This morning, a breakfast cake

blueberriescousinsan every day cake

Everyone needs a go-to cake. This is mine.

Blueberry lemon cake

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Pretty much any berry can be subbed in for the blueberries. When I have a lot (8-10 oz) of berries on the ripe side, I cook them down into a skillet jam and then fold them in at the end, after combining the liquid and dry ingredients. Even better, though, is replacing the berries with 2/3 cup mini bittersweet chocolate chips, and replacing the lemon juice and zest with that of a blood orange. A tart pan is essential in my house (it fits best under our cake dome), but an 8 x 8 square pan will also do.

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2 cups white spelt flour
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch fine grain salt
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup blueberries

1/2 cup almond milk
2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of one lemon

Preheat the oven to 375 F / 190 C. Line the bottom of a 10-inch round tart pan with parchment, and lightly oil the sides.

In a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest together. Add the berries and toss gently to coat. In a small bowl, whisk the liquid ingredients together. Add liquid ingredients to dry, and fold gently to combine. The batter will be thick, like biscuit dough. If it seems to dry, add a splash of almond milk.

Once the cake is in the oven, lower the heat to 350. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before serving.

Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 35 minutes

serious business

As I head into week five (six?) of law school, things are starting to get serious.

Three legal pads full of writing assignments and case briefs, a comprehensive midterm one week away, my favorite book bag discarded because it wasn’t up to hauling around 80+ pounds of books at a time —

of course, all of this pales in comparison to Second Grade.

There is soccer practice, as evidenced by the tangle of shoes and shorts I stumbled over the other night.

team purple

There is science!, which means there are petri dishes and vials, slides and cover slips, tweezers and specimens — all scattered across the kitchen table for long, indefinite stretches of time.

science!

Nina and I took a break from our serious endeavors to make this cake.

rosemary chocolate cake rosemary chocolate olive oil cake

Olive oil cake with bittersweet chocolate and rosemary

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Another adaptation from my rainy day, desert island, if I could only choose one cookbook, Good to the Grain.

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Olive oil for the pan
3/4 cup almond meal flour
1 1/2 cups spelt flour
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
3/4 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons plain, unsweetened soy yogurt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60-70% cacao), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F / 180 C. Oil a 9 1/2-inch fluted tart pan. If your pan does not have a removable bottom, line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and rosemary. In another bowl, whisk together the soy milk, olive oil, yogurt and apple cider vinegar. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, gently mixing until incorporated. Fold in the chocolate. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the edges have started to brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool before cutting — unless you don’t mind an ooey gooey mess of chocolate.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 40 minutes

Kitchen garden tour // chocolate beet root cake

Indoors, my husband’s minimalist nature prevails; outdoors, my maximalist nature is unhindered. More is more! I often refer to the steps leading from the back of my house onto the grounds as my happy place. From a distance, my teensy weensy, one story, 1,000 square foot old-but-not-too-old farm cottage appears to dwarf the small beds that flank both sides of the concrete stairway. When you’re standing on those steps, though, the beds take on a life of their own.

1. house

To your right, a small but vigorous patch of wild strawberries that produce all summer long. To your left, a tiny kitchen garden with chives, oregano, thyme, lavender and marjoram spilling onto your feet. The steps and back wall are lined with pots containing anything from shade-loving greens to a bay laurel tree, and a grotesque named Gargoyle. The opposite edge is lined with dahlias, sunflowers and lemon balm, and the front is guarded by our gnome. Inside this illusory boundary, it’s organized chaos. Greens overflow from a central raised bed year round – what we don’t eat I let bolt and feed them to the hens. Green and purple shiso form a carpet over the garden floor. I’ll let an entire patch of carrots, cabbage or onions go to seed just so I can marvel at the flowers. Flats of seedlings are lined up wherever they’ll fit, preempting the soon-to-be basil forest into a nursery. In addition to the toads, frogs and turtles that take advantage of Nina’s carefully arranged broken and side-turned pots and the thicket of Japanese knotweed I can never completely eradicate, we have blue-striped skinks who live in the cracks around the stairs and scurry from bed to bed along the side of the house. It feels like another world.

2. strawberries+chives3. kitchen garden collage4. dahlias et al

Continuing to walk around the house is the tea garden, anchored by a small wisteria tree and a sea of irises. This past winter was not kind to my turmeric and ginger roots, lemongrass, nettles, catnip or chamomile; the bed is presently a chocolate mint garden. I’ll be replanting everything in pots and troughs so I can move them around if next winter is surly.  Next to the tea garden is a butterfly bush and scrub grass. My goal is to turn it into a rock and succulent garden by summer’s end. Parallel to these beds is our rose trellis. On a whim, my husband lashed a few scraggly vines up off the ground so Nina wouldn’t cut herself on thorns while chasing Goblin. The roses have all but taken over the south side of the house. I use the petals for cooking all summer long, and collect rose hips for tea in early winter.

5. Goblin+mint 6. chocolate mint 7. scrub garden 8. rose trellis

In front, we have one bed completely overgrown with wild blackberry vines, and another that’s home to anything that catches Nina’s eye when we visit the nursery. This autumn the blackberry vines will be replaced with peonies, mums, and maybe a gardenia. The other bed has Chinese lantern and balloon flowers, hostas, caladiums, sweet potato vines,  variegated grasses – anything that tolerates partial shade. Around the corner, the north side of the house is home to hydrangeas, butterfly bushes, allspice and holly trees, giant blue hostas, and my rhubarb. A few feet away is another overgrown bed that I’m going to turn into a moon garden. It’s anchored by ginkgo and Japanese maple trees.

9. future peonies 10. collage 11. ginko+maple

That was an awfully long walk around my house! Next week I’ll take you through my main garden, our fledgling orchard, and the arbor.

But first, cake.

A few months ago, I bought a cookbook based solely on the photo and text of one recipe. This is not unusual behavior for me. But the tiptoeing around this recipe, my not wanting to be disappointed outweighing the challenge of omitting a scant cup of butter and five eggs from a highly lauded recipe by a renowned author and chef? Very unusual. And then I saw the most beautiful bundle of beet roots at the farmers’ market, stopped myself from asking if they were any good (it’s way past beet season here), dug my best quality chocolate out of the freezer, and made the best damned chocolate cake I’ve had in a good long while.

cakeThis is what happens if you touch your cake before it cools. Consider yourself warned.

Chocolate beet root cake

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This is my vegan interpretation of Nigel Slater’s Extremely Moist Chocolate Beet Cake, from Tender. Have no fear – it does not contain five eggs’ worth of egg replacer or a scant cup of oil subbed for the butter. What it does contain is seven ounces of best quality bittersweet chocolate, and this is non-negotiable. You’ll need to take great care when melting your chocolate, which is easier than it sounds. Simply place a heatproof bowl inside a skillet of barely simmering water, and stir stir stir. This cake is dusty on top, but incredibly moist. I serve it topped with homemade vegan crème fraîche and poppy seeds, but it tastes (almost as) good without.

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7-8 ounces beets (3 small/medium)
7 ounces best quality chocolate (70% cocoa solids), cut into half-inch size pieces
1/4 cup hot espresso
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups white spelt flour
1 cup natural cane sugar
3 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Vegan crème fraîche and poppy seeds, for serving

Boil the beets, whole and unpeeled, in unsalted water until fork tender, 30 to 40 minutes depending on their size. Cool under running water, remove the peel, top and tail, and place in a food processor. Pulse a few times until coarsely puréed.

While the beets are cooling, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8-inch round springform cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment. If you don’t have a springform pan, you can turn this out onto a plate once it has cooled, but it will be a little messy.

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl set inside a skillet of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until melted. Add the espresso and olive oil and stir until smooth and glossy. Remove from the heat.

Whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa and baking powders, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the melted chocolate mixture, almond milk, apple cider vinegar and almond extract to the bowl, and gently stir until fully incorporated. Gently fold in the pureed beets.

Pour into the prepared cake pan and transfer to the oven. Immediately decrease the heat to 325 degrees, and bake for 50 minutes. The top of the cake will look dry, especially around the edges, but it will feel springy to the touch. In the last few minutes of baking, the center of the cake will fall. Once the cake has cooled completely, carefully loosen around the edge with a thin icing spatula or butter knife before removing the ring. Serve with vegan crème fraiche and poppy seeds.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Stovetop time: 30-40 minutes | Oven time: 50 minutes

Of late

lemon cake

I finally started watching the West Wing, and every time Bradley Whitford comes on screen I immediately remember his license plates from that long ago 80s movie and have to suppress the urge to whisper “so cool” at the television.

I’m also watching Newsroom. Our house is bursting at the seams with Sorkin-speak and idealism!

she's all disco hat and long legs

before

after

The Southeast got a kiss from father winter, and we took advantage of our snow the few days it lasted.

tracking tracks

snow

My girl is getting tall. At this rate she’ll tower over me by the time she’s 12.

I’ve taken the occasional break from Sorkin to chip away at a very long movie queue: Take Shelter, What Maisie Knew, The Place Beyond the Pines, Before Midnight, Robot & Frank, the Master, Mud, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Solaris were worth the wait.

(I am loathe to admit I finally watched the Hangover. NOT WORTH THE WAIT.)

I started planning – and planting! – my gardens. Dahlias, greens, alliums, brassicas, dahlias, radishes, carrots, and more dahlias are going into various pots/my cold frame/the ground this weekend.

winter gnome

I joined the cult of Instagram.

I’ve been up to my elbows in Meyer lemons, making this cake every chance I get.

cake be gone

Lemon olive oil cake

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I wanted to call this Sunken Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake with Almond and Yogurt, but it seemed a bit wordy. All of these components come together to make a cake that’s dense and airy at the same time, with a tender crumb and a crunchy rind where the sugar in the batter caramelizes against the edge of the pan. This cake will slowly rise, rise, rise for the first half hour or so, until – poof! – it collapses onto itself. Fear not! It’s supposed to collapse. If you have a springform pan, it will make plating the cake a little bit easier. If you use a regular cake pan, no biggie; just use two plates. Place plate #1 on top of the cake pan, give it a quick flip, and then carefully invert it onto plate #2. If you don’t have lemons on hand, Meyer or otherwise, other citrus will do. I’ve made this cake with grapefruit, blood orange, and even clementines with success. Lastly, and most important – I’ll have a gluten free version of this to share in the coming weeks, and cupcakes, too.

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3/4 cup white spelt flour
1/2 cup whole spelt flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup plain coconut yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F / 180 C. Oil and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, almond meal, sugar, baking soda and powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, lemon zest and juice. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, being careful not to overmix. Pour the cake batter into the floured pan and smooth out the top. Place in the center of the oven and bake for about 50 minutes, until the cake forms a golden crust on top, feels springy to the touch, and the edges have pulled away from the pan. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack while still in its pan for ten minutes before transferring to a plate. Allow the cake to cool completely before slicing. It tastes even better on the second day, if you manage to save a slice that long.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Oven time: 50 minutes

And then there was cake

I mentioned in my previous post that we camped for three days at Stone Mountain. Most of our camping trips fall within the long weekend, three to four day range:  long enough to explore an area, especially when we live a couple of hours’ drive from several similar sites, and only half a day from the ocean; and short enough that I don’t feel guilty ditching my marathon training runs.

The part that many people tell me is a challenge for them when camping – food – is something we have fun with. The longer we plan to camp, the more creative we get. There are portable foods: granola; spring rolls; baked cubes of tofu and polenta. There are the foods that keep well in a big chest cooler: cold brewed coffee; little pots of yoghurt studded with chunks of frozen fruit; jars of plant milk; more jars of tabbouleh, Nicoise potato salad, lentil pilaf. And of course, things to be cooked over coals, on skewers or a small cast iron skillet: jars of just-add-milk pancake mix; foil packs of root vegetables; Dandies marshmallows; Field Roast sausages and tofu dogs.  We have it down to a science.

The one thing I couldn’t figure out how to pack for this trip? My husband’s birthday cake.

Once we returned home, my daughter and I whipped up two nine-inch rounds of our go-to multigrain chocolate cake, crumb-coated them with espresso-spiked frosting, lit some candles and declared it a party.

Multigrain chocolate cake

This recipe has been around for ages, referred to as wacky, war, and depression-era cake. Traditionally made with all purpose flour, I prefer to make it with a blend. The buckwheat and oat flours have a sweet, milky flavor, and the rye gives it a nice malty undertone.  For frosting, I use whatever vegan buttercream recipe is in the nearest cookbook (or pops up first in Google). This recipe yields one cake – double (or triple!) if you plan to make a layer cake.

3/4 C spelt flour (whole or white, your choice)
1/4 C rye flour
1/4 C buckwheat flour
1/4 C oat flour
1 C raw/turbinado sugar
3 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine grain salt
1 C water
1 T apple cider vinegar
1/4 C mild-tasting oil (sunflower, safflower, canola…)
1 tsp almond or vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 / 175 C degrees and position a rack to the center position.  Lightly oil and dust the bottom of your cake pan if you’ll be eating it out of the pan; line with parchment if you’ll be transferring it to a serving plate and/or using it in a layer cake.

Sift all of the dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and add the wet ingredients.  Stir to combine, pour into your cake pan, and bake 25 minutes, or until the middle is set and the cake is beginning to pull away from the edge of the pan.  Allow to cool completely before frosting.  Tastes best after a few hours when the flavors have had a chance to meld.

Yield: 1 9-inch round or 8×8 inch square cake

Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 30 minutes