It’s undeniably September, but I’m going to refrain from writing that kind of a post. On evening runs, it’s getting darker just a touch earlier and, like clock-work, summer is kicking into swing full-force in the Bay Area. We’re good for Indian summers and we’re also known for forgetting they happen each and every year. We all walk around shocked that it’s hot in September when it’s always hot in September. So while I’m excited for all that fall brings, let’s look back at summer for just a second and then talk about cake, shall we?
This is the perfect cake to talk about today because it celebrates summer with fresh corn and berries but also looks towards fall with its sturdiness, dense crumb and complete and total unfussiness. A seasonal “bridge dessert” of sorts. Now we’ve done bridge desserts before: there was the Raspberry Pear Pandowdy a few years ago and last year’s Rustic Fig and Almond Cream Galette. Today we’re adding maybe one of my favorites to the line-up with this simple, special Cornmeal Cake with Fresh Corn and Raspberries.
When I do have a little bakery of my own, I will serve this cake. I will serve it in the morning and in the afternoon and I think I’ll bake it in a cast-iron skillet. It’s the kind of cake you want to share with someone: you want to order a very large slice with a healthy dollop of whipped cream, and talk about how wonderful the fresh corn kernels are with the cornmeal, buttermilk and slightly tart berries. How it all works together even though you may have doubted it at first. It’s a stunner, this cake.
And it caps off a stunner of a summer. There was the perfectly still week up at my mom’s cabin on Lake George where we made this banana pudding. Then there was the time I roasted tomatoes, made gougeres, and visited Seattle a few times–meeting wonderful new people and one wonderful new boat. Then remember we ate a lot of summer fruit and made pie and had a few cocktails? Well, a lot of cocktails, really.
There was that major love affair with rhubarb. And chocolate zucchini bread and ice cream. Two kinds of ice cream in fact…and popsicles, too. There were a few good novels, a few good memoirs, not many good movies, a great TV series, a few good hikes, a weekend in Tahoe with my Dad, a wonderful dinner party, a new-to-me restaurant that I can’t get enough of, and a lot of productive work. Balanced and good. Like this cake.
This cake will keep up to three days covered at room temperature. I think it’d be equally lovely with tart blackberries, sour cherries, or whatever fruit is in season that excites you.
Adapted from: Farmers Market Desserts
Preheat the oven to 350 F and oil a 9″ round cake pan. Dust with flour, tap out excess, and set aside.
Measure out 3/4 cup berries and set aside for garnish. Put the remaining 1 1/4 cups berries into a small bowl with the corn kernels and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 2 tablespoons sugar. Stir gently to coat and set aside.
Stir together the remaining 1 cup flour, 3/4 cup sugar, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, and olive oil in a small bowl and stir in into the flour mixture until just combined. Gently fold the berries and corn into the batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until the top is just golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, around 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan. Once cool, run a knife around the edges to loosen and invert onto a flat plate, inverting again onto your choice of serving platters.
Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream and a handful of fresh berries on top.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
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).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.