A Little Chocolate Cake

The window I shoot from is in the kitchen. It overlooks the back yard - the fenced in portion of our acreage that houses the dogs, the garden, and a large holly tree. I watch Elsa eye squirrels from the frustrating fence line. I watch Murphy avoid mud puddles. I watch Milo, restless, trying to find anything to keep his mind busy, his teeth busy, his paws busy.

I look out this window and it's officially a year since we first looked at this house of ours. Time's flown and here we are. This morning I held Elsa for an hour, made coffee, cleaned up a mouse that had died in our barn. Washed my hands, ate a slice of cake. It's all there is on these kinds of Sundays; it's just one thing after the next, small pleasures that have kept me going throughout this year of guesswork and growing our own roots in soil we haven't touched for years and years and years.

Pumpkin Brownie Mini Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3 TB espresso or strong coffee
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350*F
  2. Liberally butter and line a 6-inch cake pan
  3. Whisk together all wet ingredients until a pale orange and fully incorporated
  4. Sift together all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and create a well in the center
  5. With a wooden spoon, slowly fold in wet ingredients
  6. Stir until just combined
  7. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until top is slightly cracked and the sides pool away from the pan
  8. Remove from oven, allow to cool completely before removing from pan and decorating (for this, I had some leftover cream cheese frosting to use, but I think a chocolate ganache would be phenomenal here)

With its high oil content, this cake stays moist for about 4 days in a container - so enjoy during and after the weekend!

Pumpkin Brownie Mini Cake
Pumpkin Brownie Mini Cake
Pumpkin Brownie Mini Cake

Last of the Garden: French Onion Soup and Yorkshire Puddings

French Onion Soup and Yorkshire Pudding

I am a reluctant gardner, not one for it. I am lazy, I don't like to try my hand at something like that too much. My father-in-law planted a bed of vegetables and each time something sprouted, I would watch it break free of the soil and then wilt a bit. I'd rip it off on my way to to visit the chickens. But it became a responsibility, one that meant we would sometimes walk out the bed and pick some lettuce for a salad for dinner. Or, other times, when the plastic fence would bend from a gust of wind, I would go outside and right the bamboo stick holding it all together.

It's become another part of our lives here. I wrote about that all before and not much has changed in the last 4 months since then. The chickens have grown, we are a little less in debt, but still the garden bed remained the same - sometimes full and sometimes empty.

I have never had a garden to tend, so I thought, when I saw all the green shoots wilt and die, that I would take the fence down for the winter and build the beds somewhere else for the spring. And so I did, keeping the fencing for another use around the farm, storing it in the musty tack room of the barn. Three days later, Elsa dug into the bed, fresh dirt and virgin digging ground probably felt good against her paws. 

On the fourth day, she began to stick her nose in the dirt, sneezing and gnawing at something I couldn't see. Elsa is a hitter, she pets you back. And the next day, I smelled the distinctly allium scent of onion. 

I had forgotten about these, so hidden underground from my eyes. I had forgotten to till the ground and check for anything left. And when I did, in my work clothes, hunched over a muddy bed, I discovered so many left behind. So many pristine, aromatic layers. For an hour I washed them all and the rest of the night I dreamed about what to make. 

And finally I decided on soup. Because it's November now and we need to stay warm.

French Onion Soup and Yorkshire Pudding

French Onion Soup and Yorkshire Pudding

This soup is simple. Really. And delicious. We ate it all in a day. For the Yorkshires, this was my first foray into them, but I loved dunking their airy, crispy bodies into the brothy soup. A little cheese wouldn't hurt this recipe one bit.

Ingredients for French Onion Soup:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 6 medium-sized onions, sliced
  • 1 cup dry white wine (I used pinot grigio)
  • 6 cup quality beef broth
  • 2 cup quality chicken broth
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1 TB balsamic vinegar or Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 sprigs thyme (can wrap in cheese cloth for easy removal)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (may require more, depends on your broth)
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

Ingredients for Yorkshire Pudding:

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 TB canola oil

 

Directions for French Onion Soup:

  1. In a large Dutch oven, melt butter and cook onions on medium-high for ten minutes or until translucent and slightly browned on the edges
  2. Deglaze with wine. Simmer to reduce wine to a half cup
  3. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 45 minutes, removing lid after 20 minutes
  4. Remove thyme, serve immediately or store for up to 3 days in the fridge in an airtight container 

Directions for Yorkshire Pudding:

  1. Whisk together eggs, milk, flour, and salt until well-combined
  2. Allow to rest in fridge for 30 minutes
  3. While batter is resting, preheat oven to 400*F and grease a standard sized muffin tin with oil
  4. Place greased tin in oven to get hot 
  5. When batter is done resting, divide evenly into your hot, oiled in
  6. Bake around 15 minutes or until golden and puffed
  7. Eat immediately. They will deflate if left too long.
French Onion Soup and Yorkshire Pudding
French Onion Soup and Yorkshire Pudding
French Onion Soup and Yorkshire Pudding
French Onion Soup and Yorkshire Pudding
French Onion Soup and Yorkshire Pudding
French Onion Soup and Yorkshire Pudding

Pumpkin Cornbread Donuts (for dunkin' and snackin')

Last weekend was Lana's first birthday party.  A year ago, I had made these muffins for her. Things have changed between my sister and me - I go to her more. I call her. I don't hang up quickly or make excuses. I stay over for the whole night. I don't leave by nine, saying I like to sleep in my own bed. 

We didn't grow up with family, really. We lived too far away and there were bridges burned before I was even born. It made for disappointing Christmases and silent phonecalls that never came for birthdays. So it's a learning experience for us. We're learning from mistakes we couldn't always understand before. We hug now. Kiss goodbye. I tell her I love her. It's all for Lana. We patched a lot up quickly for her.

Lana and Me

Lana, beautiful and curious and temper-prone, fills the room with a lightness that I've only experienced as the awkward voyeur of other people's families. We crouch and coo with her. We play a game of trial-and-error, trying to figure out what makes her happy and what makes her sad. We kiss her more than she likes. We feed her small cereals and watch her smile with her four teeth.

And I was more than happy to make something when my sister asked if I could. We had a small party at a church hall where her baby shower was held. My sister made three soups and my mother made the cake.  We helped decorate and I made a Midwest staple - cornbread for the chili. And it just made sense to make them in a donut pan, for small hands and streamlined dunking.

And on the floor of the church hall, I sat with Lana and told her she was special. Because she is, with her big eyes and long hair. Because she is, because it only took 9 months to fix 25 years of silence.

Pumpkin Cornbread Donuts

Pumpkin Cornbread Donuts

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (or whole milk with a 1/2 TB white vinegar)
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3 TB butter, softened
  • 2 TB honey

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425*F and grease a standard donut pan
  2. Sift together all dry ingredients
  3. Whisk together all wet ingredients
  4. Create a well in the center of your dry ingredients and fold in wet
  5. Beat vigorously until batter is smoooth
  6. Transfer to a piping bag and cut the tip off
  7. Fill the donut indents about 3/4 of the way full
  8. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown
  9. Repeat if you have a 6-donut pan and remember to re-grease your pan!
  10. Enjoy dunked into some hearty chili on a cold day!
Pumpkin Cornbread Donuts
Pumpkin Cornbread Donuts
Pumpkin Cornbread Donuts

Pumpkin Tahini Waffles (featuring my baby girl Elsa!)

All I can think to do this week, all of my wandering thoughts, all of my lazy moments, they center around the bed. It's cold here (finally). Usually in the thirties when I wake up in the night looking for a blanket. Instead, I find an arm to hold me. A dog to cuddle with. A light that pulses through the branches of the trees when a car comes down the hill that our window overlooks.

It's usually grey from 6 until about 9 here. Foggy, sometimes so dense I don't even see the trees. Sometimes the water in the creek is so silent you can hear the squirrels padding along its bank. Sometimes Nolan's smoke and my breath and the coffee's steam all meanders above our heads like thought bubbles in old comics.

And so I think of relaxing in bed, even though we've been too busy to lately. I think of lounging. I think of the ten minutes it takes to put this recipe together and the half hour of waking up, bleary-eyed, while the coffee gets cold. It's my favorite time of day, I think. 

Pumpkin Tahini Waffles

Pumpkin Tahini Waffles

Ingredients:

  • 2 cup flour
  • 3 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 TB white vinegar
  • 1/2 TB pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1 TB orange zest
  • 1 TB molasses
  • 2 TB honey

Directions:

  1. Prep and grease your waffle iron
  2. While iron heats, sift together all dry ingredients
  3. In a measuring cup, whisk together all wet ingredients and orange zest until frothy
  4. Create a well in the center of the flour mixture
  5. Slowly pour in your wet mixture, while stirring in the contents (I found that a rubber spatula actually worked great here)
  6. Using a ladle, pour batter into iron
  7. Bake waffles to waffle maker's directions
  8. Repeat with remaining batter
Pumpkin tahini waffles
Pumpkin Tahini Waffles

And here you can see that Elsa enjoyed the waffles, too! (Plus, I threw in a cute one of her because ISN'T SHE BEAUTIFUL!)

Elsa with her waffle
Elsa with her waffle
My dog, Elsa

Pumpkin Madeleines with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt

Pumpkin Madeleines with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt

Still hot. Still dry. Still a confusing pattern of crisp morning and blazing afternoons. We're adapting to this weather. It's hard to adapt when it's so unpredictable. A swaying and perching of temperature highs and lows that vary by twenty degrees within just a few hours.

I'm bitter. I'm antsy. I want it to be cold so I can savor the mornings a bit more than I do right now. The artificial chill of the air conditioner can only give us so much comfort. I want both warm coffee and the shivering hand that holds it. Give me this. Give me turtlenecks and rain boots. I will take it all right about now.

Is there a word for weather that has overextended its welcome? It's not an anachronism, but it feels kind of the same. It's jolting to be looking at Christmas trees made out of wood at a local craft fair when there are rivulets of sweat trickling down my side.

Our yard, our house, our land - they do not like the extended heat. The grass is dead in the patch we reserved for the dogs to play, and shaggy in the field. Overrun, the way I like it. A tamed kind of chaos, the way I like it. It's nearly completely razed in the chicken run, but they don't mind. They'll get to laying soon, I hope. 

But I'm optimistic. I want it to be winter, if we are forced to bypass Fall. But in the meantime, I'll bake up something beautiful. In the meantime, I'll kill off the chocolate that's been in the cabinet for a while. I'll use the last can of pumpkin I had sitting around. I'll keep busy, waiting for the daylight to get shorter and shorter and shorter.

Pumpkin Madeleines, with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt

Pumpkin Madeleines with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt

Recipe notes: This madeleine recipe is taken from my adaptation of Ruby Tandoh's Crumb.  These were the following changes I made: I used 6 TB butter instead of 1/2 cup (I did not brown, just melted), 3 TB pumpkin puree, and 1/2 TB orange zest, 1 TB molasses. They bake a little longer at 12-15 minutes. Dipped in 12 oz of melted dark chocolate and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Pumpkin Madeleines with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt
Pumpkin Madeleines with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt
Pumpkin Madeleines with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt
Pumpkin Madeleines with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt
Pumpkin Madeleines with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt
Pumpkin Madeleines with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt