Petite, talkative and girly in every way, Ms. L holds a pristine spiral bound notebook over her crossed legs while passively overseeing my session. We've been talking for some time now, but our conversation has nothing to do with the road before us. In fact, to be completely honest, I can remember discussing little more than the difficulty we were having remembering the artist of a then-popular song. Driving just didn't seem that important in comparison to the list she was penning. Who can concentrate while someone is audibly composing a mix CD in the passenger seat?
Not me, that's for sure.
So, she yells. Completely controlling, laced with fear and fluffed with a certain level of disappointment, her voice is suddenly more commanding than I'd ever expected it to be. She lowers her ornately scribed notebook, unfolds her legs and adjusts her glasses in one movement; transforming instantly into the driving instructor I had originally thought I would meet.
I didn't have my turn signal on long enough before I attempted to switch lanes.
After correcting my mistake, Ms. L returns to her list, allowing the air conditioning to blow her strengthened personality into the back seat. My attention falters and I struggle to maintain interest in the boring two-lane freeway we travel.
Memories are more interesting.
Did anyone else drive a go-kart as a kid? While Ms. L was loosely orchestrating my driving lessons that day, I had a hard time ignoring the familiar feel of the wheel in my hands. After spending so many days racing around the yard in our beat-up kart, I found the lane dividers to be so constricting. Sure, I could drive in a straight line, but did I want to? No way. There were no trees on this road. No chicken or dogs. No brothers on bikes. I was alert, but there was just nothing going on.
Driving was boring.
But I did know that it was more serious. For instance, rolling a go-kart makes you sound seriously cool, but a car... Not so much. I understood that, and also the responsibility that came with operating a vehicle at 70 miles per hour. However, despite the fact that I knew my full attention should be devoted to the road, I had a hard time granting it. There are, admittedly, nerves and jitters to overcome as you learn rules and regulations, but after that initial step, driving takes only a small amount of thought.
My conclusion was becoming more and more concrete as I studied my environment. Ms. L's unconcerned behavior, the dull stares of other drivers, the fearlessness of those racing up on ramps - driving is just something to get used to, and after that, it's just something you do.
It's bizarre how things can become so mindless. After road trips - long ones and short ones - it's a little more than disorienting to step from my car, ask myself, "how did I get here?" and be unable to recall much about the trip. It kind of bothers me that I place such little value in the hours I spend in the car and that I treat them as if they can't be full and enjoyable like the rest of life.
So, starting today, I'm going to be more observant. I am going to look around more, think more, and be more alive while I am strapped into the driver's seat.
We're only permitted so much time here, and I aim to make the best of every second I have.
Chocolate Cherry Swirl Cupcakes with Cherry Buttercream
These cupcakes involve making a quick jam, but feel free to use purchased jam or preserves in lieu of making it yourself.
Quick Cherry Jam
2 c whole, pitted sweet cherries
1/2 c water
2 Tbls cornstarch
2 Tbls sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan over medium heat. As the cherries cook, mash them with a fork and stir often with a rubber spatula. Cook until slightly reduced and thickened, about 10-15 minutes. Strain into another bowl, cover, and allow to cool to room temperature.
Chocolate Cherry Swirl Cupcakes adapted from Martha Stewart
This makes 1 dozen cupcakes.
1/4 + 1/8 c (33 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 c (95 g) flour
3/4 c (150 g) sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 + 1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 + 1/8 tsp salt
1/4 + 1/8 c (90 ml) warm water
1/4 + 1/8 c (90 ml) buttermilk
2 Tbls safflower oil (I used canola)
1/2 tsp vanilla
Quick Cherry Jam
Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Line 1 cupcake tin with liners and set aside.
Sift together cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add egg, warm water, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla, and mix until smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to ensure batter is well mixed.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full. Drop 1/2 tsp Quick Cherry Jam into each cupcake and swirl with a toothpick. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes, rotating pan once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.
Makes 1 dozen.
Cherry Italian Meringue Buttercream For step-by-step directions for making Italian Meringue Buttercream, please click here!
1/8 c (35 ml) water
1/2 c (105 g) sugar
3 egg whites
1/8 c (25 g) sugar
1/2 c (120 g) butter, softened, cut into small pieces
1 tsp vanilla, more if desired
8-10 tsps juice from a jar of maraschino cherries
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer.
Heat the 1/2 c sugar and water on the stove to 245F stirring occasionally only after the sugar has been dissolved. When it is within the range of 230F to 235F, begin whipping the egg whites. When they get to soft peaks, begin adding the remaining 1/8 c sugar and continue whipping to medium peaks, being careful not to overbeat. When the syrup is the correct temperature, slowly pour it into the eggs with the mixer on high. After fully incorporated, beat the frosting 7-10 minutes until the outside of the bowl is room temp (I usually go a little longer than this; often times the bowl is not room temp when I begin adding butter. If the mix seems to soupy, put it in the fridge for a few moments or try briefly chilling some of the butter in the freezer before adding). Begin adding the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, beating until fully incorporated. The frosting will deflate a little, but it's ok. Keep whipping until the frosting comes together and add the vanilla. Begin adding the juice from the jar of maraschino cherries in 2 tsp increments, whipping to combine. Stop when the frosting has achieved a nice pink hue and the flavor is noticeable. Be careful not to add too much or the frosting will break.
Fill cooled cupcakes with remaining (cooled) jam. This can be done in two ways: The first method requires no special tools and is done by slicing a cone out of the top of each cupcake. Drop in some of the jam and replace the cap. The second method uses a pastry bag filled with the jam and a piping tip (you can use one for specifically for filling or even a plain round one, such as a #3). Simply poke the tip into the cupcake and squeeze in filling.
After the cupcakes are filled, frost generously with buttercream.
If desired, use a potato peeler to shave curls off a block of chocolate onto the tops of the cupcakes. Top with a fresh cherry.