Let’s Talk About Fun and Apple Wacky Cupcakes

It’s nine-thirty in the morning. The kitchen smells like molasses and vanilla. I am chopping apples as fast as I can without running the risk of cutting myself. This, I think, is fun.

Fun. What a concept. I’ve been grasping at it recently, like a drunk person feeling for the rail as they stumble up their stairs in the dark. Fun comes in brief moments of pleasure caught unawares amidst a storm of serious intentions and fierce expectations. It is the instants when I find myself…just admiring the flowers…just sitting on the couch and snuggling …just painting…just baking a cake. But as soon as I notice it, it’s gone, lost amidst a bulletin of harsh inquiries about, “What am I doing? Is this productive? How can I turn this into a productive activity?”

I’m giving myself tachycardia (when your heart starts beating too fast) just thinking about it. Recently I’ve felt a bit like a fat hamster, panting on a wheel, wondering when I’m going to reach my destination, and doing my damnedest to get there now. As hamsters far and wide can attest, it doesn’t work very well. I’m tired and stressed out and grumpy. It sucks for me and it sucks for the poor souls who have to encounter me (i.e. my parents, Ethan, my friends, unfortunate baristas and Trader Joe’s checkout people).

An Apple, graphite on paper, 24" X 30"

I know you can’t just sign off of putting pressure on yourself. I still want to be successful as an artist. I still want to create beautiful things that are meaningful to other people. I still want to have an income that allows my parents not to worry about me, though I know they’ll do that anyway. But I have noticed that a lot of what I stress about is whether or not I am successfully becoming something. When I was in college, I put all my effort into becoming an agriculturalist. But I ended up not wanting to be an environmental scientist, despite my love of the outdoors. Then I tried becoming a pastry chef, and I actually succeeded and had a lot of fun, but I missed painting. So I crossed pastry chef off my list and set to work becoming a professional artist. I’m also not doing terribly on that front, but like I said…fat hamster. And it’s not like I’ve given up inquiring about nature or making desserts, despite having made some serious decision that I’m not the “something” associated with those activities.

When did I decide that I had to be one thing? I suppose it’s an attempt to get comfortable; I’ve been trying to settle on a career path so I can say, “I’m a this,” and have done with it. But identity is not like that. No matter how hard I try to figure myself out and call it a day, a self, a life well-lived before it’s done or even barely begun really, I’ll never get out of the task of working out how I feel and what I need, from moment-to-moment. Being human– it’s like this.

In every second there is all of this shifting around: what I love and what makes me happy; what I’m good at and what makes an income; what I find fascinating and what I want no part of, what I can contribute and what I’m willing to strive to be better at. Somewhere in there is a life lived, between now and when the gravestone hits the ground.

I’d like to stop trying to make myself “a something.” Perhaps instead I should make some one else a something. Like an apple wacky cupcake.

Recipe after the jump…

Wacky cake is traditionally a chocolate cake made without butter, eggs, or milk. This, I suppose, makes it wacky, in addition to the fact that it can, apparently, be measured, mixed, and baked all in the same receptacle. It sounds messy to me, but I’ve never tried.

I wanted a fast cake that’s also delicious, since I had a limited amount of time before a friend’s birthday. Wacky cake is pretty much the fastest cake I know of, and also weirdly scrumptious. Weirdly because it lacks most of the ingredients that I associate with cake tasting good…butter, eggs? Who knows why, but it works. Just for kicks, I decided to make a vanilla version and I added apples because, hey, I like apples.

The result is a tangy sweet cake with the richness of vanilla and molasses countered by the tartness of apples and vinegar. The consistency is pudding-like, interrupted by the moderate not-quite-crunch of the apples. If you need any further convincing to make this cake, I offer you two last pieces of incentive. 1) If you have vegan friends, you can feed it to them without the complication of having to acquire things like coconut oil or egg replacer. This cake’s been vegan since before they coined the term. 2) I’ve never had so many people yell mid-bite while eating my baked goods. Exclamations included things like, “Ohmygod! This is the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth!” and “Holy crap! It really does taste like America!” Go find out for yourself.

Apple Wacky Cupcakes

Makes 18 cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350˚ F.

1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons molasses

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup white sugar

1 cup water

3 medium apples, peeled and chopped to 1/4-inch chunks

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Add in the dry mix and whisk until just combined. Dump in the apple chunks and mix them in too. Portion the batter into lined cupcake tins. Bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. The bottoms may seem moist on account of the apples, but if a toothpick comes out clean, they’re done.

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