Let them eat cake

This photo from the set of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette is one of my favorite things. And one doesn’t think about Marie Antoinette without thinking about cake, or at least I don’t. Though I also know that the famous quote was translated wrong or taken out of context or attributed to the wrong person, which some self-righteous nerd explained to me years ago. Truly, who cares.

I’d also never really cared much about proper cakes, the ones with layers and frosting that are served at weddings or birthday parties. They’re just kind of sweet and soft and somehow always a letdown. I would rather have almost anything else—a donut, a danish (a cheese danish!), a tart, even a streusel-topped coffee cake, which is cake but not the kind we’re talking about. And so until a year or two ago, outside of the occasional carrot cake, I had never really made a proper cake.



My birthday was a couple of weeks ago and we planned a small celebration in our friend’s backyard. The day before the party multiple people had to enter quarantine for exposure to COVID and so we cancelled the party. Still such weird and unreliable times! But I had already planned on baking myself a birthday cake and so went ahead with it and then spent my birthday dropping slices of cake off to friends, which it turns out was a nice way to spend the day.

I have admired Bronwyn Wyatt’s work from afar for years, and was very happy that she has had a couple of cake recipes published recently. I tried the Apple/Rye/Hazelnut number she wrote about over at Bon Appetit and it is SO GOOD. I recommend you try it too, it might even make a nice Thanksgiving dessert if you have pie-averse friends (and you are not reevaluating those friendships). For my birthday I made the cornmeal/vanilla/sour cream cake (I think of her cakes as slash/ cakes) with OLIVE OIL buttercream that she wrote about at Food and Wine. It’s so good. Like, just the best simple vanilla goodness—what you always want a wedding cake to be but it never is. And the olive oil buttercream is a real revelation. A couple of notes: I used a finely ground cornmeal, which I was glad for. I don’t like the grit that can sometimes come as a result of using the more coarsely ground stuff. Use a really assertive extra-virgin olive oil for the buttercream. You’re only using 2 tablespoons as flavoring and so it needs to be punchy. Bronwyn says the citric acid is optional, but I think it should be required. It adds some zing without any citrus flavor, which is ideal. It can often be found in the pickling/canning section of the grocery store, or ordered online.

Bronwyn is also serving as my guide (spiritual mentor?) as I attempt to develop a fruitcake recipe I am happy with. More on that later. You can find Bronwyn on Instagram here.

Raspberry Coffee Cake

In the 80’s, when I was a kid, my mom was worried that I would be abducted. Who can blame her, I was very cute. Just kidding, that probably isn’t what motivates abductors. Missing children were big news back then and the media helped fuel a general paranoia among parents. Local police stations ran programs where you could bring your kids in to be photographed and finger-printed so that if someone took us we’d be easier to find (I still have the mugshot-like photos, and the residual anxiety this process caused). Parents were also advised to come up with passwords that could be used in cases of emergency. They were imagining a situation where your parents were hospitalized (and presumably unconscious because otherwise why wouldn’t they just talk to you on the phone?) and someone else needed to pick you up at school. That person would be instructed to say the password so you knew it was safe to go with them. Even as a child this didn’t make sense to me. If my mom was unconscious, how would she give the password to someone? Why wouldn’t a family member just come get me or someone at school? But we came up with a password together and I was instructed to never tell it to anyone. It was: Raspberry Coffee Cake.


Lottie + Doof + Spilt Milk

When we moved to Oak Park seven years ago, it was not a town with a thriving restaurant scene. We have a bunch of restaurants that are fine, but I am never really excited to eat at any of them. It bummed me out. When someone visits from out of town, we almost always leave Oak Park to eat. Seven years later things are basically the same—this isn’t a redemption story—but there is one very important exception. Last autumn, sisters Meg and Molly Svec opened Spilt Milk Pastry, a tiny storefront bakery near the center of town, and just a couple of blocks from our house. read more+++

Spinning J

Spinning J, a bakery and cafe in Chicago’s beautiful Humboldt Park neighborhood, is located down the street from The Chicago High School for the Arts. At the beginning and end of the school day, Spinning J serves as 60622’s Peach Pit and is full of fresh-faced teens sharing pastries and milk shakes. I love these kids and I wish I had a place that cool to hang out in when I was in school. And they make me love Spinning J more, because they prove it to be a place that is comfortable and fun for the truly diverse group of patrons who walk through the door each day. Old curmudgeons like me, future stars of Disney musicals, millennials, neighbors, foodies—we all love Spinning J.


It is Happening Again

It would be impossible for me to overstate the importance of David’s Lynch’s iconic 90’s television series, Twin Peaks, in my life. Nothing has had a bigger impact on my aesthetic development—almost anything I am interested in I can find some seed of in Twin Peaks. I’m not alone, the show’s influence on my generation is evident in so much of our culture. When I heard the series was coming back for a third season (I’ll see you again in 25 years.”) I was absolutely on board. People seem worried that it will be bad or disappointing or whatever, but I can’t imagine it not satisfying the part of me that just wants to return to the town where “a yellow light still means slow down, not speed up”.  It is with great excitement and emotion that I await Sunday’s premiere.

Twin Peaks had a real point of view on food that recognized the beauty of American classics like diner pies, cups of black coffee, and police station donuts; but also acknowledged the deliciousness of a baguette sandwich from Paris. It was aware of how food could be creepy (creamed corn) or sexualized (that cherry stem!). Lynch clearly cared about food. So it is important to carefully consider what you are going to serve at your viewing party. I am partial to this delicious donut cake. Basically a butter cake that is scented with nutmeg, filled with jam, and then crusted with a cinnamon sugar mixture. Serve it a little warm and you’ll be really happy. The sugar coating has a generous amount of kosher salt in it and makes this cake exceptional. I used a blueberry and blackberry jam that the original recipe suggested (see link for that recipe) but cherry might be a more obvious choice. Although, the violence implied in a black and blue jam might satisfy Lynch. Your call.




I was both eager for, and dreading, the Sqirl cookbook (which is actually called: Everything I Want to Eat, Sqirl and the New California Cooking). The popular Los Angeles restaurant has become so beloved by both food-types and celebrity-types that it has become easy to hate. Until you eat there and kind of get it and kind of love it and wonder what it means about you. And Dave Franco is sitting next to you which is confusing and wonderful. I love Sqirl but never really wanted to discuss it with anyone; it is embarrassing, like trying to start a conversation about how great Beyoncé is—so obvious and overdone. (What can I say, I am a Gen-Xer, we were raised to dislike popular things). I had a lot of the same apprehension about the book.


But I guess what I am learning about Jessica Koslow, the chef and owner of Sqirl, is that she is good at stuff. She manages to capture everything I love and am a little frightened of about Sqirl in the cookbook (including Dave Franco). Even from the outside, you know that something different is happening here. The book jacket clearly references one of the most beautiful cookbooks ever published, Living and Eating by John Pawson and Annie Bell. Pawson is a minimalist architect who has a weird relationship with food and aesthetics (he doesn’t cook and maybe only wants to eat white things) but somehow food writer Annie Bell turns this into an amazingly weird and wonderful lifestyle book. We should talk more about that book another time, but I bring it up because if you’re going to reference another book—that is the one to reference. Living and Eating is what I always use as an example when I get into one of my “why can’t cookbooks be weirder and more beautiful” whining fits. Koslow answers my complaints before I even open the book. read more+++

Scalded and Malted Milk Cake


I made this cake twice. The first time I baked in a bundt pan and seriously fucked it up when trying to remove it from the pan. Pieces. Cursing. Why Does everything happen to me? LOL. It was mostly my fault,  I was lazy when preparing the pan. Luckily I was bringing it to by best friend who had just had her second son and wasn’t going to judge me, she was covered in spit-up. I threw the half I could salvage into a disposable lasagna pan and presented it as the glorious mess it was.

I made it again more recently for the same friend (she really likes malt, and I had something to prove) and this time baked it in a square muffin tin, making cute little individual cakes. I also made the glaze less of a glaze and more of a frosting. I liked it both ways. The cake is full of intense vanilla/malty flavors and feels just right for fall and cool weather and rainy days. It’s kind of my dream cake. It might be yours, too.

[Talk about voracious!]


Another Banana Bread


The last few weeks have been kind of juicy in the ole’ U.S. of A.. I’ve felt everything from shame and anger to pride and joy as an American. That is my usual range of emotions related to my citizenship, I guess it has just felt very concentrated. That coupled with summer, and a series of fun visitors, has kept me pretty distracted. When we’ve been home, we’ve eaten a lot of old favorites. I’ve made this eggplant spread a couple of times and still love it. I baked these cakes for the 4th of July and they were as good as ever.

I also tried another banana bread recipe. This one from the pages of Bon Appetit. I don’t actually read Bon Appetit anymore, I just use it for recipes—some sort of reverse Playboy thing is happening?  I do find myself wondering why magazines are making such a mess of themselves. The way to compete with the internet is not to make your magazine seem more like the internet—yet we’re being given lists and infographics and stupid celebrity stuff. But like I said, there are still some good recipes. This banana bread is from El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette in New York City and is a really special riff on everyone’s favorite quick bread that adds some sesame seeds and sesame paste to the mix.


Salted Caramel Pound Cake


Occasionally I come across Martha Stewart’s baking show on PBS. It is strange for many reasons, not the least of which are the lighting (there seem to be multiple suns in her world because the “natural” light coming in through windows is coming from all sorts of directions), and her pronunciation of the word pretty (priht-tea, with a strong emphasis on each syllable). The whole thing is mesmerizing. I would probably join a cult if Martha Stewart started one. Maybe I already have. read more+++