This past Sunday morning found Sam in the living room reading the paper and listening to records and me taking mad scientist notes in the kitchen, working on this humble beauty. I’d stumbled across a recipe for a honey cake that I wanted to make but as I was converting the grams into standard cup measurements for you all, I began tinkering. And tinkering. And downright altering the recipe until it really was no longer the honey cake recipe I’d become enamored with. I just couldn’t help but think it should have cornmeal in it, and that spelt flour would make for a really delicate crumb while whole-wheat flour would hold down the fort, so to speak. Sam was reading the Book Review; I was crossing my fingers, staring in at the cake and wondering what I’d done.
The original cake recipe I’d been looking forward to trying is called “Gill’s Honey Cake” from the beautiful River Cottage Cakes by Pam Corbin. Remember this Cardamom Cake (from just about a year ago)? That was from the book as well. For this cake in particular, I used a generous glug of Bee Raw honey that was sent to us a few weeks ago. It’s a raw, unfiltered varietal honey (in very pretty jars, I might add); for this cake I used wild black sage from California (and the thick, dark Washington buckwheat has been wonderful in morning oats lately), though you could certainly use any honey you’d like.
As you may notice from the photo above, there were lots of notes, and then in the middle of cake baking, I thought I remembered a similar recipe from one of my grandmother’s cookbooks. I raced upstairs to go through some old papers to try and find it and, instead, came across a letter typed by my favorite high school English teacher, Mr. Miller, dated right after I graduated from college. It begins: “Dear Megs: Jesus, Megs; you can’t be that old, can you? Weren’t you just a baby-faced 10th grader yesterday? Remember when I said that the next time you turned around you’d be 30 and wonder what the hell? You’re well on your way.” I was more than on my way. The oven timer was going off and I was, quite suddenly, thinking, ‘what the hell?’ I was thrown back into the third row of Honors English listening to Mr. Miller read Catcher in the Rye out loud to us during 5th period, the class right after lunch. He read the entire book to us that way and to this day, if I read a passage of it, I hear it utterly and completely in his voice alone. He taught me to love Shakespeare. To really love Shakespeare. I read Macbeth in his class three times to try and understand all of the symbolism and nuance. And really, to prove to him that I got it. He was that kind of teacher. You wanted to prove to him you deserved to be there. Mr. Miller consoled me when I walked in one morning of my senior year crying over my SAT scores, convinced I’d never get into college. I forget his exact words now (although I’m sure they were colorful), but the gist of it was: it’s no big thing, Megs. You’re going to do just fine.
And while I wanted to sit, staring out my office window thinking about the letter, there was cake. I felt flustered returning to the kitchen, jarred out of memories of being lost in the pages of King Lear or The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I called Sam in for a little help, to do the honors of pouring the honey over the warm cake. We let it soak in for a good 30 minutes and sliced it to have with our second cup of coffee. And much like that single letter, it was quite a surprise: all of that tweaking and futzing and it worked! It was Sunday-morning worthy. In fact, I’m happy to tell you that it’s even better the second day, and might even make a good case for Tuesday-evening worthiness. Those are my favorite kinds of cakes. Forget the tall, towering sugary confections. I’ll take a crumbly, buttery honey cake that gets better as it sits any day. It’s a nice one to have at your desk as you begin to search for a particular address to send a long-overdue reply, and the right words to say to someone quite dear who made a big ol’ thumbprint in your life. Really, it’s that kind of cake.
One thing I love about this cake is that it’s not at all too sweet, so it doesn’t feel overindulgent or far too decadent. That being said, it sure is buttery. I was tempted to retest it using a touch less butter, but Sam insists its perfect and has made me promise not to touch it. The cake calls for ground almonds. If you have almond meal at home, great. Otherwise, just grind down sliced almonds using your food processor — it’s quick and easy. Last, I did use a 9-inch springform cake pan which made it really easy to pop the cake right out, although if you don’t have one I imagine a standard 9-inch cake pan will do just fine; you may just have to work a bit to wiggle it out.
Adapted from: River Cottage Cakes
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease a 9-inch springform cake pan and set aside. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, spelt flour and baking powder and set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl using hand beaters), cream the butter until pale in color, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat until very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour with each and beating well before adding the next.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a wooden spoon, fold in the remaining flour mixture. Stir in the ground almonds until just combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, and spread evenly. Sprinkle sliced almonds on top of the cake and place on a baking sheet (it tends to leak a bit while baking). Bake for 50 minutes or until the top begins to turn golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove from oven and slowly drizzle the honey over the top of the cake while warm. Allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes to soak up the honey. Remove from pan, slice and serve. Cover and keep in an airtight container, and this cake will last up to 5 days.
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.