Dear Valentine,

[Pacific Ocean, December 2009.]

Love, of course, can be many things. It can be clear blue skies and an unexpected picnic in August. It can be your brother picking you up at the airport no matter what time you come in, in Maine and California and Greece, too, or a soon-to-be-sister-in-law saying what you also feel — that it seemed like not a day has passed since you saw each other last. It is cups of tea in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep and a re-read of “Cannery Row” at just the right time. It is watching “Anne of Green Gables” with your best girlfriend and rain against the windows with no-where at all to go. It is your best friend’s baby and lasagna in England. It is the high mountains, and a sky full up with stars, and long, deserted California beaches in winter.

Love is also, dear friends, in a chocolate cake recipe via Alice Waters. I don’t have a photo to convince you but trust me when I say you should seriously consider pulling out your butter and flour and chocolate today to bake regardless of physical evidence.

This cake … Well, let’s just say it’s a quite simple but absolutely delicious bit of decadence that will cause friends and loved ones alike to swoon in happiness. There’s magic in this cake I think; the first time I made it I didn’t have a hand mixer and used brown sugar instead of white because it’s all there was, and the milk chocolate frosting I whipped up Ithought might be too lumpy because of said lack of hand mixer but yet, somehow, it all came to rights in a kind of mysterious alchemy that seems perfect for today; isn’t love also mysterious and ethereal?

Whatever — this cake is tops. It is a chocolate dream, with a tender and yielding crumb that begs for a scoop of softly melting vanilla ice cream to serve alongside. But even that’s not entirely necessary; this cake is delicious as-is, mixer not required. Make it either just for you, to share with your special person, or take to a beloved friend. And it will be perfect the next day, and the next, and the day after that, too. Please, please trust me on this one.

Chocolate Cake, from the Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
Stick of butter (8 Tbsp), softened
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Butter a 9 inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and dust the pan with a little cocoa powder. Shake out the excess.

Melt the chocolate. Set aside.

Sift the dry ingredients together.

In a large bowl, cream butter in mixer. Add the brown sugar and vanilla and mix until fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time and mix well to incorporate.

Stir in melted chocolate. Add half the dry ingredients and combine. Add the buttermilk and the rest of the dry ingredients and combine. Add the boiling water on low speed until just incorporated.

Pour batter into pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool completely and frost with your favorite chocolate frosting (I like to use a mix of 1/2-milk chocolate and 1/2-bittersweet chocolate chips to make a simple ganache).

[Drake’s Beach, March 2009.]

My wish for you today is that you will always have love, and that you will always remember what it is. It is so many things, yes. But mostly it is true and right and good and kind and exhilarating and home.

And it is everywhere, if we but take the time to look.

So dearest Valentine: I hope your day is as sweet and delicious as you.


so comes love

let it go – the
smashed word broken

open vow or

the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to

let them go – the

truthful liars and

the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go

so comes love

(e. e. cummings)

Join the Conversation

  1. is it too late to ask if you will please, please be my valentine?


  2. What a wonderful post, as usual. And I don’t know how you always manage to choose, from all you could have possibly chosen, poems that make me want to cry from their sheer beauty. On a day when I’m not feeling so great, you made me feel a little better, thank you. Hope you had a great Valentines Day!

  3. I love that Alice Waters recipe! I made little heart shaped cakes with it, covered in strawberry buttercream. Excellent recipe for today.

  4. You are lovely. I love the way you see the world and inhabit it.

    – Your secret admirer

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