“You, reader, are alive today, reading this, because someone once adequately policed your mouth exploring.”
– Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts
The act of parenting is, much of the time, the act of keeping your children alive. Making sure they are fed regularly, preventing them from darting into oncoming traffic in their enthusiasm to see a neighbourhood cat, stopping them face-planting on the concrete as they run around on clumsy toddler legs, making sure they don’t touch the hot oven, or pull a chair on top of themselves, or tumble down the staircase, or any of a million ways that a very small person can encounter danger.
All of that said, of course, parenting is about a lot more than simply keeping your children alive. Ashley, of the wonderful Not Without Salt, recently wrote about motherhood (and chickpeas), in conversation with her friend Jess. They end the discussion by asking one another what they are doing right in motherhood. Which is so lovely, really, because although we spend day in and day out caring for our kids – keeping them alive, as it were – we are rarely asked what we’re doing right, what we’re proud of. There are no monthly job reviews in parenting, and frankly, children are unreliable witnesses.
In another discussion of motherhood, ‘The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mum’, Kim Brooks explores the tension between being a parent and being an artist. She calls out the modern style of parenting – the all-inclusive, over-bearing style of parenting all too pervasive today – as the act of capital-P Parenthood. So much of our parenting can be overwhelmed by what Brooks calls the white noise of parenthood: the constant worry over swim lessons and high fructose diets and screen time and playdates, the minutiae that drowns out our non-parent identities, and in the end really isn’t essential to providing our children with the safety and shelter and love that they need.
It also occurs to me that the white noise of parenthood takes the joy out of it all. Not just for ourselves, but for our kids as well. Apart from keeping them alive, surely one of the best things we can do for our kids is not baby martial arts or preschool harp lessons or preteen competitive ballet, but simply partaking in the joys of life with them. Who gives a fuck about a spotless house, or a spotless baby at that. Less time organising and cleaning and chaperoning, and more time rolling around in the grass and constructing lego houses and letting the kids spill the flour everywhere and get eggshell in the cake, because why the fuck not?!
Which brings me to cake – why do all roads lead to cake?! – undoubtedly one of my favourite joys. For the first couple of years of W’s life I was completely strict about what went in her mouth – no sugar, no salt. And while I’m hardly the world’s most sugar-friendly mama, it occurrs to me that sharing a slice of homemade cake with my kids every now and then – anticipation and chocolate smudged fingers and laughter – is more nourishing for our souls than any kinds of sugar-free evangelism. Cake may be a small joy and a simple one at that, but one of life’s joys it is.
And this Rye Chocolate Cake? Definitely a joy. Rye and chocolate are a perfect match of nutty and bitter. I’ve dialed up the thick caramel notes by using molasses as well as brown sugar, and the coffee adds an extra layer of richness. This cake is toothsome and only just barely sweet. It is also really fucking good.
Rye Chocolate Cake
3/4 cup plain flour
3/4 cup rye flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tps baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup coffee, strong
3/4 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
2 tbsps molasses
1 – 2 tsps buttermilk
Seeds of 1/2 a pomegranate (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 180°c/350°f. Grease a bundt tin or 12cm round cake tin. Set aside.
In a medium bowl sift together both types of flour, the cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a larger bowl whisk together the eggs and brown sugar till fluffy. Add the molasses and the oil and keep whisking, then the buttermilk and the coffee, continuing to whisk until combined.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and, using a wooden spoon or a spatula – mix until just combined, taking care not to overmix (a few lumps are fine).
Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for approx. 50 mins, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin for approx. 10 minutes then turn out to cool on a wire rack.
While the cake is cooling, make the glaze by whisking together the two types of sugar, cocoa, molasses and buttermilk until silky smooth. Pour over the cooled cake and top with pomegranate seeds.
This cake will keep, covered, for 2 – 3 days.