Unfussy Little Cake and Some Farm Updates

I had to look back at my planner for this week. I couldn’t remember anything about it. Still don’t recall most nights. It was a blur. Not sure why. Maybe the ebb of the weather, the mornings lying prostrate under a heated blanket. The dogs, the chickens. The chores piling up. The laundry piling up. The anxiety piling up.

It snowed a couple days this week. Couple inches. Enough to make the floors muddy, not enough to cover my boots. That was about it. Most mornings spent in bed. Most evenings spent on work calls. I tested out some new stationery I had made with my new name. Exciting but fruitless. Letters, I’m finding, aren’t boomerangs.

Made the chickens warm meals this week. “They eat better than me!” people joke. Probably true. I feed them well. They deserve it. Wouldn’t you if you knew each chicken by now? I know when one is absent from the flock. I count every night just to be safe. This week they got a dish of eggs, bread, pepper flakes and cauliflower. Last night they got spaghetti to stay busy, cooked al dente and thrown in their coops to forage. Pecked at it, kept them sane. They had to stay indoors this weekend. It hit 6 degrees and their waters froze. The rooster has frostbite. I’m worried sick.

Saturday was a funeral of Nolan’s great aunt. Sunday our nephew was born. The irony isn’t lost on me.

Monday I had off. Made a cake. Kept my hands busy. Salted the stairs so the dogs don’t slip. Ate one slice of the cake and left the rest for Nolan. Can’t do much eating lately. The chores piling up. The laundry piling up. The anxiety piling up.

Unfussy Little Cake: Vanilla on Vanilla

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Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup white sugar

  • 6 TB unsalted butter, softened

  • 2 eggs + 1 white

  • 2 teaspoon vanilla

  • 1 1/2 cup cake flour (or AP if you don’t have cake)

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 cup milk (a TB or two more if needed)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350*F and grease a 6-inch round cake pan

  2. Sift together your flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl

  3. In your stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar

  4. Turn mixer on medium-high and add eggs & white one at a time

  5. Turn mixer down to low, alternating between your dry ingredients and milk

  6. Pour into prepared pan

  7. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and pugged at top

  8. Allow to cool before decorating (instructions in baker’s notes below)

Baker’s Note: For the buttercream, I used a simple recipe I eyeballed of 3 TB unsalted softened butter, 2 TB shortening, 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, a TB or two or milk and a little bit of vanilla and a pinch of salt. Swirl on your cooled cake, top with favorite sprinkles.

Week In Review, A Splash of Austin in the Mix

A week on the farm, two days in Austin. A whirlwind week. I need a nap. Two naps, actually.

Last Sunday, the mud settled. Pawprints on the dining room rug, tracked up the stairs, tracked to the sheets. We got tired of it, so I had to grab three bails of straw. Smashed into the back of the Mercedes, I had my own trouble tracking dirt into the SUV. Oh well. Made it home, scattered over the muddiest parts. The rest in the barn to keep the chickens warm. Thanks God I did. It ended up at 8 degrees the next morning.

Milo’s vet the next day. Cheeseburgers for him for dinner. Perfect health, they told me. “Check again,” I said. “He looks like he’s been ran over a couple times.” No one laughed.

And then to Texas on Thursday! My mother-in-law owns a dress shop, so we tagged along as she bought new inventory. Lucky for us, my sister-in-law lives in Austin, so we made a weekend of it.

It felt like Old Times, that ephemeral period that’s always a little more rose-colored when looking back. In California, some of my favorite memories were when Nolan’s family would visit. It was nice to have that time repeated here, too.

The agenda:

Thursday - We got in late, so got a cocktail and some small plates at Ah Sing Den.

Friday - This day was spent at the warehouse. Three hours to Dallas, three hours back. Stopped at a Czech bakery that doubled as a gas station. Stopped at Torchy’s, drooled over their queso. A night watching Nailed It on Netflix.

Saturday - Breakfast of English pea beignets and sweet potato hash at Café No Sé. Manicures to follow. Candy store after that to take to Mary Poppins Returns (so good!). Then an evening at antique stores, department stores, and a cupcake nightcap before more Nailed It.

Sunday - Travels home. Stopped for groceries. Missed the howling dogs and chickens. Snow fell, so cold it felt like it seared my skin. The chickens were fine. I missed them terribly, their silhouette illuminated by the heat lamp behind me.

Surrounded the rest of the night by cuddling dogs. The only noise in the whole house, their breathing and the rattling of the dryer in the basement.

And to keep up my tally of books, here’s where I’m at so far this year:

Finished last week: Portrait of a Marriage, Nigel Nicolson and V. Sackville-West
Finished this week: The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street: Letters Between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill 1952-73
Working on now: Diaries, 1971-1983, James Lees-Milne

First Week of 2019: The Farm

We’ve (almost) finished the first week of January. How are you feeling?

Me? Like I’m itching to do more. It’s been a weird week. Muddy. Hard to stay awake. Hard to stay focused. Hard to keep up with the dust bunnies and needy, restless, bored dogs and spoiled bantams. But I stay busy. Focused.

I take naps. It helps, too.

I do not know if we will have a white winter still. So far, it doesn’t look like it. But I’m hopeful. I’m trying to see the beauty in the crosshatches of the chicken footprints in the mud puddle outside the large and broken barn door. In the double yolk egg I cracked for breakfast. In the jagged edges of the frozen leaves. I’m trying to find the beauty. It’s just taking a little longer than I would have liked.

Everything I Read in 2018: A Year in Review

As I look forward into 2019, I know resolutions are top of mind. Last year, I don’t believe I had any that were materialized in my mind. But, with that being said, 2018 ignited within me my love for reading. Weekly trips to the library, a kindle chockfull of books, and a nightstand tipping with used books all contributed to this year’s binge.

Before bed, I committed to myself to read at least an hour. After 39 books, I think this system worked for me.

Here are the books I’ve read this year. In no particular order:

Vita: The Life of V. Sackville-West, Victoria Glendinning
Never Breathe a Word, Caroline Blackwood
Mr. Boddington's Etiquette: Charm and Civility for Every Occasion, Mr. Boddington Studios
The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, edited by Charlotte Mosley
Upstream, Mary Oliver
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
The Emotional Lives of Animals, Marc Bekoff
All in One Basket, Her Grace Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire
American Primitive, Mary Oliver
Counting My Chickens, Her Grace Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire
Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
Clash of Kings, George R. R. Martin
The Pursuit of Laughter, Diana Mosely
Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed, Marc Bekoff
Minding Animals, Marc Bekoff
Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant, Philip Hoare
A Little Learning, Evelyn Waugh
Dog Songs, Mary Oliver
The Animals’ Agenda, Marc Bekoff
And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
Diaries 1942-1954, James Lees-Milne
The Last of the Duchess, Caroline Blackwood
Play It as It Lays, Joan Didion
Orlando, Virginia Woolf
Fantastic Mr. Fox, Roald Dahl
A Talent to Annoy, Nancy Mitford
Book of Greek Myths, D’Aulaires
A Voice Through a Cloud, Denton Welch
South and West, Joan Didion
The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, edited by Charlotte Mosley
The Shepherd’s Life,,James Rebanks
The Shining, Stephen King
Wait for Me!, Her Grace Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire
The Water Beetle, Nancy Mitford
Felicity, Mary Oliver
In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor, edited by Charlotte Mosley
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris

Cheers to more learning in 2019!

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