Monday, February 3, 2014

The Carrot Cake

Last week we celebrated our boy’s first birthday, and I’m not entirely sure how that happened, since at the time of my last posting he hadn’t yet glimpsed the light of day. But then, a lot of things don’t add up — like the fact that I also have an almost ten-year-old and recently (gulp) rounded another decade. The boy and his fellow creatures have kept us busy, so much so that I haven’t had much mental space to devote to this blog — though I’ve really wanted to, since food has been such a central and sustaining part of this past year. First, I intended to write about all the wonderful meals friends and family cooked and delivered to us in those dizzying and disorienting first days (no, it’s not necessarily easier the third time around). The soups and stews and chilis; the taco kit; the roast chicken and healthy muffins and kale salad; the amazing Korean meal that arrived in its own cooking pot, complete with separately packaged garnishes like tiny, dried anchovies. I haven't forgotten any of them. They all reflected their makers’ personalities and tasted better than any food has tasted in my life, ever.

I’ve been hungry a lot this past year, chasing around a little hulk and keeping pace with growing tween daughters and their many activities. It's not always pretty, but I’ve found my way back to the stove. There are tussles over stove knobs. After all, they are bright red and make real fire shoot up if you turn them — cooler than any toy Fisher Price ever made. The baby is not the only dude in the kitchen, either, as Ben has embraced his inner chef, this Christmas eve donning my apron and banning me from the kitchen while he made Boeuf Bourgignan for eight.

Our newest member is hands-down the most impressive eater, square inch wise, of the family. We now go through more bananas than the monkey house at the zoo (come to think of it, it kind of feels like we're living in the monkey house). Among his culinary conquests, this baby can count kimchee, sushi, shakshuka, dog kibble by the fistful, ramen, pork paprika, American Girl doll money, and last week, homemade carrot cake.

For his birthday celebration, we continued the tradition begun with my first daughter, on her first birthday. Back then, I had wanted to serve something that was healthy yet undeniably a treat — meaning I would grant her access to that devil, sugar. More importantly, I was pregnant with my second daughter at the time and had a fierce craving for this, my most favorite of cakes. I can’t remember exactly how I cobbled together the recipe, but what resulted was a hybrid of a few carrot cake recipes I had found online and in books. I started with good, organic ingredients and packed as many sweet carrots as I could into the mix — there are more carrots than flour in here. I dispensed with the pineapple and coconut, since I can’t get behind tropical flavors in my carrot cake. Likewise, I forewent the nuts, which I do like but can be tricky where one-year-olds are concerned. I added raisins, safely chopped up, for a little texture and natural sweetness. The frosting was the result of an experiment gone nicely – I love the traditional cream cheese frosting but not the pulse-pounding sweetness that often comes with it, so I lightened the cream cheese with whipped cream and added organic sugar, tasting, until it was just sweet enough to get away with — much less sugar than is recommended in most recipes. People big and small raved over the result, so I repeated it 20 months later, in cupcake form, for my second daughter's birthday. Nearly seven years after that, I vowed not to make our boy the neglected third child, and resurrected the beloved carrot cake. Somehow, in spite of never having written it down, I found my way back to a similar version to the one I'd made before. Party guests snagged seconds and the birthday boy dug in with both hands, not sure how he’d gotten so lucky, and smeared frosting in his face and hair. I think that’s a fair indicator of success, and probably in some cultures a polite show of gustatory appreciation. 


I only hope it doesn't take another baby or the passing of seven years to make this cake again. 


Carrot Cake  

Ingredients:  

Cake:
  • Butter for greasing pans
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cups light brown sugar
  • 1 ¼ cups canola oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups grated carrots (peeled first – approx. 4 large carrots)
  • 1 cup chopped raisins (soaked beforehand if they are very hard)

Frosting:

  • 2 packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • ½ cup organic confectioner’s sugar – more if you like it sweeter. (note: I have also successfully used fine-textured organic sugar — the off-white kind)
  • 1 lemon, finely zested and reserved for juice

Equipment:

  • Two 9-inch round cake pans

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a separate large bowl, whisk together brown sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs one at a time, then flour, stirring until just blended. Stir in carrots and raisins.

2. Prepare cake pans by greasing with butter then sprinkling with flour; swirl around flour to coat, then knock out the extra. Divide batter equally between pans, smoothing down top with a spatula if necessary. Place in center rack of oven and bake for 25-35 minutes, rotating the rack midway through baking time, particularly if your oven is uneven. Cake is done when it passes the toothpick test and looks slightly browned on top. Remove from oven and cool.

3. Make frosting: you will need two separate, medium bowls. Using an electric mixer (or a strong arm), beat heavy cream and half of the sugar until stiff peaks form. Set aside. In another bowl, beat the softened cream cheese and other half of the sugar until it is smooth. Fold together the two creams gently, along with
the lemon zest and about 2 tablespoons of juice, until combined. Taste the frosting — this is important because you may want it sweeter or more lemony; if so, add more sugar and/or lemon juice.

4. When cake is cooled, gently run a knife blade around the inside rim of cake pans to release. Carefully invert one layer onto a plate, then onto your serving plate or cake stand so the top side faces up. Using an offset or regular spatula, spread nearly half of icing onto the bottom cake layer, covering the top and sides completely, then add the second layer and finish the job. I like to make dips and swoops in the surface. Refrigerate if you don’t plan on serving right away. 







Friday, November 23, 2012

Paris in November


Last week, my sister and I stole away for a bit, I with the bump in tow — because it may be a while before we can pull off such a caper again. Paris is lovely this time of year in its sleepy, drizzly way that allows colors to pop against the gray. The bones of the trees are showing. Without the usual fray of tourists, the city feels truer than in higher seasons, and you notice things like a row of school children trooping down the street en route to a weekend camping trip, kerchiefs tied neatly around their necks and pint-sized packs and bedrolls on their backs.  

We ate, we walked, we shopped for our babies. We ate some more. We took in the Musée d’Orsay's "Impressionism and Fashion" exhibit. 

All the best fall things were out: Chestnut desserts. Truffles. Wild game on the menus. Pumpkin soup and scarves. There was a slow mist falling much of the time, and now and then a thread of woodsmoke curled through it.  
100% chocolate
Without Thanksgiving to stand in their way, the French are already decking their city in Christmas lights and garlands. And we thought American stores were shameless!
After 4 days, the travel bug had been sated and I was ready to get back to Ben and the girls. Onward to turkey, food drives, holidays, family, and not too far in the future, a new baby. 

Here's a round-up of a few favorite spots we managed to hit (and for more, check out last April's post Paris with kids):
 
Shops and Markets
  • Sunday Bird Market on the Ile de la Cité: I accidentally wandered into this little oasis on my last day in Paris and remembered it had been one of our first destinations, on my first, long-ago trip to the city. Bird and animal markets always make me feel kind of sad, but the sound of all that birdsong concentrated in one place is completely transporting. 
Veggie paella at the Marché Bio
  • L'Epicerie Breizh Café: Recently opened next door to Breizh Café (see below), this shop stocks Breton delicacies such as salted caramels and Bordier butter. 111 rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd.
  • Merci: Stylish concept store in the 3rd, with clothing, home items, perfumes and knickknacks. A portion of proceeds goes to charity. 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 3rd.
  • Monoprix: France's answer to Target, with stores everywhere — though not so cheap anymore with the current exchange rate. The baby and children clothes are good quality (particularly the under-3 year old sizes) and I always come away with an armload, along with a couple jars of Amora mustard from the grocery section.
  • Sunday organic market (marché bio) on the Blvd. de Raspail, between the Rue de Rennes and the Rue du Cherche Midi (6th). Pricey but gorgeous produce and a lively, convivial vibe.
  • Huilerie J. Leblanc: The artisan oil boutique has moved from its boutique at 6, rue Jacob, into Tomat's Epicerie Fine, at 12 rue Jacob (back in the courtyard) in the 6th. My favorite oils are the pistachio, the hazelnut and the walnut. They will bubble-wrap the bottles for you to travel.  
  • BonTon: I have a hopeless weakness for this adorable (and pricey) kids' store, which stocks clothing, home items, and gifts for babies and children. 82, rue de Grenelle, 7th & 5, blvd des Filles du Calvaire, 3rd
  • Le Bon Marché: High-end department store worth checking out just for its amazing food hall on the ground level (La Grande Epicerie de Paris). 24 Rue de Sèvres, 7th.
  • Vanves Flea Market (Le Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves): Saturdays and Sundays, Ave. Marc Sagnier & Av Georges Lafenestre, 14th. If you have a good eye, you might find treasures among the haphazard displays. Though not as great a value as it once was, it's still less expensive than the more curated Marché St. Ouen (Porte de Clignancourt).
 Restaurants
  • La Cigale Récamier: 4, rue Récamier, 7th. Who can resist the perfect soufflé, especially after staggering off the red-eye? The menu changes with the seasons. I had the pumpkin with Emmental cheese and Cassie got sea urchin soufflés baked in their spiny shells and presented on a bed of seaweed. We finished with a chocolate soufflé, served with a tiny pitcher of dark chocolate sauce to pour over it.
  • Les Papilles: 30, rue Gay Lussac, 5th. Bistro/wine bar near the Luxembourg gardens. Choose a bottle of wine off the shelf (wine is only by the bottle, and you can take any left over to go) and settle in for dinner — 4 courses of hearty fare that change nightly (set menu, i.e. no choices). There's usually a soup and a meaty dish, a simple cheese course, and dessert. You'll leave pleasantly sated, so plan on walking.
  • Rose Bakery: 30 rue Debelleyme, 3rd (also with locations in the 9th and 12th): Cozy, English-owned café if you're looking for a change from the usual French breakfast. Quiches, tarts, scones and other baked goods made with organic ingredients.
  • Breizh Café: 109 rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd. A favorite in the Marais. Oysters and crêpes, hard cider. My savory buckwheat crêpe: smoked duck, sautéed mushrooms, and Jerusalem artichokes. Dessert: Chestnut cream crêpe served with chestnut ice cream and whipped cream.
  • Spring: 6, rue Bailleul, 1st. Multi-course tasting menu by American-born chef Daniel Rose, served in a small dining room around an open kitchen. A delicious meal (the venison was perfection), and the service was very friendly.
  • Bread & Roses: 7, rue de Fleurus, 6th. Organic bakery and light lunch, tea and coffee.
  • Vivant: 43 rue des Petites Ecuries, 10th. Fun vibe, solid food, and natural wines. Our reservation got messed up, so we ended up at the wine bar next door, which serves a simpler menu of tasty plates.
  • Little Breizh (no relation to Breizh Café, above): 11 rue Gregoire de Tours, 6th. Nice little crêpe shop if you're in the neighborhood, hidden among touristy places.
  • Juveniles: 47 rue de Richelieu, 1st. Always a fun gathering spot, run by Tim Johnston, that attracts Parisians and expats alike. Great wines and food (I worked here many years ago)
  • Le Verre Volé: 67 rue de Lancry, 10th. Fun, hip, and no-frills wine bar and bistro near the Canal St. Martin. Generous portions of tasty food and people-watching (very Brooklyn in Paris!)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Summer, stay a while

Our car is still littered with sand and sky-blue ferry tickets, and the girls' legs have kept a bit of their August brown, but mornings this past week have demanded socks and even jackets. The summer of 2012 was unanimously declared a good one by everyone under this roof – the way summers should be and the way we hope the kids will remember them.   

So good and so very busy, in fact, that I've found it hard to make my way over here, though there's been much to write about. Also…there's the small fact that I'm expecting our third child and haven't had much energy to channel into writing and editing photos…but I plan to make up for lost time before baby boy's January arrival is upon us. So, thank you to those of you who are reading now and who have found your way back here, too.
 
Driving home on Labor Day, I turned over all the vacation moments in my head like a stash of mementos, and mourned those delicious weeks a bit. Once the last ferry was behind and the soft light of the North Fork ceased shining on us, the malls of Long Island flew by and then the U.S. Open and the hydroponic gardening center, and before I knew it we were home, and the skies opened as if on cue (this, following a nearly unbroken string of sunny days). A couple of days later we were catapulted into the school-year routine.


Summer was sunny days in the foothills and shores, dew on bare feet in the mornings and outdoor showers on August afternoons, looking up at blowing treetops. The briny, funky smell off the marshes drifting through our open windows at night, and the squawking of birds in the bushes our alarm clock in the morning, before the sun even burned through the fog. For Ben, plucking at the banjo – and getting pretty good at it. For me, stolen time on porches and in hammocks with a good book. For the girls, learning to sail and ride horses, kayaking and catching hermit crabs with friends in the shallow inlets around the island. There was good fun with cousins, grandparents, aunties and uncles – and a brand-new baby cousin with sweet toes and a fuzzy head. We read Harry Potter, Book 4 together way too late into the night, most nights. There were rosé-soaked days out on the water with friends – long, breezy days heeling along in the sailboat, or anchored and swimming off the back, the grownups just as gleeful as the under-ten set.


 
 


And of course there was eating – plenty of it, because summer wouldn't be right without a succession of satisfying feasts, usually a team effort among friends and family. And because, this summer, I was hungry. Hungry for fish tacos, succotash, ribs, pulled pork, fried shrimp. Blueberry picking and eating, as always. Lobsters and stone fruit crumbles. Ice creams churned by my beloved new ice cream maker, the one I treated myself to in June. Local clams, dug and baked by friends. And a favorite I'd like to share, because we've enjoyed it so much these past couple of summers that I would be stingy not to post it here.

The original recipe for this green gazpacho appeared in Molly Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook, but I credit friends Tara and Josh for their particular spin, which always makes people go quiet for a moment when they first taste it – in a good way – because the soup is so unexpectedly creamy and rich for the healthy vegan recipe it is. This version uses tomatillos in place of the green tomatoes called for in the original, and most importantly, a sprinkling of freshly grilled corn kernels; the sweetness, smokiness, and subtle crunch of the corn is what really makes this soup. Though summer's on the wane, the primary ingredients are still vibrant in our farmers' markets and CSA (in fact, we just got tomatillos and cilantro today), and this is one of the finest uses of tomatillos I know. Enjoy, along with your own summer memories.
Green Gazpacho with Corn
Adapted from Molly Katzen, Enchanted Broccoli Forest  
4 servings

Ingredients:


  • 5 largish tomatillos (husked), quartered, seed pulp cut away and discarded  
  • 1-2 cloves garlic (depending on size), chopped 
  • 1-2 cucumbers (depending on size), peeled, seeded, and chopped 
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced  
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, chopped and seeds removed (leave a few in if you like heat)  
  • A few sprigs parsley
  • 1 small handful cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (cider vinegar or red wine vinegar are best)  
  • Juice of 2 limes  
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil  
  • Sea salt to taste  
  • 1 teaspoon honey or a pinch of sugar
  •  3/4 cup cold water – more if needed
  • Kernels cut from 2 ears of cooked corn – preferably grilled (any method of cooking works)
Instructions:

Throw everything in blender but corn. Process until smooth. Add a little more water if it seems too thick, and more salt if needed. Chill. Serve in bowls with corn kernels sprinkled on top.