To thine own self be true.
-Shakespeare (Hamlet)

For the past few years, every time I’ve thought of President’s Day, I’ve simultaneously thought of Polonius’ famous line from Hamlet. Not really for any particular reason, either. It’s just that somehow in February, when I find myself stuck in the middle of a winter that seems like it’s never going to end, it always seems like a good idea to check in and see if I’m living up to everything that I promised myself the year would be…You know, this is all once the excitement and optimism of January have settled and given way to the reality of everyday life. Thus far, things are looking good. So good, in fact, that your mysterious blogger has decided to give you her face in this collage of “Where’s Waldo Goes to Point Pinole” beauty. Why now instead of before? I am who I am. It just so happens that I like to bake. My advisor has sanctioned the habit by giving me vanilla. More importantly, I do my work. What is there to hide?

Absolutely nothing. Which is also why it’s never such a bad idea to take a deep breath, pause and ask if you’re actually happy with the way things are going. That may sound hopelessly cheesy, but I, like many silly people before me, used to think that I was a pawn of a sometimes cruel, sometimes kind fate. Then I realized that fate (or the Fates) was a lovely and fascinating thought, but not at all the stuff of happy and healthy living. So, I now pause and reflect. One discovery I made was that I not only make my own luck, but my own decisions.

Sometimes, this wonderful decision-making ability leads to baking chocolate cake and all on a Thursday afternoon. Such is the glory of dissertating! 🙂

The reason behind this cake was simple: I really wanted chocolate and in the form of a cake. Thanks to the icky, icky rain and thinking through Chekhov’s use of Japonisme in the context of the 1890s, I also didn’t want to go out and I didn’t want to dirty many dishes. A true quandary indeed for anybody in the midst of a sweet tooth attack.

Had the sun been shining and I could have gone anywhere my heart desired, I would have gone to Bittersweet, a lovely, but incredibly small cafe/chocolate shop in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland. They have delicious pastries, make yummy drinks like Chocolate flavored Thai-Iced Tea (trust me, it may sound weird, but it’s delicious) and Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate and play good music. The only problem is that even on a rainy day, it’s almost impossible to find seating, considering the cafe has maybe 3 or 4 tables. Thus, based on the recipe offerings on their website, my solution to this problem was to kill not two, but three birds with one stone:

1) Make chocolate cake and, at most, dirty two bowls, a whisk and a wooden spoon.
2) Enjoy the experience of Bittersweet from home.
3) Experiment with vegan baking, which, after the Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes I made all those months ago, I was more than eager to do!

The happy result of my endeavors was what might ultimately become my “go-to” chocolate cake. It was moist, it was chocolate-y and it was light. There could be something to vegan baking, after all…Perhaps I’m jumping the gun here, but, after cutting myself a big chunk of cake, the thought that ran through my mind was, “who needs eggs and milk when you’ve got apple cider vinegar and oil? ” All the sifting probably didn’t hurt my smitten-ness either.

Amazing Vegan Chocolate Cake

Ever so slightly adapted from Bittersweet
Yields many, many slices

1 ½ C. Cake Flour
1/3 C. Cocoa Powder
1 tsp. Baking Soda
½ tsp. Salt
1 C. Sugar
½ C. Oil
1 C. Water
2 tsp. Vanilla
2 Tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar

-Pre-heat Oven to 325. Sift all dry ingredients.
– In a separate bowl combine oil, water, and vanilla.
– Add to dry ingredients and whisk together by hand until incorporated and there are no lumps.
– Add apple cider vinegar and stir just to incorporate; do not over mix at this point or the cake will be tough (NB: as I was talking to my mom on the phone–through the help of Bluetooth– while mixing the dry ingredients, I failed to add the sugar at the appropriate time. So, I instead ended up mixing it in after the apple cider vinegar and, though this contradicts the original recipe’s directions, my cake turned out more than fine. I would say the point of this warning is to prevent overzealous beating. In practice, this means that the batter should be slightly liquidy, yet firm. Be gentle.).
-Pour into a parchment lined 9 or 10” cake pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
-Cut yourself a huge slice like I did and enjoy!

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