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5.23.2013

Eureka

You women who manage to keep up smart, articulate blogs while raising young children? You women who manage to keep up smart, articulate blogs while working and raising young children and doing all that household stuff that most of us wind up doing? I throw myself at your feet.  I don’t have anything remotely original or insightful to say on the subject; I just think you’re remarkable. I have childcare twelve hours a week, jobs with flexible hours, a supportive spouse, and a kid who (usually) sleeps well (please don’t let this jinx me, please don’t let this jinx me), and yet I fight to get to this space. Of course, part of the problem could be that, each night, when I sit down in front of the computer, I wind up lip-syncing to Fleetwood Mac on YouTube, inspecting my reflection in the window and wondering what kind of atrocities I would have to inflict upon my hair in order to pull off a convincing Stevie Nicks next Halloween.  (I WILL, OH, I WILL.)

The other night, after June was asleep and before I turned on Fleetwood Mac, I went down to the dungeon, also known as the garage, and dug up three boxes of old Polaroids. I was looking for two shots that I needed to scan and send to my editor for my next book, but instead I found approximately four thousand others that I had forgotten I ever took. I never found the two images that I actually needed - no doubt tucked away for “safekeeping,” never to be seen again - but I did find this:


Eureka! A broccoli pizza atop a shop vac!  And a crimini pizza and Brandon’s favorite very very sharp knife, on a cutting board, balanced haphazardly on a rung of an extremely dusty ladder!


These shots are from early 2009, the winter when we were building Delancey and testing recipes, shortly after Brandon finished building and curing the wood-burning oven but before the restaurant had anything resembling a kitchen.



I was slicing mushrooms that night on a folding card table, wearing the same gray hooded sweatshirt that I’m wearing at my desk this morning, only today it’s not crusted in drywall.  That night feels sort of romantic to me now, now that I know how it all turned out, but at the time, I was freezing, and it was dark in there and everything was covered in debris, and we were tired, always tired.



Yesterday June and I ate dinner at Delancey with a friend from our childbirth class and her nine-month-old daughter. I sat in one of the chairs that were stacked precariously in this photo, and June tasted (by which I mean sucked awkwardly on, and then wore) her father’s pizza for the very first time.  June, the child I had no idea I even wanted to have, back when I took this photo!

I am easily awed this morning.  This might be my espresso talking.


And Katie was our server. Sweet Katie! Still there, after three and a half years!  A billion years in Restaurant Time.


One day almost four years ago, in early June of 2009, the chef of the restaurant across the street, which was then A Caprice Kitchen but is now The Fat Hen, knocked on the door of Delancey. We were inside, doing some construction task or other, and she handed us a package wrapped in white paper.  It was a gift from the elderly lady who lived in the apartment behind her restaurant, she said, and the lady had asked her to deliver it to us.  I peeled off the tape and folded back the paper, and inside, there was a homemade cake, a dome of vanilla cake with vanilla frosting, sculpted into soft, feathery peaks.


The older lady never came to Delancey, and I never met her - though Brandon did once, and he reports that she was very shy.  She moved away at some point to a retirement home. There’s now a young couple in the apartment that was hers, and from what I can tell when I park my car on the street outside, it sounds like one of them plays the drums. But the residual warmth of her gesture struck me the other night in the garage, and I can still feel it.

5.03.2013

I'm feeling daring

I have finally learned how to use the espresso machine that Brandon chased down on eBay and gave me for Christmas in 2011!  The best part of this development, however, is not the double espresso that I can now enjoy each morning while sitting on the living room floor with June, reading Madeline or singing along (poorly, loudly) to our favorite song, “On the Road Again.” No, no, the best part is that while I make said double espresso, I get to recite aloud for June and Alice, in my best/worst Italian accent, the molto gag-worthy slogan written in loopy script on the side of the machine:

For Music ~ Puccini
For Art ~ Bernini 
For Espresso ~ Pasquini

In other news, do you know what goes nicely with espresso? Cream cheese pound cake. CREAM CHEESE POUND CAKE! (Holy holy holy, finally. Delancey and Essex have been needy lately, heedlessly gobbling up my time. Stupid restaurants. My sincerest apologies.)



Listen: I’m not normally pound cake person.  Not a real pound cake person. I may have gotten riled up about a pistachio pound cake last year, and there was that sweet potato pound cake a few years ago, and I may have put a berry pound cake recipe in my first book, and I may have even found my way around a few Sara Lee frozen pound cakes as a teenager - remember the crust on top? The way it was soft and spongy and eerily uniform in its brownness? I loved that part - but those were all special cases. I don’t get wildly excited about pound cake as a general concept.  I can get behind a nice, plain cake, maybe a busy-day cake, but pound cakes are often too plain, too heavy, too doorstoppy.  Pound cake, in the classic sense, strikes me mostly as a vehicle for transporting strawberries (or other fruits) and whipped cream from a plate into my mouth. I know that, in the eyes of many, there’s all kinds of sacrilege in this paragraph, but I’m feeling daring.

All that said, this pound cake is exceptional. It caught me off guard. I was looking for a way to use up some cream cheese that I had lying around, and I came upon the recipe in the excellent book Southern Cakes, by Nancie McDermott. That’s the same book that gave us the sweet potato pound cake, so it’s not surprising that this cream cheese version is spot-on. But really, it’s a keeper. Lovely is the right word for it. There’s nothing revolutionary about the ingredients - just your basic pound cake building blocks, plus a pack of cream cheese - but it’s unusually moist and even-crumbed, with a top crust that crackles like a wafer. And as you begin to chew, here comes the cream cheese, a gentle tang kicking through the sweetness. I love the way McDermott describes it: she says that the cream cheese makes a “quiet little sensation.” Am I alone in being unable to use the word sensation without thinking of INXS, and then having to listen to this song a few times, feeling mopey about Michael Hutchence’s untimely death 16 years ago? Probably?

Anyway, I baked two loaves and froze one of them, and both Brandon and I noticed that the frozen cake, once thawed, was even better than the fresh one had been. This discovery makes me want to bake a half-dozen of these cakes and stash them away for future occasions that demand sweets on short notice. Like tomorrow’s breakfast.


Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Adapted from Southern Cakes, by Nancie McDermott

This recipe was shared with McDermott by one Suzanne O’Hara of Burlington, North Carolina, and it comes together with remarkable speed and ease. I think I’ll be making it often.

3 cups (420 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine salt
2 sticks (226 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
One 8-ounce (226 g) package cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups (600 g) sugar
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. (I also lined my pans with parchment, because it makes the cakes so easy to remove.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and cream cheese, and beat on medium speed until soft and fluffy. Add the sugar, and continue to beat for about 2 minutes more, stopping once to scrape down the sides. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add the flour mixture in three doses, beating only until the flour is absorbed and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan or pans.

Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes (for a tube pan) or 55 to 60 minutes (for loaf pans), or until the cake is golden brown, pulling away from the sides of the pan, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a wire rack, and cool completely before loosening the sides with a thin knife and removing the cake from the pan.