Just FYI, The Road Is Lined With Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble

I have made Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble this morning for breakfast and am now listening to the rain and waiting for it to cool. It is the kind of rain that is the harbinger of a change in the weather, and I am ready for fall.

August always seems to be this way: a headlong rush and flurry of busy-ness that only begins to calm down as the mercury drops and the sun dips below the horizon a few minutes earlier every night. I don’t subscribe to the status-seeking cult of busy-ness (also known as the “busy trap”) that surrounds people in the U.S., and yet I have a distinctly difficult time actually relaxing. It is hard for me to sit and just be.

Even as I put a period at the end of that last sentence I was rising to get a slice of still-warm cake because I just couldn’t wait anymore.

I have also, in the time that it has taken to write this little bit, texted with a friend and checked my calendar to see if there is anything pressing this week.

What happened to me?

Growing up, bored and lonely on the side of a mountain in western Maryland, I used to while the days away reading, making art, walking in the woods, and writing. My brother and I were not especially close, and when we were it was often because I was receiving a punch for some unknown transgression (or perhaps because he was, himself, bored and lonely and without any particular outlet, and I happened to be handy). I learned early not to approach him unless I was so bored that it was worth the gamble of a blow or a game.

We didn’t have a TV until I was older, and even then it was a black-and-white set with rabbit ears wrapped in tinfoil perched on top, so reception (and even just plain old power) was sketchy at best. We had animals and chores and two parents who worked, so I was left to my own devices more often than not. There was nothing much to do and an endless amount of time to get it done.

After many years of busy doing, I find myself now in a position where I can take my time to do what it is that I am doing. I have mercenary writing that people pay me to do, and then I have my own (which pays nothing but is one of those things like breathing that is necessary and reflexive and vital, even when words don’t make it onto the page. But I digress.). I have yoga teaching and a new job as the assistant manager at my lovely studio, both of which do not take much time either.

So I find myself at loose ends, again, as the calendar and the weather indicate that it is, indeed, decorative gourd season, motherfuckers.

What to do? How to fill the days?

Technically, I have completed all of the duties of a productive member of society: I have (nearly) raised a child to adulthood (a good one, I think); I have started a school and taught over a thousand children; I have been married to a man I loved and lost; I have been lucky enough to love another man in a way that is breath-taking to me – we are building a life together that I could not imagine in the years following the death of my husband.

I have volunteered my time, donated my money, rescued animals, helped others. I have paid taxes.

But what is it about my need to feel like I am doing something? Who cares what I am doing? Who cares how fast it gets done?

Lots of folks, turns out. I have been the recipient of some judgy looks and comments, for sure, about my lack of “busy” on a daily basis. On many days my presence is not required anywhere. I can sit with two dogs at my feet and a cat lazily twining in and around my ankles until I am damn good and ready to do whatever it is that I feel like doing (or whatever it is I have put on my calendar; I am an inveterate procrastinator, but I have not missed a single deadline, and my written calendar is the reason why). This seems to be offensive to some. If I am not worn out by work I don’t enjoy and shopping with the madding crowd every Saturday morning, my life is something of a millennial’s, and perhaps I should grow up.

We are conditioned from birth to do, go, and be. We are to be productive members of society. We are to graduate from schooling (and childhood) and earn money to buy All Of The Things, and we are to have a career or something that we do for 40 hours a week. We are selfish if we choose to art or write or travel or bake or otherwise defy the American Dream (which has itself become a nightmare).

In my graduating class at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, there were two philosophy majors who matriculated with the whole class of several thousand. I still remember wondering what, exactly, that degree would translate into as far as employment goes. Even when I got my English degree, the first question was always if I was planning on teaching. What would I DO with my degree?

Side note before I continue my white-privileged exploration: I am well aware that the color of my skin has allowed me to even think about not doing, going, and being. It is a source of much trouble in my mind and in my writing that I get to write from a place that many people (women) of color will not be able to experience. It is also true that I am exploring ways to support people of color in my work and in theirs. 

Side note, part two: I would not be able to indulge in this type of under-employment were it not for a few life-changing events, specifically the death of my husband in 2013, which put the process of living into perspective, and the closure of my school, HoneyFern, shortly thereafter. 

But here I am now, scoffing at my own self a bit, just as if I was one of the philosophy majors who has no real prospects for gainful employment.

I am trying to make peace with the fact that I there is no earthly requirement (or heavenly one for that matter) that I be constantly and consistently on a path of someone else’s design.

Trouble is getting myself to relax into a path of my own design. Or to even find a path. Or know how to start thinking about design.

We are most of us morons when it comes to listening to our own selves and shutting out all of the noise. It is challenging to find out if what we are doing is actually something we want to be doing or if we have been so corrupted by the influence of the world around us that we are just utterly convinced it was our own idea in the first place.

I am trying to shut up and listen to that little voice, not the Anti-Cheerleader, that raging bitch who insists I am unworthy and ask how dare I, but the voice that is still capable of awe and pure joy. The one that is unconnected to anything but itself. When I can shut up everything – The Facebook, Instagram, the people who would still treat me as if I were a child, the expectations of the world, my own doubt and anxiety and worry – I find moments and glimpses of the road ahead of me. And it’s a peaceful, gravel-lined walk that is meandering and has lots of benches with cushions lining it (I like a soft place to land).

For now, though, seems like I am still in the place of learning to unclench. The anxiety and worry that has gripped me this summer still squeezes me like a fist. It’s rainy days, with peach cake, that maybe help that ease up just a bit.

Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble

This is a breakfast cake, like coffee cake, only with fresh fruit, so technically a serving of fruit. 

Ingredients

Dry:

2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

1/4 cup almond meal

Wet:

2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups fresh peach, peeled, pitted, and chopped small

Crumb topping:

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons melted butter

Optional: 1/2 cup pecans (or type of nuts like almonds or macadamia), chopped small

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a square glass baking dish (butter, oil, or cooking spray). You can also use mini bundt pans (see Recipe Notes).

In a large-ish bowl whisk together dry ingredients.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (I used a 2-cup measuring cup, adding the eggs last and beating them in).

In an even smaller bowl, whisk together crumb topping ingredients while you melt the butter.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add peaches and stir to combine.

Pour into glass baking dish.

Use a fork to add crumble ingredients to melted butter and mix to combine. It should be somewhat clumpy, which is what you want. Add pecans, if using. Spoon/pour/use your hands to distribute crumble on top of your cake.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out fairly clean or with maybe a crumb or two clinging to it.

Best cooled completely and then maybe warmed slightly. If using gluten-free flour especially, cool completely for the best texture.

Recipe Notes

If using mini bundt pans, press crumb topping gently into the top of the batter and reduce baking time to 20-25 minutes. This can also be baked in a large bundt pan, with the same guidelines and a longer baking time (watch carefully). Cool for ten minutes in bundt pan, and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

 

Sheer Delight: Better Than They Oughta Be Fried Green Tomato Arepas

Fried green tomato arepa with pimento cheese. #FreshParsleyOptional

The Child and I visited my grandmother last week, the one who steals fruit from her assisted living facility. Busy summers and basic malaise have kept us away since the second week in June, but putting off a visit to a 98-year-old person is no good idea. Plus, The Child and I need to feel like we are on the road from time to time; our best conversations happen while the tires eat the miles, even if it’s just a short two-hour jaunt to rural Pennsylvania.

When we pulled up, she was sitting in the sun outside the entrance to the main building. Three young men were spreading mulch in the flower beds, and the day was that kind of almost-fall day where the sky is such a crystalline shade of blue that the trees are outlined in black.

She didn’t recognize my (new to me) car when we pulled in, so when Sicily and I walked up to her and said hello, she looked up with a blank face before she recognized who we were and a look of what can only be described as sheer delight spread across her features.  She said, “I was waiting for someone, and here you are!”

We should all be greeted with such an unabashed and open display of pleasure.

I have an unexpectedly close relationship with my grandmother, as does The Child. Through letters I have learned what her life has been, and in person I get to know this person in whom I see so much of myself. She takes joy in seeing her great-grandchildren and has vowed to live until they are all safely ensconced in college; because of this, we do not share The Child’s plans for a gap year, and we are selective about the information we share in general. She likes to know we are happy and recovered from “Dane’s incident,” “that unfortunate time” when he died in a car accident. We talk about the weather, and food, and she worries about the stock market.

Our visit was short, as it usually is. My grandmother is spry and quick still, but tired in the way that people approaching 100 can be, I suppose, after a long walk outside and a rest in the sun. On the way back to her room, we stopped in the residents’ garden plot to look at the produce, and I ended up with a bellyful of sun-sweet cherry tomatoes and a bag full of green tomatoes for later.

I haven’t had fried green tomatoes in a dog’s age. The last time was in a diner in the south, someplace below the fall line in southern Georgia. I have few fond memories of our 13 years living in that place, but southern food is one of them. It’s a foodway that uses scraps and makes do, and it seems to mesh perfectly with my grandmother’s Depression era philosophy:

Make do;

Do without;

Use it up;

Wear it out.

These recipes are a mash of that sensibility plus new-to-me flavors and foods. I have been mildly obsessed with arepas since White Envelope came to town, and enjoying smoky foods is also new to me. I advise adding any or all of these condiments and toppings liberally to each arepa. You can certainly mix and match. The recipe for Mushroom Bacon is not my own, so I am linking it here.

Fried green tomato arepa with mushroom bacon and chipotle mayonnaise.

For the record, I don’t believe in calling non-meat things a meat name, but this is how the original person wrote the recipe, so I am going with that. It is delicious but does not in any way resemble bacon. I chopped it up after it was all done, and that was the easiest to eat.

There is also the basic recipe for arepas themselves, plus Chipotle Mayonnaise and Fried Green Tomatoes.

I have gone back and forth as to whether or not to include my Pimento Cheese recipe and have decided, at the very last minute, to hold that back. You can use a store-bought variety, or use your own recipe. That shizz deserves its own post, and it’s worth the wait. #Trust

Bacon, lettuce, and fried green tomato arepa with chipotle mayonnaise.

I am pretty sure that when you present your people with any of these combinations they will gaze up at you with sheer delight as well.

Arepas With Assorted Delicious FIllings, Not The Least Of Which Is Fried Green Tomatoes and Chipotle Mayo with Bacon 

If you want to try all of these recipes, make them in the following order: Chipotle Mayonnaise (the night before, even), Pimento Cheese (if making your own), Mushroom Bacon, Arepas, and Fried Green Tomatoes.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

As with everything, adjust amounts to taste, but here’s the basic formula. Make this the night before.

Ingredients

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup whole milk yogurt (or sour cream – whatever is in the ‘fridge)

3 teaspoons lime juice

3/4 teaspoon chipotle chile

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon stone ground prepared mustard

Method

Mix all ingredients together (I use a Mason jar – no clean up). Store in ‘fridge and use on damn near everything.

Arepas (makes 8 arepas)

Ingredients

2 cups masarepa (see Recipe Notes)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 cup warm water

Method

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet and set aside.

Mix masarepa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add warm water and mix until smooth. Use 1/3 cup measure to divide dough into eight balls and shape into disks that are 1/2″ thick and about 3″ wide.

Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Working four at a time, fry the arepas on each side until golden brown, about four minutes each side. Transfer to cooling rack and fry the other four arepas.

Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes or until arepas sound hollow. Turn off the oven and leave arepas to cool and crisp.

Recipe Notes

  • You cannot use regular masa for this recipe, and the addition of baking powder makes it not quite traditional. But of the eleventy million times it seems like I have made these, this formula produced a creamy interior with a crispy shell. So there it is. You can find masarepa in most Latino grocery stores, occasional in a mainstream grocery store, and always online.

Fried Green Tomatoes

There really is no better way to use up those stubborn, lingering tomatoes clinging to the vine than Fried Green Tomatoes. If you aren’t a fan, take your green tomatoes, stick them in a cardboard box, and set them someplace cool. Check on them every now and then; they will gradually ripen and be just as sweet and delicious as the ones from the vine. Remove mushy ones fast; they really will spoil the whole bunch.

Ingredients

Green tomatoes (for eight sandwiches, I used four medium ones), sliced into 1/4″ rounds

1 cup soured milk (see Recipe Notes)

1 cup flour (I use gluten-free all-purpose flour)

1 cup cornmeal

Salt and pepper

Method

Slice tomatoes and place on paper towels. Some people salt them at this point to draw out the moisture, but not me. I let them sit on the towels and blot them dry.

Place a cooling rack on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and set aside.

In a cast iron skillet, heat about 1/2″ of oil over medium heat.

Set up your breading station, left to right (or right to left if you are left handed): one dish of flour, one dish of milk, one dish of cornmeal.

Controversial direction #1: I do not season my flour. I season the tomatoes directly. Many will take issue with this. I don’t care. Do it however you choose. 

When your oil is hot, salt and pepper your tomatoes. Dip into flour, shaking off the excess, then soured milk, and finally cornmeal. Fry until golden brown on both sides (approximately four minutes total, but the temperature of your oil will dictate this a bit).

Controversial direction #2: Do not drain your fried tomatoes on paper towels. This will make them soggy. Remove them from the oil to your cooling rack over a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. If your oil was the correct temperature, the breading will not absorb too much, and this keeps them crispy. My grandmother drains hers on paper towels, but as Oprah says: When you know better, you do better.

Recipe Notes

  • Many recipes call for buttermilk, but if you don’t regularly drink it, you will end up with extra that just sits in the ‘fridge. To make your own, add one tablespoon of white vinegar to each cup of milk, stir, and let sit for ten minutes. Voila.

Assembly

Slice arepas down as you would a pita pocket; it’s up to you if you slice all the way through or treat them like a pocket.

Slip in a fried green tomato or two and then go from there. Favorite combos pictured above are: Bacon, Lettuce, and Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Mayo; Fried Green Tomatoes With Pimento Cheese; Fried Green Tomato With Mushroom Bits, Pimento Cheese, Lettuce, and Chipotle. Any or all of these are delicious. Fresh herbs like maybe a little parsley or cilantro are also delicious.

If you want something simple and don’t have time for any fuss, just use pimento cheese and let it get all melty. So. Freaking. Delicious.

It’s Time For Fall: Frank’s Holy Bundt

It may not look like much, but it’s basically religion in a bundt pan. #Trust

It’s fall, people.

The calendar may argue the point, but the weather surely doesn’t.

And not a moment too soon. My schtick is not depression lit, but I have made no secret of the fact that in my personal life it can be hard to find a lot of things to get it up for on a daily basis (yes, I said “get it up for” not “get up for.”). Often life seems like a silly march towards the end, just looking around for things to fill the days until you don’t really have to look around anymore and can sit in a chair, watch the news, complain about the weather, and worry about your 401K.

This summer in particular has been one of the more difficult ones. Maybe it is the return of the prodigal daughter from France. Or the conflict and stress of a freelance project that is exciting and challenging but an ongoing battle. Maybe it’s the completely fucked state of the U.S. Whatever it is, things feel pretty meh, enough so that even a drop in temperature is enough to get excited about.

On this the first day of September, I had been planning to kick off a 30-day month with three things: 30 days of cooking, 30 days of writing, and 30 days of yoga.

I am a huge fan of the 30-day challenge, but only the ones I make up for myself because YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. In an effort to cast about for something to focus on, I thought piling on the 30-day deadlines would be a good idea.

And then September 1st hit. Today. And I am still finishing up a recipe that I have been working on for two weeks and have a website with half-written blogs and a cell phone with jotted notes.

Turns out, sometimes you have to plan a little bit when you are gearing up for something.

Ah, well. In the wake of flooding in Texas, missile tests in North Korea, and navigating the complexity of emotions and people in combining two households with two teenagers (yes, I compared those three things. What of it?), planning has been…difficult.

So here we are, September 1st, and I am presenting to you a recipe from someone else.

The original recipe is not actually called Frank’s Holy Bundt.

Khristian (my particular friend, for those of you new to the blog) has a friend Peter with whom he performs. Peter lives with a roommate, Liz, whose boyfriend is Frank.

I met Frank briefly once before and only in passing, but a couple weeks ago I spent more time with him on Peter’s back porch. Cocktails at The Bluebird Room in Hampden had me feeling social, so I stopped by Peter’s house on the way home and found Peter, Khristian, Liz, and Frank.

Frank is a musician, constantly on tour. He has unruly hair, a beard, and an easy, warm way about him. As with many people, he also comes with verbal tics, one of which is “holy.” Everything that night was holy, from the cupcakes I made Liz for her birthday to a broken down car in western Maryland. Even the mashed potatoes they heated up later that night were holy.

In honor of Frank, and that warm summer evening, and the reminder that sometimes it’s nice to not worry about the big picture and just hang out on the back porch and enjoy what is, I present this, Frank’s Holy Bundt, a strange but incredibly delicious marriage of zucchini and chocolate. I only made slight adjustments to the original recipe mostly because I like to use what I have. If you have an abundance of zucchini, shred it and freeze it in two-cup measures so you can make this mid-winter.

Frank’s Holy Bundt

This cake has very little sugar for a cake, plus vegetables, so it’s practically health food. I used chocolate chips because it’s what I had on hand, but if you are fancy and have fancy chocolate, use that instead.

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons strong cooled coffee
3 large eggs
2 cups unpeeled grated zucchini (I used frozen and squeezed all of the water out)
3/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, chopped
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a stand mixer, beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition (see note below for why this sort of doesn’t actually matter).

In a separate bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate chips, and a cup or so of the flour/cocoa mixture. Stir well to coat and separate as much of the zucchini as possible.

Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick.

Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without overmixing (see Recipe Notes).

Pour into the prepared cake pan, and use your spatula to make sure the top is level.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes, and then place the rack on top of the bundt pan. Flip the bundt over and allow to cool completely.

Use a fine-mesh sieve to sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Try not to eat it all but remind yourself that there is zucchini in there if you do and count that as a couple servings of vegetables.

Recipe Notes

  • I beat the shit out of the butter and forgot the sugar. When I added it after the next step, the batter was lumpy and gross looking, with clumps of butter. DID NOT MATTER AT ALL. This cake is very forgiving.
  • When working with cakes, muffins, pancakes, etc, you will often see the direction “mix until just combined,” or “do not overmix.” This is so the traditional flour doesn’t begin to develop the gluten and result in leaden cakes. With gluten-free flour, you can mix as much as you want. I don’t worry about it at all, but if you are using regular AP flour, tread lightly.

Love And Anger: Chocolate Cupcakes With Mole Ganache and Cinnamon Buttercream

Moody. Just like you.

Four years and four months after his death in a car accident, I am beginning to only remember the bad things about Dane.

The stages of grief are not stagnant and are generally understood to be fluid and back-and-forth; you don’t reach one stage and then never backslide. I seem to be moving back and forth between anger, depression, and acceptance, settling in mostly to the easiest emotion for me to deal with.

Anger. Which often hides its evil bitch of a twin, depression. So there’s that also.

I think we most of us are very comfortable with anger. Every time I open The Facebook or listen to the news, there’s something else to be angry about. I feel it when I get behind the wheel of my car (this is infrequent lately) and spend most of my time driving talking myself down and taking deep breaths.

The hardest thing these days is moving towards love.

I believe deeply in love and compassion and kindness. This is at war with my general dislike and distrust of strangers, but it dovetails nicely with my deep-seated and long-held belief that love truly is all that matters. Real, deep, abiding love. It’s the one thing that is free and available to anyone. You don’t even have to have a target for that love. Love, in general, can be spread all around, like butter on a hot bagel (and just as delicious).

I think that love is healing and softening and strengthening and is, ultimately, the thing that every single person on this planet actually wants and needs to survive.

But shit, man. Sometimes people are deeply painful and difficult to love. This is our 5th Father’s Day without Dane. Every year Sicily and I mark the day by doing something that Dane might have liked to do, but this year I find myself increasingly angry when I see and hear all these tributes to great dads. I can only see the negatives, chief among them the fact that he did not take care of himself and has left his daughter father-less, for this Father’s Day and an infinite number of other days that will find his child with teary eyes because her father isn’t there.

I did love Dane, deeply. He was funny and clever (see also “Wormaggedon” to describe the surfeit of dead worms in our driveway after a gully-washer). He could fix pretty much anything, and if you wanted to have fun, he was your go-to. He was generous to a fault and took everyone at face value (a trait his daughter has deliberately and conscientiously cultivated in herself). He loved his child, and he loved me – it was obvious in the way he wanted to be with us all the time. No one was happier than he was, puttering around the house and hanging with his girls.

But he sabotaged himself at every turn, his death just another example of that. He was careless with his time and money and he often avoided responsibility, making me the bad cop (but also the person who kept our ship afloat and mopped up his messes). The aftermath of his sudden death is another example of that, and I have been the target of some spectacular grief  outbursts from our child. I have parented very poorly at times these past years (well beyond minor poor parenting. Have you ever told your kid to shut the fuck up? I have. For the record, even though she really, really needed to shut the fuck up, I deeply regret telling her to do so.#ForReal), and I have, at times, found myself thinking about just how long I have to actually keep myself alive, respectably and so that our daughter is stable and set.

These have been rough days of late. No one tells you that grief lasts so long, not the wailing and teeth-gnashing part but the part where you have to figure out actually what the fuck and how to move forward.

Not surprisingly, I am craving comfort food. Chocolate comfort food, specifically. I guess I don’t actually know many people who crave a heaping bowl of kale when they stress eat, but I am also past the days when a simple piece of chocolate will do. If I have my say, my comfort food is cake of some kind, with plenty of frosting.

Just like love, these cupcakes are not just a straightforward chocolate smack in the face. They are complex and have deeply flavored layers of cinnamon and spice. They are warm and comforting  – just like love – and spicy and easy to overdo – just like anger.

Chocolate Cupcakes With Mole Ganache And Cinnamon Buttercream

Ingredients

Chocolate Cupcakes

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar (not packed)

1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour (regular AP flour works, too)

3/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoons salt

2 eggs + 2 egg yolks at room temperature

3/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup hot coffee

 Mole Ganache

2 heaping tablespoons (or to taste) prepared mole negro (see Recipe Notes)

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup + 2 teaspoons heavy cream

Cinnamon Buttercream

2 sticks butter, softened

3 – 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

2 teaspoon cinnamon (sifted with the powdered sugar)

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 (ish) tablespoons heavy cream or whole milk

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place cupcake liners in a muffin tin. Set aside.

For the cupcakes: In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), mix together both sugars, flour, sifted cocoa flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, sour cream, milk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract and mix well to combine.

Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just wet. Add hot coffee and mix until thoroughly combined, about one minute.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full and bake for 15 – 17 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely before filling and frosting.

For the ganache: Place mole, chocolate chips, and heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat and stir constantly until chocolate and mole are completely melted and mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly, then place in refrigerator.

For the frosting: Place softened butter in a large bowl and sift in powdered sugar and cinnamon. Add vanilla and one table of heavy cream to start. Use a hand mixer to beat until creamy and smooth and the consistency of frosting. If it is too thick, add more heavy cream; add more powdered sugar if it’s too thin.

Assembly: Use a demitasse spoon or sharp knife to remove a divot of chocolate cupcake (set that aside to freeze and then mix into ice cream). Scoop or pipe chocolate mole ganache into that divot, then pipe frosting in a swirl to cover (you can use a star tip and a pastry bag to make rosettes or a fancy swirl.

Eat a million of these. Recipe makes (annoyingly) 32 cupcakes.

Recipe Notes

I used mole negro from Guelaguetza, a specialty food company in California. Their mole is complex and spicy and earthy and delicious; I found it at the Emporiyum in Baltimore back in April. Previously, my go-to mole was Dona Maria’s, which had the bonus of coming in a lovely juice glass and is easily located in the Hispanic food section of most grocery stores. You can use whichever mole you wish.

 

Fail Forward: Pistachio Macarons With Rosewater Filling

These were an abject failure.

I was born to write.

I certainly have the temperament for it – I am an introvert, and I over think everything. At a minimum I think writers need to be comfortable alone, stuck in their head for substantial periods of time.

#Check

But for as long as I can remember I have been jotting words down on scraps of paper and hoarding them. Sometimes these words come together with periods and commas and semicolons (my favorite form of punctuation. #TotalDork), sometimes they are occasionally formed together on the wings of a poem, and sometimes they remain just fluttering scraps of thought that I save, maybe waiting for their chance.

I have always loved journals and pens and the accoutrement of writers, but bar napkins, receipts, and matchbooks (from back when there were such things readily available) are all a part of the flotsam of my writerly (if not always writer’s) life.

I even remember my first typewriter: an IBM Selectric. I didn’t write much on that beige beast except for papers and other undergraduate work, but I lugged it around with me for years before finally donating it to Goodwill where I am sure it languished on a dusty shelf until someone decided to recycle it.

My behaviors are those of a writer – seclusion, procrastination, and moment- and memory-hoarding.

That writing is tragically hard for me is an unfortunate irony of my chosen profession. Writers complaining of the pain of writing is not unusual and indeed seems to be part of the job description. Every word you put on the page is a reflection of yourself shining glaringly back at yourself, like a mirror that doesn’t really allow for whitewashing of flaws or highlighting of assets. Writing is radical honesty, only self-inflicted.

If I am honest with myself, which I always try to be, writing is the most painful and precious and cutting place I have ever visited because, as a writer, even if I don’t write it down it stays humming around in my brain, and even if I do write it down and never read it, I know it’s there. There are blogs from the early days of Dane’s death that I simply cannot read now. They are raw streams of emotion poured on the page, the very essence of grief distilled in  a paragraph or two when keeping it inside was not a viable option.

So there’s that physical pain of writing the truth as I see it.

And then there’s the intellectual pain. Not the mental struggle to choose the right word or really be honest with what I mean to say and not give in to the urge to have some sort of flourish that is not me. Although this can be excruciating, in many cases time, work, and careful attention to words and the craft of assembling them can help with this, as can copious amounts of reading and patience and careful editing.

I am talking about that odious bitch, the Anti-Cheerleader. The constant mental struggle against feelings of inadequacy and doubt.

The clear knowledge that millions of people are writing AT THIS VERY MOMENT, and most of them are doing it better than me. That someone has already said what I am saying, and way better. That somehow, everyone’s thoughts are better than mine, and I am foolish to believe that anyone gives a rat’s ass about what I have to say.

Do you see the trend? The Anti-Cheerleader assures me that I am unworthy, that my work is not worth the price of the ink used to print it out, and that I will never be able to find any value – monetary or otherwise – as a writer. And, finally, that I should not even be calling myself “writer.”

It seems masochistic to willfully  undertake something that continually reminds you how bad you are at that thing. And then to tangle your identity (“I am a writer”) all up in that thing? Well, that is certainly madness.

As it is a well-known fact that many artists are batshit crazy, I suppose a tinge of madness comes with the territory. But still.

Every time I sit down to write or I avoid sitting down to write or I read about someone who has sat down to write I am forced to confront all of these feelings over and over again.

But I was born to write.

I was born to the struggle of shaving words onto the page. I was born to turn the things I experience into sentences that mean something, even if they only ever really mean something to me.

I love words. I love the way they look on the page. I love the way they sound when they are spoken. I love the way they connect to each other and disconnect from each other and connect the people who read them with an invisible thread.

I love trying to figure out which word is exactly the right one, even if the word is simple and small and not flowery and worth 50 cents on the SAT.

Language matters, and it happens to be the currency in which I traffic.

For me, food is like this, too.

Food connects people in ways that even language cannot. I have been fascinated by food since I was young, especially the ways in which it brings people together. Aside from having to eat to sustain life, special moments are marked with food, and that food becomes the shared experience upon which lives are built.

But, as with writing, there are millions of people cooking better than I am. And developing better recipes. And just in general knowing more that I do, latecomer as I am to the whole business of cooking and eating, and with no formal training or work in the back of the house.

Writing + Food = Food Writing, which also = Nearly Paralyzing Feelings Of Inadequacy

And then there is this:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Hell, YEAH, it is.

Because there is ALWAYS someone who is better. Who knows more. Is funnier. Has tighter abs. Better hair. Whatever. Name it. Someone is better.

Which can be, I suppose, a bit of relief. There is no such thing as “the best.” Maybe it might be “the best right at this moment..whoops…not anymore,” or “the best for you with what you had at the time.”

I say this “can be” a bit of relief because most days, if I am being honest (which I always try to be), that doesn’t really help. I still feel like a huckster and a fraud selling skills which, if I actually possess them, are ephemeral and difficult to regulate and duplicate.

Then some days, quite accidentally, there is a shining bit of joy, when the Sunshiney Rays Of Competence dart through the Clouds of Self-Doubt And Despair with a crepuscular golden light.

Today is not that day.

My particular friend Khristian works with a lovely woman, Linar, who you all just WISH would teach your kids someday. Seriously. Her classroom (and her manner with the children and pretty much every person who crosses her path) is so lovely and loving and supportive that every time I see her, even my introverted self leans a little closer. Linar gave Khristian a bottle of rosewater, and he turned it over to me. I promised her a recipe using that, so here it is. Pistachios and rosewater is a classic combination, and macarons have been my archnemesis.

Turns out, they remain my archnemesis.

While the macaron flavor was delicious, they did not rise on glorious feet. The filling tasted like a mouthful of flowers, even though I was very sparing. Some might like it; for me, it was overly perfumed and not pleasant.

This is not the end that I expected to have, but there it is. It is important, I think, to discuss the hard parts, the failure, in cooking. It’s easy enough to make something look delicious; that’s only so much smoke, mirrors, and microwaved tampons.

Failure isn’t pretty, but it’s necessary. If you must fail – and rest assured, you must – fail forward.

For the curious, here’s the recipe. I would advise you make these at your own risk, and if you do, let me know how it goes.

Pistachio Macarons With Rosewater Filling

Ingredients

Macarons

1/2 cup finely ground pistachios

1/2 cup finely ground almond meal

1 cup powdered sugar

3 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

Filling

2 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

5 tablespoons butter, softened

1-2 teaspoons rosewater (less or more, to taste)

Method

Line two baking sheets with silpat mat or parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift ground pistachios, almond flour, and powdered sugar. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment, whip egg whites until they begin to gain volume and become bubbly. When this happens, slowly add sugar until fully incorporated and egg whites are thick and holding soft peaks.

Add egg white mixture to nuts mixture and fold in vigorously with a spatula until thoroughly incorporated.

Place macaron batter in a piping bag fitted with a round tip (or use a large freezer bag with the end snipped off) and pipe into circles onto silpat (which may have guides on them already). Bang cookie sheet on the counter to settle the batter (just a couple good whacks) then let macarons sit for 30 minutes to an hour. The macarons need to dry and form a skin, of sorts, in order to get a good lift while baking and have visible “feet” (the frilly part on the bottom of the cookie).

When the top of the macarons are dry to the touch, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for nine to 12 minutes or until they are crisp outside. Cool completely before removing from silpat and filling.

To make the filling, combine egg whites and sugar in a metal bowl and set over a pan of simmering water, beating with a hand mixer until it thickens and is hot to the touch. Remove bowl from water and, still mixing, add butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing until incorporated.

Continue to beat this mixture until it thickens and has the texture of light frosting. Add rosewater to taste and stir to combine.

Pipe a circle of frosting on the flat part of one macaron, and top with another.

Recipe Notes

I do not use food coloring, but if you do, the macarons can be colored with two drops of green, and the filling can be colored with one or two drops of red.

Macarons should be stored at room temperature and eaten within a day or two. They also freeze well.