a few days of quiet and a chocolate bundt cake

The house has been strangely silent since Sunday afternoon. There has been no kids’ television on, which means no canned laughter or lilting children’s songs adding to our home’s background noise. There has not been any whining or crying or yelling…and definitely no laughing or giggling. No doors slamming or feet stomping up the stairs or the musical electronic sounds of the iPad games that Oliver likes to play so much.

My mother has kept our children for the last three nights, providing us with very cheap childcare until I can be off work for the holidays. With school out for Christmas, we usually struggle a bit with where the kids should go during the day. This time — like many other times — Nana came to the rescue. And the kids were thrilled to go to Nana’s for a three night “sleepover” in the country. Sam and I have had a delightful break from parenting, but we miss the kids and all the chaos that they bring to our lives.

It’s just been too quiet with them gone.

Usually, I do my best writing at my home office desk, while managing to (mostly) tune out the cacophony of noises that arise from having a 5 year old, an 8 year old, two cats, and a husband in the house. I’ve struggled with writing for the last three nights, and I’m just realizing that perhaps it is because I’m missing that noise and those distractions that, ironically, manage to keep my brain focused.

That doesn’t make sense at all, does it?

I can’t explain the writing process that I use, but when the words come, they come, and when they don’t come, well…you end up with silence here on the blog for several days. And I end up with a building sense of frustration.

The kids come home Wednesday night, so life as we know it will be restored. I’ll be off work and home for a nice holiday break starting on Thursday. I’m gearing up for Christmas meal planning, wrapping the last of the presents, and baking up some holiday cookies for the first time this season.

I’m pretty sure this is cause for celebration – with cake!

If you, like me, are a fan of chocolate, you will want to bake this cake. The kids have already requested that I bake it again for Christmas, and Madeline has taken to calling it the “Brownie Cake” because of its brownie-like texture and density. I’ve caught my husband slicing off little bits when he thinks I’m not looking – and even when he knows I am. It’s very rich and heavy, and I recommend serving it with lightly-sweetened whipped cream (homemade, of course) or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Even better, warm a slice of cake up a little bit in the microwave and then plop a scoop of vanilla ice cream next to it.  Go ahead and put a cherry on top while you’re at it. I didn’t, but hindsight is 20/20, as they say.

Yield: 12-14 servings

Chocolate Bundt Cake

Feel free to sprinkle confectioners sugar over the top of the cake when you're ready to serve it, or just serve it with a dollop of lightly-sweetened whipped cream.

Use a 10-inch bundt pan (3-quart) for this cake.


1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process), plus extra for dusting pan
1-1/2 cups brewed coffee
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place oven rack in the middle position. Spray the bundt pan well with baking spray with flour, or butter the pan well and dust with cocoa powder (about 3 tablespoons), knocking out the excess.

Over medium heat, heat coffee, Grand Marnier, butter, and cocoa powder together in a 3-quart saucepan, whisking until the butter is melted. Remove from heat, add sugar, and stir well until dissolved, about 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and cool for at least 5 minutes.

While the chocolate mixture cools, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In a second, smaller bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla, then whisk into the cooled chocolate mixture until well incorporated. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Batter will be thin and bubbly at this point. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour batter into bundt pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool cake completely in pan on a rack, approximately 2 hours, then loosen cake from pan using the tip of a sharp knife. Carefully invert pan over a cake plate and turn cake out onto plate.

Adapted from a recipe for Chocolate Whiskey Bundt Cake from Gourmet, September 2005.

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7 Responses to “baby steps, and a recipe: orange ricotta tart”

  1. Allison Day — November 1, 2015 @ 5:20 pm

    Welcome back!  I always love your writing, you have such a talent for telling stories.  

  2. Beth (OMG! Yummy) — November 1, 2015 @ 6:19 pm

    Lovely MJ. I hope my upcoming trip to Chicago is equally inspiring. I just posted for the first time in a long while and it was only a teaser post to a guest post for someone else but I’ll take it! At least I had to write the other post as well! Life happens a lot but patience is indeed a virtue as a busy working parent. Baby steps can be giant. Hang in there. Please.

  3. Gail — November 1, 2015 @ 7:41 pm

    I don’t know why, but I have tears in my eyes now.  It’s not the onions that I’ve just cut up for pizza, either.  It’s because I love you and wish we lived closer to each other.  You’d teach me to knit, I’d make cocktails for you.  We’d laugh, we’d cry, hopefully, more laughing than crying.  
    Maybe I’m just teary because you baked.


  4. This post rings so true. I know what it’s like, to have that itch at the ends of your fingers, that motivation burning a hole in your heart, the urgency to write setting fire under the soles of your feet… But then, when it gets down to it, just ignoring it al and moving on with my daily routine, the notebook or computer abandoned off to the side…

    Some days, I wish I had the stamina to post daily. But then I realize that diluted writing, writing done half-assedly, is writing better not done at all.

  5. cherie — November 2, 2015 @ 9:34 pm

    What a lovely escape.  I love the possibilities inherent in a blank notebook or sketchbook 🙂 

  6. Mallory — November 4, 2015 @ 2:03 pm

    I remember being at The Big Summer Potluck and sitting near the front and I believe it was during Brooke’s session (this was a few years back so my memory is faint) and one of my most vivid memories of that session was when you spoke and said that you have a book that is inside you…Years ago and that is what I remember when I read your blog.  How great that you were able to spend time with friends and move in baby steps to that book that lives inside.  Just great! 

  7. Kristen — November 10, 2015 @ 10:11 pm

    I was happy to see you pop up in my feed…and baby steps are the best kind of steps. Just come back as you and when you are ready to share! 
    I’m so happy you are inspired again 🙂

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