckling their seatbelts. While lunch was delicious, the cakes didn’t live up to their appearance, or assumption of what a great, or even good, whoopee pie should taste like. At that moment, it hit me. I knew that I did indeed want to bake something for my Mikey. I wanted to bake for him because I needed to feel connected to him in some small way.

We got home, and I immediately preheated the oven. The girls cozied up in our sun-filled front porch with boxes of arts and crafts supplies, while I looked up my Devil’s Food Cake recipe. I knew I’d need to scale it down a bit from the 36 cupcakes it usually yields. I also was feeling too lazy to dig the dark cocoa powder from the trunk of the car (don’t ask; doesn’t every travel with cocoa powder in their car?), so I reached for the container of Rapunzel cocoa powder in the cupboard above my counter.

There was the issue of milk. If I used it to make the cake, then breakfast would be in jeopardy the next morning, with only a scant 1/2 cup left in the container. I did, however, have a whole bottle of buttermilk. And so, that is how baking on the fly goes around here. As the batter came together, so did a smile in my heart. It just felt so right being there, in that kitchen, making these cupcakes. I didn’t end up there nudged by guilt, or even sadness. It was pure joy, and happiness…and a feeling of gratitude that I was gentle with myself, but so was the universe. It delivered to us a sunny day, one warm enough to crowd onto the bench swing, and get lost in the sound of nothing, occasionally interrupted with giggles, the sounds of girls grasping the notion of how to balance thankfulness for ever knowing him, amidst the sadness of having lost him.

Devil Dog Cupcakes, a must-make recipe! |

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  • Susan

    Jennie…I have been reading your blog for years, even before the loss of your husband. I lost my son, very unexpectedly, also, one day last March. He was fine when I went to work but within three hours he was on his way to the operating room for unexpected heart surgery from which he did not survive. Each day is a different struggle but the thing that has suffered most is my baking. Well my cooking also since it was just him and me at home. Coming up on the date of his passing and also his birthday, I am wondering how to mark those days. After reading your post, I think I have to bake a cake in his memory. You are an amazing person and I am sure an excellent role model for your daughters. Never stop blogging!

  • Rocky Mountain Woman

    My husband died on Thanksgiving day 20 years ago. I always feel him around me on that day that is always filled with family at my house. It gets better as time goes on, but it never goes away and I wouldn’t want it to at this point.

    Lovely recipe, lovely words. Thanks for making my day a bit brighter!

  • Carolyn

    Jennie – you’re journey gives me so many insights into the grieving process and how those around me who have gone or are going through a sudden loss of their beloved one are feeling. Thank you for being so open about your life.