It’s different, he said.
Good different or bad different? I queried curiously.
Just different. I don’t know why you had to make chocolate cake different.
I don’t know either. Because I could? Because I was curious and wanted to see what would happen if I baked a cake with S’mores flavored porter as the liquid? Because I get bored easily and even though chocolate cake is great, what else can I do to it? I have made it before with a can of cherries instead of the water the box mix calls for, and mmmm….
But it’s not about the cake (although I’ll share the full recipe below), it’s about how we, as people, react to change and differences. We say we want fresh! new! original! takes on life – from food, to entertainment, to workplaces. But when we are confronted by change, often our first reaction is to… well, let me tell a story on my son. The Little Man grew up in a household where the parents loved to cook, and experiment with food, and mostly it turned out more than just edible. So you’d think that now, at nearly-teen age, he’d be willing to attempt something especially if a trusted adult is urging him to give it a go. We took him to a Filipino-Vietnamese place (Dai Trang, in West Chester OH, if you’re nearby. Excellent food) and there were, ah… insufficient photos on the menu for him. Even with me translating unfamiliar terms to him, and assuring him that this dish is like another dish we both know he likes, he wasn’t gonna do it. Nope, nope, nope! Adults are no better at confronting the unfamiliar. They may not pitch a fit, but it’s in there, controlled, that same crossed arms and mulish expression. Don’t make them try out an open-concept office and like it. Nope, nope, nope.
There are good reasons humans don’t care for change. Open concept offices might sound like they will be great for collaboration and innovation, but in reality they just make the company look like it’s too cheap to pay for office space, and work is hard to accomplish with no way to close a door and focus just on what’s at hand. Back in the days of yore, when hunters had to come home with meat, or children would starve (because infanticide was totally a thing, since infants could be replaced. And it’s still done, because babies aren’t really human in some people’s eyes. But that’s another post), being hyper aware of their environments and noting changes as threatening was what made for a successful – and surviving – hunter. Or to put it in modern terms: how often do you commute home on autopilot? You leave work, walk out to the car, get in, and suddenly you’re pulling into your own driveway. What happened on the way home? Unless there was a change, something different about the traffic, you might not be able to remember. Because the same routine is easy.
Change is hard. Sudden significant change can be traumatic, and leave you wary of trying change again. I’m reminded of the cliché about people who lived through the Depression being hoarders. Dammit, that makes sense! It’s not just that they couldn’t afford stuff, it’s that stuff wasn’t being made, and might not be available again. Ever. Think about that. We live in a disposable world. Cell phones would have been the stuff of science fiction to my great grandmothers (although both lived to see them if not use them personally) but we expect – not just want, but expect to have a new one every other year if not more often. Electricity, indoor plumbing, supermarkets, a man on the moon, a roadster to the stars… Great-Grandma Ella, Grandma LaVaughn, Mom, Me, and my daughter (pick one!). That’s not a lot of time for the human condition to have changed radically. I was raised on the oral traditions of my grandmother and great-grandmother (maternal side, some on paternal as well although that was a whole ‘nother can of worms) so I have a direct connection back to that time. Humans, not being animals, have a long memory – longer than our genes, ironically. Genetic adaptations can start to appear in less time than my oral tradition taken directly from the mouths of my ancestresses has been around. Or even my daughter, who spent time with her great-great grandmother before we lost her to the inexorable tides of time.
So it should not surprise me that my husband reacted with suspicion to the concept of a different chocolate cake, much less a Dirt Cake with this cake, plus cheesecake pudding, and gummy worms in it. When you’ve eaten what was put in front of you by the Army, because you had to eat it because you had to have the calories or else, you might not like the idea of new foods. I’m lucky enough that he’s willing to follow me into weird restaurants and to taste before saying nope! but not everyone is like that. Not everyone is willing to admit that possibly their world view is too narrow, and doing small things like eating cake made with beer, or trying out that nifty Korean restaurant, might start to broaden their horizons and show them that different can be good. Sure, different can be bad. Change simply for novelty’s sake can be really awful. I’ve tasted some of those disasters, and I don’t mean the ones I’ve made in my kitchen. Some were produced for the mass market and *shudder* fortunately didn’t catch on. Pretty sure we can all name at least one of those. Wandering outside the kitchen (why would you do that? Women belong in the kitchen. Men belong in the kitchen, as do children, and a dog to clean up spills, and… the kitchen is where food happens!) the same is true with life overall. Being willing to accept change is a vital part of succeeding in the workplace. I walked into work after vacation, was handed a crisis, and rolled with it, even though it took more than I’d planned out of my day to deal with it. You have to sometimes look up from the rut you’re in an say… hey. Traditional publishing is not the sane or safe way to go anymore! (just to use a metaphor from my own life)
Perhaps that’s the answer to why I made a different chocolate cake. Small changes, small differences, that we can cope with, overcome, and digest comfortably leave us more resilient when the big changes that hurt more come at us. Accepting and understanding that not everyone shares our feelings, our beliefs, and our value system makes us better human beings. Even if we reject that value system which states that homosexuals must be stoned and thrown from buildings, understanding that it is there, and perhaps knowing why it exists, helps us to know how to combat it. Understanding does not always mean approval. Disapproval does not mean it’s a phobia. I’m not afraid of the people who want me to lay down my arms and roll over helpless to submit to them and die. No, just because I understand that they live in fear and desire power over others, doesn’t mean I’m going to join them in their pursuit of wrongness. It does mean I am sorry their viewpoints are so narrow they need to shout down and shut down anyone they feel might disagree with them. They need to try my cake. It’s delicious, even if it is different.
Boozy Dirt Cake
Why would we not just make cake, but make it into the lowest form of cake? (according to my paternal grandmother, who was so horrified I planned to serve it at my wedding that she showed up to the reception with another cake. We fed each other Dirt Cake with trowels anyway. Low class, maybe. Fun? Oh, yeah! Gummy worms and all) Because we wanted to. And we were free to make these choices because ‘Merica!
- 1 chocolate cake mix. (I use the cheap kind, because I’m usually adding stuff to them anyway, and they are bomb-proof when I’m not in the mood to make it from scratch.)
- 1 cheesecake pudding mix
- 12 oz flat S’Mores porter beer (or just porter, or any dark beer. None of that love-in-a-canoe schtuff)
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 c vegetable oil
- 2 c milk (and no, Ginja Ninja, almond milk will NOT work)
- Gummy Worms
Preheat oven to 350 deg, and grease a pan. You’re going to be crumbling up the cake, so it doesn’t matter what size and shape. We used a bundt pan. a 9×13 would work just fine.
In a mixing bowl, combine the cake mix, eggs, oil, and beer until all the mix is incorporated into the batter. I used my stand mixer, but don’t let it mix too long, or you’ll have tough cake.
Pour batter into greased pan and place in oven. Set timer for 28-32 min for a 9×13 pan, or 40-45 for a bundt. Test with a toothpick when done – if the toothpick comes out clean, it’s done. Set on rack to cool for a few minutes in pan.
Turn cake out onto plate and allow to finish cooling. When this is nearly done, whip up the pudding according to directions on box – basically whisk the mix into the milk. You could make it up from scratch and it would probably be amazing, but we were streamlining on a hot, busy day.
Pour pudding into containers – we used water goblets and beakers, because they are fun and class this dessert up. Fill them about half full, then fill all the way up with crumbled cake. Top with gummy worms. Gummy worms are important. You’ll pull them out to eat instead of eating with the other stuff, they will be cold and hard, but they make this Dirt Cake, so don’t leave them out. Put your dessert containers in the fridge and chill for an hour or so. Serve…
The cake comes out wonderfully yeasty and reminiscent of sourdough. Mixed with the cheesecake pudding, it’s even better. The cake was different, and good on it’s own, but in the dirt cake it was amazing, and I’ll make it again just to do this. A little serving was quite enough – it’s rich – but it was a lovely cool dessert sitting on the porch watching America celebrate her independence.