25 May 2009

Soba Noodles with Eggplant, Garlic, Chilis, and Walnuts

I have a little bit more of an appetite these days. I haven't cooked much, unless toast counts, but my kitchen is somewhat more appealing these days. I've started slowly going through mom's things at the house- old boxes of photographs, telegrams, and correspondances. My mom was the one in the family who saved everything- eighteenth century family photos, my grandfather's manuscripts, two whole shoeboxes full of letters my grandmother wrote her while in college. Dance cards filled out with names of boys, most now forgotten, buttons from every presidential election since 1956. Her divorce papers. Every award, paper, or gold star I ever received in school.

It's exhausting, going through everything. It's all I do- work, clean out the house, deal with bills and debts and credits. All the work, however, does stir up an appetite. I've been trying to empty out some things in the pantry, since I've essentially inherited my mother's pantry as well. Soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles) are great because they cook in minutes and are more nutritious than plain old pasta. Combined with eggplant, chilies, garlic, and walnuts, and drizzled with sesame oil, it's the only thing I've cooked in weeks.

Soba Noodles with Eggplant, Garlic, Chilis, and Walnuts

8 oz soba noodles
peanut or grapeseed oil
2 cups of cubed eggplant
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 - 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes or chili flakes (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
sesame oil, to taste
thinly sliced red cabbage, optional (I like the extra crunch)

1. Set a pot of water to boil.
2. Heat a generous splash of grapeseed oil in a skillet. Add the eggplant and garlic and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the eggplant is completely tender. Add the walnuts, pepper flakes, and salt and cook a few minutes more, until the walnuts are lightly toasted.
3. Meanwhile, cook the soba noodles according to package directions (about 6-8 minutes). Transfer the noodles with tongs to the pan with the eggplant and add the cabbage if using. Toss everything together to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle with sesame oil. Serve immediately.

14 May 2009


My mom passed away on the morning of 12 May 2009. She was visiting her sister in Tennessee when she just closed her eyes and was gone. They said there was no pain, that she was peaceful. That is supposed to make you feel better, but really, it's not much of a consolation.

I was not ready. I thought I had more time, another year maybe. I wish so much that I could have been there to hold her hand. I wanted to do that. I thought I had more time, I thought I could keep working and living my life and now I regret every meal out that I should have eaten with her, every time I didn't visit when I could have. My mother did everything for me and the least I could have done was to curl up in bed and hold her hand when she died.

When you are 25, you do not expect to sit in a room and have a man ask you which urn you would like for her remains. You do not expect to inherit a house and a dog and a canoe, you do not expect to feel so terribly, terribly lonely.

When someone is gone, you have a hard time figuring out where to put them. I know my mom is no longer here physically, I saw her body so cold and still laying on the table. But it's almost like a game of Where's Waldo, she's not at her house, and she's not at the room at Margaret's where she stayed these last months of her illness, and there are her sneakers on the floor, and her wheelchair in the corner of my aunt's house, and her perfume in the bathroom. So finally I decided she's on Monhegan Island, our favorite summer retreat, hiking on the trail just up ahead of me. I can see her climbing the rough stone cliff and at the summit, turning and waving and disappearing into the woods. And that's where she'll be always, on the trail, just ahead of me.

09 May 2009

Hot Pink Raspberry Cake

I saw this awesome hot pink cake and immediately planned to make it this weekend. I should point out that this never happens- recipes often sit in my cue for months, dare I admit years, before I get around to making them. But somehow this big puffy pink raspberry cake wanted to be made. Mother's day is tomorrow, and we've got spring flowers finally coming up everywhere, and I don't really need and excuse to bake a cake.

The cake calls for a packet of raspberry jello, and I'm sure purists could find a natural substitute for this, but I'm not that scared of gelatin although I only used half the package to keep it from being too sweet. You might try adding some of the liquid from defrosted raspberries to the cake in place of some of the milk for a more "natural" raspberry element. But the best thing about this cake, the this-is-going-into-the-recipe-files part, is the raspberry buttercream. Just three simple ingredients (butter, sugar, raspberries) the work perfectly together. The raspberries make it perfectly pink and add tartness and crunch to what would otherwise be a cloying frosting. I imagine it would go perfectly on your favorite chocolate cake recipe.

Then again, if hot pink isn't really your thing, there's always this blue cake for a more boyish note. What can I say, I think I have a problem with colorful cakes.

Hot Pink Raspberry Cake
Makes 2 9" round layers. Adapted from Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1/2 a red raspberry Jell-O packet, (this would be 1.5 oz, I just eye balled the half packet but you could measure)
1/2 cup raspberry jam, for between the layers

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease two 9" round cake pans with butter or baking spray. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and half-packet jello in a bowl.
2. Cream the softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs until combined. Add half the flour mixture stirring to combine, then add the milk, then the remaining flour mixture. Beat everything together for about 3 minutes until well combined.
3. Immediately pour into the prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the tops spring back slightly when pressed.
Let cool on wire racks for at least 15 minutes, then flip each pan over onto the rack and tap gently all over. Lift the pan slightly. If the cake doesn't feel like it's falling out smoothly, lay a slightly damp kitchen towel over the pan and tap again. If necessary, let the cakes cool more. If they have been baked thoroughly, however, they should fall right out of the pans once they've cooled a little and the sides of the cake have shrunk back from the pan.
Cool completely before frosting, otherwise the frosting will melt everywhere.

Hot Pink Raspberry Icing
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted!
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
5 ounces raspberries, thawed if frozen

1. Beat the butter with an electric mixer until soft, then radually dd the powdered sugar until it is encorporated. Add the raspberries and mix well. Spread on cooled cake.