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.
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?)