It somehow seems criminal that here we are in early May, the time for celebrating rhubarb, strawberries and asparagus, and I am writing to tell you about a cake that gets both its flavor and dewy (never the dreaded “m” word!) texture from kabocha squash. But the truth, though one often ignored in the initial rapture of discovering the bright and colorful world of spring produce, is that the seasons aren’t always as clear-cut as they might appear, particularly if you base your knowledge of them on the covers, websites and Instagram feeds of food blogs and magazines. Plus, we must recognize that sometimes late season squash is simply better than early season strawberries; trust me, I know: the Greek and I eagerly bought three baskets of strawberries this weekend at the Newark farmers’ market and, while several tasted as sweet as I had hoped, the rest were clearly picked too soon, tinged with white and slightly sour. The sun clearly needs to have a chance to work its magic–except for a few days that seem nothing but flukes, Delaware has been deluged with clouds and spring showers–and, until then, I’m sticking with squash and ramps (Delaware/the east coast for the win!) and asparagus and relishing that my plate can accommodate all of them in the strange middle ground, geographically and seasonally, in which I find myself.
The other reason I am taking about squash flavored cake in early May is twofold. The first is that, back in late February, there was a heatwave in Delaware: it was 80 degrees and sunny, the air full of sneeze-inducing pollen and the promise of spring. I turned off the heat, opened the windows and foolishly believed that, the still short days aside, spring had arrived. This coincided with the height of my obsession with the Gjelina cookbook, a book that is utterly preachy about following the seasons to the absolute Letter (it serves no BLTs in winter because tomatoes are not in season. To me, this seems a little too extreme. While I find hothouse tomatoes to be sad little affairs and often not worth the price, I think there is still something to be said for them, as Amanda Cohen argued in the New York Times in the dead of winter), occasionally sloppy with its recipe writing (in a recipe for farro with pureed roasted beets, it tells you to puree the beets and to season them, but never to add them back in, leaving you with a beet-less farro…These kinds of mistakes, so easily avoidable, drive me crazy; let me add here that, if Chronicle Books would like a cookbook editor who notices these kinds of details, I am looking for a new job and would be thrilled to join the team) and simply fantastic when it comes to standout vegetable recipes (the recipe for glazed carrots alone offers a new horizon for a staple root) that, though a little labor intensive, are worth every bit of work you will put into executing them. Compared to some of the side and main dishes, the recipe for Kabocha, Olive Oil and Bittersweet Chocolate Cake looked positively easy. To me, it also seemed, with its glossy olive oil glaze and the toasted pepitas that go on top, like a harbinger of spring.
While I had planned on writing about this cake sooner–it is, quite simply, not a cake to be missed, the best dessert–complex, comforting and perfectly sweet–I have made all year, and I say that having adored the Istanbul baklava–there is the small fact that, despite my best intentions, I was swept away by life in mid-March. I was in Berkeley for a conference, then back in Delaware for ten days, with a side trip to Annapolis, before heading to Hong Kong to visit my college roommate for a week; upon arriving back in the U.S., though I had an acute upper respiratory infection, the Greek and I drove straight to Pennsylvania to see my grandmother, who had recently had surgery, and to help my grandfather around the house and with the cooking. Once I recovered, it was time to head back to California for a weekend whirlwind, complete with a wedding in Marin County, breakfast in Sonoma and several (quick!) meetings with friends in Berkeley. In short, it has been hard to feel centered, let alone to have time to write and reflect. But with this post, I am hopefully returning to some kind of normalcy or, at the very least, movement forward.
Because I have been away for so long, I wanted this post to include both the links that I like to share in my first post of the month and a recipe, which represents a deviation from tradition. But the good news about running a blog that answers to no corporate sponsors, etc. is that you can recreate the rules at any moment. I plan on doing just that in the weeks to come; there will be one more post that features squash (bear with me! I promise it is worth it), a celebration of spring, a trip to a Greek island, a recipe for a Japanese-inspired birthday dessert (one week to 33!) and notes about Hong Kong. I don’t know where all of this time and energy are coming from (or will come from), but I’m going to ride this wave of spring fever while it lasts. And with that, this month’s food for thought (the cake recipe will be at the very end):
A cocktail fit for a Roman
The very best spring minestrone
Another ghost of seasons past (save this one for next winter): Blood orange chia pudding.
The Greek and I have decided to go to Portugal (port, egg custard tarts, all the pottery!) on our honeymoon, but Sri Lanka was a contender. This is why, when I saw a recipe for beetroot curry and kale mallung (kale steamed with onion, spices, coconut flakes and a little water; no oil is used), I had to try it. After eating this meal, I will confess to having had second thoughts about Portugal.
How to fight procrastination and ward off the “panic monster.”
The (false) enigma of Donald and Melania Trump
Despite my inability to choose, A God in Ruins may just be special. In his review of this novel, Tom Perrotta made a fine case for embracing sprawling fictional worlds that employ “the whole realist bag of tricks.” Tolstoy, wherever he is, is most definitely celebrating this pronouncement.
When you read articles online these days and then click over to the comments, most of them are angry and, in a lot of cases, downright rude. This is why it was nothing short of heartening to read this article–about learning new skills as you age–and then find that the comments, rather than embrace vitriolic troll-manship, were a celebration of achievement later in life: playing the mandolin, taking ballet at 60, becoming a lawyer at 61, learning to juggle. Three cheers for aging gracefully!
I am not militant feminist, but it might just be time for an honest conversation about what it means to carry the “woman card.”
Lies, hysteria and the Zika virus: a reason to embrace the genetically modified mosquito (I, personally, am all for it).
This article, in a nutshell, discussed many of my current favorite TV shows: The Good Wife, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Jane the Virgin, even Madam Secretary (the least clever and most mainstream of them all, but still a solid network drama in the age of disappearing network dramas).
On this blog, I have preached for many years about the glories of two female-driven shows, Borgen and The Good Wife. The latter came to an end this past Sunday and, quite frankly, I am torn about the final episode. On the one hand, I found myself captivated by its final moments; on the other, I couldn’t believe that this was deemed an acceptable end and mainly because it appeared to be a whole new beginning (as somebody who didn’t even write a conclusion to her dissertation, I understand the inherent difficulty of crafting an ending after years of investment and know that I should not judge). These two reviews (do not click on them if you are invested in the show and have not seen the final episode), the first wholly negative and the second more forgiving, yet disappointed, capture my two states of mind on the episode. And, with that, a cultural phenomenon comes to a close.