I miss cooking.
Most mornings, in the hurry-scurry to get to work, a bowl of cereal and granola is all anyone wants, and evenings are reserved for leftovers or silly suppers — because workers at the jobsite get a big Puerto Rican noonday meal, my family often isn’t hungering after a big dinner. When I do cook, it’s often for our family plus volunteers, so I keep it simple: spaghetti, roasted veggies and sausages, taco salad. It’s kind of boring.
Plus, there’s the heat to consider, though I’ve been doing my best to ignore it. When running the oven sends the kitchen temps soaring into the low 90s, denial is the best coping mechanism, I figure. But the sweltering heat does sap my cooking mojo. Even though I miss cooking, I just don’t have much desire to do it.
A couple nights back, all the facebook fussing got to me. Something about some sort of heatwave, I think. If everyone could go on and on about humidity and their desperate need for ice cream in a week-long (haha!) heatwave, then maybe it would be okay for me to throw in the towel for a night? It’d be ice cream, and frosty cold stuff, all night long, I decided.
First, I ran to the store for a box of popsicles for the worker people (and ate a coconut one). Back home, I made several blenderfuls of pina coladas, and we drank ourselves into ice cream headache stupors. Then I ran to the store for ice cream and returned home to eat my nutty buddy, mini ice cream sandwich, and mango popsicle on the hammock. (I couldn’t finish the popsicle, though — faintly reminiscent of a soggy creek bottom, and too sweet.) For a bedtime snack I had a peanut butter apple.
And wouldn’t you know, I slept soooo good that night. For the first time since we’ve been here, I didn’t even wake up when the garbage trucks did their slow, early morning roar up and down our streets!
I tell you all this so that you might understand the enormity of the fact that 1) I experimented with a recipe for fresh strawberry cake, and 2) it was so good that I was compelled to blogify (like verify, but with a blog) it. After two months of not-hardly cooking, this is big stuff. Very big stuff.
The strawberries were from Sam’s Club — the big fake kind that come in a plastic box. I’ve never purchased this kind of strawberry before (not that I can remember, at least), and I felt almost guilty, like I was committing a crime. But in the middle of a strawberry field-less city, hundreds of miles from my garden patch back home, there was no other option. And wonders of wonders, the strawberries actually tasted like strawberries — they were good!
I promptly started buying a box (or two) of strawberries nearly every time I went to Sam’s. We sliced and sugared them to eat with our granola. I made a strawberry shortcake to celebrate Kenton’s final week of work — the shortcake biscuits were anemic but no one seemed to mind. And then I spied an old recipe on Smitten Kitchen for a strawberry cake.
For years my mother has lectured me about the inferiority of baked strawberries. Strawberries, she insisted, were best, always and forever, uncooked: in pie, as jam, mashed with sugar and drizzled on ice cream, in ice cream, etc. If they must be baked, then they should be combined with something tart, like rhubarb or sour cherries — baked strawberries on their own were insipid and slimy.
But then I made this cake because Deb (and a bunch of other people) said it was wonderful. And it was! In the hot oven, the strawberries got all soft and jammy, and the flavor intensified. Some of the juices sank down through the buttery cake batter, turning the very bottom, in places, all caramelly and gooey. We ate our strawberry cake just as Deb recommended — with whipped cream — and it was perfect.
Fresh Strawberry Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
6 tablespoons butter
1½ cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound strawberries, topped and sliced in half
Cream together the butter and the one cup of sugar. Add the egg and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and blend lightly, and then add the milk and mix well. Pour the batter into a greased 9-inch springform pan. (A double batch fit nicely in a 9×13 pan.) Arrange the strawberries on top, cut-side down. Sprinkle with the remaining two tablespoons of sugar.
Bake the cake at 350 degree for 45 minutes or so. (Deb says to reduce the temp to 325 degrees after 10 minutes, but I don’t think that’s really necessary.) Cool to room temperature and serve with whipped cream.
This same time, years previous: reflections from Kansas City, the quotidian (7.7.14), the quotidian (7.8.13), grilled flatbread, red raspberry lemon bars.
This cake has somewhat of a cult following in one of my cooking groups. So glad you finally tried it.
Well, I would have been with your mom about uncooked strawberries, but I also trust Deb and you. . . sooooo. . . unfortunately, strawberry season has passed and it was a short one, too.
I have always been fascinated by what food tastes best in the heat – what people want to eat, what feels possible to cook/make. I even devoted a category to it on my blog. Ben was asking for clam chowder the other day and I wouldn't even consider it – a hot soup in summer?! He says it cools you down, like the Indians say hot chai cools you down in heat, but I can't force myself to sweat like that to cool down. *shudder*