Photo by Leigh Beisch
Hi! Just a quick pop-in today, and I’ve got an A+ reason. With just a handful of days left to legitimately spend a whole day baking, eating, and sharing cookies, I realized that I’ve never shared one of my very favorite recipes. Last night I had the pleasure of teaching a super fun baking class at Give Me Some Sugar here in Chicago. The focus was edible gifts, and as the world solidified into a frozen tundra outside, the ovens were roaring and laughs were coming easy in the cozy shop. So good.
We had a grand old time, talking homemade marshmallows, Lemon-Vanilla Dream Bars from Pure Vanilla, and these gems: Spiced Chocolate Molasses Buttons from the pages of Real Sweet. The raves that this recipe received reminded me that I’d not shared it beyond the pages of the book, and that’s just not very Christmas-y of me, now is it? So in the spirit of not hiding our lights under bushels and all of that, here we are!
We have now officially entered High Baking Season, and can balm ourselves in butter and sugar. We can surround ourselves with our favorite cookbooks, and tune out the crazy. That’s my new personal strategy, anyway. And just in time for its implementation, I received Sarah Kieffer’s new cookbook, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. Which is perfect, because it’s packed with enough crave-worthy recipes to keep me avoiding American reality until February, at least. Excellent!
DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH THAT CAKE IT’S FOR COMPANY I MEAN IT.
Does that remind anyone else of childhood?
Whether it was made from scratch, a boxed Entemann’s, or something more stepped-up, like say a coffee cake from the local bakery, I think most of us knew to approach a cake on the countertop with caution. Because clearly it was something special, right? And like getting one of those flouride treatments as a kid and being told you couldn’t eat for 30 minutes, nothing makes you want to eat something more than being told you can’t. Counter cakes are magical that way. The pull of a counter cake on a kid is vortex-like.
Ten days ago, I began wearing a FitBit. The Fitbit actually came to me as a birthday gift from my husband, who, after 13 years of marriage, has proven that he’s finally cracked the code when it comes to giving me gifts. The morning of my birthday, he surprised me with the world’s finest cheese Danish, and then gave me the FitBit. It was a winning, albeit ironic combination. Then again, I’ve always been a been ironic when it comes to food and fitness–I like to fit into my pants, but I bake (and taste) as part of my job. Dichotomy!
For a long time the balance came naturally; living in California helps one stay active and crave produce, as it gleams with color in the front of every market, all year round. But I’ve found that living in the Midwest kind of deletes those gimmes in terms of keeping fit, and that combating the Midwestern 15 is a very real thing. (For me, the Midwestern 15 is a lot like the Freshman 15, except now it threatens me with various combinations of wine, cheese, bread, and desserts, instead of Bud Ice Light, McDonald’s at 2:00 a.m., and an unlimited selection of cold cereals in the cafeteria. So guess I’ve evolved?)
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.
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