Monday, September 16, 2019

Blackberry Cardamom Cake (Gluten free! Or not!)

Oh, hello, my loves! I am writing you from the crying pit of vipers otherwise known as September. Did your children go to college and leave you? I'm sorry! They suck. And even the ones at home still are probably off all day at high school, like assholes. Sigh. I am now the person who leans over, all melty and wobbly and weird, to speak to people at the store with babies in their shopping carts. "Ooh, lucky!" I like to say, because I can't remember how much it sucked to be scouting out a ripe cantaloupe while someone in a single zippery piece of clothing started to make the prewailing warning sounds of naptime misery.

I made Ben play one last, gloomy game of Booby-Trap with me before he left.
I will admit, under duress, that the second year of Ben going has been easier than the first. Even though he was home all summer and all any of us could do was drape ourselves over him in loving,  smothering relief. Birdy spent the first few days after his departure lying angrily on the floor and announcing, "Benny went back to college like a stupid fuckhole. Jesus FUCK." #theappledoesntfallfaretc

Back in the summer, we were laughing!
Anyhoo, I wrote some things since last we met! A piece about leaving for college here. Lots of recipes here. A little something about kids and chores here (scroll down for the more actionable piece of the article). Something totally weird here.

I also read some things. Lots of things. Some so incredible I may read them again: this and this and this and this, for example. And this.

And I did some baking. Onto the recipe portion of this brief missive.

I should mention that the berries will sink to the bottom. At least mine did!
Blackberry Cardamom Cake
For the past seven or so years, I’ve worked a weekly shift at our local survival center, serving lunch to hungry folks. Mostly I do this because I get a kick out of my own helpfulness, as well as out of the sustaining friendships I’ve been treated to there, and the many men who call me sweetheart and darling in what has become, in this, my 51st year, the last bastion of flirtation in my life. (I am lonely a lot during the week, and I am never lonely there.) Plus, Ben, whose college is nearby, works the dinner shift after I work the lunch shift, and during our 5-minute Thursday car transfer we gossip about everybody we saw. And also I like getting free food, which I do from the fresh foods distribution, where they give away lots of gorgeous produce from local farms and markets, everything only slightly dinged and dented—nothing you wouldn’t still call sweetheart or darling. We refer to it as “used food,” at my house, and admiringly so. “Ooh, are these used peaches from the survival center?” Birdy will ask. “They’re so good!”

So, with a half pint of used blackberries that were just a little past their bowl-of-berries-and-cream prime, I made this cake. Weirdly, I first thought that I was recreating a macaron we’d had in Paris years ago. Blackberries, vanilla, and cardamom! I remembered, incorrectly. In fact, the macaron has been raspberry lychee, and rose, which, wow, was maybe the best thing I have ever tasted. Nonetheless, blackberries, vanilla, and cardamom baked simply into this cake you will recognize from it being the same cake as the plum cake, is a marvelous thing. We are strictly gluten-free around here these days, so that’s what I’m offering—and the texture is, I unhumbly submit, absolute tender, buttery perfection. But feel free to swap in white flour. Or, better yet, 2/3 cup white flour and 1/3 cup spelt flour, like my old glutinous self would have.

1 stick butter (I use salted), softened
¾ cup sugar (plus 1 tablespoon)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup gluten-free white flour (with xanthan gum in it—or add 1/2 teaspoon)
1/3 cup almond flour or meal (with or without skins)
1/3 cup gluten-free wholegrain flour (I make my own blend from equal parts brown rice, teff, sorghum, and oat flour, thanks to this book) OR more regular gf flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fresh, fragrant ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 heaping cup (a half-pint container) of blackberries
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

Heat the oven to 350.

Use an electric mixer (if you have one) to cream together the butter and sugar—or do this all by hand, which is fine. Now add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each, and add the vanilla too. Beat in the flours, which you’ve either sifted or whisked together with the baking powder, cardamom, and salt, and mix until the batter is well combined.

Now scrape the very stiff batter into your pan: I use an 8-inch spring form pan (and don’t grease it), but you could butter and flour a regular cake pan and use that, need be. Use a rubber spatula to even it out.

Dot the top of the cake with the blackberries, pressing them in slightly. Now sprinkle the cake with a tablespoon of sugar and pop it in the oven to bake until it looks nice and brown and doesn’t jiggle anywhere when you, uh, jiggle it—this seems to take about 35 minutes in my oven, but check it at 30.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream or plain. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Gluten-Free Yay It's Wednesday Cake! Donut Cake

What? All of your favorite things rolled into one? I know! Festivity, gluten-free-ness, and donut cake, in honor of Wednesday. (For more on the "Yay, It's Wednesday Cake" Cake tradition, please visit this or this.)

How are you, my darlings? We all have teenagers and kids leaving and not leaving, and life is a whirlwind of missing things, if you know what I mean. Ben's absence has been hard for our family. It's gotten much, much better, for sure: he's happy, for one, which we're thrilled about, and Birdy is a delightful person to live with. But boy do we miss that Ben all the time. It's the end of the longest chapter of my life, during which I was a mother with two kids at home. As a friend's daughter once said, after she was weaned, "You used to make milk for me! Now your body just makes poop and pee for nobody." Sigh.

This is the kind of good child who will never go to college! Yay, Birdy! La la la la. Don't talk to me about it.
But I do still get to cook for Birdy, thank god. Like this cake! Which she was delighted to come home to last week, partly because of the festive sign, and partly because it is so, so good: moist and a little gritty and just the right amount sweet and nutmeggy. A perfect cake, and an especially perfect gluten-free cake.

Meanwhile, I've written for Family Circle here, and for Real Simple this month--a weird little essay in addition to my usual etiquette column over there. (I think it's only in the actual magazine, not on the online.) Plus, you can follow me on instagram here! Where it's ALL MENDING ALL THE TIME.

Gluten-Free Donut Cake
This is the best cake I make, and it's a debased riff on the justly famous Busy-Day Cake of cookbook author and local-food pioneer Edna Lewis, which I originally wrote about here. A note on the flour: I recommend half almond meal and half gluten-free all-purpose flour (the kind with, as I like to say, Xanax* in it.) Not only that, but in the one cup of almond meal I use half of the pale floury kind of almond meal and half of the kind that is skin-on and a bit rougher. And not only that BUT I secretly use half regular gf flour and half of this weird whole-grain blend from (the wonderful) Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day: equal parts, by weight, of oat flour, sorghum flour, teff flour, and brown rice flour. You're welcome. You know what else you can do? Use all of whatever your favorite gf flour is! Seriously. It will be totally good and fine. 

* Xanthan gum

1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups gluten-free flour (see headnote)
2 tablespoons cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ideally freshly grated
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Heat the oven to 375°F. Butter and flour (I use almond flour for this) a 9-inch springform pan, and set it aside.

Beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition, and add the vanilla. You may want to periodically scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour(s), cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 parts, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with flour. Make sure each addition is incorporated before adding next, but don't over-beat it at the end. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake until the top is puffed and golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-35 minutes (Honestly, I just push the top gently with my fingertip and make sure it seems inclined to spring back). Serve warm or at room temperature, ideally with lightly sweetened fruit (I added about a tablespoon of sugar to a pint of sliced strawberries and two sliced nectarines) and whipped cream. And don't be dismayed if the cake sinks significantly upon cooling: it might, and that's fine.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Double-Green Pear Smoothie

My loves! You know what the word smoothie means. I know you do. It means that my normal beer-and-cheese diet, the one that's typically seasoned with ginormous crunchy handfuls of good salty bff tortilla chips, is on an eensy little hiatus. A winter little hiatus where I try to live like a person who is not teetering on an addicty tightrope that stretches between the seven a.m. HUZZAH! of caffeine and the five o'clock sharp HUZZAH! of alcohol. A few weeks where I say things like, "Is it just me, or are these yeast walnuts actually the most delicious thing you ever tasted?" (It's just me!) 

To be fair, Michael was trying to share his Shake Shackstravaganza with Ben, but it showed up in my feed. Because NOBODY WANTS ME TO BE LIVING MY CLEAN LIFE.
"What should I label this dressing?" Michael asks, and I have to say, "Cashew Caesar." (With nutritional yeast!) Three different kinds of nuts are soaking in my refrigerator at all times, like tragic drowned things. I am staining our blender with the turmeric I'm adding to my crazy good lattes. You know. Like this.

Mmmm! Yellow foam! Like something from a poisoned beach!
Anyhoo, longtime readers might be saying, "Why February?" And thank you for asking! It's because our Ben was home through January, and I couldn't bear to be abstemious in the presence of someone so devoted to the culinary hedonism of our family. (He's on some sort of al-fredo cleanse.) Hence now. Sigh. Here I am: clean, Benless, and trudging in the slush. But loving the spring light! And feeling annoyingly great, tbh. Plus, you can't complain about pretend problems you invented for yourself. Or can you? For more clean recipes, Google "Ben and Birdy" with "clean." I should make a category in the recipe index, but I have about as much energy as the kind of person who thinks a leaf of kale might make a fun snack.

In other news, I read this book, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, and it was breathtakingly good. I stayed up all hours with my headlamp, crying. I also read, and loved, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. 

And this book! I have a piece in it! So fun! Except I made myself cry, reading it out loud in Boston on Monday. Because I am apparently the kind of person who is moved to tears by my own writing. Which, then, made me laugh. While I was crying. Because #kalesnack.

Okay, okay, the smoothie! I have suddenly taken to walnuts--their milky, savory richness--even though everyone else here hates them, and also they seem to burn these weird troubling craters onto my tongue, which might be some kind of sign that I'm choosing to ignore. You could totally use almonds or cashews instead! But I do love the walnuts here with the warmth of the vanilla and the bright, fragrant pearness of the pear. Also? The greens are optional. You can just stuff them in your mouth while the smoothie is blending, get them all nice and choked down before you even sit down with what would otherwise be a simply lovely fruity drink. In which case this is a Single-Green Pear Smoothie.

Double-Green Pear Smoothie
Makes 1 serving

Blend on high until very smooth and all the date nubbins and but chunks and leaves have fully disappeared:

1 little handful of raw walnuts (2 tablespoons?), ideally soaked in water overnight, especially if your blender isn’t super-powerful (or other, less punishing nuts if you prefer)
1 cored and cut-up pear
1 large handful of baby spinach or torn kale
A couple of ice cubes
1 cup of cold water
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 pitted date
a pinch of salt

Drink right away!

Have a wonderful weekend, my darlings.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy new year, dear ones

photo of Snapper by my old friend Ben Marks
I hope you've had a wonderful December. I happen to know that 79 of you bought the board game Azul, and that makes me so happy because a) we got it too, and it is one of the most fun, lovely, and deceptively simple-seeming games we've ever played, and b) we raised a bank-bucket of money on amazon. (FWIW, 134 of you bought the game Animal Upon Animal, and that made me so happy too.) I'm checking in just to share this great news:

And to say thank you. I am so in love with this community we've sustained for all these many, many years.  xo

P.S. If you have any time for books and want to totally nerd out on your familiarity with Greek epic poetry refracted through your bad crone self, please read Circe. I just finished it and it was pure witchtastic pleasure. Oh, and I had something up at the divine Cup of Jo this month. It's here. And more recipes at diaTribe here! And go see the movie Roma. xo

Monday, November 19, 2018

Holiday Gift Guide 2018 (fundraiser edition)

We have a normal menorah like normal half-Jews, but I can only find a picture of this one I developed for FamilyFun magazine 20 million years ago.
It's . . . that. . . time of year, when the world falls in love. . . or dread or grief or ambivalence or whatever it is that the holiday season offers you. I am a candle-light, twinkle-light kind of girl and love the winter holidays, but if you're not and you don't, please feel loved here. I understand.

Because I'm posting early (Hanukkah starts on December 2nd this year), let me quickly start with Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving! I'll be mashing ten pounds of potatoes and then stirring into them a quart of sour cream, a pint of half and half, and a half pound of butter (cue the defibrillator). Also I'll be making some of these things:

And then it will be on to the next thing. If you've got people to gift who would appreciate a little homemade something, here are some thoughts. I personally am making this this year. But boozy prunes might not be everybody's festive cuppa (as Ben put it, "What's the idea here? You get wasted and then take a big dump?"). So:
Did you want to make a menorah out of a mint tin? You totally can! Pick up ten 1/4-inch galvanized hex nuts (15 cents each), an Altoids-style tin, 9 magnets, and 9 birthday candles. Boom.
More likely to buy some things instead or too? These are gift lists from the past, filled with some really good ideas, imho:
  • Last year's gift ideas are here.
  • The year before, here
  • The year before, here.
  • The year before that, here.
  • The year before that, here
  • And the year before that, here.
  • Some long ago thoughts (i.e. for little kids) are here.
  • As always, the master list of games is here.

These are mostly Amazon links, and that's because I will make a commission on them, and then I'll donate the money. In other words, this is a fundraiser, with the happy side effect of you doing your holiday shopping in a normal, effortless way! We'll be donating the earnings to Partners in Health, a global health organization we've been supporting for over a decade, but if you want to mention other organizations you'd like to support in the comments, please do. We're open to dividing the money. Also, if you'd prefer to shop locally and donate to PIH directly, that would be win-win! The link is here. Onto the games:

I would love to tell you all about how much fun Azul is, but I can't, because I'm giving it to Ben and Birdy this year, and we've never played it. It gets MASSIVE reviews on my favorite geeky-gamer website, and people compare it to Splendor, Coloretto, and Sushi Go, which are all games we love, love, love. Plus, it appears to be gorgeous, which is a quality I value in a game. ("But it's so uglyyyyy," is something I have actually said about various games people want to play.)


Anomia (and the bigger, better Anomia Party) is wonderful, and we've been playing, and recommending it, for years. As I once said: It's very silly, which makes it a great all-ages game. Plus, your children will maintain the sober evening high ground when you face off over the category "vegetable," and they say "zucchini," while you laugh and laugh beerily after blurting only, lamely and illegitimately, "vegetable." This year, we get to add the edgy, wonderful Anomia X to this fun family, and I can sum it up in the photo below. This is a great game for *teenagers,* and maybe, honestly, they should play by themselves, because it's a little awkward to answer your child's question if that question is: "What sexual prosthesis even *is* there, besides dildo?" (I didn't know.)

Pylos is another game we haven't played yet because I'm giving it to B and B this year, even though the name Pylos gives me kind of an inflamed-butt feeling. It will join our extensive family of simple, brainy two-player heirloomy wood games, which includes CathedralQuoridor, Gobblet, and Quarto. Quarto in particular has been enjoying a huge Renaissance in our house this year. I beat Ben at it once, finally, and it literally made me put a hand to his forehead and ask if he was okay, because I never win. 

He was okay! It was just the day after prom, if you know what I'm saying.
The last of the untested but highly researched games. I figure Gonuts for Donuts can't be bad, because a) look at the yummy art, and b) it's by Gamewright, purveyor of such continuing favorites as Qwixx, and such long-ago favorites as Slamwich and Sleeping Queens. I need to add here that we love Qwixx so much, that we recently ran out of score sheets and were so eager to play that we made our own.

You can just buy more, like a normal person.

Ultimate Werewolf is a quick, lying-based party game, and we have never played but I got it because we're going to be a big group at Christmas, and it looks really fun and gets great reviews. Plus, it gets compared to Secret Hitler, which is one of the most fun games I ever played, but I didn't think my own personal family would appreciate a Hitler-themed party game, even though there is truly nothing jew-persecuting about it while you're playing. After we played Secret Hitler at a party,  Birdy said, indignant, "You lied right to my face!" And I said, breathless with excitement, "I know! I had to!"

If you want a couple ideas for more stocking-stuffer type games, the "Small and yet great!" Animal Upon Animal and The Miniature Book of Miniature Golf were probably the best-loved, most-used gifts I ever gave anyone.
We still play this game.
For some reason, I've gone a little hoity-toity with my puzzles this year. 

This pencil jigsaw puzzle. (I love this particular puzzle company so much. They made last year's beloved neckties puzzle.)

And this Paul Klee puzzle. "Excuuuuuuse me, fancy lady!" you are likely thinking to yourself. I know! If you just want normal, fun, food-themed puzzles, please don't hesitate to look to White Mountain, who makes all the puzzles like  Things I Ate as a Kid that we have done and loved.

I borrowed this photo from a blog called Natural Suburbia (thank you!).
I am giving Birdy, lover of yarn crafts, some weaving sticks this year. We have not tried them yet, but people all over the internet sure have, and they look super-fun. I'm not giving them to Ben because boys don't do crafts. KIDDING! I am not giving them to Ben because all he does anymore is physics lab write-ups, which doesn't really translate into a stocking stuffer, alas.

Weaving, of course, leads me to recommend Nicole's and my kids' craft book Stitch Camp.  In it you will learn, among other things, how to weave not with sticks, but with plain old cardboard. Which is so much fun! You might also learn to crochet, although I still haven't. #notforlackoftrying

I know I've recommended lots of different pens over these, but I thought I should mention that these are our favorite colored pencils, and this is in fact our second tin of them, since we wore our first down to nubs from heavy use.

Which does lead me to re-recommend Artist Tiles, little chunky square pads of high-quality paper that tears off perforatedly. We have started keeping stacks of these around for giving, for real.

The problem with buying this paint chip calendar for people is that then, the next year, they'll be all, "I'm so bummed my calendar is running out!" and you'll have to get it for them again. It's a little like a magazine subscription in that way, so think hard before you get started down this path. Michael gave me one for my 50th (?!) birthday this year, so I am ALL SET. It is one of my favorite daily indulgences.

Oh, James Herriot's Treasury for Children! Yes, sob, my children only rarely ask me to read to them from this book anymore, given that they're busy driving and going to college and whatnot, but a fun fact is that they don't NEVER ask me to read to them from this book! It is one of the gentlest, loveliest books we know, with the most soothing illustrations of different farm animals in a vet's life, and we still give it to little children we know and love. 

It would hardly be the holidays at all if I didn't recommend a book in my rad friend Kate's inspiring, badass series of rad-women books. Rad Girls Can is a cut-paper-illustrated beauty (like the others) that profiles young women around the world who are doing all different kinds of stereo-type-defying things. I gave it to Birdy when it first came out, and she devoured it.

A little plug for One Mixed-Up Night, in case your favorite tender-hearted IKEA-loving middle-grade readers haven't gotten their hands on it yet. 

Probably at some point in the last couple of years, you were despairing or homicidal, and a lovely friend thought to send you Maggie Smith's comforting/crushing weepfest of a poem, "Good Bones." Her collection, also called Good Bones, is fully excellent, and makes a good gift for old ladies who like to have a little something to read while they're sitting on their mat, waiting for their yoga class to start. Or is that just my mom?

I am completely in love with this book Mending Matters. I love the world-view--that things should be mended rather than replaced or discarded--and I love the style of mending, which I have had so much fun trying out. If my best example weren't a crotch shot of my jeans, I would show it to you here! Or just follow me on instagram, where I seemed to just go ahead and post it. This book, with some of the lovely Sashiko thread she recommends, would make such a nice gift for someone who likes to sit quietly loving a pair of well-loved jeans back into rotation.

Bibliophile is a book I want someone to get for me--hence, apparently, me getting it for my other book people. It is gorgeously illustrated and full of nerdy, literary love and inspiration--the kind of book you want to look and look at. Like, the Guinness Book of World Records, but for book-loving adults instead of long-fingernail-loving children. Plus, there's a whole section on bookstore cats!
A few food things, before I get to the cookbooks. This nutcracker. My mom and dad gave it to us over 15 years ago, and I admit that part of me was like, "A modernist high-end nutcracker! Huh. Okay." #notgonnapaytherent But it is beautiful and heavy and works so effortlessly, and every holiday season when I put it out with the big bowl of nuts, it brings us more pleasure than I really know how to describe. Plus, the brand is Drosselmeyer, which you gotta love, if you're a The Nutcracker geek. This and some lovely pecans (these are really good) would make a great gift for someone who's hosting you this season.

We were given our Whirly Pop popcorn popper by Michael's brother and his wife, and we have been giving it other people ever since. As I said some other time I was pressuring you to get one, I know you don't like the idea of buying something that only does one thing (although, technically, you could always roast raw coffee beans in it). But I'm telling you, unless you live on a houseboat, it is worth the space it takes up: it's quick and wholesome, and makes the tastiest, crunchiest popcorn. We use ours at least twice a week, and sometimes daily. 

Yes, these are our friends, and yes, I did some serious and delicious recipe-testing for them, but I'd recommend the beautiful Ciderhouse Cookbook to you regardless. Besides that it's been written up by The New York Times and, like, everybody else. [shrugs with vicarious modesty] The recipes are so real and good, and lots of them use everyday cider products. BUT, to really gild the lily, I would give this book with a trio of their gorgeous pantry products, which include cider syrup (picture a kind of bright apple molasses), cider vinegar (apple-y and amazing), and something called switchel, which makes the best tangy cocktails, among other uses (but that is one noble use).

Extra Helping is a world view masquerading as a book of wonderful, well-seasoned, cozy recipes. It's organized into chapters about how to bring food to different folks in need: the grieving, the ill, the celebrating, the newly babied. Which would be lovely enough, except that the recipes are just so delightful and good. I have already made the preserved lemons (they're still preserving), the fantastic savory granola, and an unbelievably comforting meal of rice, squash, and cheese, that was just what we needed (even though we were neither ill nor grieving). I am only mad that I didn't write this book myself, but I think I'm in love with Janet Reich Elbach, so it's okay.

Later, I will puree these. She seasons many dishes with preserved lemon puree, and I bet it will be  scrumptious. 

Six Seasons is such a great cookbook that I BOUGHT IT FOR MYSELF. If you know me and my library-cookbook habit, you will understand how unusual a splurge that is. For a book about vegetables, it is weirdly thrilling. I have cooked from it a lot, and everything is always good. Or "So f-ing good," according to my recipe notes. One caveat: you might give it so someone who then lends it to a friend, and you'll be stuck sending photos of eggplant recipes because once you have had this cookbook, you kind of can't live without it.

A fun dish towel is nice for giving with a cookbook! I bought this one for a friend, but I really wanted to buy it for myself. Please put this on my tombstone. Blue Q makes so many fun and funny things, especially dish towels and oven mitts, and socks. I got these introverting socks for Birdy, and I feel very, very confident that she will love them.

Happy everything, my loves. xo