If I still lived in the era of no computers, my desk would be littered with Post-it notes reminding me of things I want to cook. As it is, my cookbooks are bookmarked and dogeared and highlighted. But with the constant influx of SHEER INFORMATION (on a positive day, I'll call this 'inspiration') on the Internet, I find myself perpetually tagging recipes.
One week I'll use Pinterest, another a Word document, and yet another I'll try some fancy task/reminder app. None ever seem to stick. So I thought I'd start forcing myself to streamline the ideas into the ones that really stand out, and I'll share them with you here. This will serve a lovely dual purpose of hopefully inspiring you, and reminding me what I was excited about to begin with.
This week I'm thinking about gingerbread: I don't usually make it at the holidays but I'd like to try a classic cookie recipe or this moist gingerbread Bundt cake. We have some holiday parties to attend, and I think this chocolate almond tart looks suitably sophisticated to bring with me (bonus points for being sturdy enough to transport).
Tomorrow it will snow, they say. The air is bitingly cold tonight and the wind whips around every corner of the city. I'm home already, curled up under a soft wool blanket in my pajamas with thick socks and a plush cream-colored cable knit sweater. For dinner, we're having spaghetti squash bowls: a new favorite recipe I'll write about here soon. You halve and roast the squash, then scoop out the inside and mix the noodle-like strands with cheese and garlicky sautéed greens and tomato sauce and ground meat. It's warm, wintry comfort food at its very best.
Content as I am to sit here, savoring hot, cheesy spoonfuls of squash and watching an episode of The Crown, I'm already imagining climbing into my bed. I've thrown the window wide open in the bedroom, so the dark room will be quite cold when I go up. I'll tuck myself snugly under the comforter and reach for my book. I'm reading The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. It's the prequel (published 17 years after!) to the Golden Compass trilogy. You might recognize it, since it was made into a big budget film, or perhaps you've read one of the three.
I adored every word of the original books. I read them over and over--it's the sort of children's book that's really better suited for adults, with layers of religious and scientific subtext and gorgeously sumptuous descriptions of other worlds. Is it science fiction? Sort of. Is it fantasy? Yes, also that. I can't fully articulate what a gift it feels like to have a brand new installment in the series to read. When I got in bed the other night, practically diving for my book, my fiancé asked what I was reading. I tried to explain my happiness at cracking open the pages: "It's like the first bite of a very good slice of cake. Like the first sip of a cold glass of water after a run. Like pulling the ribbon off of a big birthday present."
Side note: I sobbed openly when reading the third book of the trilogy (The Subtle Knife). Very few books have elicited full-on tears from me (funny, since I cry at the drop of a hat in regular life, thanks Mom for those genes!).
Before bed, I'm going to have either some soft-batch cream cheese brown sugar cookies from the freezer, or a square of this cake, which I highly recommend for anyone looking for a quick and simple chocolate fix. (More on those cookies soon, I promise.)
And I'm going to re-read these words (from Hugh MacKay via an interview with Joanna Goddard) I came across today, because they feel important and I want to read them daily to myself as a reminder that it isn't about being my best, or succeeding, or being in control, but it is about being at all. Be present. That is all I need to do.
"We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position — it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much… I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is."
Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake
Makes a 9" x 13" cake
For the cake
1 cup water
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) flour
2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 teaspoon espresso powder (optional, but enhances chocolate flavor)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the frosting
1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 1/2 cups (about 16 ounces) sifted confectioners' sugar (start with less and add as needed)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9" x 13" pan.
To make the cake: In a large saucepan, combine the water, butter, and chocolate. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat.
Add the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder (if using) to the saucepan and whisk to combine.
Add the eggs and sour cream and mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and springs back when touched lightly.
To make the frosting: Add butter, milk, and chocolate to a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to melt the chocolate.
Remove from the heat and add the sugar -- you may not need all the sugar so start with half or so and add to get to the right consistency. Beat with a handheld mixer (or transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer) until the frosting is smooth. If it is too liquidy, refrigerate the frosting for a bit and then try beating again. It'll thicken up as it cools and become nicely spreadable. Mix in the vanilla once the consistency is right.
Spread the frosting over the cake, then cut into squares and serve.