There have been moments – many of them, if I’m to be honest – when I sit down to write a blog post and am not entirely sure how to begin or what to say. This current moment we find ourselves in is, of course, one of those times. In Washington state today, many businesses are closed to honor a day of silent protest. I’m up here at my desk still working, tying up loose ends before we leave for a family road trip this weekend – sitting here trying to decide what to tell you about cake. Do you need to hear about cake today? Do you need to hear about it from me? We’re full of questions right now about how to share, what to share, and when to share it. And on this rainy Friday as I’m hustling to get laundry done and figure out how to keep the kids occupied in the car for two days, we’re finding a lot of solace in little slices of this strawberry cake. So I’m sharing it today, thinking you might, too.
For those of you that may not know, I head up marketing at Simply Recipes. As such, I was tasked with fielding the email responses we received after posting a statement supporting the Black Lives Matter protests in our communities. And boyyyyyyy, guys, those emails could’ve been more gracious. I did respond to one woman who wrote a particularly awful one, asking her if she realized a human being was on the other end reading. She didn’t write back.
The majority of people, when it comes down to it, were angry because they felt we should ‘stay in our lane.’ Does a food website need to be political? Why are you talking about donating to black people right now, stick to recipes! I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised by this response, but I was. Is this a time to just keep our heads down and stay in our lane? Imagine if everyone just … stayed in their lane and never spoke up or broke convention or questioned authority or the way things are typically done?
Maybe it’s too simplistic, but a lot of the progress we’ve made in our country in terms of “equal” rights, women voting, and recognition for our LGBTQ and non-binary community can be directly attributed to folks not staying in their lanes. Let’s do more of it.
I’m taking Between the World and Me on our road trip, and hoping we have a few slices of this strawberry cake left by the time Sunday rolls around. The kids have new water shoes, and Sam and I are looking forward to a change of scenery after months of staring at our own walls.
If you, too, are in the mood for a cake that travels well, this one is the perfect marriage of sturdy yet super tender and even better the second day. It smells of sweet strawberries from the fresh puree you fold into the batter, and the frosting is dye-free thanks to the ground up dehydrated strawberries. While all of that sounds complex, it’s actually a super simple cake. And while the frosting is pretty and all, it’s honestly perfect without it, too – a simple dusting of powdered sugar on top and you’d be quite happy.
There are a few components to this cake but all of them can be done in advance. I recommend making your puree the day before, so you can give it ample time to cool in the fridge. The cake can also be made a day ahead of frosting – just wrap it and store at room temperature. And for the frosting, freeze dried berries are more common these days and can be found at stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or online at Thrive Market.
Make strawberry puree: Place strawberries in a food processor or high-speed blender and puree. In a non-reactive medium saucepan, warm the puree over medium heat until it reduces to about 1/2 cup. This typically takes 20-30 minutes. Cool completely. If making the day before, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the cake: Butter and flour an 8-inch cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the almond flour, all purpose flour, baking powder and salt.
In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using hand beaters), whisk together eggs and sugar until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in butter, sour cream, vanilla and ½ cup cooled strawberry puree. Slowly add the flour mixture and beat until combined.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan, and bake until golden brown, about 50 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool for 30 minutes. Slide a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen and unmold the cake. Place on a plate and allow it to cool completely.
Make the frosting: Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or hand beaters, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar and freeze dried berries until combined. Set aside.
Once cool, spread a layer of frosting on top of the cake – serve room temperature.
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?)