Category Archives: Homemaking

The spell of spring

Things are growing in our yard. We haven’t planted much yet, but there’s something bewitching about the sugar snap peas threading their way up the fence, and our strawberries emerged from hibernation looking perky and alert. A handful of pansies, a rosemary plant, spinach and beets in tiny-leafed infancy: little shoots of things are everywhere, and their exuberance is magnetic. I cannot stay away from the garden.

When transplanting flowers yesterday, I stirred up the soil and found it bursting with earthworms, looking rich and fertile. I may have even used the word “beautiful” while describing dirt.

The spell of spring is upon me.

Homemade (Almost Dairy-Free) Rainbow Chip Cake

If you haven’t already, you really must meet my friend Ashley. She used to run a dessert catering company, and a few years ago, I got to work for her as a sort of informal apprentice.

This came about almost accidentally, but was a pretty sweet deal (if you’ll pardon the pun), because though I showed up intending to chop chocolate and wash dishes, more often than not she let me do the fun stuff, like pipe polka dots on wedding cakes and liberally sample everything within reach – for educational purposes, of course.

At the time, her eldest son was six or seven months old, and Lydia was at least a year from being born. Since then, Ashley and I have hatched a combined four children, in two rounds of synchronized pregnancies: the first time, we shared a due date. The second time, we were within days of sharing a due date. Both times, the babies came five days apart.

I know, that has nothing to do with Rainbow Chip Cake. But trust me, we’re getting there.

My love of bittersweet chocolate stems directly from Ashley. Her recipe for tart dough is still the one I turn to, and her chocolate chip cookies are the ones that I make every single time I bake cookies. While pregnant with Sarah, I craved Ashley’s salted caramel macarons, which was unfortunate, because by that time she had moved to Seattle and started her blog.

And that, at last, brings me to Rainbow Chip Cake. In honor of her husband’s birthday, Ashley pulled together this incredible recipe, which left me wishing that a) she still lived in my town, and b) my daughter could eat eggs. Nonetheless, the second I saw photos of that cake, I knew that I’d be serving this at my birthday as well as Lydia’s, no matter how much creativity it took to make that happen.

I based my cake upon on the Bittersweet Chocolate Cake recipe, so the cake itself is dairy-free, but because I can’t vouch for the white chocolate chips, I call this Almost Dairy-Free Cake. The frosting is decidedly not dairy free, I’m afraid. But if you can stomach it, it’s incredible – comparable to Ashley’s Cadbury Eggs, really, and not nearly as messy to make.

Homemade (Almost Dairy-Free) Rainbow Chip Cake

For the cake:
3 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 c. cake flour (or more all-purpose flour)
2 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. canola oil
2 Tbl. white vinegar
1 Tbl. vanilla extract
2 c. cold water
For the frosting:
3 sticks butter, room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, also room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1-2 Tbl. heavy cream (or whole milk: I used it, and the frosting was still fabulous)
¼ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the rainbow chips:
12 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped
food coloring, in four colors of your choice

First, make the rainbow chips. Over a double-boiler, melt white chocolate. (Alternatively, throw it in the microwave for 20 second increments, stirring well between sessions, until melted and smooth.)

Divide chocolate into four small bowls. Add desired amount of food coloring to each bowl, warming briefly in the microwave if white chocolate begins to stiffen. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, spread white chocolate into rectangles ¼” thick. Chill completely.

Once cool, chop into pieces approximately ¼” square – though, really, the size is up to you. It’ll be pretty and tasty no matter what. Store these bad boys in a Ziploc bag until you’re ready for them. They’ll be good for a while.

Next, make the cake. Preheat your oven to 350-degrees. Grease two 8” cake pans with butter, and line bottoms with parchment (for the record, I really do think this is worth the trouble).

Whisk dry ingredients together in medium bowl. Measure oil in a liquid measuring cup, then add vinegar and vanilla. Stir to combine.

Add oil mixture to dry ingredients and whisk until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.

Add water and stir vigorously until lumps are mostly gone and the flour is completely incorporated.

Last, but absolutely not least, add ½ c. of the rainbow chips (or more, if you feel so inclined) and stir well.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, until cake bounces back nicely when pressed with a fingertip. Cool completely before removing from pan.

Note: This cake keeps beautifully when well-wrapped with Saran wrap, so feel free to make it a day or two ahead and let sit at room temperature. If you’re really ahead of the game, store wrapped cakes in the freezer for a week before using. Let thaw completely before frosting, though.

Now, for the frosting: in the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth. On low speed, add the powdered sugar. As you go, you might give it a taste (as though you needed any extra incentive) – depending on your inclination, you may not want to add the full 4 cups. Remember, the white chocolate will sweeten the frosting, too, so add the sugar to taste.

Next, add the cream (or milk), 1 Tbl. at a time. Add salt, then vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure that all ingredients are fully incorporated.

Finally, add the rainbow chips. Stand back and admire the beauty of your rainbow-studded frosting. Then lick the beaters (it’s in the recipe, so you’re just following instructions, right?).

Now, everyone has their preferred method of frosting cakes, but here’s mine (never mind the photos – I was feeling fancy that day): put the first layer on your favorite cake plate, because you might be like me and find them unbearably fun to collect. Slather on a goodly amount of frosting, ignoring the sides of the cake completely.

Put the next layer on top, making a beautiful frosting sandwich, and top that with another goodly amount of frosting (again, ignoring the sides – I like to let the cake peek through, especially when it’s this pretty). If you have any extra rainbow chips, sprinkle those over the top of the cake.

If you have any extra frosting (which you almost certainly will), put it in a bowl to serve alongside the cake, for those of your guests who don’t mind enduring a self-inflicted sugar coma. They will bless and curse you in the same breath, but they won’t deny that this cake is delicious.

Sprinkles

She considers candied ginger a treat.

She pilfers her papa’s medium salsa, drinking milk from a sippy cup when it gets too hot.

When offered raw garlic, she asks for seconds.

She eats hummus with a spoon.

And when I asked her what she wanted for her birthday dinner, she chose oatmeal.

But, like any self-respecting toddler, this girl loves frosting and sprinkles. (I don’t know where she gets it.)

Today, she is three, and I can’t quite believe it. We’ve already taken her new bike for two spins and eaten breakfast at an enchanted cafe and played dress-up for a good portion of the morning, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy birthday, sweet Lu. I’m so glad that I get to be your mama.

The best words one could hear

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. (Luke 24:5)

Remember: Mary, Mary Magdalene and Joanna saw Jesus crucified. They saw his body laid in the tomb. When they returned, at early dawn, they expected – as any mourner would – to find the one they loved still in the tomb, dead and beyond rising.

But that’s not what they found at all.

He has risen, and when he rose, he took the power of death and crushed it. Though we wandered far from God, so far that we hardly knew we were lost, Jesus made the way back for us through death – he is, himself, the way.

But what those women learned at the empty tomb is that he is also what every grieving person wishes their departed one would be: the exception. The one who died, but didn’t stay dead.

Jesus found the way through death.

He came back for us.

The Lord has risen indeed!

Holy Saturday

I found this on Aslan’s Library and found it very worth sharing:

Salvator Mundi: Via Crucis, Denise Levertov

Maybe he looked indeed
much as Rembrandt envisioned Him
in those small heads that seem in fact
portraits of more than a model.
A dark, still young, very intelligent face,
a soul-mirror gaze of deep understanding, unjudging.
That face, in extremis, would have clenched its teeth
in a grimace not shown in even the great crucifixions.
The burden of humanness (I begin to see) exacted from Him
that He taste also the humiliation of dread,
cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go,
like any mortal hero out of his depth,
like anyone who has taken a step too far
and wants herself back.
The painters, even the greatest, don’t show how,
in the midnight Garden,
or staggering uphill under the weight of the Cross,
He went through with even the human longing
to simply cease, to not be.
Not torture of body,
not the hideous betrayals humans commit
nor the faithless weakness of friends, and surely
not the anticipation of death (not then, in agony’s grip)
was Incarnation’s heaviest weight,
but this sickened desire to renege,
to step back from what He, Who was God,
had promised Himself, and had entered
time and flesh to enact.
Sublime acceptance, to be absolute, had to have welled
up from those depths where purpose
drifted for mortal moments.

Excerpted from Selected Poems, New Directions, 2002

Chuck’s Pear Gruyère Pie

I’ll just come out and say it: you need to see Pushing Daisies. Funny, romantic, slightly morbid, yet wistful, the show never takes itself too seriously (even if it tried to, Emerson Cod wouldn’t allow it). The colors are lovely, the sets eye-catching, the dialogue flawless and breathlessly clever, but most importantly of all, there is pie.

Lots and lots of pie.

In fact, there is so much pie that I rarely finish an episode without wanting a slice, specifically, of Chuck’s drug-smuggling Pear Gruyere pie. But since I can’t hang around the Pie Hole, eavesdropping on Emerson’s PI tips and savoring a slice of Three Plum a la mode, I opted to create a Pear Gruyere of my own (minus the homeopathic antidepressants).

The catch is that I am a baker of cakes, cookies and breads, but not pies. I have yet to produce a crust that I am pleased with, because my crusts have one unfortunate quality: they always crack. I have tried a handful of recipes, but I always end up piecing them together with wet finger tips and apologizing for them at the table. (Of course, I am the common denominator here, so I’m inclined to believe that I’m doing something wrong. Any ideas?)

Alas, this pie was no exception. When my crust disintegrated under the rolling pin, I grabbed my purse and my eldest daughter and informed Mitch that we were headed for Trader Joe’s. Could I have saved the crust? Perhaps. Did I want to? Not particularly.

So if you have a favorite pie crust recipe, by all means, use it. I used frozen crust, and the pie was delicious. Simple, slightly unusual, and delicious. As a testament to its goodness, notice that I have no existing photo of the pie post-oven, pre-consumption. This will have to do:

Chuck’s Pear Gruyere Pie

Note: I have found some recipes that bake the Gruyere directly into the crust, which sounds lovely, but given my ineptitude with crust, I opted to go all Hollywood and grate it all over the top of the pie (like Chuck does!). If you want a more elaborate version, try Blondie and Brownie‘s recipe. (It looks pretty amazing.)

Your favorite pie crust: enough to make the top and bottom of one 9″ pie

5 3/4 c. pear, peeled and chopped

6 Tbl. sugar

4 tsp. cornstarch

1/4-1/2 c. grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 375-degrees.

Combine pear, sugar and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Add 1/4 c. or so of the Gruyere and stir with a wooden spoon.

To assemble the pie, place the bottom crust in a greased pie plate, fill with pear mixture, and top with remaining crust. Seal the edges of the pie, then sprinkle with remaining Gruyere over the top (to taste). Cut slits in crust and bake for 1 hour (mine actually took a little longer to get nice and brown, but then, I can’t put an egg wash on mine – you might try using a wash and let me know how it goes).

Unless you like your pie in a puddle, allow to cool completely before eating.

PS – For more pies from the Pie Hole, check out this page.

Revamped lamp

I suppose that a project post is more dramatic when it includes a “Before” picture, but let’s just cut to the chase and look at the “After”:

After!

What the lamp looked like before isn’t really worth mentioning. Our living room considers this an improvement, and its occupants concur.

(I bought one of these and covered it with this.)