By Summer Miller, author of New Prairie Kitchen
My husband turned up the volume on the Bluetooth speaker he gave me for my birthday. This is significant because he has never turned up the volume on anything before. He always turns it down, and this has been a source of contention in our 15-year relationship. But today he turned it up, and I watched in amazement as our unassuming household transformed into a dance party of epic proportions.
My son, as if on instinct, played air guitar. Never mind, that it was during the piano heavy prelude of the song. His little arm swung wildly around in circles carefully strumming invisible strings at each rotation. My daughter immediately dropped what she was doing to dance with her Daddy, as little girls do. I stood in the kitchen singing loudly, and soaking in the sudden explosion of joy that consumed our household.
I have the great privilege of turning 40 this week, and all I can think is, “Thank God, I made it this far. Thank God, I’ve been gifted all of these years.”
I know so many people who weren’t.
My sister died at 23 from cancer. A chef who I adore and admire lost her husband in his 30s to the same disease, and I lost two friends to murder in separate incidences while they were both teenagers.
I have traveled to places far from home, trusted strangers, and believed in my fellow man. I got drunk. I smoked cigarettes because I thought it showed the fierceness in my spirit. I was 24 years old the first time I hiked a mountain, and I knew I would never buy another pack. I knew I would hate myself if I’d missed that view or any views I would seek in the future because I chose a cigarette over everything the world offered me. It was the worst kind of wastefulness – being indifferent to the beauty that surrounds us in the music we hear, the topography of our loved one’s faces, age spots on my own skin, the trail that takes me to a place I’ve never been before simply because someone else loved it too, and I followed the path they carved. I traveled extensively in my late teens and early 20s because I filled out a credit card application on a college campus. I didn’t buy nice clothes or furniture. I bought plane tickets, and slept on the couches of new friends, and old friends and in subpar slightly terrifying hotel rooms, but I saw Chris Isaak play on Puget sound, and picked up hitchhikers and stumbled into some crazy party in the woods in Oregon. I hiked a mountain in South Africa, and watched the sunrise over the Strait of Gibraltar. I visited the homes of poets in Chile, and then I came home.
I worked four jobs to pay for those adventures. I met a boy. We married, and had babies. I have loved deeply, so passionately and with such fits of devotion it has brought me to my knees. I carry the scars of childbirth on my body and in my heart, but I would tear myself open one thousand times if I knew the two children I bore would be the result of my actions. I became fearful when I had children, and it seemed every fiber of my being had transformed into something so unrecognizable to me. I had to get to know this new woman. We all did. This wasn’t a new version of me, this was an erasure of everything I was up until the day my first child was born. I fail and succeed daily in my marriage, and I am eternally grateful for all of it. For every misstep of my youth, every reckless moment, for the idiocy of my early years in business and love, and the grace those wiser than myself granted me.
This is the sum of my life.
It’s what we are doing here, isn’t it? To bask in it. To revel in goodness, and smiles and sunshine. To trust our fellow man. To accept our weaknesses, and failures and terrible mistakes. To learn our lessons and take our lumps then find deep and lasting gratitude so we can grant grace to others. It’s why I am here.
I’m 40 and all I can think is, “Thank God, I made it this far. Thank God, I’ve failed so many times — failures of kindness, inhibition, common sense, and grace. Thank God, I’ve learned so many lessons from people who loved me through it.” I feel a great responsibility to everyone who didn’t make it to 40. I don’t care about the grey hairs on my head or where the crow’s feet have landed. I care that I can laugh. And play. And give. And love. I’m grateful for being. I’m grateful I have what matters most, a world full of beautiful people and places asking me to pay attention and notice them. My hope for the next days of my life, however many they may be, is that I don’t forget it.
24K Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
This cake was developed by the ever-talented Kristine Moberg at Queen City Bakery, in Sioux Falls, S.D. She was kind enough to contribute her recipe to New Prairie Kitchen, and I look forward to eating a slice every summer as a special, indulgent birthday treat. I hope you love it as much as I do.
This cake is the best way to eat your vegetables. Store leftovers in the refrigerator, but bring to room temperature before serving.
— Kristine Moberg QUEEN CITY BAKERY | SIOUX FALLS, SD
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1¾ cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon orange zest
1½ cups sunflower oil
4½ cups grated carrots
½ cup shredded sweetened coconut
¼ cup crushed and drained canned pineapple
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 ounces confectioners’ sugar, sifted
TO MAKE THE CAKE
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Butter 3 8-inch round cake pans, then cut out a circle of parchment paper to cover the bottom of each.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and cloves and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, salt, and orange zest. Whisk in the oil and eggs until well combined. Using a spoon or stiff spatula, add the carrots, coconut, and pineapple; stir until combined. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet. Do not overmix, as doing so will result in a tough cake.
Pour a scant 2¼ cups of cake batter into each prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before removing from the pans.
TO MAKE THE ICING
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until it is smooth and has absolutely no lumps, about 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl; add the cream cheese and cream until combined. Scrape down the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and mix again. Scrape down the bowl. With the mixer running, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar. Scrape down the bowl, then mix for about 2 more minutes. Be careful not to overmix, as the icing will lose its structure.
Place 1 cake layer on a cake stand. Spread some icing on top of the first layer. Place the second layer of cake on top of the first and top that layer with icing as well. Place the third layer of cake upside down on the second; this will give you a nice level top to your cake. Plop quite a bit of icing on the top and, using an offset spatula, work the icing out to the sides in a circular motion. It’s OK if icing hangs over the sides of the cake. Continue working the icing over the top and down the sides of the cake. Finally, smooth out the sides and add more icing if needed. Serve. As mentioned above, you can also refrigerate the cake if you want to serve it later—just make sure to serve at room temperature.
Recipe Credit: New Prairie Kitchen via Kristine Moberg
Check out Summer’s website!