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

Thin in the Morning.

It's getting colder here.  To the point of buying fleece blankets, to the point of wearing socks to bed.  It gets dark earlier, I sleep in later.  I am preparing myself for hibernation, and I live ten minutes from the beach.  I have been frail for a week, maybe two.  Before kids knocked on our door, asking for candy we never had.  Before I got drunk enough to black out.  Before I ate sea urchin from its skeleton, cracked open before our eyes.  I was fragile in the morning, and dreamt of dreamless sleep. Instead, I remembered every punctuation of growing up in these 23 years of mine.  It happens before I fall asleep, when I'm trying to recollect my day.  It's been coming in waves, more frequently--more technicolor.  Saturated in all those moments of awkward growth and "coming into my own", as my mother used to put it.

It's July in Washington, DC and I'm 15.  I have my first kiss and lose my virginity all in one night.

It's a week later and I'm stoned at a concert in Baltimore.

It's six months after that and I'm reading Wuthering Heights in a makeshift bed, cold and reading in a spare room of my parent's house.

The next day my mom drives two hours north and she's not answering her phone.  She left a note reading, "I just need some space."

A year later I'm in college.

A year later I'm in Italy, hating everything but my freedom.

Three months, I'm dating Nolan.

We create dreams from dust motes in his two-story Victorian.  We take out some loans and move to California.

Get a dog.

Quit law school.

I learn from my mistakes, like how to cook and how to hold my tongue.  Nolan one time said I went 14 days without anything nice to say.  I threatened to make it 15 if he didn't shut the fuck up.  And I think about all of the times I should have been quiet, told my parents I loved them more, walked Charlie before he died, and how I should have taught myself to not find cooking to be a trade, but an art.  I would be happier with myself, calmer with myself, and in love with life the way I now understand I could still be.

I reflect on this before bed, so I can pray for it.  When the clock is at 11:10 and you're waiting until it switches.  When I let the dogs out and look up into the Milky Way.  Stars have always been opportunity, so I whisper the lilting pseudo-prayer of a light Star, a bright Star.

The lost time won't ever come, but I will come to terms with its ephemerality.  I will understand every atom in me shifts with a resounding confidence, where I can still greet days and whisper, "Yes."  I'll do it over coffee, in the shower, anywhere that the steam of dewey newness can open my pores and help me remember, every once in a while, that I'm still alive.  I didn't die when I had sex or smoked week in a penthouse loft overlooking the Harbor.  I didn't die when my mom left for a day or when I went to Italy.  I didn't die when I moved to California with Nolan, got a dog, or started to be who I am becoming.  Instead, each piece put me together more.  I'm everything I'm supposed to be, and I'm happy to sit at the kitchen table and take five minutes for myself to reflect on that.

It's cold in San Diego, and I hate waking up to let the dogs out. But if I ever see my breath when I step outside with them, it'll just mean I'm still alive.  And thank God for that.

It was one morning like that, when i was overwhelmed with this realization, that I made these biscuits.  Sweetness and heaviness are two of my least favorite ways to have breakfast, so I decided to tone down those elements with some goat cheese and pumpkin.  Paired with a super-simple fig preserve, and you have a perfect pair to your otherwise contemplative solitude before you're ready for a second cup.  Enjoy.

Pumpkin and Chèvre Biscuits with Fig Preserve

Pumpkin and Chèvre Biscuits with Fig Preserve


For the biscuits:

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon quality salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed and COLD
  • 2 oz goat cheese
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

For the fig preserve:

  • 16 oz fresh figs (a great way to use some bruised ones)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (or half with brown sugar for a more earthy taste)
  • 3 TB clover honey
  • 1 TB orange juice
  • 1/3 cup water


For biscuits:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt
  3. Using two knives, a food processor, or a pastry cutter, blend butter and goat cheese into the dry mixture.  Ensure ingredients stay cold and do not melt.  Reconstitute into fridge while preparing step 4.
  4. Whisk together buttermilk and pumpkin in measuring cup or small bowl
  5. With a wooden spoon, create a well in the dry ingredients, begin pouring in wet ingredients slowly and with big sweeping movements to ensure everything is moistened.  Do not over-mix.  Add a small amount of pumpkin puree or buttermilk if you notice your flour is not incorporating with the amount of liquid you have used.
  6. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead 8-12 times
  7. Cut into rounds and place on baking sheet. (Feel free to glaze with butter, add some salt or allspice.  This is very customizable--just nothing that will melt or ruin the integrity of the dish itself at this stage)
  8. Bake for 18-22 minutes
  9. Let cool briefly, serve warm with pat of butter, salt, and some fig preserve

For preserve

  1. Put all ingredients in a saucepan
  2. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and juices are simmering for about 25-30 minutes
  3. Transfer to a blender or food processor, pulse to desired texture
  4. Transfer back to saucepan and heat gently
  5. Serve with biscuits or refrigerate*

Pumpkin and Chèvre Biscuits with Fig Preserve

*I did not include instructions on canning, but can be refrigerated, covered, for up to one week