When we first moved into our new house at the end of last year, we couldn't sleep. Our old apartment was off a major street in West Los Angeles and we left the sliding glass door open so that the living room constantly swirled with rush hour traffic and a salt-laced ocean breeze from Venice. The new place was even closer to the beach- we could get there by walking about a quarter mile down a sand path that led straight to the water. The new place was in a small beachside community that almost seemed emblematic of a step back in time. Everyone we met so far was nice- our neighbors, the people who all knew each other at the coffee and flower shop around the corner, even the woman who had sold the place to us.
The problem with the new place was that it was too quiet. Every creak of the wooden floors and metallic sigh of the kitchen appliances seemed to echo and stretch through the walls like rings on a still lake. Every time the refrigerator dropped a new batch of ice into the freezer, I jolted awake imagining an intruder had stepped through the old-fashioned swing windows in the kitchen. Every time l ran the dishwasher before bed, I was tempted to run downstairs to make sure that the roaring sound of water, echoing like river rapids up the stairwell into our bedroom, wasn't a hint that the dishwasher had sprung an enormous leak and our kitchen was now submerged in a foot of water.
I know that part of it was getting used to the quiet, and part of it was the almost PTSD style of anxiety that continued to erupt inside of me in short waves even once the escrow process was over. I had gone into it all feeling pretty arrogant. I was good at my job and it entailed a lot of multi-tasking and bureaucracy, so I figured I was primed to deal with the lenders and escrow process. Probably unsurprisingly to those who have already been through buying a home, the process really challenged my desire for constant control. I would be feeling pretty good about getting them the information they asked for, would allow myself to relax inside the lull of silence from the other side, and then, all of the sudden, at the end of the business day, they would need three more things and they would need them right now or else it might impact our closing date!
One of the worst parts about it was that we removed all contingencies the day before the Presidential election. That night, as I thanked god that my husband had stress drank enough beer and whiskey to fall asleep on the sofa before the results started looking really bad. I was convinced it couldn’t really happen, so I stayed up until the official results were called at 4:00 AM and I cried.
We had mixed feelings about moving from our apartment into our new townhouse, which might be surprising to someone on the outside. After all, not only was the area beautiful, but the place itself had so much charm. It's styled like an English countryside cottage with Tudor architectural details, brick walls and chimneys, and overgrown ivy and flowers stretching out of the center courtyard. But still, the apartment we were living in was the most like home out of anywhere else we had lived in Los Angeles. We had become close with our neighbors and were accustomed to the feeling of safety that came with knowing everyone living on the other side of the walls around us.
We decided that we would have a house warming party as soon as possible to set the tone right for our lives in our new home.
I've hosted enough parties by now to know that if I try to do something too ambitious or experimental, it will fail in some way and I will somehow instigate a fight with my husband. So, for the housewarming party, I really just wanted to make my tried and true desserts- chocolate cupcakes with whipped vanilla bean buttercream. The chocolate cake recipe is my favorite and it happens to be gluten free as well. It always bakes up with a perfect rise, moist crumb and rich chocolate flavor. The buttercream is my go-to for American buttercream because of my secret ingredient- just a bit of cream cheese (like 2-3 tbsp) gives it a whipped quality and offsets the sweetness of the powdered sugar. No cream cheese? No problem. You can swap it out for the same amount of sour cream (it sounds weird, but trust me on this one).
And do you know what happened after the party? The house really did feel changed. We had loved it from the moment we walked inside, but I don't think it really felt like ours until after that party. There is something magical about having everyone you care about in one place at one time that sort of makes the world around you skip a beat- you're reminded of how lucky you are to have so many people in the world that love you and sometimes that's enough to carry you through the anxiety that comes with change- the joy cuts through it like sunlight through glass.
For the chocolate cupcakes (Makes 20-24 full-size cupcakes)
- 3 tbsp coconut oil
- 3/4 cups regular sugar
- 3/4 cups brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Gluten free flour blend (or sub 1 1/2 cups AP flour)
- 1/4 cup white rice flour, 1/4 cup sweet rice flour, 1/2 cup potato starch, 1/4 cup sorghum flour, 1/4 cup almond flour
- 3/4 cup high quality dutch process cocoa powder (such as Valrhona or Callebaut)
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup sour cream (full fat)
- 3/4 cup hot water
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and line two cupcake pans with 24 regular sized liners. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into food processor and pulse until combined (or put in large bowl and whisk together well). Set aside. Combine sugar, coconut oil, eggs and vanilla in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat for 2-3 minutes. Add flour and cocoa powder. Add sour cream and mix for another minute or two. Stir in hot water and mix by hand until fully incorporated. Scoop batter equally into cupcake pans and bake for around 20 minutes, checking around 18 minutes.
For the whipped vanilla buttercream:
- 3 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 2-3 tbsp cream cheese (room temperature)
- 2 1/2-3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
- Food coloring (optional)
Combine 3 sticks of unsalted butter with 2-3 tablespoons of room temperature cream cheese. Add powdered sugar half a cup at a time, until desired sweetness is reached. Add vanilla and beat buttercream on highest setting for at least 3-4 minutes until it reaches a "whipped" consistency. Frost cupcakes as desired.