“When a dove begins to associate with crows its feathers remain white but its heart grows black” German proverb
I’ve been woken each morning this week by the Dark Crow that once had a permanent place at the foot of my bed. Patient and dangerous, it snuck through unguarded shadows to taunt me once more.
“I’m glad you’re awake,” says the Crow, “we have a problem. No, I can’t wait for you to open your eyes, you have many things to listen to, it’s all bad I’m afraid… Remember that girl who wanted to have coffee? You know the one, she’s pretty and slim, so already better than you? Yup, you messed that up, here’s a flashback of the conversation at the exact moment you were an idiot. And remember that call with your friend when she was too busy to meet up? She’s not, you talk too much so she doesn’t want to see you, you’ve lost another one. And then yesterday when you…”
And that’s just the first millisecond as it warms up to the really good stuff.
I heard the Crow’s stories for so many years they became an indelible stain on my brain. So soaked into the fabric of my thoughts that the Crow could start half way through a monologue, knowing I already had the rest of my imagined failures embroidered into my soul.
It’s not the best start to a day. It’s not the best start to a life. I was about eight years old when I first heard the Crow, I didn’t know that it was something to be fought until I was 25. I didn’t know how to fight for 2 years after that. For 19 years the Crow was my bed companion, greeting me in the morning and talking me to sleep each night.
Today, my heart breaks for that child who knew no different, who didn’t even know it was unusual to listen to such things. If it had been a person outside my head, rather than a voice inside, it’d be classified as chronic emotional abuse. If anyone spoke to my son that way I’d happily hack out their tongue with a blunt spoon. And yet, I never thought to treat myself as I would anyone else. I never knew to be disgusted and horrified on my own behalf.
And today I speak with scores of people who live with their own Dark Crows, maybe you have one too.
I changed quite suddenly. About 8 years ago I woke up, the Crow opened its beak to start pontificating on my life failures and, Matrix style, I gripped its beak shut and thought, “Stop”. I looked deeply into the part of my mind that housed the Crow and said, “I will not be spoken to like that any more. It’s over. You’re finished.”
From that moment, every time my Crow would arc up I’d firmly and gently stop it from saying any more. At first I’d catch it halfway through the monologue, I was so used to its noise it took some time to recognise. Gradually, I caught the chatter earlier. My mind became quieter. At the same time I began the work of challenging all the thoughts it’d been crowing at me, while actively focussing on the good in my world. When given a choice I would look for joy, peace and love. Even today it feels silly and naive at times, like I’m not being realistic trusting the light of the stars when the night sky is so dark. But I’d firmly decided on that first day that I’d rather be stupid than broken. And for the most part today, I’m neither.
But this week, my visitor smuggled the dark back into my mind. And today, my two year old son wore some of its hatred. He woke up in a challenging mood and we’d been at loggerheads all morning, I was unable to see anything past the Crow again and, frustrated with him and filled with self, I yelled primal fury into his little face. He immediately crawled under the table, weeping, and repeating over and over, “I’m so sorry Mummy, I’m so sorry.”
Is there anything more devastating than terrifying your child into tears? If there is I haven’t found it yet. The guilt, remorse and self-hatred were immediate and soul-crippling. The Crow won that round and so had more powerful material for future monologues.
I paused, as I’ve been taught to do, and pushed my self-absorbed self-loathing to one side, before creeping under the table next to my son and whispering “I’m sorry. Mummy’s having a bad day and that’s clashed with your bad day. It was very wrong that Mummy scared you and it’s never okay to shout like that. I’m so sorry I scared you.”
He immediately crawled onto my lap and we were friends again. Moments later he’s pelting me with ping-pong balls and laughing uproariously. His forgiveness is fast and complete. I’ll take longer to forgive myself for the monster breaking free around my son.
But if I don’t forgive myself the Crow wins, and I’ve made a silent commitment to all those who come into any contact with me that the Crow isn’t going to win any more. I’m starting the only way I know how and walking by starlight again. Because today I know that although the world is full of pain and tears and terrifying cruelty, it is also full of wonder and inspiration and heroes. And at the end of it all, I know which side I want to fall on.
Bloody hell… I need glitter, laughter and jazzy hands coming from my oven after this week. It’s a no brainer in this mood, it’s got to be the most frivolous of all bakes, cupcakes. I’ve a fabulous and super-easy chocolate cake recipe from Nigella Lawson that I’ve adapted for these cupcakes; dark, heavy and a good representation of my crow. I’ve then lightened and lifted the darkness with a liberal addition of a sweet, creamy and sharp coconut and lime frosting. I’ve topped everything off with sparkly bits to cheer myself up, feel free to ignore that addition if you’re already sparkly enough.
For the cake
- 200g plain flour
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 50g cocoa powder + extra to dredge the cupcake tins
- 275g caster sugar
- 175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tbl sp vanilla extract
- 80ml sour cream
- 125ml boiling water
- 175g dark chocolate chips
For the syrup
- 1 tsp cocoa powder
- 125ml water
- 100g caster sugar
For the frosting
- 1 can of coconut milk (about 400ml)
- 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 315g icing (powdered) sugar
- Zest from 2-4 limes
- 1-3 tsp coconut extract
- Optional topping of your choice (sprinkles? Lime zest and coconut shavings? Shavings of dark chocolate?)
Preheat the oven to 170°C / 325ºF
Thoroughly grease two 12 hole cupcake tins and completely cover each one with about a teaspoon of cocoa powder (I put a the cocoa in the bottom of each hole and shake the tin around until each hole is entirely covered). Once finished, tip the tin upside-down and tap lightly on a surface to get rid of the excess cocoa
Put the flour, bicarb, cocoa, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream into the processor and blitz till a smooth, satiny brown batter. Scrape down with a rubber spatula and process again while pouring the boiling water down the funnel. Switch it off then remove the lid and the well-scraped double-bladed knife and, still using your rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips
Fill each cupcake hole about half way up before sliding into the oven, cooking for 20 to 25 minutes. When it’s ready, the cupcakes will be risen and a cake-tester, or a fine skewer, will pretty well come out clean. But this is a damp cake so don’t be alarmed at a bit of stickiness in evidence
Five minutes before you take the cupcakes from the oven, put the syrup ingredients of cocoa, water and sugar into a small saucepan and boil for 5 minutes. You may find it needs a little longer: what you want is a reduced liquid, that’s to say a syrup, though I often take it a little further, so that the sugar caramelises and the syrup has a really dark, smokey chocolate intensity
Take the cupcakes out of the oven and sit them on a cooling rack and, still in the tin, pierce each a few times with a cake tester. Then run a small knife around the outside of each cupcake to make sure they can come away easily before pouring a teaspoon or so of syrup over the surface of each cupcake
Let the cupcakes cool and then slip them out of the tin ready for frosting
To make the frosting, bring the coconut milk to boil in large deep saucepan over a medium-high heat (coconut milk will boil up high in pan). Reduce heat to medium-low and boil, stirring occasionally, for 25 to 30 minutes until reduced by about two thirds. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Transfer to small bowl. Cover and chill. (This can be made 2 days ahead and kept in the fridge)
Using an electric whisk, beat the butter in large bowl until smooth. Add the sugar, zest from 2 limes, 1 teaspoon of coconut extract and 80ml of the reduced coconut milk and beat until light and fluffy. Once fully fluffed, check the coconut and lime flavours are speaking your language loudly enough, if they’re not, keeping adding in each little by little until you have the flavour exactly as you want.
Using pastry bag fitted with large star tip, pipe frosting onto the cupcakes
Eat these at dawn, at dusk and amongst the stars
And, quickly, a big thank you to Michelle at King of States and the rest of the group at Blogging 201 this week. Anyone who thinks blogging isn’t a community effort hasn’t spent time surfing the loving halls of WordPress.