It’s been a long weekend. Not long like ‘yay, it’s a holiday’ long. More like ‘hours piling onto hours piling onto more hours’ long. I’m pretty firm about this remaining a food blog, so I won’t bore you with the details of what’s been going on in my life. But let’s just say I’m cooking more for one now than for two. Moving has a way of highlighting problems rather than solving them. So after twelve years of comfort, stability, laughs, road trips, cups of coffee, holidays, birthdays together, apartments spanning the country–I’ll be spending a bit more time alone. I’ve actually written this paragraph many times trying to just come out and say it. So there it is. And I’ve had enough sleepless nights, tears, and a rather lousy appetite because of it. So hell. Today it was time to bake a cake.
This cake actually took two tries. I accidentally mixed in two sticks of butter the first time around instead of one as the recipe instructed. I don’t recommend that. It gets pretty messy. So instead of jumping right into Round #2, I decided to take a break and go to yoga. The class itself was overcrowded, overpriced, and a little overrated. But it turned my day upside down and gave me a little perspective. At the end of class, the instructor started talking about being thankful for our blessings, seen and unseen. Unseen blessings. It’s a nice notion when you’re feeling a little sorry for yourself, isn’t it? We all probably count our obvious blessings; for me those are family, good health, friends, and relative financial stability. But what about your unseen blessings?
I like thinking about that notion–thinking that there are blessings out there waiting to be had. More laughter and more cups of coffee. More unspoken understandings and inside jokes. More love. So this weekend, I made a point to keep busy and had the chance to catch up with some very old friends over scorpion bowls (ouch), tea, walks around the block, and tearful phone calls (no, this wasn’t all at once although that would be quite a sight). I haven’t seen some of these friends in ten years. I can’t believe it’s been that long. I want to bake each one of them a cake to say I’m so sorry we lost touch. But the great thing about old friends is there’s no need. They’re still there to listen and smile and give big, long hugs. So thank you, guys. You know who you are. Now get over here and have a slice of cake.
Round #2 shaped up beautifully. This cake is so incredibly moist due to the buttermilk and the “secret” ingredient: butternut squash. The crumb is unbelievably delicate and the flavor is warm and buttery with subtle hints of vanilla, nutmeg, and ginger. For at least a brief few moments while you’re eating this cake, all is right with the world. Really.
And while we’re speaking of blessings, thank you all so much for stopping by, for commenting occasionally, and for your inquisitive and entertaining emails. I need that. I never realized how much direction and sense of purpose this blog would give me. I never anticipated the friendships I’d make with other bloggers. So while I no longer have someone directly across the table to share this with, I know I’ve got some amazing old friends. And I’ve got you. I feel blessed for that alone.
This cake can be made a day or two in advance. After the icing has set, wrap the cake in plastic and refrigerate. Let come to room temperature before serving.
From: Fine Cooking Magazine
For the Cake:
For the Icing:
For the cake:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325 F. Butter and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan; tap out excess flour. In a large bowl with a hand mixer or in a stand mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the oil and beat until combined, about 15 seconds. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well on low speed. Add the vinegar and vanilla and mix again until just combined. Then add half of the flour and the baking soda, salt, ginger, and nutmeg, mixing on low speed until just combined. Add half of the buttermilk and mix until just combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and buttermilk.
Stir the squash into the batter with a wooden spoon or spatula. Transfer batter to the prepared pan and smooth top with spatula. Bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the icing: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, buttermilk, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt until smooth. Add more buttermilk, a few drops at a time, as needed, until the icing is pourable but still quite thick. Pour back and forth in thick ribbons over the cooled cake. Sprinkle the ginger on top. Let the icing set at room temperature, about 45 minutes, before serving.
Cool the cake on wire rack for 30 minutes; then carefully invert cake onto rack and remove pan. When the cake’s completely cool, transfer it to a serving plate.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.