Ever since Artichoke was a little boy, he was fascinated by cooking. Every Sunday after church, he would help his mother prepare dinner. Artichoke’s family wasn’t rich, but usually there would be a whole roasted chicken, homemade macaroni and cheese, fried plantains, rice and peas, creamy potato salad, and sliced tomatoes with lettuce tossed in oil, vinegar and a pinch of sugar. For special occasions, his mom would buy bundles of fat and crunchy carrots from the market. She would allow Artie to peel and grate them, and even let him crack the eggs. Then she would whip and blend, combining flour, eggs, sugar, and carrots to create the moistest carrot cake Artichoke had ever tasted.
His father wasn’t as supportive of Artie’s forays into the kitchen; in fact he was perturbed by “this dolly house behavior.” He would often call his son’s mother aside and plead with her to send the boy outside to “play football.” He often complained that Artichoke’s hands were too soft for a growing boy, at which point she would roll her eyes and tell him, “Go read your Bible, the boy is just fine.” Artichoke rarely thought about his dad, and why should he? His father was a cheat who abandoned his family for another woman. Growing up, Artie had few memories of him.
His mother didn’t bake much after father left. He had seen her try, but her sorrow seeped into the batter and each slice tasted like bitter melancholy. His mother had once told him, “Never cry when baking; tears will make the cake sour.” She did a lot of crying in those days.
As he grew older, Artichoke continued to cook, and eventually met and fell in love with a professional cook, Shanice. Together they bought a house and dreamed of the future, maybe kids, marriage, maybe something more.
They were going through a rough spot in their relationship. Shanice was happy with things the way they were, but Artichoke was growing more depressed as winter progressed. All of these thoughts swirled like a cosmic soup in Artie’s mind as he lay listening to Shanice snoring softly beside him.
He had been awake ever since the first rays of sunlight had crept past the shuttered curtains and into their bedroom. For a while he had watched as the light cast patterns on the wall, and he thought about his mom in Gainesville before his thoughts drifted back to the person sleeping beside him.
Somewhat irritated by her rhythmic snoring, Artichoke poked her in the side.
“Shani, tomorrow’s my birthday.”
“Huh,” she mumbles, still half asleep.
“I said, tomorrow’s my birthday.”
She yawns, turns to face him, and sighs; she pulls the blanket closer around them, and asks, “What are you talking about, Artie?” He moves closer and kisses her lips. Her eyes are still closed but she smiles, “How can I forget my baby’s special day?”
He pauses, afraid he might hurt her feelings. “It’s just that, just that, I barely see you anymore.” He snuggles closer to her, “Baby, wouldn’t it be nice if we could spend tomorrow together?”
Shanice knew this was coming; this is why most cooks prefer to date other cooks or waiters. Being a professional cook is poor soil for developing any type of long-lasting relationship. It’s inevitable; at some point every cook has to face the dilemma of choosing. She’d promised this year to spend Thanksgiving with Artichoke and his mom, but Chef asked her to work that day.
Now Christmas had come and gone and once again Artichoke had made the one-hour drive to Gainesville by himself. Shani had done something lame like try to kiss him on the cheek before he left, but he put a hand on her lips, turned away and walked out the door.
Shanice loved Artichoke as much as any woman could. She felt the sadness in his heart, as deeply as that first night, the dinner cold on the table, his fathers’ chair empty, the sound of his mother weeping in her room. Intuitively, she knew there was a way to heal the rift that was developing between them. She would bake for him, she would offer hope using Artichoke’s beloved carrot cake recipe. Shanice was excited and began to hum as she moved around the kitchen. There was a smile on her face as she peeled the carrots then grated them. She cracked the eggs then set them aside. Then she poured all her love into the batter, combining flour, eggs, sugar and carrots to create Artichoke’s birthday cake.
Artichoke’s mom had once told her, “There’s magic in cooking; yes, it’s quite possible to taste love, if you truly put your heart into it.” There was love in this cake – enough to mend a broken heart – and Shanice knew within her own heart this was true. Tomorrow they would drive to Gainesville and surprise his mom for Artichoke’s birthday. She would mend what was broken and maybe together they could face the future again. In love. Maybe kids, maybe marriage, maybe something more.
Carrot Cake to Mend a Broken Heart
1 cup grated carrots
1 whole apple grated
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
½ cup vegetable oil
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ cup butter, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325°F. Prepare a 12” cake pan by spraying it evenly with non-stick baking spray. In a bowl mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
In another bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and mix together. Add the grated carrots and grated apple.
Whisk in the milk. Whisk in the vegetable oil. Pour batter in prepared cake pan and bake for approx. 30 to 45 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a skewer; it should be dry when taken out. Cool then fill and frost with cream cheese frosting.
TO MAKE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING: With an electric mixer, mix the butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until very smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing. Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar until creamy and smooth. Add the vanilla extract and mix for another minute.