As most of you know, there was recently a devastating fire in Black Forest, Colorado, which is close to Colorado Springs. My parents lived in the Black Forest. Their house was one of the first of 509 houses to burn. They narrowly escaped the fire.
On June 11, 2013, my mother was doing something she loved to do...work in the yard. She had beautiful flower beds around their house in the forest. She was planting and weeding. At 1:30 in the afternoon, she started smelling smoke. She went in the house to call my father to ask if they should worry. He said to go ahead and pack some things and he was on his way. After he got there, they began loading one of their three cars and a trailer with valuable things. My mom was upstairs packing clothes into a suitcase.
Suddenly the house across the street, which is more than five acres away, exploded. Yes, exploded. I don't know how or why that is possible, but it did. My father ran upstairs and told my mother to get in the car. They raced down to the car, gathered up their dogs, and got ready to evacuate. By then, there were flames racing across their meadow. And then something terrible happened. The car wouldn't start. All of their precious things would have to be abandoned as they got in a second car to leave.
As they drove down their long driveway, my mother describes the flames shooting up all around the car as driving out of hell. By the time they reached the second car, the flames were starting to engulf their second-story deck which spanned the length of their house. They made it out of that fire with my mother's car, their dogs, and her purse. That's it. No other possessions in the world. The same tragedy happened to 508 other families. The fire burned at least at 2,500 degrees, leaving nothing behind but ashes. When we finally got back in, expecting to find things to take away and salvage, there was nothing but ash and chunks of sheetrock and two burned cars, one with a trailer attached.
I usually try to post happy and even funny posts, but not this one. I spent nine days with my parents during this trying time, waiting to be let back into their neighborhood, only to be turned away by National Guardsmen, who were doing their job trying to keep people safe. We attended press conferences hosted by the El Paso County Sheriff, Terry Maketa, and the Type I Incident Commander, Rich Harvey. (A funny note about the first press conference we attended: My mother was interviewed by five different TV stations and one newspaper about her ordeal!) We spent days wondering if their house had burned, if their neighbors' houses had burned, if there was any hope left.
I wanted to do something, albeit it small, to honor the military, the firefighters, the sheriff's office, the volunteers, the families. I want to honor the fact that these people need to find a way to pick up the pieces of their lives and start anew. Some of those families had no insurance and nowhere to go, no hope in sight. My parents are fortunate enough to be able to move on. They found a house to rent while they figure out what they want to be when they grow up. When you lose 60 plus years of things and memories and special treasures, where do you start picking up the pieces?
As I said, this is a small, simple way to show our support for these people. I made a cake. Big deal. But I sometimes deal with life the best when I'm in the kitchen, and I feel at home there. I'm comfortable there. I feel at my best in the kitchen. The feeling I put into that cake represented, in a small way, my feelings for this entire situation. If you look at the cake, there are three distinct colors. Red, black, and white. Red represents fire, but it also represents strength. Black represents death, but it also represents power. White represents kindness, purity and new beginnings. For my parents and the other displaced people of the Black Forest, I wish them strength to move on. I wish them the power to keep going. And I wish them the best of new beginnings.
BLACK FOREST CAKE
FOR THE CAKE (as adapted from the Whimsical Bakehouse book):
1 C real butter, softened
2 1/2 C sugar
3 C flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 C cocoa powder
1 C hot coffee
1 C cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
FOR THE FROSTING:
2 1/2 lbs powdered sugar (I know...it's a lot, but it's a big cake!)
1 C real butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 C shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 to 3 1-ounce blocks chocolate bark
Two 14-ounce cans cherry pie filling
Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the eggs, butter, and sugar in a mixer with a batter attachment. Add in the remaining cake ingredients and beat until smooth. Pour evenly into both pans. Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool the cakes on a rack. Remove them from the pans, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold. The cakes must be cold to withstand the weight of the cherries and the frosting.
For the frosting, cream together the butter, cream cheese and shortening in a mixer. Add in the powdered sugar, a little at a time, until it is all combined. The frosting should be stiff. However, if it is too stiff to work with, add water a tablespoon at a time until it's still stiff but able to be worked with.
Split each cake in half so that you have four layers. Spread some frosting on top of the first layer, being sure to have more frosting around the outer ring to hold in the cherries. Spoon about 1/3 of a can of cherries onto the center but not pushing it out onto the edges of the cake. This will keep the cherries from oozing out between the layers. Add another layer of cake and repeat the frosting and cherries process (You may get into the second can of cherries). When you put the top layer of cake on, frost the top and sides of the cake. Don't worry about dragging crumbs into your frosting. The top and sides will be covered. Put remaining cherries on top. Microwave the chocolate bark for about 15-20 seconds to soften. Use a potato peeler to shave off chocolate curls. Press the chocolate curls onto the sides of the cake all the way around. Keep the cake refrigerated.