I’m sick, guys. It’s just a run-of-the-mill winter cold and cough (although the cough is wicked), but it feels so pitiful to be sick. Whenever I feel under the weather, I revert to a younger version of myself: I want to be comforted, I want my mom, I want a warm blanket and steaming hot chicken soup and someone sitting near me.
Winter ailments in particular—the kind that make you a little achy all over, running hot then cold—make me feel vulnerable and fragile, like a house of cards that will topple over at the slightest push. Any tiny thing could make me burst into tears: someone rudely bumping me on the subway, a harshly worded email, the sight of an old man eating alone in a diner window.
Of course, the logical treatment for a winter cold is to be whisked away for five days to a beach in, say, Martinique. A steady diet of rum-spiked pina coladas and grilled fish and fresh fruit. Coconut oil and sun and salt water. But that is not in the cards, so we’ll work with what we have, shall we?
I spent the week in Vermont, and got back to New York just in the nick of time to beat the huge snowstorm that blanketed the Northeast on Saturday night. I felt worse and worse as the week went by, so had to remember in the busyness of it all to seek out what helps. Operation Anti-Cold involves the following:
Doing a little hot yoga when I feel up to it. Exercise always soothes the mind, but the body needs rest, so gentle movement is nice. The steamy heat and humidity feels excellent for my breathing, breaking up all the tightness in my chest.
Ordering the entire menu at a favorite new spot—Juel Modern Apothecary—in White River Junction (if you are nearby in Vermont, run don’t walk, and try it all). Okay, I didn’t order the entire menu, but nearly. I downed their turmeric tonic shot (a potent mixture of lemon juice, cayenne, ginger, and turmeric), and sipped on a chaga latte (a creamy drink made with chaga mushrooms, maca powder, raw honey, cinnamon, and oat milk—which has an earthy sweetness and tastes sort of like malted milk). Smoothies don’t appeal right now, but when they do, I plan to try two of theirs: the Golden (peach, dates, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, yogurt, and coconut milk), and the Red Velvet (strawberries, cauliflower, cashews, cocoa powder, beet, vanilla, and dates).
Downloading a comforting audiobook to listen to as I drove the four hours home. For maximum comfort, my top audiobook choices are books I’ve already read, so I don’t have to pay intense attention, but that are beautifully written enough to draw you into a colorful world. Right now I’m listening to Delicious by Ruth Reichl, but other good audiobooks for me—comfort-wise—are all the Harry Potter books, any Elin Hilderbrand novel, and The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close.
Faking it! Get up and do something—today I took the subway down to Chelsea in the freezing cold to check out the Outsider Art Fair. Did I want to get on the subway? No. Did I want to be social? No. Did I want to put on real pants? SOLID NO. But I did! A friend of mine is the director of the fair and so I made the effort to go. (You never regret this! She was so happy to see me, and that reminds me that you should always make the effort. Plus, culture puts life in perspective). Just fake it if you need to. Put on red lipstick, too, as that always helps. I recommend this Poppy King for J.Crew lipstick—because if there’s a name that says powerful and cheerful more than “poppy king”, I don’t know what it is!
And of course, there’s always cake. I can’t necessarily say that cake is a doctor-recommended treatment plan for a common cold, but it can’t hurt. I may not be a trained medical professional, but I do have strong anecdotal evidence that you always feel happier when you eat cake, and baking always lifts your spirits.
This particular cake is extraordinary. And I really do mean that: it is beyond an ordinary carrot cake. The cake layers themselves are built off a classic carrot cake recipe, but with some tweaks. I dialed back the standard blend of spices and instead, leaned heavily on the cardamom. Then, instead of a simple cream cheese frosting, I made a gingered brown butter cream cheese frosting. The method and recipe will be familiar if you’ve ever made a cream cheese frosting, but here we brown the butter first, then let it cool, then proceed with making the frosting. Adding some ginger just gives it all a little kick, and I like how it balances the sweetness of the frosting.
Plus ginger is really good for a cold. Go forth and heal thyself.
Cardamom Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
For the cake
1/2 cup (71g) dried currants
1/2 cup (85g) raisins (golden or regular)
3 cups (300g) peeled, grated carrots
2 1/4 cups (270g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups (247g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (160g) packed brown sugar
3/4 cup (148g) vegetable oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the frosting
1/2 cup (113g) butter
6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 1/2 cups (454g) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two 9” round cake pans with parchment and lightly grease the bottom and sides.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, salt, and sugars.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, oil, and buttermilk. Stir in half of the carrots.
Add the rest of the carrots, the raisins, and the currants to the dry ingredients.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix carefully until well-incorporated, folding gently with a spatula to combine.
Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Start to check at 30 minutes and remove from the oven when the top springs back lightly when you touch it. Don’t overbake—you want it to be pretty moist.
**While the cake bakes, make the brown butter for the frosting because it needs to chill before you can use it. First, brown the butter. Add the butter to a medium pan set over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter melts, then foams, then eventually browns and turns nutty and fragrant. Set it aside and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it until you’re ready to make the frosting.
Let the cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to finish cooling while you make the frosting.
To make the frosting: Remove from brown butter from the refrigerator. Add it to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for about 2 minutes until fluffy. Add the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, ginger, salt, and vanilla and beat until very fluffy and light.
Level the cakes with a serrated knife, if needed, and frost generously.