I’ve spent most of this quarantine swinging between seeking out the comfortable (doing loops and getting miles on the TM while watching Food Network) and craving things that make me feel like this isn’t the end (hard trail runs and long swims). The same holds true in the kitchen. One day I’m trying to crack the code on a perfect loaf of bread, and the next I’m making an apple cake that I’ve been eating since I was a child. I can’t seem to settle down, and we are three weeks into this lockdown, with no end in sight. I’m a caged animal with a wicked sugar habit – much like I was as a child. I have reverted.

I posted my mom’s original apple cake recipe back in 2016. It is a gem, and I treasure it. But, over the years, I’ve experimented with other versions just for kicks, and one of my favorites is Dorie Greenspan’s. Although she adds raisins to hers (absolutely not), the cake is amazing (obviously without any nasty raisins). I’ve made it with walnuts and pecans, and both are great; it just depends on what you are going for, or in my case, what I have more of at any given time.

Honestly, after I finished my 20 miles, I wasn’t planning to bake a cake. Tim stockpiled candy before the lockdown, so there is really no need for me to bake multiple times a week just to satisfy my sweet tooth. There is, in fact, a half pan of brownies still sitting on the counter that we have eaten plain and smothered in sliced strawberries and whipped cream. But the craving for something that felt safe, felt familiar, felt homey, was overwhelming. I love a good brownie, but they just don’t smell like childhood.

So, into the kitchen I went, still dressed in tights and a Javelina Jundred t-shirt (ONLY benefit of the quarantine is that I can walk around all day in my running togs and absolutely no one says anything about it). I decided to make Dorie’s recipe because I had half a jar of spiced apple butter in the fridge, and this cake is the only place where it is appropriate to use (whomever thought putting it on toast was a good idea should do fifty push-ups – blerg). It is cloyingly sweet on it’s own, but whipped into a cake batter? Perfection.

Apron on, I whipped the butter and sugar to the requisite pale fluff, with only the sound of my mixer and the birds outside the window. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough “noise” for the past few weeks – news updates, press conferences, political punditry – my brain is fried. One by one, I slowly added in the eggs, the apple butter, the chopped apples. Dry ingredients next, then a gentle folding in of the pecans. I spooned the whole glorious mess into a bundt pan and put it into the oven. I had 50 minutes to go take a shower, but again, why? Instead, I made myself a cup of coffee and stared at the cake baking in the oven. My version of meditation.

When it was done, I barely made it the 5 minutes it needed to cool before I inverted it onto the cooling rack, and cut off a piping hot piece. Then another. And another. A big glass of milk as a chaser, and everything seemed just a little bit better. After a hot shower, I put my jammies on (yes, it was only three o’clock, but who’s gonna tell?) and crawled into bed for a nap. Sometimes the rituals of childhood are exactly what is needed at the moment.

Run/Walk

Cake/Milk

Shower/Nap

Repeat until this is all over.

 

Apple Spiced Bundt Cake

(adapted slightly from Dorie Greenspan)

2 cups AP flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 large eggs at room temperature

1 cup spiced apple butter

2 medium apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 cup pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped

 

Heat oven to 350 with rack centered. Grease (butter and a dusting of flour, or baking spray) a 9 – 10 inch Bundt pan.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Set aside

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until it is pale and fluffy (Dorie recommends 3 minutes, but mine always seems to take a bit longer – my kitchen is always cold). Add the eggs one at a time, mixing for a full minute in between and after. Add in the apple butter and mix well.

Turn the machine to low and mix in the chopped apples. Slowly add in the dry ingredients, and mix until just incorporated. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, and gently mix in the chopped nuts.

Scoop the batter into the Bundt pan, smoothing it out evenly. Place on the center rack (without a baking sheet – heat needs to get up into the center tube to cook the cake in the middle), and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Because of the spiced apple butter, the cake is going to be a dark, nutty brown.

Dorie suggests glazing the cake with a powdered sugar/lemon juice glaze, but I like to eat this cake as is, or slathered in butter and toasted. The glaze makes it too “desserty” for me, but feel free to dress it up, if you like.

 

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Cooking in the Time of Lockdown

by Carilyn on March 27, 2020

Like many others, we have been on lockdown for the past week, trying to stem the tide of the tsunami that is Covid-19. Fear, sadness, helplessness, and rage seem to have taken over the internet. For the first few days of captivity, I followed the news almost obsessively. But as the days marched on, and the predictions only became more dire, I knew that the only way to preserve my sanity to was to tune most of it out and go back to what I do – run, walk, write, and cook.

Cooking for many of us has always been about more than the food. It is the way we take care of people, the way we show love, the way we interact with the bigger world around us. Right now, all of those things feel monumentally important to me as I have one son that was required by his boss to vacate D.C. before the pandemic invaded, and elderly parents who I don’t want spending more time than is absolutely necessary in public spaces like the grocery store. Taking care of the people I love feels like something I have a little control over when everything else feels so out of control.

I know we are all approaching this scary, and limiting, time differently. Many of us are trying to work from home. Others are using the time to learn new skills, or tackle long overdue maintenance projects. I have list of about thirty-five items on it that I would love to get done (weed my flower beds, frame a puzzle my son and I worked on over the holidays, clean out the garage, clean out the hall closet – again), but the projects just seem to slip from my mind. Instead, I keep finding myself drawn to the kitchen, looking in the pantry, wondering what new thing I can make from the orphaned pieces of pasta left over in boxes. Surely a good creamy mac and cheese doesn’t require ALL the noodles be uniform. In fact, it might be kind of fun to serve an elbow, fusilli, linguine mash-up, right? And what about all those cans of tuna I’ve been hoarding? Maybe it is time to introduce my family to creamed tuna on toast. I could jazz it up with a homemade white wine mushroom cream sauce and fresh fennel, and serve it on a good toasted sourdough.

I start making lists of all the “new” things I can make with my pantry stash. And I feel a little better. Something about knowing that I can keep feeding people, even if I can’t sew masks, or save a life, helps me know that things will get better, eventually. People need to eat. I need to cook. Sometimes, especially in a crisis, we can help each other the most by bringing our best selves to a situation, whatever (or, whomever) that may be.

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