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.
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?)