New routines and a cake recipe

I have met a hundred people this week and cannot remember anyone's name.  I gave thirty-eight cents to a homeless man and didn't look him in the eyes.  I think I am coming down with a cold, my body is achy.  I slept for fourteen hours and made biscuits in a skillet my sister got me for Christmas.  I haven't kissed anyone in ten days. This week has been distinctively marked for me.  One night, I had decaf coffee for dinner.  Another, a bowl of white rice.  My body doesn't need sustenance the way it used to.  Instead, I listen to the small taptaptap's of the dog in the apartment next to mine and that is enough for the night.  I have nightmares about bugs crawling in my mouth and on my skin and I take two showers a day, because I do not pay for water at my new place.  I am always thirsty and I cried reading an old poem I wrote to a boy once.  I notice my oven is gas range and I can smell it strongly when I first preheat it.  I am scared of the ice on the roads, of cancer, of losing the last vestiges of my good, good life that I had before I decided to pursue independence.

This week was my first week of my new job as an administrative manager for a hotel down in San Antonio.  Meeting upon meeting, I was told how I can improve the site, how many granola bars we need to order, how to increase revenue and profits for in the next quarter.   I saw the words, the business idioms, but they are hollow.  In the back of my head, i think about how all I want to do is write, bake, sleep.  When I get home, I look at the wilting flowers that stood erect a day before, and I trim them to be used later for decoration somewhere else.  Nothing can be wasted right now, everything preserved, so I don't have a reason to leave the house.  Eggs used for meringues will make a custard with the yolks.  Scrambled eggs, give the embryos to the stray dog that scratches at houses in search of leftovers.  I used old parchment paper as scratch paper, a quick drawing I did of a logo I want for packaging.  I used some lip balm on my cold and dry hands.  It's been raining here, cold at nights.  The space heater next to my bed runs and squeaks all night.  I am just not used to this sort of life yet.

But I have time to think now, to bake and to write.  I find inspiration in those half-dead and cut flowers.  They were beautiful in their youth and I wanted to lay them on a pillow of buttercream.  I put them on a vanilla cake,  poked their stems into the meringue, and served them to my employees in an effort to show I cared.  When I came home, the flowers had wilted, and my record player was still spinning from when I forgot to flip it over that morning.  Noiselessly, it ran and I laid down on my bed, mouthing the words to a song that wasn't playing.  It rained that night and in the morning there was ice, but at least I made something beautiful.  I have time for beauty now.

Vanilla Cake with Italian Meringue Buttercream


For the cake: Use Molly Yeh's Vanilla Cake recipe to make a two layer 8" cake

For the Italian Meringue Icing:


  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 3 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature and cut into tablespoons
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (alternatively, use any other extracts, floral essences, or zests --or coffee!--that you may want to try.  I just went with the basics here)


  1. In a mixer (i suggest stand mixer here, but that is not to say a hand mixer would not work), beat eggs with sugar until stiff peaks begin to form and the white triple or quadruple in volume.
  2. Add vinegar to stabilize the meringue.  Add the vanilla.
  3. Continue to beat.  Set aside while you work on the simple syrup
  4. For the simple syrup necessary to cook the egg whites and create the meringue, Place 1/2 cup sugar and water into small saucepan and put on medium-high heat.  Be mindful that it does not start to burn, due to the small surface area of so little sugar and water
  5. When the temperature on an instant read thermometer reaches 238 degrees Fahrenheit (or, if it becomes really tacky as it bubbles, or if you do the water drop test), the syrup is ready
  6. Turn the mixer back on and slowly drizzle in the syrup, making sure to take your time.  Keep beating the mixture for a few minutes until it has cooled down (if you add the butter too soon after the hot simple syrup, you risk the butter just melting and clotting and your meringue to be oily)
  7. Once the mixture is cool enough to touch (you can tell by touching the bowl), start adding the butter one tablespoon at a time.  Have the mixer on and make sure the last tablespoon is full incorporated before adding a new one.  It may start to curdle and separate as you add them, but it will reconstitute once it works into an emulsified state
  8. When the last tablespoon of butter goes in, mix to incorporate and you should have a beautiful, not-too-sweet and silky buttercream that is elegant and simplistic.
  9. Assembly:  As Molly's cakes cool, put on on the plate, add a layer of buttercream, put other cake on top.  Slather cake in buttercream, decorate, enjoy!


Simple Homemade Noodles

It's Italy, 2010.  I stayed up before a midterm to make macaroni with a woman named Claire.  Her daughter was my classmate, her daughter was in a coma.  She flew all the way from Philadelphia to be with her, and said she was starving when she landed.  Everything was closed, so I helped her make mac and cheese.  It seems surreal now, to think the only way I knew to comfort her, a stranger, was to make such an American classic.  By the time we added the cheddar, her daughter could have been hemorrhaging.  But that's the beauty of it--how we ate the pasta out of the pot and she told me about her Christina.  How simple it all was.  How it distracted her, how we reverted to childhood staples and how she told me Christina would live and how lucky it was that the pope was only a mile away.  It was comfort food, and we both savored the moment in our own form of silence. She left one day without saying goodbye.  She lived on the other side of the convent I stayed at, on the nun's side.  Closer to the chapel.  She said it helped her sleep at night.  She dropped off almond cookies before she went, a note that said, "Thank you" and nothing else.  The script was curly, feminine, concise.  Not a single drop of ink was wasted, all of it conserved for future birthday cards for her dear, dear Christina.  I was just a replacement, and I was content in that knowledge.

But now, I am not content at all.  I am not content in this house with more square footage.  Not content to be making the money I make.  Not content in being lonely, or the fear of being lonely.  And in those efforts to feel normal, I make comfort food myself. I made a food to challenge myself, to know I could do it.  To thank the smaller gods, to have just one triumph in this haystack of a million failures.  Every cook has a dish they don't think they could make, couldn't muster the technique to create the magical. For some, it might be a soufflé.  My mother never thought she'd make caramel until she had to work after the recession in that "hell hole" town of ours.  For me, it was pasta.  It was a dish done right.  We had eggs and flour in that convent kitchen, but we both just knew how to boil water and add some cheese.  And if I could go back, I'd show that stranger how much I cared by making her a dish like this.  Simple, quiet in its own way, tender and soft like a scrawled "thank you."  Comfort food.

Simple Homemade Noodles


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 whole eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. In a bowl, measure and pour flour.  Use a wooden spoon and create a well in center
  2. Crack eggs into well and stir with wooden spoon until starting to become crumbly
  3. Turn out onto a floured working surface and, with floured hands, knead for several minutes until dough is a pale yellow, springy and firm.
  4. Cut dough into 6 equal parts and flour work surface again, as well as rolling pin and dough
  5. Roll equal section of cut dough as thin as possible, working from the center outwards.  When dough is at desired thickness and cannot extend any further, dust lightly with flour
  6. Roll dough back into itself like a pinwheel, creating a tight chiffonade or cigar-shape
  7. Cut off small strips of dough, place cut pieces onto a floured baking sheet
  8. When complete, bring water to a boil and salt
  9. Add pasta dough to boiling water and let boil for 2 minutes or until tender and just beyond al dente
  10. Drain and serve with preferred sauce

(Of course, you can use a pasta maker.  Of course you can use these noodles for other things.  But it's so therapeutic and rewarding to know you made it by hand.  To know you have the luxury to create and learn and grow as a chef in every way you can think.  Be that person, and take it slow.  Make it by hand, eat it simple.  You won't regret how comforting it can be.)



The only ingredients

 Pasta Making with a Simple Yolk Dough

Beautiful pale yellow and a lovely, yolky smell

Rolling out the Pasta Dough

Cut and Waiting to be Boiled

Finished off with some Carrot Top Pesto


Sometimes when you want to be alone, you have to find solitude in the crowd.  To watch the crows lined like gargoyles on the stoplight lit green, waiting for the cars to come, to swoop down and steal the children.  Watching the young crippled girl sing her lovely song, but no one leaves a dollar in the outstretched woven basket.  The vendors remind you of your nine-to-five, their chapped hands and grey-wrinkled eyes remind you of winter, of your mom, of home.  Each vendor has an antidote, each more conscious of buzzwords like "sustainability" than the last.  I find myself smelling small baskets of grape tomatoes, setting them down and promising to be back.  Going to the nearest ATM and paying a $3.25 surcharge to go back and buy those tomatoes.  Asking if they're heirloom, not knowing what that means exactly.  I find myself emboldened by the knowledge of a meal to come, the way it creeps into my mind like nerve-friction.  How I can sense something creative, and each greengrocer and fishmonger in Little Italy lays out the totems of inspiration.  I brush against a vendor selling caramel sauce, ask someone about culinary school.  He says he's against it, but I don't believe him for a second.  That night, I google Le Cordon Bleu tuition.  I help a seller sharpen a knife and say I'm partial to Japanese knives (I'm not).

Carrot Greens and Almond PestoI lied to everyone, said I'd come back before I left for eggs and ox and hummus.  I didn't.  I pretended.  It was free to pretend until I knew what I was looking for.  And I found it in the plastic bin like the kind my mother keeps Christmas ornaments in, hidden in the corner of a ruddy, earthen woman's stand.  She spoke no English.  I asked her how much the zanahorias were.  Two dollars.   I smiled and picked the most exotic of the root vegetables.  The ones that were twisted, mangled sensually.  The kinds that had curves and humps, small Venuses of Willendorfs in the crisper bin in the fridge.  Purple, orange, and tan, the color of spider veins.  The color of the earths.

I picked up bread, cheese.  Green beans and sea salt.  I picked it up and carried it home in a brown paper bag.  I felt legitimized by my purchases and want to keep my promise to the farmer, that I'll come back in April when he'll have quail eggs for me.  But, until then, I'll keep making this verdant green pesto, and I'll welcome Spring with open arms.

Carrot Greens Pesto


  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup almonds (dry toasted in skillet for five minutes)
  • 2 cup carrot greens
  • Scant 3/4 light olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly-grated parmesan


  1. Put almonds in a skillet and toast over medium heat for about five minutes until begin to brown and become fragrant
  2. In a food processor, process almonds and garlic until finely ground
  3. Add greens and pulse for two minutes, or until a paste forms
  4. Add parmesan, pulse until incorporated
  5. While the motor is running, slowly pour oil into feeding tube and continue to run until full incorporated
  6. Store in container for at least two hours for flavors to incorporate, use as you would basil-based pesto

Carrot Greens and Almond Pesto