Well, hey! I figure now that it’s April and we’ve all clearly gotten over carb-banning early months of the new year, that we can get real once again and talk about the good stuff in life. Like bread. And let’s just go all in here and talk white bread. YOLOOOOOOO.
Since relocating to my hometown of Chicago from San Francisco a year and a half ago (!!), I’ve gotten deep into the art of Midwestern baking. What it looks like, what it tastes like, what it means, the roots of it all. It’s been good for the brain, the spirit, the soul. When I left the Midwest in 2003, there was so much about this place that I didn’t realize was special, interesting, or different from other parts of the country. I guess that’s to be expected when you grow up somewhere and just take the little things for granted, and I realize this is not a unique story. But what is unique is getting the opportunity to come back, not just after having spent my entire early adulthood on the west coast, but the early part of motherhood, too.
Because now coming “home” isn’t just about me. It’s about making a real home in the place where my earliest memories live, and suddenly recalling those memories, one after the next like I’ve unearthed a dusty box of Polaroids and Beta home videos, with my kids who are currently forming their own earliest memories. TRIPPY. I even might use the word “meta” here if I felt confident enough about using it correctly?
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!
As much as I adore Christmas (fa-la-la-la-la!!!), it’s Thanksgiving that I love even more. The all-day cooking, the donning of stretchy pants, the gathering around the table without all the stress of shopping and buying and buying more and exchanging gifts. Thanksgiving is about comfort and reflection, family and home, and filling up our souls by eating like horses. And really, what’s better than that? Actually, this reminds me of a time when I was about 10 years old, returning to my mom’s house after spending a week with my dad during summer vacation. My mom asked what I’d like for dinner when I got home and I asked for Thanksgiving. And by God, my mother delivered Thanksgiving in July. This is evidence not only of how awesome my mom is and how wacky of a child I was, but that Thanksgiving has always, always felt like home to me.
OH HELLOOOOO. It’s been a bit since I’ve visited this space, but I’ve got solid reasons, I swear. Namely a huge move that’s landed us in a new house and all the stress and insanity that comes with it. And when you throw two little kids into the moving mix (one of whom personifies The Terrible Twos), even the simplest to-do list takes about five times longer than it should. There’s been a lot of running around like a crazy person, eating too much take-out, not knowing exactly what day it is, and many learning curves when it comes to sprucing up a 100-year-old house. (And no, I’m not exaggerating on that number–she was built in 1917. Which is how I’ve been feeling most mornings lately. Creak, ow, crackle.) It enough to make anyone a little nuts. I’ve downloaded two Justin Bieber songs this week. I don’t know who I am anymore, is what I’m saying.
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.
I used to be the queen of multitasking. Before children, I had the awesome ability to keep all kinds of balls in the air–thoughts, plans, chores, jobs, appointments, workouts, clicking off items on my to-do list with relative ease. (Never mind that I always thought OMG I’M SOOOO BUSY AND EXHAUSTED. Heh, heh, little Shauna. Weren’t you so sweet and naive in your perceived level of craziness? You had no idea what was coming, love. Why don’t you and your tiny jeans go and spend three hours getting a haircut and highlights without having to find a babysitter and try and wrap your brain around it. You can’t even.)
First things first: for once, I’m not just spazzily doling out superlatives: the name of this cake is not of my doing. Also called Kvæfjordkake, this cake was popularized in the 1930s in Kvæfjord, a tiny town in northern Norway. It has been a national sensation ever since, and several years ago, this heavenly specimen was given the title of “verdens best” (world’s best) by the country itself.
My friend Luisa informed me that this style of meringue-topped cake has German roots as well, baked in round pans with the name Himmelstorte, but I’m not here to start a war or anything. As far as Norway is concerned, however, it’s a cake that comes with literal accolades, people. It’s enough to make me want to move to Norway right now. Who can resist a magical land where people so highly regard cake? And birth so many supermodels? LET’S ALL GO.
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