As many of you know, Linnea and I currently live at my mom’s house. It’s a long story that involves my mom going back to graduate school, the family dogs, her eventually moving home, and me losing my job. It’s very temporary and while I never envisioned being thirty and living at home–really, it’s wonderful. I’ve gotten to spend so much time with my mom: sitting at the counter watching her cook; obeying her nonsensical driveway parking rules; talking about books, celebrities, Obama’s charm. But Linnea and I have set a date that January 1 we’ll be moving out. It’s time. I can’t wait to live right in the city, where you can get a piece of pizza after 9 p.m. (you can’t get anything after 9 p.m. in Marin) and walk out your door in the morning to grab a cup of coffee and hop on the bus. I miss the constant buzz of a city, the way the sun glints off the buildings, and the proximity of your neighbors. That being said, Linnea, my mom and I all had a lovely (albeit quiet) suburban Halloween. We baked, we drank, we ordered a pizza, we drank some more, we carved pumpkins, and we handed out mini candy bars to the –drumroll, please– one trick-or-treater who dropped by.
I had big plans for my pumpkin this year. I was going to carve a cupcake on the front, and it was going to be epic. Well suffice it to say, my vision fell flat (pumpkin below is mine, the two below that are my mom’s and Linnea’s).
Blame it on failing high school geometry or that second glass of wine, but it really ended up looking like a pumpkin with the entire front carved out. Oh well. At least one thing turned out just as planned: Rose Levy Beranbaum’s English Gingerbread Cake.
While I usually do a festive soup or a hearty pasta on Halloween, we were all pretty wiped. So we ordered pizza. And then my mom and I set out to make this lovely cake.
For those of you who may not know Rose’s blog, Real Baking with Rose Levy Beranbaum, she’s a cake goddess. She’s the real deal. Her first cake book, The Cake Bible, was quite the sensation although I must admit I do not own it…I merely ogle it at bookstores. But her second cake book just came out, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, and it’s downright lovely. While at first glance some of the recipes may seem tedious (and let’s be honest, some are), in reality Rose describes each step so clearly that the recipes are more narrative than many of us may be used to. She has a clear style of laying out exactly what needs doing, gives you conversions in each recipe for volume and weight, has organized the book logically into types of cake (butter and oil cakes, sponge cakes, cheese cakes etc.) and has beautiful photographs throughout to inspire and guide you. So while there are easily ten cakes I want to make right off the bat, the Gingerbread seemed perfect for a cool autumn evening. It’s a moist, spicy cake with a hint of citrus–according to Rose, a true English classic.
So while I miss having my own place to decorate and while this time of year makes me strangely wish I had my own little munchkins, we had a pretty great evening….I hope that you did, too. Oh, and I got a new camera! I had to refrain from posting 50 pictures of this cake–I’ve been taking photos of everything, and many of them. But hopefully in the coming weeks, the pictures around here will begin to improve. Happy Sunday.
From: Rose’s Heavenly Cakes
For Cake Batter
For Lemon Butter Syrup:
Twenty minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325. In a small heavy saucepan, stir together the butter, golden syrup, sugar, and marmalade over medium-low heat until melted. Set aside uncovered until just barely warm, about 10 minutes. Whisk in eggs and milk.
To make the batter, in a large bowl, whisk the two flours, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter mixture, stirring with a large silicone spatula until smooth (consistency of thick soup). Using the spatula, scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake cake for 50-60 min., or until wire cake tester comes out clean from the center and cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. While cake cools, begin syrup.
For syrup: In a small pan, stir together the sugar, lemon juice, and butter. Heat over medium-low, stirring until the butter’s melted and the sugar dissolves. Brush half the syrup over the top of the cake. Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake, pressing firmly against the pan, and invert the cake onto a wire rack that has been coated lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Brush the bottom with the remaining syrup. To prevent splitting, invert the cake onto a serving plate so the top is up. For extra moistness, cover the cake with plastic wrap while still hot and allow it to cool (I did this–don’t be scared, it works!). Wrap airtight for 24 hours before serving (I did not do this).
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.