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.
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.