Over the last four or five years, the Universe has developed a habit of taking the snow globe that is my life and shaking the hell out of it during the month of July. For reasons that are beyond me, the Universe prefers to unleash a world of change on me in the dead of summer. This year the change left me profoundly sad as I said goodbye to my companion of ten years.
Shadow came into my life during The Mistah’s first deployment. He’d had one owner for eight years, and like me, suddenly found his world turned upside down. We bonded quite quickly and his energy filled the empty space in the apartment. He gave me predictable and dependable when everything else around me was anything but.
He eventually accepted The Mistah, but Shadow was my cat and I was his person. Back when he could still jump up on the bed, he would often wedge his considerable self between the wall and my head during the night. It was not unusual for me to wake up in the morning with cat head. One of us clearly enjoyed this more than the other.
Most of the time he wanted to be near you but not in your lap. So he would reach out and gently lay a paw on your arm or leg or shoulder, just to say “here I am”. He had a weakness for deli meat and would double time it to the kitchen at the first crinkle of lunchmeat coming out of the bag. And even as the years made it more and more difficult for him to walk, he would still climb the stairs when he heard the shower running so that he could get into the tub for a drink after the water had been turned off. I cleaned as much cat hair out of our tub as I did human hair.
He was so old by the time Libby came along that she never had a chance to win him over. And she so desperately wanted to be his friend. Her first word was cat. She learned to crawl because she didn’t want Shadow to get away from her. Her first chore in the house was putting a scoop of food in his dish each morning. Even though he was an unwilling participant, so many of her “firsts” had something to do with that cat.
His decline was sudden and swift. In the three days between making the appointment with the vet and the day of the appointment, I knew that our time together was coming to an end. So I made him a little bed to go next to his food and water….which he totally ignored. And I spent extra time giving him quiet scratches and brushing his long, silky coat…which he totally loved.
Then on his last morning, I wrapped him in a towel and gave him an hour outside with the sun on his back and a gentle breeze in his face. I cried. I stroked his fur. I cried some more. I thanked him for being such a wonderful part of our family and promised him that I would stay with him to the very end.
And I did. I held him as the vet gave him the first shot. We sat quietly, tears blurring my eyes, and he buried his head in the crook of my arm just as he had done so many times before. He trusted me completely and I felt like I was betraying that trust as the vet administered the second shot. Just like that, he was gone.
Taking away the food and water dishes, their empty space on the floor looked out of place. And I cried. Sweeping up the last bits of his fur from the floor felt like I was erasing him from the house. And I cried some more. Now, coming into a room and expecting to see him is met with disappointment. Watching Libby look under the table and ask “where’s Shadow” is like getting punched in the stomach.
But time doesn’t stop because we are sad. And two days after I said goodbye to Shadow I celebrated Libby’s 3rd birthday. My sadness and my joy stood side by side, took my hand, and together we got through it. After the presents had been opened and the last of the guests had left and Libby was finally in bed, all was quiet.
In that silence, I could feel the absence of what had been and gratitude for all that it was.
Ice Cream Cake
BAH Note: This is the cake I made for Libby’s 3rd birthday. I won’t say that I wasn’t thinking about Shadow as I worked but it’s really hard to be sad when butter, chocolate, and ice cream are around. You can use whatever cake you like. I won’t even blink an eye if that happens to be a box of cake mix.
- Chocolate cake (see below)
- 8 ounces chocolate wafer cookies, such as Brownie Batter Thins (if using Oreo, remove the vanilla filling)
- 1/2 gallon ice cream, store bought or homemade, slightly thawed
Prepare a 9 inch cake pan by laying several layers of plastic wrap across each other, pressing them down into the pan, with the ends hanging well over the edge like a sling.
Use a food processor to blitz the half the wafer cookies into crumbs. Add half of the cake in large chunks and continue to process until the cake is also turned into crumbs. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and repeat the process with the rest of the cookies and cake.
Using a large spoon or spatula, give the cake and cookie crumbs a good stir and then transfer about 1/3 of the crumbs to the cake pan. Use something with a flat bottom (water glass, ramekin, smaller cake pan, etc) to press the crumbs into a single layer in the pan. Repeat the process, using anywhere from 2/3 to of all the crumbs.
Scoop approximately 1/3 of the ice cream into the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low just until it starts to smooth out, stopping to scrape the ice cream from the paddle as necessary. Repeat until all the ice cream is in the bowl, increase the speed to medium, and mix until the ice cream is a spreadable, soft serve consistency.
Top the cake crumbs with the ice cream and use a spoon or spatula to smooth out the ice cream into an even layer. Cover the pan with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and transfer to the freezer (a few hours or overnight) for the ice cream to set.
When ready to serve, remove the pan from the freezer and uncover the top. Grab the ends of the plastic wrap hanging over the cake pan like a sling and use them to pull the cake out of the pan. Transfer the cake to a large serving plate, removing the plastic wrap from the bottom, and allow to thaw slightly before slicing and serving.
Chocolate Butter Cake
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum
BAH Note: Knowing that I was going to turn the cake into crumbs, I baked all the batter in a single 9” cake pan…because why prep and dirty two pans when all I need is one. I had a moment of doubt as the cake batter creeped closer and closer to the edge of the pan and then flirted with panic as my baking time hit 40 and then 45 minutes. I’m pleased to say it turned out ok in the end.
- 2 1/4 ounces (1/3 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
- 8 ounces (1 cup) boiling water
- 3 large eggs
- 2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 8 1/4 ounces (1 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) cake flour
- 10 1/2 ounces (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
Combine the boiling water and cocoa powder in a small bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. Allow the cocoa mixture to cool.
Once the cocoa mixture is cool, heat your oven to 350 degrees, line one (or two) 9 inch cake pan with parchment, and lightly spray with cooking spray.
Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the work bowl of a mixer and mix on low briefly to combine.
Crack the eggs into a small bowl and stir in ¼ of the cocoa mixture plus the vanilla.
Add the remaining cocoa mixture plus the butter to the dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined. Increase the speed to medium and mix approximately 2 minutes or until the batter gets smooth and lighter in color.
Add 1/3 of the egg mixture, beat until just combined, and scrape down the bowl. Repeat two more times until all of the egg mixture is mixed in.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan(s) and bake on the center rack until the edges start to pull away from the side of the pan and a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. If you divided the batter between two pans, baking time is approximately 25 to 35 minutes. If you baked all the batter in a single pan, start checking at 35 minutes but be prepared to bake for 40 to 50 minutes.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning it out to cool completely on a wire rack.