Saturday, March 7

Morning ~ A Soliloquy {Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake & Spiced Coffee}

"The fire is dying, the lamp is growing dim, the shades of night are lifting.  The morning light steals across my window pane, where webs of snow are drifting..."-Gordon Lightfoot

Rituals.  They're what hold my life together.  Tiny moments throughout the day.  Strung together like drops of dew on a spider's web.  Each one, on its own, insignificant, but when laced together they form the framework on which I've built a life.  These rituals.  From the time I wake until I finally drift off.  They're sacred.

Rising from bed, bleary-eyed, shuffling down the dark hallway to the kitchen. (Was it Longfellow who said, "The nearer the dawn, the darker the night?")   Pouring fresh water into the kettle and putting it on the stove.  Sliding back the blinds from the large kitchen window.  Each day begins the same.  And if for some reason these rituals don't happen - a child is sick, I've overslept - then I'm quite lost for hours.

The kettle begins to whistle.  I hurry to turn it off before it wakes my sleeping family.  These treasured moments alone are not to be interrupted.  Mixing mahogany coffee grounds with rich spices in the bottom of the coffee press.  Watching the steam rise in soft, muslin clouds as I pour water over top.  These rituals start each day anew and bespeak the opportunities that await.

Standing in front of that kitchen window (it's my favourite spot in the house).  Watching the dawn break on the horizon.  I've said this before, but I had never actually seen a sunrise until my children were born.  It's true!  I never had a reason to rise while it was still dark.  Never craved the absolute peace of having the quiet, sleeping house to myself.  Never knew the bliss of listening to my children softly snore as I cradle that first cup of coffee in my hands.  I let the warmth seep into my palms, up my arms, into my soul.  I breath in the steam from my cup as the first rays of sunlight stretch through that window and across the kitchen floor, bathing me in golden warmth.  These morning rituals are the ones I cherish most.

The children begin to stir, the dog scratches to go out, and the day begins.

I seldom cook more than ham and eggs for breakfast on the weekdays, but on the weekends I love to indulge!  Waffles with fresh raspberries, four-grain pancakes with cinnamon infused maple syrup, coffee cake, crepes with sausage.  I try to make enough to last us through the week to come.  But, no matter what breakfast consist of, three constants remain: there's always my coffee, the window, and the knowledge that I get do it all again tomorrow.  Drops of morning dew in the web of life.

Spring is blooming for many.  I see it on Instagram and in my facebook feed.  Cherry blossoms, grape hyacinths, irises, and tulips... but here in Colorado winter lasts longer.  My morning routine has evolved to accommodate the winter weather.  I've lost track of how many snow days and delays the kids have had.  They say March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb.  But here the lion and the lamb vie for control of the weather on a daily basis.

My husband and I were married on a  March morning in a chapel in the mountains.  The sun streamed through the stained glass windows.  The lamb was sleeping.  But by the end of the ceremony the lion was roaring in ferocious blasts of icy wind and snow.  March in Colorado in unpredictable.   And never are rituals more important than when all else is unpredictable.  If there's one opportunity this crazy weather has afforded me, it's an excuse to make decadent breakfasts all month long.

We woke to an angry storm last week.  Instead of a quiet house, the wind was howling off the eaves and the wind chimes were clanking wildly against the side of the house.  I switched on the oven before anything else, knowing that we needed something particularly decadent for breakfast.  Cinnamon swirl coffee cake was just the thing.  As it baked, I made spiced coffee.  Like guests at an exclusive party, each spice brings its own personality, its own je ne sais quoi, so to speak, and I love the way they all intermingle, charming each other with their intangible complexities.  The cardamom flirts with the black pepper, bringing a hint of warmth to the back of your throat.  The star anise, in all her glory, shares a spicy kiss with the cinnamon.  The vanilla softens everything in a veil of sweetness, like a shroud of snow softens the harsh, frozen earth beneath.  The coffee, being a gracious host, lets her guests have their fun.  Add cream and sugar to really get the party started!

Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake

For the topping:
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold butter

for the filling:
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

for the cake:
8 Tbsp butter (room temp.)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1  1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp white vinegar

for the icing:
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C) and butter and flour a 9 inch tube pan with a removable bottom.

Make the topping by mixing together the dry topping ingredients.  Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until incorporated.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar,cinnamon and a pinch of salt for the filling.  Set aside.

Make the cake:  Stir together the milk and vinegar and set aside.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla.  Combine the baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour.  Add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, to the wet ingredients and beat until everything has been incorporated.

Spread half the batter into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle the filling ingredients evenly over top and swirl gently with a fork.  Add the remaining batter and smooth top.  Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over top.

Bake 50 - 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from pan.

Make the icing by whisking together the confectioners sugar, vanilla and milk.  Drizzle over cooled cake and serve.

Spiced Coffee

4 cups water
28 g (approx 1/4 cup + 2 TBSP) ground coffee
1 star anise pod
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3 - 4 pieces
1/8 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1/2 tsp vanilla
cream and sugar to taste

Bring the water to a boil.  In the bottom of a 4 cup French Press, mix together the coffee, anise, cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper.  Pour the boiling water over top and stir in the vanilla.  Place the lid on and let steep for 5 minutes.  Serve with cream and sugar to taste.

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