(A Serial Experiments Cookie holiday special)

So. It's Christmas time in the not-so-sunny south of Spain.

The air is damp, chill. The wind comes in from the sea and cuts to the bone. Packs of roving zombie babies roam the stree-- (Er, wait, sorry. That's a scene from He Ate My Flesh 5. Don't know how that got mixed in there). The smell of burnt chestnuts mixes with the odor of wet cement and arc welders on the street. People rush to and fro, searching for not-quite-last minute gifts; here, presents aren't given out until the Feast of the Epiphany-- almost in time, but not quite, for the clearance sales and rebajas that choke the stores in January.

And it is very lonely.

Christmas has never been what you'd call my favorite time of year. Vicious arguments and poorly-restrained tempers at the dinner table are about as traditional as the roast pork, black beans, and rice. As are the pointed looks from my oldest brother when I tell my parents I'll be passing on church yet again. I never thought I'd actually miss plates angrily being thrown into the sink and hiding in my room to avoid the urge to upend the gravy tureen over Roger's head.
Funny how things work, huh?

One brother is an ocean away, using his week of leave to visit his girlfriend in Chicago and trying to forget about where he might be sent in a few weeks. The other is still on-base in Germany, dealing with things I'd rather not think about and waking up in the middle of the night dreaming of things I'd rather not know. My parents pass the time attending the funerals of their friends and wondering if they'll be next. And me, well... I'm contemplating selling body parts as a way to finance my education and a plane ticket back to the States.

Whoever said that Christmas was a time for introspection, well... I don't think this was quite what they meant.

We all have different ways of coping with problems. Me, I cook. There's something innately comforting about the smell of just-made cookies filling the kitchen, the taste of a stew you spent hours preparing. When things turn out well, you're left with a much-needed sense of satisfaction-- of completion.

It's my oldest brother's thirtieth birthday tomorrow.

I think this calls for cake.

Rum-soaked raisin carrot cake

What you'll need:

  • about 3 cups of finely grated carrots. You'll need about five medium-sized or three large carrots if you decide to take on the task of grating them yourself.
  • 1/2 cup of raisins. Or chopped dates, if that's your thing. I'd go with raisins.
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar, lightly packed.
  • one shot of rum, preferably dark.
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

  • 2 cups of flour. All-purpose white is fine here.
  • about 2 envelopes of baking powder. Er, four teaspoons, I believe. (It's easier just to slip the envelopes in. Well, minus the paper bits.)
  • 1 cup of plain, white, granulated sugar.
  • 3/4 cup of brown sugar-- again, lightly packed.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Sea salt worked nicely this time for me.
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
  • about 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground cloves. (Which comes to about ten to fifteen cloves, pre-mortar and pestle.)
  • 1/4 - 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, depending on how much you actually like nutmeg.

  • about 100 grams (er, somewhere between 3/4 of a stick to a whole stick) of butter, warmed to room temperature and cut into small pieces. If you choose to use margarine instead, lawn gnomes will break into your house in the dead of night and steal your dog.
  • 4 eggs.
  • one more teaspoon of vanilla extract.
  • about half a shot more of rum. Do not use anything coconut-flavored, please.

  • about 1 cup of chopped or crushed walnuts. (If you're allergic to nuts, it might be a good idea to skip this part.)
  • about three hours of spare time.

I'd like to start off by saying that this is a fairly labor-intensive, if not terribly complex, recipe, especially if A) your local supermarket is less-than accommodating when it comes to pre-grated carrot bits and pre-crushed walnuts. (and powdered sugar, but that's another story.)(like mine.) or B) you're a masochist. (Like me!)

Step one: If you were fortunate enough to find grated carrots pre-packaged, good for you. Skip the rest of this paragraph. If you weren't quite that lucky... first, wash the veggies in question. Follow that up by skinning them carefully with a potato peeler. Remove the knobbly bits on the end and prepare to spend the next half an hour or so rubbing carrots against a conveniently-located grating device. Try and avoid skinning your knuckles on the sharp bits, please. When you have roughly three cups' worth of carrot bits grated, place them into a smallish mixing bowl.
Once the carrots are evenly spread out, add in half a cup of brown sugar, a shot of rum, and one teaspoon of vanilla extract and stir well with a wooden spoon. The carrots should go from a bright orange to a darkish brown color, and the rum should puddle up in the bottom of the dish. Add in the raisins, stir again, and get ready to put the bowl aside for about 30-45 minutes.

Now would be a good time to pre-heat the oven to about 325ºF.

In a medium-to-largish mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients-- flour,baking powder, salt, both types of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and the ground cloves-- (minus the walnuts) and mix well.
Once the dry ingredients thoroughly blended, slowly add in the "wet" ones-- eggs, butter, one teaspoon of vanilla extract, and half a shot of rum-- and continue stirring until everything starts to look uniform.

Check the clock. Has half an hour passed?

If so, you might want to add in the carrot/raisin mix right about now. Walnuts, too, if that's your thing.

The batter should be liquidy-thick, but not lumpy, once all the ingredients have been added, not to mention a delicious rich brown color. Pour the mix slowly into a 9.5 or 10 inch circular pan, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl to get all the raisins and carroty bits. Once the batter has settled, carefully place it into your now-hot oven to bake for somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Once the cake has finished baking, you may want to consider making some cream cheese frosting to top it off. In fact, I'd recommend it. Carrot cake isn't carrot cake without the cream cheese frosting. As a finishing touch, if you have any walnuts left over from earlier, you may want to consider sprinkling them across the top or around the edges of the cake for a more refined look.

And end. I'm not entirely sure how many people this cake serves, to be honest. I'd guess somewhere between twelve to fifteen slices of carrot-flavored goodness. (Thanks, ycky!) As usual, it may be possible to convert this into either kosher or vegan eating though clever use of ingredient swapping, but I can't vouch for the results. If anyone decides to try this recipe, with or without modifications, please let me know how it turns out. And finally...


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