Friday, January 22, 2010

Regaining Rhythm: Lady Baltimore Cake


I have discovered that there is an upside to being unemployed: when a friend calls and invites you to go horseback riding on a Wednesday afternoon, you can say “yes.” There is nothing sweeter than spending the afternoon with a good friend and equine companions. Despite the cold temperature and the threat of freezing rain (which, luckily, never made it far enough north to effect us) my friend Muffy and I bundled up and headed out to the barn. I haven’t been on a horse since August so this was a particularly sweet treat for me.

One of the things I love about Minneapolis is that you don’t have to drive too far outside of the city to see wide-open spaces. Within half an hour, we were in the company of snow-covered fields and horse farms. Once we had saddled up the horses and stretched their legs a bit, we got on and hit the trails. Immediately, I noticed how quiet it was. When the ground is covered in a thick blanket of snow, it seems to absorb all the sound and leave the world in a still silence. Since I live less than 10 minutes away from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport and listen to the constant drone of airplane engines all day, I reveled in the quiet.

The trails were beautiful. Fields of golden prairie grasses stood tall and stayed perfectly straight as the breeze blew them into each other. It was as if winter had frozen them, too, and they were just as eager as the rest of us for spring to return and bring with it their flexibility and freedom from the cold. The bare trees looked like ink blown across a page of blue paper, sharp and straight with appendages jutting in every direction. And beneath me, I felt the power and apprehension of my horse, Scooter, as he trudged through the crusty snow, all the while looking back in the direction of the barn and the big bale of hay he left behind.

Sometimes, the things we want most in life can also scare the crap out of us. And sometimes, that fear can turn into the most rewarding feeling we’ve ever had.  I daydream all the time about owning my own horse, riding on a beach, feeling the wind blow against my face as we run through the waves. But in reality, my experience with horses has been very limited. I took riding lessons when I was a kid and I rode with my aunt when she owned horses. But since then, I have only had a handful of chances to be back in the saddle. And even then, it was usually for a trail ride or an occasion where we did little more than walk. I haven’t been on a horse that has moved faster than the pace of a trot since I was about 10 years old. When we get older, we lose a bit of that daredevil spirit we have as kids. And especially since I had my back injury, I am overly cautious about avoiding situations that can cause bodily harm. The last time I was on a horse in August, he stumbled and fell. And I fell with him. Luckily, neither of us was injured, but it was an experience I could have gone without having.

Needless to say, that memory was at the front of my mind as I rode across icy winter trails. As we turned to go back towards the barn, there was a hill we had to climb. Muffy warned me that the horses would need to run up the hill. I nodded, took a deep breath and tried to prepare myself. Only, my horse was ready before I was and took off before I had a chance to exhale. One foot dropped out of the stirrup, I fell forward into the horn on the saddle and found myself staring at the ground. For a moment, I thought I was going to fall. I flashed back to that day in August. My brain considered that snow-packed ground might feel better to fall into than the summer dirt, but concluded that not falling at all would feel even better. There wasn’t much I could do about my foot, so I grabbed the horn, tried to regain balance and held on until we were at the top of the hill. I certainly wasn’t going to win any style points, but I achieved my goal of not colliding with the ice.  Muffy asked if I was O.K, and I said, “Yes, I just wasn’t ready.”

When we got back to the barn, Muffy helped to prepare me for the next time. We went into a round pen where we worked on form, trotting and cantering. Honestly, I was scared. I felt my heart start to pound in my chest when she asked if I was ready to canter. She went through the commands, told me to get Scooter’s attention and, when I was ready, told me to go. Easy enough, right? With a quick kick and a command to canter, we were off. And it was amazing. I felt my body fall into synch with his and it was as if we were floating as one across the frozen ground. The up and down bob of his gait was smooth and flawless. I realized I wasn’t scared anymore; I was in a state of complete euphoria. I was doing it! It might not have been on a beach and there weren’t any waves, but I was cantering on a horse and at that moment, it felt like a dream come true.

My horoscope for this month told me that a friend was going to help me in a way I never imagined possible. As Muffy and I drove away from the farm that afternoon, I knew it was true. She wouldn’t give up on me, even when I was on the verge of giving up on myself. She helped me conquer my fear and achieve something that I spent hours dreaming about. She helped me to regain my confidence and have an experience of pure bliss, something I haven’t felt in a really long time. And for all of that, I am eternally grateful to her. And I’m also grateful to Scooter for being so patient with me and helping me to rediscover my rhythm.

That afternoon, I learned that being ready isn’t something we just do; it’s something that requires practice. It’s the same for horseback riding, writing or cooking. If we don’t practice, we fall out of our rhythm. And when we lose our rhythm, we lose confidence. Starting any new project or activity can be terrifying. That fear can launch our brains into a mode of self destruction where we consider all the most horrendous outcomes and possible ways we might fail. It’s at those moments that we need to kick ourselves in the side and go.

I had to do that when I started this blog, when I decided to run/walk/bike to France and even when I made a Lady Baltimore Cake for a friend’s birthday. This week we celebrated a birthday in our poetry group. I told each of the members that they can choose any cake they’d like from the list of recipes in the box and I’ll make it for their birthday. My first request was for a cake that required another boiled icing. When I made my husband’s birthday cake in December, the boiled icing didn’t turn out too great and I was nervous about trying again. I made sure that I had enough ingredients to do this several times…just in case. But coming down from my horseback riding high must have given me enough of a boost to really focus and get it right this time. After only one try, I stared into a white, fluffy bowl of boiled icing.

Again, I won’t be scoring any style points for this cake, but I did it. The next time someone requests a boiled icing cake, I’ll be ready. And the next time I encounter a hill on horseback, I’ll be able to exhale before we start to climb.


  1. yay, molly!! also, please, more riding and cake.

  2. Molly,
    The pictures of wintertime and the horses are amazing! The cake is a good height and you are doing great on the frosting, keep it up, great job!