Pumpkin-Almond Cake

Luckily for me, cooking and baking always seem fresh. The start of a new project — whether it be constructing a multilayered cake or just getting breakfast on the table in the morning (or, rather, in a pack for the train) — feels a little different every time; it’s like a break from the reality of that day, that moment. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been actively interested in cooking for several years; I will always be mystified, humbled by the way flour, butter, and water make layers of flaky pastry and even how just a ½ teaspoon of mustard can emulsify two competing forces — oil and acid — so seamlessly. The fact that I know the science behind these things doesn’t make them any less wonderful; the process feels new and beautiful every time.

Despite this, I have this annoying need to tinker. A neurotic tick. (This probably doesn’t come as a surprise.) I cannot leave well enough alone. Not just in the kitchen. I’ll look back at the bed I made several times, smoothing out the wrinkles, tightening the corners. It’s a way to regain control when life seems so very out of control. It’s a way to make everything a game, make the mundane fun. With food, it’s more about that second point. When I use a cookbook recipe, I usually find myself saying things like, “hmm, that sounds great, but it’ll be too sweet; how much sugar can I subtract before my measures affect browning and coagulation?” or “ooo, that flavor combination sounds lovely — but it would be even better with y instead of x.” For fun. To learn. And I usually like what happens. I liked lining the bottom of this cream tart with white chocolate that I caramelized. I liked coming up with variations on these delicious bites.

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meyer lemon–lime bars

I find the fact that so many vibrant citrus fruits are at their peak in the dark, dead of winter quite counterintuitive, and their January market appearance nearly always seems jarring; it takes me by surprise. By February, I start to understand. It just seems so odd to grasp those colorful orbs with black-gloved, tact-less hands. Even if it’s cold and cloud-covered outside, when I make my way home with a bag full of these treasures, I swear they radiate a subtle heat. Granted, it’s just my excitement that keeps me warm; I’m not naïve. Nonetheless, their addition to the fruit bowl is always welcomed. Their almost neon hues turn the whole kitchen a-glow.

With all of this beauty, it’s hard to believe that, when I was young, I actually had a severe aversion to that dimply skin and pulpy flesh. It wasn’t the taste that bothered me, it was the texture, the sticky juice. The intricate segment structure and powerful floral aroma was too complex for me to fathom, and I was put off. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t like an episode of a strange TLC show. They didn’t send me hiding under couches or screaming indoors, but I did try to avoid physical contact with them when possible.

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pumpkin whoopie pies with cream cheese filling

Fall is such a fabulous food season. In the heat of the summer, when farm-fresh zucchini, tomatoes and berries flourish, it’s easy to forget how soul-satisfying root vegetables are or how fragrant a fresh pear is. We get something in return for everything we give up, though. The juicy bite of a peach is traded for the crunch of an orchard apple and the tang of a buttermilk cake is swapped for the warmth of a spice cake (or an apple cider donut). This Fall, like a few in the past, though, we may experience a pumpkin shortage. And while representatives of my favorite canned pumpkin brand, Libby’s, assures that the orange stuff will be showing up on supermarket shelves soon, I’ve already started biting my nails. Although other varieties have a spot in my local markets, Libby’s will always be my pumpkin of choice.

What also begins with a “P” and is similarly scarce this season? Peanuts. So peanuts don’t conjure up any warm and fuzzy Fall thoughts, but they are equally essential to my cooler weather diet. I always have peanuts on hand, but my true vice is my peanut butter addiction. The disease is not uncommon, but I am one of its most hopeless victims. A peanut shortage has sent the price of peanut butter up and could really cramp my style. Many nights, I revel in dunking my spoon into the salty stuff before digging into some vanilla ice cream, the refrigerator light alone guiding my bite. And you thought I was a food snob? Au contraire! Ok, so maybe it’s organic peanut butter and homemade ice cream or Häagen-Dazs at the very least, but come on.

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A Sweet and Salty Surprise (in more ways than one)

A Sweet and Salty Surprise (in more ways than one)

sweet and salty cake

I want to keep this blog current, writing about recipes shortly after they’ve been made and enjoyed. I think writing is more authentic that way. But, you see, this particular cake was so indulgently far from the quotidian dessert that it is most definitely first post worthy, even if it was made in February when I apparently didn’t know how to use a camera.

Sometimes, food can inspire journeys. I fit squarely among the “live to eat-ers,” planning vacations around food destinations since I was twelve. I’d much rather stand in line for two hours to get into a diner in San Francisco than take the ferry to Alcatraz. When I want French toast, informational tours can wait. If any food item can inspire a journey, it’s this cake. This outrageously decadent, time-consuming, sophisticated but playful cake.

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