There are cakes to impress, and then there are cakes to act as a balm. I’m a fan of both, of course, but give me a cake that can comfort like none other and I’m sold. No fussy frostings, no putting on cakely airs, just bake, cut, and serve straight outta the pan. Preferably on a paper plate. Even better is when said comfort cake is actually beautiful enough to impress, dead simple and keeps on the counter for several days of “just a sliver” eating. If I’m being real, though, for me that means a sliver after breakfast, a sliver after lunch, a sliver around 3:30 p.m. when my exhausted self is dying for coffee and a little bit of sugar. And then of course a “real-sized” piece for dessert, after dinner. All of that adds up to a criminal amount of cake in a day, really. But when a cake is just that good, you’re willing to be arrested for your eating habits.
At the risk of sounding like I’m a Dalai Lama impersonator or something, can we all agree that a balanced life is the best life? I’m always happiest when I’m living in a state of mind and stomach where there’s room for everything. Tall, icy glasses of fresh water living happily alongside venti Pinot Grigios. A lunch that involves a green salad the size of my head, and a dessert of frosted cake (preferably with a side of latte and gossip, if we’re being specific). That sort of living.
The thing is, I don’t want to trap myself into a dark corner where things are off-limits. That attitude was for my 20s, you hear? I am trying my best to live free and easy and balanced these (read: most) days. For much of the week, I aim for meals that are full of fresh, health-giving foods, so that when the time comes for a big honking brownie (or, uh, two), I’m not having to break emergency glass to get at it. And Lord knows there are certain times of a lady’s life when you will most definitely break glass to get at a big honking brownie. It’s SCIENCE.
When it comes to putting a healthier spin on baking and sweet treat making, I think we know by now that I’m not really an all-or-nothing type of person. As is evident by the recipes and philosophy in the pages of Real Sweet, I’d sooner jump off the roof than try to pretend that a brownie made with black beans makes life worth living. Of course, there is something lovely and virtuous about wanting to live a healthier lifestyle, and still find a way to treat ourselves, but I think there’s a way we can get there without resorting to trickery or deprivation masquerading as comfort food.
We’re pretty much all in the thick of summer fun right now, so I’ll get right to the point. Sometimes I have a recipe making and eating experience so transcendant, it haunts me for weeks. These Dream Bars from Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love fall into the category of Insanely Haunting Recipe. Like, say, even after two solid weeks where I ran off to my hometown of Chicago and chewed-and-sighed through the world’s best hot dogs and Italian beef, new-to-me bakery visits, beer and pizza and a burger so smack-the-table good that it probably ruined every burger experience for the rest of my life, I was still thinking about these cookie bars.
Although I realize I may still be “young” in the grand scheme of things (I am, right? RIGHT?!), lately I’ve become increasingly more satisfied with my Old Lady Tendencies. Soup for dinner? Love it. A cup of tea and an 8:30 bedtime? The stuff of dreams. I’ve even invested in a brand-new pair of glasses that are decidedly more statement-making than any pair I’ve ever owned, and have made good on my commitment to better my ocular health by getting my contacts out as close to sunset as possible. I also think more about things like “ocular health”, and am now somehow old enough to be the parent of a very clever first-grader, who upon being asked for her opinion about my new glasses immediately responded with, Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find the non-fiction section? Kids these days, I tell ya.
I don’t know how many of you out there are all woo-woo when it’s comes to astrology, but for me, I’m a–let’s see, what would be the opposite of “fair weather fan”? Sucky weather fan?–let’s just say that I can get into astrology and like to take a peek/read way too much into cosmic forecasts when it feels like life is throwing hard things at me, machine-gun-style. Apparently Mercury was retrograde up until this past weekend, and sweet baby Jesus, I was feeling alllll of that retrogradeness, from stupid mistakes to flat tires to blah health and the list goes on. Don’t even get me started on the multiple cake failures I had going. Tragic all the way around.
I had really wanted to tell you about said cake today, but it’s still not quite ready for you yet, and since three misses is my self-imposed limit for the early stages of recipe testing lest I hurl myself off the roof, I decided to shelve that dang cake for now until some other groovy planetary shift can perfect it for me. In the meantime, I say we go with some chocolate and salted caramel because even in the face of otherworldly forces, those two items, even just eaten off a spoon, will never let us down.
In my last post, I raved about my love of the one-pan wonder at dinnertime. Which, of course, immediately got me thinking about one-bowl/one-dish wonders when it comes to baking. As much as I love pulling out every crazy baking pan and gadget and really getting into it in the kitchen, after months and months of recipe development and testing (and an appalling amount of dishwashing), there’s nothing better than the feeling of a throwing together a recipe that feels as easy-breezy and dump-and-stir as a boxed cake mix, but isn’t…a boxed cake mix.
There are a few one-bowl, minimal dish-dirtying favorites in my arsenal that I go back to time and time again, like these brownies, or this banana bread, that are so simple and satisfying, it’s as though you can feel your all the scraggly edges of your weary soul fusing back together as you stir. In a busy life that sometimes make you want to punch yourself in the face from all its pressures, that’s the good stuff, right there. They’re the kind of recipes that remind me why I love to bake. I just dump everything in and stir, stir, stir my way back to sanity.
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