Cozy weekends feel even more so in the winter. The rain-soaked streets are dark tonight, lit up in spots by the amber glow of street lamps. I’m sitting at a cafe on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue —I’m at a window seat watching people duck into restaurants. The ramen shop across the street has a sleek wooden bar in the front, illuminated by dozens of hanging pendant lamps. Further up, a dive bar beckons with multicolored Christmas lights and neon signs for 2-for-1 happy hour drinks and holiday-themed shots (yuck! Can it be true that once upon a time I happily threw back shots on a Saturday night? Between you and me, my shot of choice was the ‘springbok shot’—a lethally delicious combination of creme de menthe and Amarula liqueur discovered while studying abroad in South Africa).
Rain lashed against the windows all day long—the cold sort of wet weather that sneaks its fingers under your coat collar and wraps you in a damp chill. I’m slightly dreading the walk home—but the more miserable it feels, the more delicious it will make what comes next: the feeling of a hot shower, warm pajamas, a bowl of beef stroganoff for dinner.
(I made it this afternoon using my Instant Pot. The pressure cooker makes it a quick task, but I’m worried it might not have thickened as much as it would have on the stovetop. It does, however, perfume the entire apartment with an addictively savory smell. With a list of ingredients that includes dry sherry, garlic, onions, mushrooms, beef, Worcestershire sauce, beef stock, sour cream, and fresh thyme, I don’t think it can possibly be bad.)
The barista making my drink (warm steamed milk with turmeric and honey and chai spices) couldn’t be more adorable: a quiet Korean guy my age with a round face and a reserved demeanor. He wears a black beanie and striped sweater, and when I strike up a conversation, he lights up with a shy smile, turning chatty and within 5 minutes he’s told me which drink to try tomorrow (hojicha hot chocolate) and how to make Korean ginger candy (the secret is rice flour and maple syrup).
What bright spots we stumble upon if we only look for them, or ask for them, or keep ourselves open enough. Mine tonight are little slices of warmth: the funny barista, the way the pavement shines slickly with rain in the inky blackness, this song coming on my headphones.
More warmth: Finding the most festive crinkly gold-trimmed plaid ribbon for my Christmas wrapping. Reading poems that make my head swim. Baking a cake in a pan so pretty it takes my breath away when I flip it out onto the rack to cool.
Poetry first, then cake.
“Snow wafts off the little lake
along Route 66, momentarily encasing the car
in a trance of glitter
Live with your puny, vulnerable self
Live with her”
Now cake! I used the brilliant Bundt pan from Nordic Ware, but any Bundt pan will do, or you can easily make this in two standard loaf pans. There’s something so right about citrus desserts in the dead of winter: bright and tart and really just begging for vanilla bean-flecked whipped cream.
Lemon Buttermilk Bundt Cake
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
16 tablespoons (227g) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (397g) granulated sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder baking powder
3 cups (361g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (227g) buttermilk
2 tablespoons lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 10-cup Bundt pan very well, taking care to get into all the cracks.
Cream together the butter and sugar until very pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each.
Add the salt, baking powder, and flour and mix just slightly. It shouldn’t be fully incorporated, then add the buttermilk and lemon zest, and continue to mix just until the batter comes together and smooths out.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes—the cake is ready when it’s golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before flipping it out onto a wire rack.
If you want to glaze it (I did), whisk together 1/2 cup of sugar with the juice of two lemons. Pour/brush this over the cake while still warm.