The cruelest month of the year is not April – it’s September. As soon as Labor Day passes, most of the U.S. puts away the flip flops and pulls out the boots, tweeting things like “It’s sweater weather!” and posting taunting pictures of hearty bowls of soup on their instagrams. Meanwhile, we have been suffering through triple digit temps and, to pile insult upon injury, humidity.
Maybe Eliot didn’t live in L.A.
Intellectually, I KNOW that September is the hottest month of the year here – that fall doesn’t even officially start until September 22, and doesn’t really start in Southern California until November. But that doesn’t stop me from being surprised, every year, by the sheer horror that is September in Los Angeles. 105 at my house, folks. 99 degrees at 9 pm. 95 at my office, and the air conditioning broke. I know that when I see my power bill this month I am going to cry. There was really nothing to do but hide in the house, shades drawn, A/C on full blast (which only cooled it to 80, sob), and do absolutely nothing that required any sort of exertion, whatsoever, except eating and drinking very cold things and reading the J. Peterman Catalog. (It goes without saying that I am being just a tad hyperbolic, and September in L.A. compares favorably to being in say, Mosul right now).
So this is it, rest of the world: you are used to Angelenos crowing about the weather, sitting smugly in 75 degrees when the rest of the country freezes their tootsies off in a polar vortex. But not now. This is the week when you can gloat.
Yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Classic. If you ask most people what their favorite cake is, they will answer, “Yellow cake with chocolate frosting.” It’s the cake of our fondest nostalgic imaginings, bringing to mind the best birthdays of childhood.
Not my birthdays, though. I was a child of the 70’s with more imagination than sense, which means my earliest birthday cakes were carrot cakes (of course!) and then, when I was old enough to ask, I’d beg my mother to make a somewhat horrifying concoction of angels food, devils food, chocolate mousse and 7 minute frosting). Now that I am an actual grown up (I can no longer deny this fact due to thenature of 1) my tax return, 2) my grocery list, and 3) my color-coded online family calendar) I have a greater appreciation for classics. Things that never go out of style.ellow cake. Chocolate Frosting.
Last week, my baby turned two. Which means he is hardly my baby anymore. He no longer stays where I put him – instead he is constantly climbing and getting into everything. A few days ago, he went into the kitchen and poured himself a bowl of cereal. With milk. Which was pretty impressive if I ignored the milk all over the table. On the other hand, he is an extraordinarily charming two year old – head of blond curls, little voice that repeats everything, and lots of silliness. I wanted to celebrate his birthday with style, with class – and how better than with the classic – yellow cake with chocolate frosting?
It’s springtime! Which means rhubarb! Which means #YARROSF (Yet another rhubarb recipe on The Domestic Front). Do you think I can get that trending? If you’ve been reading my blog for the past five years, you know I am a rhubarb apologist. It’s not too tart, it’s not too weird, and no, I don’t want to mix it with strawberries. I love the flavor of rhubarb and every spring around this time I want to get into the kitchen with those rosy stalks.
This spring I’ve been trying to cut a lot of carbs out of my diet (more on that later, if you’re interested), and so after thinking about some new ways to use rhubarb, I hit on rhubarb cheesecake. Pairing rhubarb with creamy custard is classic, and the almond crust plays a nice crunchy counterpoint to the creamy filling. What I especially love about this recipe is that it’s so versatile for this time of year – the rhubarb cheesecake would be a beautiful addition to your Easter table, or, given that it’s gluten- and grain-free, a great Passover treat. I’ve provided both the low-sugar version (I used a sugar substitute) and the full-sugar versions below.
The cake is great on its own, but serving it with the remaining rhubarb compote really punches up the springtime flavor. Both of my kids were fans, and repeated words that were music to this rhubarb-loving mama’s ears: “More rhubarb, please!”
Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Some of us dismiss it as a cheesy Hallmark holiday. Some of us revel in the traditional chocolate and champagne. Some are happy to celebrate their loved ones, some are unbearably lonely, and some are just plain angry. Love does that to us.
I’m no expert, but as I get closer to middle age than youth, I can tell you this about love: love is surprising. Sometimes the beginning of love is surprising – it can come when you don’t expect it to. And sometimes the end of love is (sadly) surprising. But there are a lot of surprises in the middle, too.
The surprises can be good – a grand romantic gesture you never expected from your significant other – or great – the way your heart fills to bursting when a child enters your family, and then fills even more when another child comes along. They can be bad – discovering that your spouse has been behaving in a way that you never would expect, that shocks and hurts you – or just sad – realizing your relationship isn’t where you thought it would be.
Don’t mean to go all Richard Curtis on you all – I can get a bit maudlin this time of year – but I hope you can celebrate Valentine’s Day with people you love – your spouse, your girlfriends, your children, your family, or your dog (because is there any purer love? I don’t think so.) And treat them to something a little surprising.
I love the holiday season – I really do. I keep a nested to do list on my phone to keep track of Christmas presents. I drive out of my way to find houses with the best light displays. And I bake a lot of cookies. But there’s a point in the season (and this year, it’s right about … now) when the merrymaking starts to feel a little forced. I consult my calendar, and it reads something like “Holiday Performance (school): 10 am. Holiday Performance (after school program): 2 pm. Coworker’s Party: 4 pm. Family Movie Night: 7 pm. ” It should be followed by “Mom falls asleep on the couch: 7:30 pm. Kids get into Christmas candy dish and smear chocolate on said couch: 7:34 pm.” I’m a little burnt out, and when every single event on that calendar asks that you bring “a homemade dessert to share!” I start to consider putting my head under a pillow until January.
Fortunately, there are Christmas cookies that come to the rescue. These are not the decorated, iced, hand painted, seven layered sugar swirled confections that usually constitute Christmas cookies. These are a little more … austere, when austerity provides a welcome counterpoint to the mad festivity. (And don’t suggest just forgoing cookies altogether, BLASPHEMER. It is Christmas and there will be cookies.) These are easy to make – the dough comes together seamlessly, the ingredients aren’t too difficult to track down, and the log sits happily in your refrigerator (or freezer), ready to be sliced and baked whenever the calendar demands it. Continue reading Slice and Bake Buckwheat Chocolate Shortbread
You guys! I made this pie because I was looking for a double crust pie so I could revisit my pie crust tutorial (a few things have changed in my go-to technique since the last one I posted), and most of my fruit pie fruits are not in season, but now I’m kind of obsessed. Fresh cranberries! In pie! Why is this not a thing? Cranberries might be the perfect pie fruit — they’re tart and juicy, but have a pretty high pectin content, so your pie filling doesn’t run all over the place. The flavor is a lot like fresh sour cherry pie, but fresh sour cherries are only available one week of the year, in very small parts of the US, and cranberries can be gotten EVERYWHERE for at least two months when most pie fruits are out of commission. And just LOOK at the color:
It’s great, is all I’m saying.
Now on to pie crust. I like to walk my readers through making pie crust, because I feel like so many people are like “Pie crust? Who has the time for that! It’s too hard!” and I want to pat your head and say, “No, it’s OK – you can do it.” You don’t have to own a walk in freezer or live in the arctic to make your pie dough (though it is a bit tougher on a warm day.) You don’t have to source special kinds of lard or NOT TOUCH IT OR IT WILL BE OVERWORKED. Pie crust is pretty forgiving. If it cracks? Patch it. If you can’t roll it out in a perfect circle? Nobody cares. At the end of the day you will have pie, and people will love you. This is the way I’ve been making my pie crusts, and it works pretty darn well.
When I talk family traditions and family recipes on The Domestic Front, I’m usually talking about my family – the family I was born into, or the family I’ve made with Ken and Nuni and Boo. My family is close (now that my cousin has moved back to LA from NYC, the farthest away anyone lives is about 2 hours), and we are all food people, so it’s natural to write about our places and recipes and stories. Ken’s family is harder — for one thing, they’re geographically scattered all over the midwest, the east and west coasts, and for another, most of their traditions center around things other than food (like golf. They play a lot of golf.) My mother-in-law is a born and bred southerner, from the hotbed of American regional cuisine, but she’s also a wanderer, and would be perfectly happy to live on seaweed and lentils.
There has only been one major food figure in Ken’s family since I’ve known him (which is why he eats what I cook so happily), and that is Quincey. Quincey was a substitute grandfather to Ken, whose own grandfathers both died rather young. He was a true Southerner, who lived his whole life along the Virginia North Carolina border – he was also a musician, and a storyteller, a former tobacco farmer, a general handyman, and a damn good cook. He taught Ken to play the mandolin, spent hours fixing up my mother-in-law’s house, and, the few times I met him, taught me a thing or two about cooking. Collards with fatback, corn pudding, sweet potato pie, and the best fried apple pies I’ve ever tasted. Quincey’s recipes were inexact — he measured with his fingers, adding a pinch of salt, a joint of butter. I always meant to get them down on paper, in a form that could be reproduced, but Quincey died last year, and I never did.
Summer time is pie time. After years of resistance, I have come to love a good fruit pie, with juices running every which way. But as seasonal as it is, fruit pie is not often convenient for summer activities. It doesn’t go on road trips, or to the beach. It doesn’t slip into sack lunches for camp, or feed the crowd at the Friday night neighborhood barbecue.
Enter slab pie. It may sound unprepossessing, but slab pie is a pinch hitter for summer fun. Sure, a higher crust to fruit ratio makes it neater to take along with you, but it’s also just a little sassier – big enough to feed a crowd, with a slick of icing and generous proportions, it’s the Fat Amy to regular fruit pie’s Becca. (Bonus points if you get my reference.)
My baby boy has just turned one, and I have no clue how that happened. Just last week he was a tiny little warm bundle, whose floppy body fit – just exactly – into mine. His head smelled like powder and was covered with just the whisper of soft peach fuzz. He slept (and woke!) every two hours, and I was his sun.
I blinked and suddenly he’s walking around the house like a bear on his hind legs. Often with something dangerous – a fork, a length of jump rope, a permanent marker – clutched tight in one grubby little paw. He has the most delightful sly little smile, which is slower to come than it used to be, unless there is something TRULY exciting, which must also be shouted at and banged upon – like a drum, or a dog. He likes to tell jokes, and he wants to know what everything in the world is called, pointed and gesturing, and always saying, “que?” “que?” The peach fuzz is still strawberry blond, but has lengthened into curls – CURLS, which hurt my heart to look at, because WHAT is more darling than a little boy toddling around with blond curls? When he wakes up in the morning, he goes hunting for his sister, who is the MOST fun person in his world. He’s not a baby any more.
As if to squelch any doubt remaining in my mind about the end of his babyhood, the cruel calendar came round to May, and his babyhood year (why only one year?) was officially over. Toddlerhood is officially here, with all the joys that entails (stairs! And talking!)
So we made cake. And because I’m busy chasing the little blond monster all over creation, I didn’t fool around with layers and creaming, and baking and frosting. I made icebox cake.
I am something of a rhubarb fiend. My great-grandparents had a big patch of it when I was growing up, and stewed rhubarb featured heavily in visits. I love that tart-sweet unique flavor, and the glorious PINK color. It fulfills all my girly food fantasies.
I haven’t been able to find rhubarb for most of this spring. I forlornly cross-examined the clerks at Whole Foods (“But WHEN will you have it in stock?”), fruitlessly haunted farmers’ markets and researched growing my own, so I would not be left rhubarb-less forever (Apparently, Los Angeles used to be a huge center for commercial rhubarb growing, but sadly, it’s impossible to get the varieties that grow well in the heat any more). Continue reading Rhabarberkuchen or Rhubarb Coffee Cake
Based in Los Angeles, the Domestic Front is the home of Kate, a working mom who is low on time but high on life. I hope this site helps you find ways to make your life richer, easier, more beautiful and more delicious. You can read more about me and the site here and feel free to email me with any questions or feedback!