Food, Family, and Memory

carrotcakewholeSo, we had this awesome carrot cake down on Cumberland Island last November for our father’s birthday…the cake was baked and smuggled onto the island by Julie, Daddy’s wife and our new personal gourmet chef! This cake is unbelievably good and it is one of those dishes that lingers in your mind long after the last crumbs have been eaten. Obviously so, since I had the cake back in November and I was still reeling about it come February. I had to make the cake…I had to make the cake Julie’s way, so, I did. I followed her tweaks and tips for a successful cake and boy oh boy was it!

One of her tweaks on the traditional carrot cake recipe is to soak the carrots in cinnamon for three days…THREE DAYS!!! I thought this was crazy, but I wasn’t going to improve upon such a phenomenal dessert. Four cups of shredded, cinnamon soaked carrots, along with oil, flour, sugar, soda, eggs, additional cinnamon and salt constitute this cake. It is easy breezy to make, but takes some thoughtful culinary twists to enhance this dish to the next level.

Another tweak is the garnish…toasted and salted pecans. Now I could eat my weight in pecans, but toasting these and any nut for that matter brings out the flavor and enhances anything they complement. Butter and salt…good butter and sea salt mind you. No skimping there. The sweetness of the cake matched with the salty pecans is delectable.

Yet, the cake’s sweetness isn’t so much of a sugary sweet, but an earthy sweet brought on by the carrot and cinnamon love fest created three days prior! What else could this cake need…well, the perfect icing…a frosting of cream cheese lightly sweetened and buttery to perfection.

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baseball-flying1-e1340988979438The guy to the right of me, wearing a stained #13 Alex Rodriguez jersey, grabbed his glove and screamed “Here it comes!  Here it comes!”

The woman behind me was yelling “Oh my gawd! It’s comin’ this way!”

The man in front of me put down his beer and said “I got it, I got it.”

All I could see was that spinning white orb against the summer night sky, getting closer and closer.  It was like it was looking right at me.  All I could think was “OHMYGOD”.

I was 7 years old the first time I went to Yankee Stadium.  It was the summer of 1977; the Summer of Sam; a blazingly hot summer of serial killers, blackouts, and punk rock.  My folks were good friends with a few people that were rabid Yankees fans.  How could you not be that year?  Willie Randolf, Ron Guidry, Thurman Munson, Bucky Dent, and, of course, Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.  My birthday is in October and so I always felt he and I had a special connection.

It was different then.  It was mania.  It was terrifying as we shuffled our way through the concourse- beers sloshing onto me, cigarette cherries burning my arms, sweaty crowds of smelly New Yorkers pushing to get to their seats in time.

Well, maybe it wasn’t that different.

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ihop2.jpg Before there was IHOP, there was Gwynn’s. 

When I was a kid in suburban Teaneck, New Jersey, it was always a treat to go for Sunday brunch with my family at Gwynn’s on Teaneck Road.  Gwynn’s seemed swanky and grown-up to me.  Outside, it was painted white brick, and inside it was cool and darkish, with comfy booths.  My mother would order her coffee, and the cream came in tiny, glass pitchers with little round cardboard pull-tabs on top.  She only used a drop and then gave me the supreme pleasure of letting me drink the rest of the cream from its miniature jar.  Sometimes, if she had a second cup, I got another taste of the thick, heavenly liquid that would contribute to the need for Lipitor years later.  Compared to my very picky little sister, who ate only cream cheese and jelly, I was “a good eater” with a passion for pancakes, waffles and French toast.

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beansoup004It wasn’t often that my dad was in charge of making supper, but every once in a while my mom would hand preparation of the last meal of the day off to him. His motto in the kitchen was, "the simpler, the better." He’d open a can of Campbell’s bean with bacon soup, mix it in a pot with some water, then slice up a couple of hot dogs and toss them in. He had supper on the table in no time at all. And, I think we liked it. Ugh.

My standards for bean soup have a come a long way since then. No more Campbell’s for me. On a chilly Saturday afternoon, I love having a pot of homemade bean soup simmering on the stove.

I like to use dried beans when I can. They are very inexpensive and I find their taste and texture to be so much better than canned beans. I like to use a quick soak method, boiling the rinsed beans for 2 minutes, then removing the beans from the heat, allowing them to soak for an hour in the hot water.

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teacake mapleOne of my favorite desserts growing up were these little square tea cakes from Martino’s Bakery in Burbank. My dad would pick them up from time to time and surprise me with a little after dinner treat. Their flavor and their shape were distinct. They were moist, not too sweet, and oh so addicting. When I was pregnant with my first, I craved them; couldn’t get enough. Weekly my dad would bring me a few and I would covet them and eat them all by myself, one by one.

For years I have been making this Caramel Cake. The first time I bit into it, it brought back so many childhood memories. It felt like I had come home. And it reminded me of my dad. Recreating many of our favorite family recipes and converting them into gluten free versions has become a weekend hobby.

Maple almond tea cakes are every bit as good, if not better, than the originals from my childhood. I made the first batch last week. Eli ate 90% of them. Today, he saw the photos on my computer and begged for more. I made him a deal;  if he gathered all the ingredients I would make more. Never saw him move so fast!

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