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.

 

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.

 

Gratitude, Day 30: This Is The End, Now With Cranberry Cake

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

I won’t lie: this month of blogging about gratitude has been a bit of a slog.

I have learned that combining gratitude, a food blog, and reflection on life is just one thing too many, so I am sticking to food as it relates to life.

It’s not that I am not grateful, and it was never that I couldn’t find something to write about.

Sometimes combining three elements is a little hectic. Next year, maybe it will just be 30 days of cookie recipes, or 30 days of sauces. Gratitude can stay in my journal or shared with those it involves.

Today, the final day of this month-long occasional forced march, I am grateful that I am done.

To celebrate, I made the first of what will certainly be multiple cranberry cakes.

You want this in your face. #Trust
You want this in your face. #Trust

Full disclosure: this could have done with a few more minutes in the oven, but rather than show you a slice that clearly indicates this, I thought I would snap what really matters – the craggy soft interior of a moist, delicious cake that was eaten with fingers before it was barely turned out on the board to take the picture.

This cake is sweet and studded with fresh cranberries that are completely unadulterated. No chopping, no sweetening, no cooking. Nothing.

So what happens is you take a bite and get this luscious, buttery, sweet vanilla cake, followed by a bright/tart burst of fresh cranberry.

So. Freaking. Good.

It’s a bit underdone because this is the first time I made it in a Bundt pan, and I was slightly pressed for time. It takes just 15 minutes to throw together but a solid 75 minutes in the oven.

The other unusual part of this recipe is that it has no leavening agent; eggs and sugar are beaten together until they double in volume and become a ribbony pale yellow.

I would love to claim this recipe as my very own, but it isn’t. I added a touch of orange zest, used my gluten-free flour mix, and didn’t measure the cranberries (just dumped a full bag of frozen cranberries in), but other than that, this recipe is perfection, as is.

Oh, and side note: you could add a ton of sugar and calories by making the pecan topping in the recipe, but that is completely unnecessary.

Today, this last day of November, what are you grateful for?

Gratitude, Day 12: Coconut Cake

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

I have been craving cake for two weeks.

If I was not gluten-free, this would be easy enough.

Gluten-filled cake is like pizza or sex: even when it’s not the best, it’s still pretty good. A cake craving can be easily handled with a quick Suzy-Q from the 7-11 or something from the bakery at Giant. They even hand that shit out for free sometimes, so I could have technically just gotten a couple of samples and have been done with it.

Gluten-free cake, on the other hand, can be a total waste of money and the time it takes to go buy it. Some are gritty, some taste heavily of the bean flours with which they are made, and some forgo things like sugar and butter and try to be healthy.

I am too lazy to go try to acquire a cake that tastes terrible, and I just didn’t feel like baking a cake that feeds 14 for just little old me.

Today, I am grateful that I made a cake.

This cake.

Imma eat the shit out of this cake.
Imma eat the shit out of this cake.

It’s a little bulgy in the middle (like I will be after eating it ALL GONE) because the frosting is a marshmallow creation that isn’t always up to, well, holding up a cake.

No matter. It does the job as long as it needs to, which isn’t very long because I may be sending this out to those lucky folks who ordered food this week. #Surprise

I used the white cake recipe from the piecaken experiment last year, subbing coconut milk for regular milk, and I covered the whole damn thing with coconut.

It’s delicious.

What are you grateful for?