Clementine Snack Cake with Chocolate Glaze [gluten free]


Aren’t Clementines supposed to be out of season? My whole life, I have spent Christmases peeling plump wreaths of sweet orange-ness. It is now the end of March, and I feel like a chipmunk-cheeked, cake-baking and -eating fraud.

Wikipedia tells me that the ones I used to make this cake were birthed on the cusp of the season. Spongey, aromatic cake robed in chocolate silk–what a way to go out with a bang.

I didn’t enjoy every minute of making this cake, however. In fact, I almost quit. Yikes, this is starting to sound like whenever I exercise. Or do laundry.

I experience displeasure, I think, because the end doesn’t necessarily seem linear. In fact, the path we take to get there impresses with indirection. Even if those are, at times, the best kind of paths. Shhh.

To begin to make Clementine Cake, for example, one must first boil clementines. For hours. This is not an initiation prank. [Admittedly, I did laundry over the course of this portion of the recipe, which might explain any and all displacement of negative emotion.]

The air was warm orange juice, and the next step: squashing the boiled rounds to remove any seedlings. Then, puree. Peel, pith, fruit. All of it is ground to coral mush. It doesn’t make sense.

We whisk in too many eggs and almond meal. Pour into a well-greased square, and await the poofs of citrus air from the oven. At some point between the delicate rise of the batter with heat and the oozy gloss of chocolate glaze, it pieces together.

Sometimes, timing is irrelevant. The point is where you are now. The getting there got you here. And it wasn’t so bad, now that you’ve arrived (looking back).

In fact, there is unseasonably clementine-d cake waiting for you, if you have a couple hours. Free of gluten. Softer than the lips of someone you’d like to love. Cocoa robes. Raw honey sheen. Cubes of chocolate-draped, citric fluff.

Who says it’s boring to be square.

Cardamom, Blueberry, and Rosewater Layer Cake


This cake was supposed to have tahini in it. Tahini, rosewater, cardamom, and blueberries. Sounds like the makings of an intriguing type of halva. Doesn’t it.

I had it all. Softened butter. Yolks separated from whites. Ground cardamom. Rosewater. Thick, fatty, smooth tahini, and a cup for measuring. When it came time to include that last ingredient, I simply chose to refrain. I suppose what stands before you is representative of the fact that things do not always go as we intend them to.

It reminds me a bit of my life when I befriended the person for whom I baked this cake. She doesn’t know it. The bird you see in the pictures is now where it belongs: with her.

We knew each other years ago. I can remember the day we met for the second time. It was just after Bowie died. I came straight from practicing Ashtanga. I wore the same black dress every day. I brought a square of yellow cake with chocolate buttercream. We later baked the recipe again-in circle form, with sprinkles-to celebrate my 27th birthday.

That day, though, Minneapolis was as cold as ever. I don’t know why I went, honestly. I had just moved back to this city I had once called home. The in-between time. So much had been taken. My heart hurt.

I felt a horrible blast of frozen air when the door opened. I saw her silhouette first. I got out of line. She laughed, and I let her hug me. That was a thing I wasn’t doing then. People-hugging.

I remember the toilet paper selection in the bathrooms at Five Watt. I remember what we talked about. I remember the sweater she was wearing, which she both lost and found months later. I remember her hand resting on my shoulder when I gave a teeny glimpse into the weeks prior. I remember wondering if I’d see her again when I left.

To the person I am thinking of: Mitch Hedburg once said, I wanted to buy a candle holder, but the store didn’t have one. So I got a cake. You are the cake the universe delivered to me when I needed a candle holder. You arrived in a form I didn’t anticipate at a time when nothing was as I had planned, and I am lucky for it.

Your laugh is contagious. Your compassion is heartfelt. Your honesty invites honesty. You inspire me. You are the best friend. You are loved.

The Spring Playlist 2017


I keep thinking about this artist I heard about who took a Polaroid a day for 18 years. He died of cancer in 1997.

People write in now with events in their own lives that occurred on the dates of the pictures. This is what it looked like someplace on the day I was born.

All it took was 9+ months of gestation and a little fried chicken. I was all, It’s been real.

Speaking of goodbyes: this winter did not feel so cold as others. Did it?

Nearing the end of our time of hibernation, a great writer left us. To honor Derek Walcott’s passing:

LOVE AFTER LOVE

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,


and say, sit. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you


all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,


the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

My shirt there says, “All things are delicately interconnected.” Like vines and leaves. May the next quarter bring good tidings, friends.

Adobo Shepherd’s Pie with Andouille Sausage

Adobo Shepherd's Pie with Andouille Sausage // Queen Smithereen.
A definition. Luck.

/lek/
verb
* to prosper or succeed especially through chance or good fortune
* to come upon something desirable by chance
noun
* a force that brings good fortune or adversity
* the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual
* something that happens to a person by or as if by chance
* the accidental way things happen
Adobo Shepherd's Pie with Andouille Sausage // Queen Smithereen.
It can be the force, or it can be the fortune. So.

Is it good? Isn’t it? Is it subjective? Who decided? Does it depend? Is it happenstance? Is it in hindsight? Is it in comparison? Is it in spite of? What caused it? Is it circumstantial? Why now? Does it last? Is it forgotten? Does it change? Who decides?
Adobo Shepherd's Pie with Andouille Sausage // Queen Smithereen.
In light of recent developments in my life, I have been contemplating about this a lot. Luck can run either way, can’t it? Sometimes, I think, out of humility, we discredit our contribution to fortunate events. Sometimes, I think, out of vanity, we give credit where credit is not due. Sometimes, I think, a good thing happening can make you wonder what the other stuff was for.

Someone observed to me recently that the universe seems cruel sometimes because it is indifferent. But it doesn’t always seem cruel, does it? I suppose everything happens as it should, either way.
Adobo Shepherd's Pie with Andouille Sausage // Queen Smithereen.
We have stewed root vegetables and andouille sausage in a sticky, sweet adobo-based sauce. Yukon Gold potatoes are smashed and tinted red. Scallion speckles. Chipotle swirl. It browns in the oven. We serve it warm, with sauce spilling beyond its confines. It is everything at once, overflowing with heat and smoke and depth and deliciousness.
Adobo Shepherd's Pie with Andouille Sausage // Queen Smithereen.
With mitted hands, we transport the dish from its hearth. The air is savory and sweet. The mixture underneath still bubbles. Take note, for a moment, the glint of light. It is comfort, and it is simple. Unassuming, even. But luck is how you look, remember.

Savor for a moment that what rests on your table is wreathed in Gold(s).

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Take care of yourselves. Drink responsibly. Ask for help getting home, if you need it. Good luck with the hangover.

Crockpot Chicken Noodle Soup


I can’t get the smell of this soup out of my crockpot. I don’t mean to dissuade you from making my recipe. It’s just that, whenever I open the cupboard where my crockpot is, I can still smell gusts of sage-y, savory air. It isn’t the worst.

If I reach for a tupperware container, or a towel, or a plastic bag, I am greeted with this soup I made for the sake of having options. Wafting, like the memory of salt above crashing waves.

Each time, I feel a bit like Elvis when it happened at the World’s Fair. Doing normal, mundane things just to be reminded of this thing that’s gone.

I once told someone I assumed I’d never see again that I liked that film. I bumped into him months later, and he had figured out a way to watch it. He informed me that he did not enjoy it.

Actually, thinking about it, I have to say: it took me quite a while to even remember that fellow’s name. Mitch, I think?

I don’t know, the whole thing is still pretty comical to me. I can’t think of this film ft. a song ft. reminders without being reminded. Mitch, you were a marker. (But, have you NO TASTE?)

I diverge. Here’s a better meet cute: a gal idles in her studio apartment, placing chicken and carrots and celery and some sage leaves tied with string into the shadowed nave of a slow-cooker. She sprinkles green dots of scallions on top. She squeezes the guts of two lemons.

Over the next two hours, its aroma permeates the hallway of the complex. In those hundred-twenty minutes, she decides to make Choice her word; when ready to serve, the soup is ladled-each time-over whichever noodles are preferred (egg, spaghetti, elbow, or squash).

Like the scent of flowers, the sky of blue, those tender love songs–the memory of such a thing could last a long while. Swoon.

Cacio e Pepe Frico Grilled Cheese

Cacio e Pepe Frico Grilled Cheese // Queen Smithereen.
Cacio e Pepe is a bit like Roman Mac and Cheese, except both simpler and more complex. Whereas we normally make a roux or add egg yolks and a cheesy spectrum of creams and oranges, Cacio is a barren ingredient wasteland. Sheep’s milk cheese, ground black pepper, pasta.

At this point, you might be wondering where the sauce comes from.
Cacio e Pepe Grilled Cheese // Queen Smithereen.
Something happens when spaghetti cooks in water. Starches release. Those starches thicken sauces, and even make them, if given the chance. Cue: complexity. It is so simple, it doesn’t make sense.
Cacio e Pepe Frico Grilled Cheese // Queen Smithereen.
You know the rules. When in Rome, do as the Nonsensical do: crave, complicate, and reinterpret simple intricacy. I sprinkled black peppery cheese on melting butter. I cooked a sandwich on top of it as it frico-ed.

[Both sides.]
Cacio e Pepe Frico Grilled Cheese // Queen Smithereen.
Ooze and crunch and superglue stretch. Om. Nom. Chew. Chomp.
Cacio e Pepe Frico Grilled Cheese // Queen Smithereen.
Munch. Pen:

Comfort Food

we were not the strand of pasta between
dog mouths, we were not

lit up like untangled knots of lights

strings strung in tight corners and wrapped
around bits and bobs
a garbling, muddled
mouthful

spaghetti too big it hurts to open
that wide / each time

even after

Gulp. Good night, Moon.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake

Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake // Queen Smithereen.
Thoughts that I remember occurring to me as a kid in a cafeteria: “I wonder if So and So would let me eat the cheese off of her pizza.” Gross. “My bangs are getting long, but are they too long?” Let them grow out. “I am emotionally uncomfortable around people, so I will playfully punch them on the arms when they get close to create some distance.” (<–paraphrasing) “Will Luke ever notice me?” NOPE!

As a 6-year-old, I used to hand my change purse to one of the cafeteria aids at the cashier, instead of counting out my money. One day, she told me I had to try. Sometimes, I wonder about a world in which she never did that. Thank you, whoever you are. Even though I don’t remember your face.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake // Queen Smithereen.
I once mustered enough courage to say hello to Luke in the hallway. It was just the two of us, so there is no one in the world to confirm, but it totally happened. It has been decades, of course. I do still feel mildly embarrassed about that time my friends and I walked to his house and he wasn’t there. I wonder if his family laughs about the little, socially awkward girl who had-very obviously- a little, socially awkward crush on him growing up.

Sigh. Making history, I suppose.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake // Queen Smithereen.
Every week when I was a kid, my grandmother would send us home with loaves of bread and peanut butter for sandwiches. I have not met another person who is quite so giving. I once told her I liked her shirt and she went and changed out of it. She refused to accept a reality in which I did not take it home that day.

I wear the rings she gave me as a kid nearly every day. My hands are much larger, so the rings rest on my knuckles and I will never care.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake // Queen Smithereen.
I remember going to a friend’s house as a kid once and accepting a PBJ from my host. She put margarine on it, too. It was sacrilegious. I will never forget the way the distinctly yellow taste of the margarine introduced itself to the stuff that should’ve been sandwiched between those slices of bread.

Don’t mess with the original.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake // Queen Smithereen.
Unless, of course, you’re turning it into coffee cake. Fluffy, moist peanut butter cake is swirled with jam and dolloped with cinnamon-scented peanut butter-oat crumbles.

Grace came over while it baked. We ate tacos and videotaped her fake sneezing and throwing her phone and we cackled. We broke the rules and we hardly waited ten minutes after the cake emerged from the oven before slicing and serving. In our defense, rule-breaking is acceptable when it can be loosely reinterpreted through the guise of Rumi’s wisdom:

Come, seek, for search is the foundation of fortune: every success depends upon focusing the heart.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake // Queen Smithereen.
Slicing into that freshly baked peanut butter cake with my best friend. Delicately balancing the warm, crumbly slice making its way to my polka dot plates. Watching her eyes roll back and her lids close at the first bite. Cutting myself a square of an unfamiliar formula for the familiar. One bite of that delicate, pillow-soft, peanut buttery, jam-swirled, crumble-speckled cake, and I think we understood the true meaning of treasure.

I don’t know, you do you. But maybe be like us in that moment (and in life).