Homage to my Mother: Carrot Cake Birthdays

Like most people, the older I get (especially after having a kid), the more I appreciate my mom.  She is a list making perfectionist who is disciplined in all areas of her life.  These traits were probably very helpful since she stayed at home to raise 6 kids, and homeschooled every one of us at some point in our school years.  We always had a massive garden going, fruit trees and a handful of goats.  While my mom doesn’t really like to cook, season after season, produce was canned or frozen, excess goat’s milk made into cheese or ice cream and flour was milled to make fresh bread.  Granted, as soon as my sisters and I were old enough, we were drafted into many of these duties.  But I admire my mom’s diligence, weekly writing grocery lists and planning healthy meals for her large family.

My mom’s birthday is October 7th, and she has always asked for a carrot cake as her birthday cake.  Not one of those store-bought kind, full of white flour and sugar and topped with shortening-laden frosting.  The horrors!!  Although my dad occasionally brought home that variety, he (or eventually us kids) usually made her favorite type: full of whole wheat flour, honey, shredded veggies and walnuts.  My siblings and I had eyerolls aplenty that her birthday had to be celebrated with a healthy cake.  But over the years, I came to love the full-flavored depths the whole wheat flour and natural sweeteners lent to the cake.  Now, when I taste a store-bought carrot cake, it seems so lackluster.  And while I choked down my fair share of brewer’s yeast, wheat germ and steamed veggies during my childhood, I am beyond grateful that my mom taught us how to eat healthy.  No diets or crazy fads, just real seasonal food, prepared simply.

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Lime Pound Cake with Basil and Stone Fruit

Pound cake is a staple dessert in the south.  Growing up, it was rare to not see it gracing the table of every potluck, church function and summertime get-together I went to.  If you were lucky, it was homemade and accompanied by fresh fruit that had been tossed with sugar, which created a syrupy goodness to spoon over the pound cake.

Pound cake recipes first started appearing in 18th century American and English cookbooks.  The name referenced the fact that the cake often contained 1 pound each of flour, butter, eggs and sugar.  In an era where literacy was not common, this was an easy recipe to remember.  Early versions also sometimes contained alcohol and fruit, making them sound similar to fruitcakes.  Since modern leaveners and mixers were obviously not available, one had to rely on some sturdy arm muscles to whip air into the batter to create volume for the dense, rich cake.  Although recipes today widely vary, this buttery cake is an excellent dessert to have in one’s cooking repertoire.

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