My mornings start early, rising before anyone else in the house is awake. If I’m lucky, and feeling motivated, I start the day with a pre-dawn run. I call it running, but it’s really more of a lurching jog. Whatever. It gets the calories burned, and it’s good for my soul.
On the way to the school in the mornings, the kids and I watch the sun rise. As I drive, the sun – glowing orange, but not yet so bright that we have to look away – slowly emerges into the rosy sky guiding its path. The kids guess which direction we’re headed based on where sun sits on the horizon.
We listen to the latest pop songs on the radio, and my daughter sings along. Maddie belts out the words to “Call Me Maybe” as if she is on stage, microphone in hand, and Oliver mumbles his own version of the song. Sometimes they even sing in sync with each other. I smile to myself as I drive, not wanting to interrupt for fear they will stop if they know I am listening.
I love my mornings, regardless of how little rest I’ve had the night before. Mornings are, by their very nature, so full of potential, ripe with possibilities for the day ahead. The world around me looks brighter, shinier, in those early morning hours than it does in the afternoon.
Lately, I’ve had fitful sleep. When it’s my turn, as it is now, to be “on service” for two weeks – that phrase that represents a 15-day stretch of attending on the oncology inpatient ward with 24-hour-a-day call – I never sleep well. I take my patients’ problems home with me, filling my dreams with their diagnoses, their pain, their struggles to live, or their attempts to die peacefully and without suffering.
I recognize this pattern in myself now, this pattern of not leaving work where it belongs – at work. I have found ways of coping with the emotional fatigue that is inevitable after a handful of days.
My tricks for coping? Reading bedtime stories with my kids, or snuggling on the sofa to watch Phineas and Ferb with them. Losing myself in a good book before bed, or listening to an audiobook on my commute to and from work.
And baking. Baking nearly always works.
And, regardless of the nightmares that filled my sleep the night before, I cherish each morning. Each new day that I wake to find my beautiful, healthy family beside me – or singing loudly and off-key in the backseat of the minivan – is a gift, one that I know to never take for granted.
Orange Creamsicle Cake
Yield: 10-12 servings
Creamsicles were always a treat growing up. I would nibble the orange popsicle from around the creamy center, saving the middle for last. With this cake, there's no need for nibbling around the edges - unless you're a buttercream frosting addict, like me.
Special thanks to Abby Dodge for her help with nailing down the flavor profile and for the orange-sugar trick in the cake batter.
3 cups (12 ounces) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons orange zest
2-1/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1-1/4 cups plain, whole-milk yogurt, room temperature
4-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups (16 ounces) confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice (without pulp)
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
Orange or peach food coloring (optional)
Make Cake Layers
Preheat oven to 350 degrees with racks in the upper and middle positions. Butter three 8-inch (or 9-inch) round cake pans, line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper, then butter the parchment. Lightly dust the cake pans with flour, shaking out excess.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
Using a small food processor (or in a bowl, using your fingers), process one cup sugar with the orange zest. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together on medium-high speed the orange sugar, the remaining cup of granulated sugar, and the butter. Beat until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and Grand Marnier, and continue beating the mixture for another 5 minutes.
Reduce mixer speed to low, then add flour mixture alternating with yogurt, in three batches, beginning and ending with flour. Mix just until smooth. Divide the batter equally among the three cake pans, rap the pans once or twice on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of each layer comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes for 9-inch cake pans or 25-30 minutes for 8-inch pans, rotating cake layers about halfway through baking time. Cool layers in pans for about 10 minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edge of each and invert layers onto cooling racks to cool completely.
(Note: Layers can be made in advance. Bake up to 1 week ahead, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, store individual layers in a plastic freezer bag, and freeze. Thaw layers overnight in refrigerator the night before you plan to assemble the cake.)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low and slowly add confectioners' sugar. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine orange zest, orange juice, vanilla, and salt; stir until salt is dissolved, then add to the butter mixture. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. If you desire, add a drop or two of food coloring to tint the frosting.
(Note: Frosting can be made ahead, up to 2 days, and refrigerated in a tightly covered container. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes when ready to use. Beat on medium-low in stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.)
To frost cakes, place 1 layer on a cake plate. With an offset spatula, spread top with about 1 cup of frosting. Place the second cake layer on top, and repeat. Place third layer on top and spread frosting in a thin layer over the sides and top of the cake. Chill briefly in refrigerator, until frosting is firm, then spread sides and top with the remaining frosting. You will end up with a bit of leftover frosting which can be used for additional decorating if you like.
Cake layers adapted from this cake from Gourmet Live.