It has indeed been quieter around here than I’d anticipated or planned for but it’s taken us a bit longer to bounce back from moving than I’d imagined. I mentally kept telling myself we were just moving up the street — that it’d be no big deal and I could do small trips throughout the week. And I did this. And it kind of felt like no big deal at the time. But the small trips all started to realllllly add up after awhile. We did have a lot of help on the actual moving day, but by that time I was pretty much ready to lie down in the guest room and take a day-long nap, which of course wasn’t an option. In fact! It turns out our box spring didn’t fit up the staircase so Sam had to saw it in half in the basement while I kept myself nervously busy, and by the time we got it upstairs and all set up I think both of us were more than ready to collapse. We felt pretty proud that at least there was a bed in the midst of all those boxes. Suffice it to say, there has been more painting and unpacking than cooking around here lately. We’ve been eating a lot of quick takeout from the co-op, my famous-only-to-Sam chicken salad, and easy open-face quesadillas. But a few nights ago, I decided it was time to bake something proper. So here we are. I’ve missed you!
I’d run across some really beautiful looking rhubarb at the store and picked it up not exactly knowing what I wanted to do with it. There was, of course, the Rhubarb Breakfast Cake I’d made on the blog a few years ago. But I’d seen Molly’s recent post and thought that might be the way to go, until I saw this pie and thought perhaps that was actually the right direction. My friend Natalie made a straight rhubarb pie with candied ginger in it for our bookclub, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
But when it came down to it, after organizing all of my cookbooks and, exhausted, sitting down to stare at them, my favorite little cake cookbook stood out and I wondered if there was a rhubarb recipe within its pages. Sure enough, we were in business with what author Pam Corbin called a Rhubarb Pudding Cake.
The River Cottage Cakes Book is a wonderfully British book featuring relatively humble cakes (you won’t see any towering three layer affairs) that always call to me. I baked the Honey Cake a few years back and before that I’d baked up the fragrant, addictive Cardamom Cake. Many of the cakes featured are the sort you want to have with a dollop of fresh whipped cream after dinner, but really you want to wake up to a slice with your morning coffee. I’ve found (and this cake is no exception) that they’re not too sweet or syrupy and generally really celebrate the star ingredients without masking them with cloying frostings or glazes.
Because the book is British, it obviously uses grams exclusively so I’ve included both standard and metric measurements for you in the recipe below. And I often find there are a few ingredients that I’m just not familiar with in the book, so I’ll often make substitutions or adapt as needed. The recipe for this sturdy yet tender, buttery rhubarb-flecked cake is no exception: it calls for cornflower or custard powder (thus the original name) which I didn’t have in my pantry and I don’t think is all that common here in the States. I substituted rice flour instead, which worked out perfectly; after a quick Google search it seems you could also use cornstarch. The recipe calls for golden caster sugar which is a really fine brown sugar found in many British baking recipes; I used a superfine white sugar instead. Last, Corbin’s cake calls for self-raising flour which is essentially flour with a little added salt and baking powder, so I’ve gone ahead and tweaked the recipe below to reflect that. I’d generally use a whole grain flour here and I don’t really remember the last time I baked with 100% all purpose flour, but the kitchen isn’t fully unpacked and there was something really appealing about just opening up a cookbook and following directions. So that’s exactly what I did.
Making this cake is relatively simple and can be done while stepping over a few stray boxes. I actually found mixing it up almost as gratifying as eating a slice: as you beat in the eggs slowly, the batter becomes this wonderful glossy yellow and once you fold in the yogurt and vanilla it’s fragrant and creamy and just awaiting the addition of bright spring rhubarb. I have a hunch this could be a great base recipe for blueberries or cherries later this summer — a time I envision us eating outdoors in our small yard often, cooking more, fully settled in and fuss-free.
Adapted ever-so-slightly from: Cakes by Pam Corbin
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch bundt pan (or similar size round pan with a removable bottom). Alternatively, you could use an 9-inch square baking dish*.
Put the rhubarb into a bowl and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of flour; toss until the pieces are all covered. This coating will help to prevent rhubarb from sinking to the bottom of the cake.
In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and white rice flour. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, using a handheld electric mixer (or stand mixer), beat the butter until light and slightly fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat well to combine. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding in 1 tablespoon flour mixture after each addition and beating well before adding the next egg. Stir in the yogurt and vanilla. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the remaining flour and sliced rhubarb.
Turn the batter out into prepared pan, leveling the top with the back of a spoon and giving the pan a few taps on the counter to level the mix. Bake for 40 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and springs back when touched. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes to cool before inverting onto a plate or serving dish. Dust with confectioners sugar if desired. Serve with whipped cream. Store leftover cake covered at room temperature for up to 3 days.
*If you go this route, I wouldn’t invert this cake at the end: just slice into squares and serve.
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.