Murphy's 5th Birthday Cake - And Leftovers for the Chickens

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I don't like looking back on our time in California. A lot of it feels like failure to me. I'm learning to see it through different lenses, but that's an exercise I have not mastered yet. But I like looking back on our early years with Murphy, because I know that wasn't a failure.

We got Murphy the very night I finished my last final. It was Contracts law and I finished 20 minutes early so that I could drive to Los Angeles and pick him up. Small and crying, I held him in my hands and he was beautiful. He sat in the passenger seat, so tired from the adventure. I sang the Carpenters, I remember. I cried a little, I remember. He gave me a feeling of purpose when I didn't know if things were falling apart. He gave me something to dedicate my time towards; the question of returning to law school was still up in the air.

And for five years, I have loved Murphy with my whole heart. He's gentle. The sweetest dog I've ever met. He wants to be by my side for hours. He finds small crevices to tuck himself into. He has a tooth that's longer than the other and so his smile is a little crooked. He has a sweet tooth, too. And I know Murphy is the reason I changed five years ago (or started to, at least). I wanted to be better because of him. He, as well as Elsa and Milo, gave me the purpose I had been missing - a family. That love was not borne from opportunity, but a requirement for happiness and I have tried to live this more as I have gotten older.

I am lucky. I am lucky to love my dogs so much and I am lucky to have had Murphy as our first. Five years have been perfect with him and I am grateful for many years more.

And it's hard to wrap all of this up in one post, let alone one cake, but every day is a devotional to putting their needs before my own. The cake was impromptu, using ingredients from around the kitchen, but I made sure it has a little sweetness to it for him. And when they got sick of having cake for breakfast, I scraped off the icing for my other family, the chickens. I don't own anything on this land of ours, but I'll be damned if I don't want to make sure everyone's happy.

Ingredients for Cake:

  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (can sub for another cup AP)
  • 1/4 ts baking soda
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 whole milk 
  • 2 egg
  • 1/2 ts cinnamon

Recipe for Cake: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Prepare a 13x9 inch cake pan with oil and parchment paper
  3. In a bowl, sift flours and baking soda
  4. In a stand mixer, beat all remaining ingredients
  5. On low, add flour until incorporated 
  6. Beat on high for one minute
  7. Transfer to prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean

Ingredients for Icing:

  • 1 c yogurt
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup marshmallow fluff
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar 

Directions for Icing:

  1. For icing, mix all ingredients and apply to cooled cake. I also topped mine with Girl Pow sprinkles 
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A Little Portuguese Spongecake - Pao de Lo

A Little Portuguese Spongecake - Pao de Lo

The chickens are still laying and the house is still warm. It snowed one day and then it melted the next. It snowed again and it turned into rain. It's hard to keep track of weeks like this, when the only constant between the days is the egg I crack into the hot pan to feed the dogs at breakfast time.

I owe them nothing and sometimes that is the most freeing thing I've felt in a long time. The dogs and I live in silence, but they nudge and prod my hand for food, to cuddle, to go bark at the birds that perch on the fenceposts. They sleep on the bed, they lay on our chest in the morning to wake us up. They don't stop barking long after the postman's dropped off a package and then they sleep for an hour, exhausted from their instincts.

Nolan and I keep our patience with them. They howl when they hear his car coming down the road. We feed them small bits of our dinner and then we all lay in bed until it's time to sleep. And in the morning, it's a lot of the same. But it's in that sameness, in the pleasant static of this farm house, between the routine and the instinct, that I thrive. 

And it's in those moments -- when it might be snowing, when the dogs might be begging for a snack, when nothing else is going on for miles and miles, when I have dozens of eggs to use up -- that I make a cake to share with them. 

 

 

Pão de Ló 
Portugese Sponge Cake

A Little Portuguese Spongecake - Pao de Lo

Ingredients:

  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup + 2 TB flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 TB lemon zest
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 TB vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

 

Directions:

  1. Line an 8" cake round (I did mine pretty rustically)
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together eggs and sugar. Continue beating for 12 minutes or until mixture is thick and stiff peaks form
  3. While egg mixture is being beaten, preheat oven to 350*F and sift flour, salt, and baking powder
  4. Mix in lemon juice and zest and extracts
  5. Fold in dry mixture
  6. Pour into prepared cake pan
  7. Bake for 40 minutes or until edges are tanned and top is springy
A Little Portuguese Spongecake - Pao de Lo
A Little Portuguese Spongecake - Pao de Lo
A Little Portuguese Spongecake - Pao de Lo
A Little Portuguese Spongecake - Pao de Lo

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

Pumpkin Tahini Snack Cakes

Pumpkin Tahini Snack Cakes
Pumpkin Tahini Snack Cakes

This is our first Fall in the new house, and I am ready for it. We can keep our windows open again soon, having spent the last month sealed up in a freon cold of our air conditioned house. It's been in the 90's lately. It's been so hot the grass has dried up. Leaves are falling while I'm still in short sleeves. It's confusing, but I'm trying to be patient.

The dogs can't seem to notice the difference. They lay on the deck and catch bugs in their paws. Release them. Curious. They're from California, so they like the heat. We bought them sweaters this year, a size larger than what we think will fit them, so they have room to grow, to get older, to fill it out in five or ten years.

I'm ready for Fall. I'm ready to be reintroduced to the hues of colors I hadn't seen since California. Yes, I was in Pennsylvania last year, too, but I was so caught up in my own self-pity, I was distracted. This year, it will be different. This year, I won't let that happen again. This year, I know how it feels to wait and wait and wait and to appreciate the beauty when it's all around you.

Fall has always been my favorite season and I'm ready to keep the windows open and the oven on and to bake again. Bake more. To create the things I haven't had since I was a kid, because it's time for me to look back and realize it all wasn't so bad.

Pumpkin Tahini Snack Cakes

Pumpkin Tahini Snack Cakes

This recipe is an amalgamation of one from Nolan's mom and a little bit of classic snack cake elements - a bit more oil to keep it moist, and a bit of decoration on top to keep it fun. This is a great recipe that can be done in one bowl (though I broke the recipe up below into two) and can freeze pretty well too!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cup AP flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup tahini (or peanut butter)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups pumpkin

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350*F and line an 18" by 13" baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together all dry ingredients
  3. Whisk together all remaining ingredients until smooth
  4. Fold your wet mixture into your dry ingredients and continue to blend until everything is fully incorporated and there are no lumps
  5. Pour into prepared pan and smooth evenly. Tap a couple times on a tabletop
  6. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean
  7. Allow to cool before decorating (see instructions below)

Decorating Instructions: In a stand mixer, beat two egg whites on high until soft peaks form. Add 1/3 cup white sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Continue to beat until glossy peaks form. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with any tip you'd like. Create your pattern on your cake. Bake for 5 minutes in a 300*F oven to set meringues. 

Pumpkin Tahini Snack Cakes
Pumpkin Tahini Snack Cakes
Pumpkin Tahini Snack Cakes
Pumpkin Tahini Snack Cakes
Pumpkin Tahini Snack Cakes
Pumpkin Tahini Snack Cakes

First Day of Summer - Make this cake!

I can be lazy, but I am not lethargic.  

For me, summer always translated to liquid days. Days that dragged on. The sound of cicadas were the sound of sun rays. Moths hit the windowsill at night and I stayed up way too late. Summer is a melting feeling, I always felt stagnant and viscous in the heat. I spent my time reading. I spent my time sleeping. I spent too much time in hot cars with no air conditioning, waiting in parking lots for my mother to finish grocery shopping. I spent a lot of time alone in the summer months between 7th and 8th and 9th grades.

For me now, who I am at 25, it is different. I have the dogs, the chickens, a fiance. I have a life I fell into, but pursued all the same. I like summer now, in my little town of Ligonier. The rain comes and goes as it pleases and floods our side yard and still I walk barefoot with the dogs when we play in between the flowering trees. I'm not able to read as much, dishes and laundry and days get in the way; but I bake and I write and I am content in the fact that I am growing up. 

I found a shirt the other day that Nolan got me the first month we moved to California. A black Alexander Wang shirt that still smelled like the cigarettes I smoked in law school. It's no longer an anchor to that past life, but just a shirt I pulled out of the drawer now. I am realizing that we are allowed to change and not be constricted to the confines of a past we tried to idealize. That we are better now, better here, better today than we were yesterday.

I am realizing that I can enjoy summer because I am in this nebulous summertime feeling--at 25 I am no longer suffocating, but verdant and green and surrounding by the warmth I couldn't fully embrace before.

Peach Sheet Cake!

Summertime Peach Sheet Cake

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cup AP flour
  • 2 TB cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 TB vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise 
  • 1 TB white vinegar
  • 2 peaches, sliced and pitted

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350*F. Line and grease a 14" x 16" cake pan
  2. In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt
  3. In another bowl, cream together butter, shortening and white sugar
  4. Add eggs to the sugar mixture, one at a time, and stir until incorporated
  5. In a measuring cup, whisk together vanilla, milk, vinegar, and mayo
  6. Alternate between sugar mixture and milk mixture into your dry ingredients, stirring continuously until you get a soft, light batter
  7. Line bottom of cake pan with peaches in any design you want
  8. Gently pour and spread batter on top of peaches
  9. Bake for 50 minutes or until browned and fluffy
  10. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack to enjoy
Summertime Peach Sheet Cake
Summertime Peach Sheet Cake
Summertime Peach Sheet Cake
Summertime Peach Sheet Cake
Summertime Peach Sheet Cake
Summertime Peach Sheet Cake