A Dreamer's Wedding Cake

I thought I saw a rosebush moving once.  It was covered in aphids.

There were always mirages in the meadowlands.  Fog rose off my fingertips and ink formed puddles in my nail beds.  I think I used to sweat through the morning, I used to sip coffee from styrofoam cups.  We used to wake up at six for doctor's appointments and to get taffy at the gas station.  Ingots held against my chest would burn at the collarbone and the toll roads didn't seem so long and narrow once you've been through it enough times.

I used to think about my wedding day and I'd scream into the ceiling fan.  We were poor then and I shared a bunk bed with no one.  We got it at a yard sale.  I'd think about my wedding day and these flowers my sister would make from folded newspaper.  She'd spend hours on them at the dining room table and then crumble them all up.  Mandalas made from the Penny Saver.  Mandalas for only herself and the future she saw as alone.  My sister would never take the ingot, but she'd fight a magpie for a nickel.  My sister worked at a coffee shop for seven years.  She had a plastic bouquet for her wedding.  A Tuesday in October at the closest waterfall, the tags still hanging out.

I used to only date boys whose eyes showed my reflection in the high beams.  Parking lot eyes. The hairs on end, we'd stumble in broom closets, the beaded chain that struck the lightbulb when you pulled down too hard.  Fog on my fingertips, ink on my callouses.  I kissed a boy when I was 8 and it didn't count for anything.  We poked a hornet's nest and hid in a truck bed.  That night I was a hairy knuckle dreamer and shucked corn for dinner.    

There are still bandanas that hang from rearview mirrors.  There are still smudges on my glasses from last week, when my mother pinched her shirt sleeves and tried to clean them up.  There's no fog left in her bones, her skin cracks on the seams of her smile.  She ran away to the Smokies when she got married.  She was 25 and had three kids by then.

The summer my mother dyed her hair a blue-black, I saw a rabbit's heart still beating when it was ran over by a Ford.  My sister kept walking and I tripped on my shoes. 

The summer she wore a green suit to my brother's wedding, I heard a rumor that there are horses that still roam free, somewhere in the Carolinas.  I think I've known one or two.

And I sat and baked a cake and thought about all those moments that I loved and how romantic I think it is to feel vulnerable.  That ingot was a splinter that's dug in my breastbone, and even verdigris only gets greener.  I'm tough and a puddle all in the same sentence.  I forgot how loud I could yell into that old ceiling fan, but I know how bad I want to make a cake like this one for my own wedding day.   I don't know if my heart will still beat when I'm ripped open on the road, but I'm excited to find out.


Oat, Almond, and Fig Cake with Duck Fat Caramel Italian Buttercream

Fig, Oat, Caramel Buttercream Cake

This cake inspired me to write more, to use the grey wall I was avoiding.  To keep the oven going in the dark rain in San Diego this past weekend.  It is a Victorian remark on figs and dried flowers.  It's simple and fulling.  It's sweet and aromatic--oat, almond, fig, and duck fat.  It's everything you'd want to remember on a day you wouldn't want to forget.

Fig, Oat, and Caramel Buttercream Cake

For the Cake (makes 3 six-inch layers or 2 nine-inch layers):


  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup rolled oats
  • 2 1/4 c sugar
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 4 egg yolks (reserve whites for buttercream below)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 3/4 cup whole milk (or buttermilk)



  1. Preheat oven to 350*F and prepare your cake pans with butter and parchment
  2. Sift together flour, soda, salt, and sugar twice into a large bowl.
  3. Pour in oats, stir well with fork
  4. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, mix oil, butter, yolks, extracts, and vinegar until well-incorporated
  5. Create a well in the dry ingredients and slowly pour wet ingredients into the middle, stirring with a fork or wooden spoon
  6. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then beat with hand mixer on medium for 2-3 minutes until slightly whipped and batter creates ribbons
  7. Bake for 40 minutes (add aluminum foil in the last ten minutes to avoid further browning)
  8. Allow to cool before turning out and assembly
Fig, Oat, and Caramel Cake

For the Duck Fat Caramel Buttercream:


  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoon duck fat
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 4 egg whites, as cold as can be



  1. In a medium saucepan, mix sugar, fat, water, and syrup together and heat on medium high until bubbling
  2. As the mixture thickens and begins to give off a nutty aroma (about 10 minutes), beat egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment
  3. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form
  4. When caramel mixture is ready, turn mixer on medium-low and pour caramel into meringue in a thin, steady stream, beating constantly
  5. You will see egg whites begin to take on a glossy sheen and peaks will further stiffen
  6. Once all caramel is incorporated, beat on medium-high for an additional minute to reconstitute buttercream fully
Fig, Oat, Caramel Cake

To assemble: Allow all cakes to cool completely and freeze for ten minutes.  Scoop some of the buttercream into a small bowl and use this portion for the crumb layer. Stack cakes.  Lightly frost the cakes with a thin layer of buttercream.  When completely covered, put back in freezer for 5-10 minutes.  Remove from freezer and add second layer of frosting, smoothing edges carefully with an angled knife.  Tip:  You can scrape off excess icing or smooth out buttercream easily by continuously cleaning off knife/spatula by dipping it into a glass of warm water between icing periods.  Finally, top with figs (fig or peach jam would also be good between the layers!) and add some flowers to make it pretty!

Fig, Oat, and Caramel Buttercream Cake

Duck Fat Caramels with Smoked Salt

I was an alchemist this week, I created gold from sugar and cream.  I left the pot boiling and filled the dogs' water bowl while it simmered in sticky excess of itself.  A wooden spoon sat sideways off a plate, dripping liquid sugar, hardening in stalactites of golden-browns.  

Duck Fat Caramels with Smoked Salt

Candy making is a simple pleasure.  It brings joy; so I make it.  I whisk things into an emulsive state, I tuck them away in boxes and blankets of tissue paper.  I do it for the pleasure of family practice, to keep the heartbeat strong between my mother's craft and my hobbies.  I do it to feel her pulse on every countertop surface.  She showed me at Christmas how to temper chocolate and three months later I began a candy business.  She showed me at Christmas how to make caramel and I haven't stopped trying to perfect the recipe.  

I make candy to remember my past.  To remember my mother, to remember my high school friends who passed around bags of Werther's Originals in AP Chemistry.  The nostalgia I feel is simple, heartbreakingly simple.  

I make candy so I don't forget those feelings, those memories.  I can create magic through baking, I'm able to revive the dead.  Necromancy vis-à-vis the Maillard Reaction.  I created these caramels with this intention.  To layer all my old selves into one complicated morsel, to embrace those resurrected memories and wrap them in wax paper, tuck them away in a small and pretty box, and pull them out when I start forgetting where I came from.

Duck Fat Caramels with Smoked Salt

Savory and sweet caramels topped with a curious salt.  Makes 81 pieces. 

Duck Fat Caramels with Smoked Salt


  1. Heavily grease a 9x9 brownie pan and line bottom with parchment (use a lot of room temperature butter here and cover all surfaced).  Set aside
  2. In a 4 quart dutch oven, combine all ingredients except vanilla and salt
  3. Heat on medium-high and allow to simmer until butter is melted.  Stir occasionally to incorporate ingredients.
  4. Once butter is melted, bring to a boil on high heat. Boil for 5-7 minutes.
  5. Lower heat to medium and simmer for 27-35 minutes.  Bubbles will appear tight and sticky.  Do not stir once reached this stage, but allow mixture to continue to caramelize.  It will become slightly fragrant, smelling fatty and slightly nutty.
  6. Once temperature reaches 240-243 *F on a candy thermometer (or, if you're old-school and the caramel has reached the hard-ball stage), splash in vanilla and give a quick stir with a wooden spoon
  7. Pour into prepared pan (be EXTRA careful) and allow to cool for at least 6 hours, until slightly hardened but pliable.  Invert onto a cutting board.  Sprinkle generously with smoked flaked salt
  8. Using a ruler, mark and cut into inch pieces.  Cut using a sharp knife or bench knife.  
  9. Wrap in wax or parchment paper.


  • 1 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/3 cup butter, cut into small cubes
  • 2/3 cup duck fat (pref. Rougie)
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Smoked sea salt
Duck Fat Caramels with Smoked Salt