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Christmas Eve Cake

Have you ever happened to walk outside alone on Christmas Eve? It’s something of a private tradition of mine. On some pretext I leave the gathered family… must get something from the car…. anyone checked the mail?…just a moment. In that moment I step outside, the cold and the silence are indistinguishable. The chill cuffs my nose and swipes at my fingers. (I am inevitably under dressed, mistaking the warmth of good company for warmth of weather.)  The silence thumps against my ears as the door closes behind me. Everything is muffled, from the boisterous sounds of family inside to the thrum of traffic. There aren’t even any summer insects to break the silence. It is still. And cold.

In that moment I am aware of the weight of tradition. I feel the presence of Christmases past, both those I’ve been a part of and those that aren’t mine to remember. So much expectation, merry-making, disappointment, loneliness, and hope bound to one night hangs heavy in the damp dark air.

I know the mysteriousness is mainly an invention of my own mind. Perhaps that the same stillness could be felt on other nights if only I were to take notice. But still.


This cake reminds me of that moment I seek out every year. It is combines the warm spice of gingerbread decorating, the stillness of dark chocolate melting on your tongue, and the malty tang of a stout drink enjoyed with friends. And it is most mysteriously dark. Because I used part coconut oil instead of all butter, this cake will stay moist for several days. I like it iced with a frothy whipped cream cheese icing. The cake seems to need it, just as we need to celebrate the light during the darkest time of year. However, neither the cake nor the frosting are extremely sweet. If you’d like a sweeter rather than tangy frosting, feel free to add more honey.  I made my cake in a angel food cake pan, but I’m sure this would be beautiful baked in a more decorative bunt mold or even a simple loaf pan. (Note that this recipe makes 2 loaf cakes. If you just want one, cut the recipe in half.) Though if you do use a decorative pan, you might want to consider leaving it unfrosted and instead dusting it with some powdered sugar or even finely shredded coconut.

Christmas Eve Cake
Inspired by Nigella Lawsons’ Chocolate Guinness Cake and the Stout Gingerbread Cake in The Last Course: The Desserts of Grammercy TavernFor the cake:
1 bottle of dark spicy beer, such as Guinness extra stout
1 cup dutched cocoa powder
2cup molasses
1 T baking soda
6 eggs
1/3 cup sugar honey
1/2 coconut oil
1 cup butter, softened
4 cups white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour, as you wish
4 T ground ginger
2 T ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp ground grains of paradise or freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp ground cardamom
4 T freshly grated gingerFor the icing:1 package of cream cheese, softened
a drizzle of honey (1/8- 1/4 cup, as you wish)
1/2 cup heavy creamPreheat the oven to 350°. Generously butter your pan(s). (See note above.) In a large saucepan over medium high heat, bring the beer, honey, and molasses to a boil. Seriously, get a really large pan. Beer is volitale and boils over easily, as my kitchen floor can attest. Once it’s boiled, take it off the heat and add the baking soda. Stir very very gently. Let it sit as the foam settles itself down. When there is enough space in the pot, add the butter and coconut oil, using the residual heat to melt. Let it cool to baby bath temperature.Meanwhile, mix together the flour, cocoa, and spices, except the fresh ginger in a large bowl. In another large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the molasses mixture to the eggs and mix well. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the liquid into the dry ingredients. Mix until just blended. Add the fresh ginger and mix gently.

Pour the batter into your pan, gently tapping it on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake in the oven for 60-90 minutes for bundt pan, and slightly less for loaf pans. It’s done when the top springs back gently when pressed. Though it can be hard to see, if it smells like it’s getting too dark, cover the top with foil until the rest of the cake is done.

Remove it from the oven and let cool for a couple minutes before running a knife or spatula around the sides. Gently release the cake from the pan and let cool completely on a rack before frosting.

In a food processor of stand mixer, beat the cream cheese till it’s light and fluffy. Add the honey and cream and beat again until frothy. Frost the cake with a liberal hand. Dust the top with extra spices if you’d like or leave it immaculately white.


Posted 12 years, 6 months ago at 8:10 am. Add a comment

Cider Braised Sausages with Apples and Collards

Pork and apples… mmmmm….

Pork and apples might’ve been my first foray into the world of food pairings. I’m not sure what prompted me to ladle apple sauce over my leathery pork chop that day in my college cafeteria. But I thought I was a genius. It wasn’t till later that I realized pork and apples is a tried and true culinary couplet.

Cider Braised Sausages with Apples and Collards
inspired by America’s Test Kitchen and Epicurious

1-2 T bacon grease, lard, ghee, coconut oil, as you wish
4 medium or spicy sausages, as you wish
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 firm baking apple such as granny smith, cored and chopped
1 cup apple cider*
1 bunch collards, washed
1/4 cup apple or pear butter
3T  apple cider vinegar
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Remove the large ribs from the collards by holding them by the stem and stripping them up the stem, much as you would a stalk of rosemary. Gather the leaves together and chop roughly. Set aside. Bring a large skillet over medium high heat and melt1 T of the fat. When it sputters, add the sausages, leaving space in between each one so that they don’t steam. Let them sizzle without moving until a good crust is formed, about 1 minute. Then use tongs to flip them and brown another minute. Remove to a plate. Add the onions and garlic, if necessary add the rest of the fat. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and let them saute for about a minute, until the onions are slightly translucent and the garlic begins to color. Pour in the cider and scrape the bottom to remove the flavorful fond. Stir in the vinegar and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Add the apples and another pinch of salt. Replace the sausages and add the collards and stir until they cook down a bit. Put a lid on the skillet and reduce heat to low. Braise for about 10 minutes. Remove sausages again (sorry…)  and keep warm. Add cream and apple butter. Stir until it thickens into a lovely silky sauce. Replace the sausages and rewarm if necessary. Serve with cornbread to mop up the sauce.

* I used leftover spiced cider I made for a party. However, you could use a favorite hard cider or even apple juice. Though if you do use juice, make sure to get a good quality one, preferably unfiltered, for the most apple-y taste.

Posted 12 years, 6 months ago at 6:10 pm. 4 comments

{this moment}

{this moment} – A Friday ritual from SouleMama. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

. . . . . . . .

Posted 12 years, 6 months ago at 6:02 am. 9 comments

Milestones: The First Flavor

Posted 12 years, 6 months ago at 7:58 pm. 2 comments

:: a beautiful day in the neighborhood ::

Baby-tidian and I encountered this scene on our morning walk. The draw was not roadkill as I had expected, but a busted open tray of raw ground beef.

Aside from making me desperately want to invest in a telephoto lens, moments like this also serve to remind me of my place. I am not all there is. I am not the only one who eats. I am not the be-all-end-all of creation. As startling as it is to come across it while surrounded by sidewalks, front doors, and mailboxes, the truth still stands that all death breeds life.

Posted 12 years, 6 months ago at 2:58 pm. Add a comment

{this moment}

{this moment} – A Friday ritual from SouleMama. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

. . . . . . . .

Posted 12 years, 6 months ago at 6:00 am. 1 comment

Spicy Butternut Squash with Parmesan

Growing up, orange vegetables meant sugar. Sweet potatoes got marshmallows. Winter squash got a dusting of brown sugar. Pumpkins were made into pies. Carrots got… okay, well, carrots discredit my sweeping generalization.

Even though I’d now be more likely to use honey or maple syrup, it’s taken me some time to crack through the caramelized bias of my youth. And oh! it’s been worth it. Like many openings of mind, there are so many more possibilities now. Winter squash, I’ve come to understand, are quiet about their sweetness. It’s easily upstaged by the more boisterous sugar. Next to the spice of cayenne though, the squash’s sweetness can be appreciated.

Spicy Butternut Squash with Parmesan
~inspired by this recipe from Gourmet Magazine, as seen on Epicurious

2 1/2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cubed
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/tsp cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the squash cubes in a small baking dish or skillet. In a glass measuring cup, measure out the cream then stir in the cayenne, salt, and pepper. Pour the cream mixture over the squash. Cover with foil or a lid and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the squash is tender. Stir in half the cheese, and sprinkle the rest on top of the squash. Bake (uncovered) for another  7-10 minutes. Then turn the broiler on until the cheese is bubbly, brown, and beautiful. Remove the the oven and let stand for at least 5 minutes to thicken.

Posted 12 years, 6 months ago at 2:00 pm. 1 comment

:: a beautiful day in the neighborhood ::

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

Walks this time of year are a study in contrasts. The streets are littered with still bright leaves while the skies are often murky. While most trees have long since let go of their leaves, a few clutch at them like a child who refuses to take off her tiara at bedtime. They are beautiful in their stubbornness.

The allure of decoration is widely heeded though.  Everyone from the neighbors down the street to the cacti are getting their jolly on.

Posted 12 years, 6 months ago at 7:47 pm. Add a comment

Still Life with Autumn

Living in the south, I  hibernate in the summer. The windows are shut tight. My limbs gets sluggish from being splayed in front of a fan for five months. Even the walls sweat here. My spirit wallows too, unable to rouse from its sticky sleep. Then summer snaps– sometimes all at once like a rubber band, and other times like a child clumsily learning to snap by rubbing his fingers together. Autumn gusts in. When the stagnant air becomes wind, I peel back the windows, inhale deeply, and begin life again. The fact that southern autumns persist well past Thanksgiving when much of the rest of the country is firmly in winter, I consider a restitution for the summer.

Fall seems to weak a word to contain this transformation. Although “fall” lends itself to some clever bulletin boards in classrooms and libraries, it only includes one aspect of this most delightful of seasons. And really, autumn is so much more than the falling leaves.

It is the smell of wood smoke unfurling across the evening air like a banner proclaiming allegiance to a new ruler. As the mosquitoes have slowly died off, we’ve been spending more evenings by the chimenea, watching the flames as if they were a drama.

Autumn is watching lettuces grow from nuggets the size of quarters to carpeting whole fields in the space of a fortnight.  I think autumn is secretly the farmer’s favorite. Even though there is still plenty to do, the pace is less dire. We find ourselves being able to stand back and admire the beauty of the farm, if only for a moment. Set against a background of velvety black earth is the iridescent wave of carrot tops, the sea of wine dark Rouge d’hiver lettuce, the dusty green crest of collards, and the dusky purple billow of Red Russian kale.

Autumn is pulling a carrot from the ground that you are positive is the archetype for all carrots. The mother carrot. The ideal of which all other carrots are just shadows. And then you take a step farther, pull out another carrot, and there it is again! The epitome of all carrots. And very soon you have a whole handful of orange perfection.

Autumn is letting your feet luxuriate in last warm days before slippers, socks, and blankets come rolling in like a northern front. I refuse to bundle up for the first few weeks of cold weather, relishing the new sensation of cold. Gradually though, all the blankets that’ve loitered around all summer find their usefulness again. The scarves are unpacked and hung by the door. Knowing the location of one’s slippers becomes a condition of getting out of bed.

Autumn is having finally said goodbye to the bright summer vegetables. It is making room on my plate for the deep green of fall. My psyche seems to be tapping into some deep ancestral craving for fresh green before winter sets in. Kale bulks up everything from soups to garlicky white beans to scrambled eggs.  Bok choy is a mild mannered partner for sassy curries. Collards sing back up to all manner of main dishes. My sink is continually full of chopped greens of some shade or other.

Autumn is relishing the warmth of the oven as you pass rather than going out of your way to avoid it. I’ve started making my own bread again, something I gladly pay someone else to to do in the summer. We’ve even fired up the oven for such unnecessary things as chocolate chip cookies. (Yes, organic carrots next to chocolate chip cookies is how we roll.)

Autumn is waking up to a find tendrils of frost on the leaves under you feet. No matter how strongly the news predicts a frost, it always surprises me to walk out with my morning basket of laundry and find that I can see my breath.

Autumn is that nap where you fall asleep wishing you had a blanket and wind up dreaming about snow tombs and giant cats. You guys get those too, right? This might be the first autumn that I’ve been both free to take afternoon naps and able to decide where I take them. Baby-tidian and I have taken our share of al fresco naps, whether in our yard in on the I Spy quilt or at the farm in hammocks.


If summer is wicker and peaches and winter is cable knit and hot chocolate, then autumn is copper and pears. Kettles start to whistle and the musk of apples and pears permeates our house. Each year we buy more apples than the last. This year we are up to three bushels, but that still doesn’t seem to be enough for preserved applesauce, juice and cider experiments, a stash of dried apples, and wanton eating out of hand. So perhaps next year it will be up to four.

Autumn is never long enough.  Like a school kid dreaming of summer vacation I spend the whole rest of the year pinning for it. But, on this second day of December,  perhaps it is time to let it go. There are good things ahead.

Posted 12 years, 6 months ago at 4:16 pm. 4 comments