One!

A year ago today I was dreaming wistfully about the cabbage and mango slaw I had eaten earlier in the week. From the looks of the few pictures it was warm, but probably not quite warm enough to eat outside.

Today, I am at a wedding on the East Coast. It is murderously hot and humid and I wish I could be naked as the day I was born.

Today though, it’s this blog that is as naked–maybe even nakeder–than the day it was born. A year ago, I didn’t know what to do with the words going through my head. There were a lot of them, all jumbled up in there trying to get out. I was still so new to being at home all day with kids, and I needed a creative outlet. I chose to start writing because it seemed natural at the time: Joe had been telling me for months blogging (or something similar) would be a good way for me to do something for myself, and I finally decided he was right. I believe that my writing has improved since then. I have learned to be more honest with myself and by extension, the page.

I have learned that writing a blog post doesn’t mean that I need to bottle it up and be happy every time, and that it’s OK to tell people I write a food blog–even though I still blush on the inside when I do say it.

Back then, my camera was not yet an extension of my hand. I was still getting a feel for how it saw, and how the differences between the way it sees and they way I see could be reconciled. I still have a long long way to go, but I feel more complete now that I can make the camera do what I want instead of the other way around. Most of the time, anyway.

My birthday wish for this blog would be that I could learn to make it bigger. I wish I could foresee success in some tangible way beyond feeling good about sharing the recipes that grow out of the moral code my family lives by. I’ll be heading to the BlogHer Food conference in a couple of weeks, and hopefully I’ll pick up some useful info. The truth is though, that I kinda know what I need to do. I need to get my hands a little dirtier. I need to be even busier than I already am.

I have some things in the works that could be the solution to my quandary. I and a friend are going to be hosting some backyard dinners this summer and early fall, and I’d love for you to get in on the action. The dinners are a fundraiser of sorts, and a way for us to work towards something even bigger on down the road. They will be prix fixe, and hopefully all will have good weather. Each menu will be seasonally focused and as locally sourced as possible. We’ll be testing out some recipes that will play a part in future plans for a venue where I will be serving food to the public and doing what I do best–sharing myself over a good meal.  If you are interested in attending a dinner, please do let me know. We’d absolutely love love love to have you.

In the meantime, I have a teaser for you–a birthday cake, if you will.

This cake has it all. It’s the cake you were waiting for. The cake of your dreams. And it comes with ice cream, so what could be better than that?

This trio is the embodiment of all the best parts of spring. The chiffon cake is airy and spongy like the soil in a well tended garden after a light rain. It’s warm and billowy with a delicate crumb that’s reminiscent of the way raw silk feels on the skin. The subtle fragrance of cardamom envelops you the way a just blooming flower bed’s intoxicating aroma would.

The snap of rhubarb left raw–green and grassy and tart with that unmistakable rosy cheeked smile hiding underneath–is the perfect pairing with rich, alluring ricotta ice cream. An ice cream as silky smooth as you could hope for, but lacking the aggressive sweetness of vanilla that might overpower the delicate flavors of it’s plate mates.

This is a trio of desserts that allows you to pick and choose. You can easily leave out the ice cream and do a simple very lightly sweetened whipped cream instead. You could leave out the cardamom if you like. You could even roast the rhubarb, if you don’t think you will like it raw (though I heartily encourage you to try it that way). You can switch it out entirely for a different fruit if that would please you. The only thing this cake and it’s accompaniments begs it simply to be shared with those you love, preferably in a pool of caressing sunshine–at the end of the day or at the end of a brunch. Even, perhaps, as a mid-afternoon snack.

Cardamom Chiffon Cake with Ricotta Ice cream

For the ice cream (makes 1 Quart)

1 lb whole milk ricotta cheese, as fresh as you can find
1 cup cream
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
juice of one lemon

First, in the bowl of an electric mixer or other heat proof bowl, heat the egg yolks with a tiny splash of water and the sugar, whisking constantly, until the sugar is just dissolved. Remove from the heat and continue whisking unti it becomes light in color and thickens (ribbon stage).  Whisk until completely cool. Next, heat the honey with the cream just until melted–you don’t actually want the cream to get hot. Whisk in the ricotta, then fold in the egg mixture. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve and let chill in the refrigerator for several hours. Freeze following the instructions for your ice cream maker, then return to freezer to set. Either the custard base or the ice cream itself can be made a day in advance of when you plan to serve it.

For the cake (makes one 9-10″ cake, in a tube pan)

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/4 tsp cardamom
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
5 eggs, separated, plus 2-3 extra egg whites
3/4 cup cold water
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and cardamom. Make a well in the center and add the egg yolks, melted butter, water and vanilla. Next, whip the eggs whites together with the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.

Pour the first mixture over the egg whites and slowly fold the two together with a spatula. Pour into an ungreased tube type pan and bake for 50 minutes, rotating half way though. At 50 minutes, check doneness by pressing with a fingertip–it should spring back quickly. If it’s not quite done, give it another couple of minutes, being careful not to let it over-bake or it will dry out. Remove from the oven and cool upside down on a rack.

While the cake is cooling, wash and slice the rhubarb–about 1 stalk per person. Toss with a couple of Tbsp sugar per stalk and let sit unrefrigerated until service. You can just as easily replace the rhubarb with any fresh, seasonal berries or stone fruits.

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Brown Sugar Was Made For Me

Last week I ran out of sugar. And by “ran out” I mean the white stuff that is good for baking and putting in coffee.

I put brown sugar in my coffee instead of going to the grocery store. No biggie.

I happened to have just received a very odd cake pan as an impromptu gift from my mother. She’s good at giving gifts that are seemingly practical and yet I never seem to actually use them. What can I say? She’s a mom. (Love you, Mom!)

And I had all those freaking oranges and things.

I decided I wanted to make a pound cake. When I was a kid, someone told me that pound cake was made using a pound of butter and a pound of sugar and something else. I can’t really remember. And I don’t even think that was true. Ever. Pound cake does not use an entire pound of anything, really. But it does weigh a lot, so I guess that’s why I believed that crazy lie.

What pound cake does use though is white sugar, usually.

But, I’m good at switching things up. I started with a recipe from Alton Brown. He let me down a couple of weeks ago, so I was gave him a chance to redeem himself. I took a recipe from his book I’m Just Here For More Food, which I use a lot when I need a basic recipe to use as a jumping off point for something more adventurous.

Like when I decided to bake a cake in this weird old ceramic pan, which made the cake bake FOREVER.

Cake batter spread into the pan, ready to go in the oven.

Anyway, redeem himself he did even though I took his recipe and pretty much made it an all new thing. I added blood orange zest and juice and used only that brown sugar.

To top it off, I lined the top of the pan with some candied blood orange slices.

The brown sugar and the blood orange are pretty much a match made in heaven.

Or at least, for me.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Blood Oranges

1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 blood oranges
3 cups all purpose flour (I used 1 cup ea: whole wheat, AP and oat. It was goood.)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 scant cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Grease a regular sized tube style pan or 2 small loaf pans. Line the bottom of the pan(s) with candied orange slices (recipe following), making sure some of the slices go up the sides of the pan at least a little bit.

Zest all three of the oranges. Juice 2 of them and add the juice to the buttermilk. Make supremes of the last orange. Chop up the supremes pretty small and set aside.

Cream the butter, the sugar and the orange zest until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape the bowl as necessary. While the butter creams whisk together the flour(s), baking soda, and salt

Alternate the dry ingredients with the buttermilk/juice mixture. After the last addition of buttermilk let it mix just barely, then take off the mixer and fold in the chopped up orange segments, mixing just until everything is an even consistency. Pour into the pan and bake for about an hour, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then tip out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Once it’s cool use a pastry brush to paint the outside with the syrup you reserved from candying the oranges.

Definitely serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

For the Candied Orange Slices

Heat equal parts water and granulated sugar in a wide, shallow sauce pan. Bring to a boil. You will need about 2 cups of syrup total to candy an orange.

Slice an orange very very thinly. The absolute best way to do this is on a mandoline. If you don’t own one, I suggest you go buy one. Seriously. It will make your life so much easier. Failing that, use a very sharp knife and be patient. You might need to slice more than one orange to get enough good slices, or, don’t be a perfectionist like me.

Once the syrup is boiling, turn down the heat and add the oranges. Try to spread them out so there aren’t too many layered on top of each other. Simmer the slices until the peels start to turn translucent, then remove them to a cooling rack to dry overnight. When I do this, I judge each slice individually, because some slices might take longer than others, especially if they were not cut on a mandoline and they are not all the same thickness.

Reserve the syrup for the cake.

That’s it! Once they are dry, store them in an airtight container. Don’t let your toddler get ahold of it or she will eat them all. For real.

Half Birthday’s Aren’t Just for Kids

I know this guy. We get along pretty well, so sometimes we hang out. Usually we don’t get to hang out by ourselves, but that’s OK with us since the rest of the usual group can be fun too, since they’re our kids and all.

Anyway, this guy’s name is Joe, and today is his half birthday. Normally grown-ups don’t celebrate half birthdays but that is just a crying shame. This morning when he flipped the calendar page he realized the date and wanted to know if he could have half a birthday cake.

I think he was a little surprised when I said sure, but who likes to get their hopes up and then have them dashed? Certainly not me.

So I made him one. I cheated a little and used a cake that had been in our freezer, pretty much just waiting for the right moment to come along. One when it would be thoroughly enjoyed.

Slathered with buttercream, who can tell the difference anyway? Ok, so the buttercream was in the freezer too, colored a very garish yellow from Lilli’s first birthday. 

We also had a Thai inspired feast for dinner, to go with our chocolate cake. Most of the foods in the meal weren’t anything special because this week we are trying to kind of clean out our freezers and use up leftovers because Joe’s kind of a frugal guy. I had some leftover teriyaki salmon that I turned into fish cakes with some lime, ginger and some cilantro straight from the garden. And I had some lemongrass and half a container of tofu so I made a quick curry tofu soup with a little bit of coconut milk. Well, maybe a lot of coconut milk.

The soup came straight from my own brain. The fish cakes too, which is maybe why they weren’t very pretty–they ended up more like fish hash than cakes but oh well. I don’t know how to cook Thai food like a pro, but I do love to eat it so I think I at least have that going for me. The recipes probably aren’t that authentic, but they were pretty simple and that’s helpful if you’re also trying to entertain a silly silly little girl while making dinner.

The cake came from Fanny Farmer, a book I use very frequently. There’s something about the old recipes that I really love–they are classic, sure, but mostly it’s how they are written. They’re so matter of fact. I have to tweak them sometimes, but I don’t mind a bit. There are a lot of pages stuck together, and the gold hardcover is starting to break down in places, but that just shows how loved it really is.

Fudge Cake
Adapted from Fanny Farmer, 1965 edition
makes two 7″ or 8″ cakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar, divided use
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 oz good semi sweet chocolate
5 Tbsp boiling water
3 eggs
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Cream together butter, vanilla, and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile, over a double boiler melt the chocolate. Once it’s melted smooth add the boiling water and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.

Add to the butter mixture. Next add the eggs, one at a time. Beat after each addition, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the flour to this mixture alternating with the milk.

Divide in the pans and bake about 20 minutes, rotating half way through. Check with a toothpick and give it 5 more minutes or so if needed. Cool completely before frosting.

The Day That Should Have Been

Today was supposed to be the happiest day for two people. One person: A beautiful, witty and truly unique lady. The other: A fantastic, generous, wacky, brilliant guy.


Spike, today was going to be your day. You finally found your dreamboat, Grace. Who seemed to come from nowhere into your life and we, your friends, welcomed her as your soul mate.


Grace, today was going to be your day. You found the match made just for you, Spike. Who adored you so much. It was beautiful to see, and with ease and open arms we made you a part of our “family.”

But today was not to be what you intended. It went off not according to plans, and while the love is still there and will forever be, it has been rendered intangible–just a memory. Some of the best memories that people who knew Spike could ever hope to have.

But, in all this, Spike would not have wanted too much sadness. He was all about life, living, giving, loving, building and creating. He would not have wanted us to feel like anything was amiss, he would want us only to build something new from the pieces we were left holding. Spike built things for all of us. Thing we can hold in our hands, and things we can hold in our hearts. The things in our hearts are the more important of the two, but sometimes it helps to see the bits and pieces you left behind you. The little handmade treasures that we took for granted while you were still here.

I can’t speak for the huge community of people that Spike’s life touched. I can only speak for myself. I am going to build something for you Spike, and I know just what it will be.

I was going to build it for today, for you both, but now I will build it for tomorrow. For the lives you would have touched. For the lives who will go on remembering you. It will be a little different than we planned, but it will be special nonetheless, and it will be sweeter than ever before. Because, it will have a little something extra–a little Spike, if you will, in the batter. It will be the best cake you ever had, Spike Perry, and even though you won’t get to eat any, we will all think of you when we sit down to enjoy it.

But even more than that, we will enjoy the company we savor it with, because that’s how you would have wanted it.

Lemon Poppyseed Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
Serves 8-10, Adapted from Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America
For the cake:
2 1/2 C. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 C unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 C granulated sugar
1 Tbsp lemon zest
4 large eggs
1 1/4 C buttermilk
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp poppy seeds, optional
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease and flour two 8″ cake pans. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together and set aside.
In a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream together butter, sugar and lemon zest. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, creaming until very smooth and light in texture. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
Alternating the flour mixture with the buttermilk, incorporate the remaining ingredients in 3 batches, mixing on low and scraping down the sides as needed. Once everything is in the bowl, add the lemon juice and mix for another minute or so, until it’s light and smooth.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans, and bake until the center springs back when gently pressed, about 30 minutes.  Cool in the pans on a wire rack. Let cool all the way before frosting.
For the buttercream:
2 C unsalted butter, room temp, cut into 1″ cubes
5 egg whites
1/4 cup water, plus extra for washing
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp good vanilla extract
Place the egg whites in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer.
In a heavy saucepan, boil the sugar and water together. When it comes to a boil, use a pastry brush to “wash” the sides of the pan to remove any stray sugar crystals. Insert a candy thermometer.
When the mixture reaches 130ºF, begin whipping the egg whites on high, until they reach a stiff peak. Once the sugar reaches 140ºF, and with the mixer still going on high, slowly (and carefully!) pour a thin stream of sugar syrup into the bowl, using all of the syrup. Allow the meringue to whip until cool, about 5-7 minutes.
Turn the mixer down to medium, and slowly add the butter. Once it’s all incorporated, turn it off, scrape down the sides, and then continue to mix on high until the frosting is smooth. Blend in the vanilla extract.
You can use the buttercream right away, or refrigerate for up to several weeks in the coldest part of the fridge. Let it come to room temp and then mix it with a paddle until smooth before using, if you choose to store it. It also freezes very well, so if you have extra, don’t throw it away! Save it for when you need to share a little treat with a loved one.