As many of you know, Linnea and I currently live at my mom’s house. It’s a long story that involves my mom going back to graduate school, the family dogs, her eventually moving home, and me losing my job. It’s very temporary and while I never envisioned being thirty and living at home–really, it’s wonderful. I’ve gotten to spend so much time with my mom: sitting at the counter watching her cook; obeying her nonsensical driveway parking rules; talking about books, celebrities, Obama’s charm. But Linnea and I have set a date that January 1 we’ll be moving out. It’s time. I can’t wait to live right in the city, where you can get a piece of pizza after 9 p.m. (you can’t get anything after 9 p.m. in Marin) and walk out your door in the morning to grab a cup of coffee and hop on the bus. I miss the constant buzz of a city, the way the sun glints off the buildings, and the proximity of your neighbors. That being said, Linnea, my mom and I all had a lovely (albeit quiet) suburban Halloween. We baked, we drank, we ordered a pizza, we drank some more, we carved pumpkins, and we handed out mini candy bars to the –drumroll, please– one trick-or-treater who dropped by.
I had big plans for my pumpkin this year. I was going to carve a cupcake on the front, and it was going to be epic. Well suffice it to say, my vision fell flat (pumpkin below is mine, the two below that are my mom’s and Linnea’s).
Blame it on failing high school geometry or that second glass of wine, but it really ended up looking like a pumpkin with the entire front carved out. Oh well. At least one thing turned out just as planned: Rose Levy Beranbaum’s English Gingerbread Cake.
While I usually do a festive soup or a hearty pasta on Halloween, we were all pretty wiped. So we ordered pizza. And then my mom and I set out to make this lovely cake.
For those of you who may not know Rose’s blog, Real Baking with Rose Levy Beranbaum, she’s a cake goddess. She’s the real deal. Her first cake book, The Cake Bible, was quite the sensation although I must admit I do not own it…I merely ogle it at bookstores. But her second cake book just came out, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, and it’s downright lovely. While at first glance some of the recipes may seem tedious (and let’s be honest, some are), in reality Rose describes each step so clearly that the recipes are more narrative than many of us may be used to. She has a clear style of laying out exactly what needs doing, gives you conversions in each recipe for volume and weight, has organized the book logically into types of cake (butter and oil cakes, sponge cakes, cheese cakes etc.) and has beautiful photographs throughout to inspire and guide you. So while there are easily ten cakes I want to make right off the bat, the Gingerbread seemed perfect for a cool autumn evening. It’s a moist, spicy cake with a hint of citrus–according to Rose, a true English classic.
So while I miss having my own place to decorate and while this time of year makes me strangely wish I had my own little munchkins, we had a pretty great evening….I hope that you did, too. Oh, and I got a new camera! I had to refrain from posting 50 pictures of this cake–I’ve been taking photos of everything, and many of them. But hopefully in the coming weeks, the pictures around here will begin to improve. Happy Sunday.
From: Rose’s Heavenly Cakes
For Cake Batter
For Lemon Butter Syrup:
Twenty minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325. In a small heavy saucepan, stir together the butter, golden syrup, sugar, and marmalade over medium-low heat until melted. Set aside uncovered until just barely warm, about 10 minutes. Whisk in eggs and milk.
To make the batter, in a large bowl, whisk the two flours, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter mixture, stirring with a large silicone spatula until smooth (consistency of thick soup). Using the spatula, scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake cake for 50-60 min., or until wire cake tester comes out clean from the center and cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. While cake cools, begin syrup.
For syrup: In a small pan, stir together the sugar, lemon juice, and butter. Heat over medium-low, stirring until the butter’s melted and the sugar dissolves. Brush half the syrup over the top of the cake. Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake, pressing firmly against the pan, and invert the cake onto a wire rack that has been coated lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Brush the bottom with the remaining syrup. To prevent splitting, invert the cake onto a serving plate so the top is up. For extra moistness, cover the cake with plastic wrap while still hot and allow it to cool (I did this–don’t be scared, it works!). Wrap airtight for 24 hours before serving (I did not do this).
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
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.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)