Happy Birthday to me!
How fabulous I found this Journal today, hidden in the bottom of my wardrobe. Good old Pippins, our English butler in London, gave it to me as a parting gift when Father whisked me away on a journey to America so he could marry Sally. Pips said it was for me to record my new adventures. I’m ashamed I never even penned one word before today. I think I was just too sad.
This old leather-bound journal takes me back to that emotional time. I had shed enough tears to fill an ocean and I remember telling Father dramatically that I was certain to cause flooding to match God’s. At eight years old I was well-trained in my biblical studies, though, in retrospect, I would say that I had probably bordered on heresy with my little tantrum.
The first week of my “adventure” was spent on board a big steamship with a tummy ache and a number of embarrassing sessions that involved a bucket and Father holding back my long hair so I wouldn’t soil it with vomit.
I certainly felt that I was being punished for some reason. Hartigan House—though large and sometimes lonely—was my home and Pips was my good friend. He often helped me to pass the time with games of I Spy and Xs and Os.
“Very good, Little Miss,” he’d say with a twinkle in his blue eyes when I won, which I did often. I suspect now that our good butler wasn’t beyond letting me win even when unmerited.
Father had got it into his silly head that I needed a mother, but I think the truth was he wanted a wife. Sally, a woman half my father’s age, turned out to be a sufficient wife in the end, but I could never claim her as a mother.
Well, Pips, I’m sure you’d be happy to know that things turned out all right here in America. My childhood was pleasant with school and new friends. I learned to ride horses and shoot guns, a past-time that is very big here in America and not just with the elite. I graduated from Boston University with a major in languages and a minor in science. Boston is a beautiful city and much about it reminds me of England.
Oh, I guess I should mention that Father and Sally produced a sister for me, Louisa. She has dark hair and a cute teardrop face, and looks very much like Sally, but I don’t hold that against her. She’s as spoilt as they come, I’m afraid. Sally panders to her every whim, and Father’s not nearly as strict with her as he was with me. With ten years between us, we’ve not a lot in common, but I do adore her all the same.
~ ~ ~
“Not too tight,” I told my maid Molly as she pulled on the straps of my corset. Father was hosting a soiree in honor of my nineteenth birthday and I planned on having a large piece of cake. Mrs. Bakker was a fine cook and baker and I looked forward to her Dutch Dark Chocolate Cake which had become a birthday tradition. So rich and moist, it melts in your mouth with a sweet coca bean ecstasy. My mouth watered in anticipation.
Father loved to throw soirees—dinner parties as the Americans say. I found myself caught in the middle of two cultures—I’m American when I step outside of this Beacon Hill brownstone, but indoors I hold on tightly to my English roots. Father and I still enjoyed a traditional tea with scones and clotted cream and hot tea made properly the English way. We discuss politics both here and across the Atlantic. Some of the news is quite worrisome.
But I won't think of that tonight. Molly helped me into a shiny emerald gown of fine silk. It had an open neckline and slender sleeves that ended at my elbows. My columnar corset forced me to stand straight and tall. Like every woman on the planet, I was glad to see those horrid S bend corsets go out of fashion. It was a wonder that we hadn’t all been deformed!
I spun in front of the long mirror and admired the length of the fitted gown, layered beautifully with a contrasting lace ruffle.
“The color brings out your eyes, Miss Hartigan,” Molly said. I eased into the chair in front of the vanity so Molly could swoop my red locks high on my head and create an eye-catching wreath of ribbon.
Molly held up a mirror. “You will be the belle of the ball, miss.”
“Thank you, Molly,” I said. "I’m excited for the evening to begin, though I do wish Father hadn’t assigned me a date."
“An English gentleman will be joining the festivities,” he'd announced. Apparently the gentleman was the son of a family friend who happened to be a baron. I was afraid my American friends would find his title pompous. It was of little consequences, since, after tonight, I doubted if I’d ever see him again.
What did Father say his name was again? Right. Daniel, Lord Gold.
PS: here’s the recipe for the Dutch Chocolate cake.
- 1 cup Cote d’Azur dark Dutch cocoa powder
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla paste
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 3/4 cup cake flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large free-range eggs
- 1/2 lb. good-quality chocolate, Callebaut or Cacao Barry single origin
- 1/3 cup half and half cream
- Place the cocoa powder in a medium bowl.
- Pour the boiling water over and whisk until smooth.
- Add the vanilla paste and set aside to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Grease and flour two 10-inch round cake pans.
- Sift all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
- Place the butter in the mixing bowl of an electric mixer.
- Cream the butter until it is light in colour, about 5 minutes.
- Slowly pour in the sugar while the mixer is running.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure the mixture is even.
- Beat in the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each one before adding the next.
- Add 1/3 of the cocoa mixture, along with 1/3 of the flour mixture, to the bowl and mix.
- Repeat twice, using 1/3 of each mixture each time.
- Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans.
- Give the pans a bang on the counter. This will release any air pockets, bringing them to the surface, giving you an even-textured cake without holes.
- Bake for 40 minutes or until the cake tester comes out clean.
- Let the cakes cool completely before removing from the pans.
- Meanwhile, to make the glaze, combine the chocolate and cream in a double boiler and let simmer until the chocolate melts and the glaze is smooth.
- Let glaze cool slightly.
- Place both cakes on a serving pedestal and pour the chocolate glaze over top, encouraging it to run down the sides of the cake in uneven dribbles.
- If you want to step it up a notch, sprinkle the top of the cake with gold flakes!
Serves 8 to 10.