Chocolate (Strep) Cake with Raspberry Buttercream | Matt's Birthday

Did you know that small children can be "carriers" of strep throat but not show any visible symptoms? Did you know that Matt is a very open person who shares water glasses with the kids and is ready to receive slobbery kisses on the mouth from them at a moment's notice? This is all true and it's also the perfect storm to get strep throat three times in the span of five months. After Matt got it the second time, my mom mentioned the whole "they could be carriers" thing. I took the kids to the pediatricians and found out that yes, they both "had" strep. Point being, when it came time to decorate this cake (in the style of Wolfie of course) those cherry Ricolas felt juuuuuust right in celebrating Matt's year. (The plastic bug thing was Teddy's idea.)
As is the family tradition, when it's your birthday you get to pick what kind of cake you want made for you by me. Matt is typically a vanilla cake and vanilla buttercream kind of guy, but because Teddy's chocolate birthday cake was so delicious, he decided to go for this chocolate/raspberry combo. I used two different recipes: the cake is Lori's Chocolate Midnight Cake via Samin Nosrat. And the icing is from Yossy Arefi's Sweeter Off the Vine.
Isaac wasn't thrilled about the idea of waiting to eat the cake.
I don't think I've ever a made a buttercream the way this recipe instructed me to do it: you whip egg whites and sugar together in a heatproof bowl over simmering water until the sugar is completey dissolved and the mixture syrupy. Then, you whisk it, via an electric mixer, for 7 to 10 minutes, until it's super glossy and can form stiff peaks. Then, once it's at room temperature, you switch to the paddle attachment and add two whole cups of butter, one tablespoon at a time. (Teddy helped me at this stage, plopping each tablespoon in with his buttery fingers.)
The result is superb. It doesn't have that shocking sweetness of frosting made with powdered sugar. And when you get a bite of cake, fresh berry, and buttercream, it tastes like a richly flavored, multi-textured trifle. I like it a lot.  

For those of you who have tuned into Mom Rage, thank you so much! (We fixed an audio glitch so along with some great interviews with fellow parents, in two or three more weeks, you can look forward to some super clean, crisp audio too.)
In short, happy birthday, Matt! May this year bring you joy aaaaaannd far less strep! xoxxo

For chocolate cake recipe, go here:
Raspberry Buttercream via Yossy Arefi's Sweeter Off the Vine

8 ounces (225 grams) raspberries + another 8 ounces for the top of the cake
5 large egg whites
1 1/4 cup (250g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
2 cups (450g) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into tablespoon-size pieces

Use an immersion blender or potato masher to puree the raspberries, then pass the puree through a fine mesh sieve. Discard the seeds (or feed them to a four-year-old kid who is helping you).

In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large heat-safe bowl, whisk the egg whites and sugar together. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, ensuring that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water, but rests just above it. Cook the egg whites and sugar, whisking often, until the sugar dissolves and the egg whites are syrupy and very hot to the touch. 

Remove the egg whites from the double boiler and, with the whisk attachment, whip on high speed until stiff glossy peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the salt. Switch to the paddle attachment and turn the mixer down to medium low. Slowly add the butter to the meringue, tablespoon by tablespoon. During this step, it is likely that the frosting will "break," and you will think you have messed up. You didn't! All you have to do is turn up the speed on the mixer for a few seconds and the buttercream will come back together.

After all the butter has been incorporated and the buttercream is smooth and fluffy, very slowly stream in the raspberry puree and mix until well combined. 


Hot Dog Rice Bowl + Mom Rage!

I wanted to make something special for you to officially announce the launch of my brand new podcast: Mom Rage. I was thinking about something akin to a Mom Rage Pie or Mom Rage brownies. I dunno. It didn't happen! What you get instead is the above Hot Dog Rice Bowl™. It's kind of an LOL, but also pretty delicious. It's a version of a typical weekday meal for us. Instead of hot dogs, I usually serve it with roasted garbanzo beans and a fried egg or two. If we're going to add hot dogs, I prefer the turkey variety, but alas, they were out of those at the grocery store, so what you see here is a mix of chicken and all-beef hot dogs atop basmati rice with a delicious salad (Kenter Canyon Farms winter greens, cucumbers, goat cheese, and a lemon juice and olive oil dressing). We always serve this kind of bowl with whole-milk yogurt and chili-garlic sauce. Bon appétit, guys! (Looking very forward to this post kicking off a major hot-dog rice bowl trend. You saw it here first!) 

OK, and now introducing: Mom Rage

I hope you'll listen. It's a passion project for me and my friend and co-host, Edan Lepucki. Our goal is to expand the conversation about motherhood. We're approaching this by talking honestly about our own lives as well as talking to other parents. In my more ambitious moments, I like to think about it as a podcast version of Stud Terkel's Working. I've also taken to riffing on a line from Women who Run with the Wolves. The line is: "Every woman is entitled to an Allelujia Chorus." And what I've been saying to Matt is: "Every woman is entitled to an interview on Mom Rage!" 

Here are the first two episodes! You can listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Please also note that the fanastic theme song is by Matt, Teddy, and Isaac.

Let's rage!


Thai Rice Soup (Khao Tom)

Guys! It's been so long. I know. I'm sorry. But I got so much done in the interim. In fact, making this soup and timing it with Matt's availability to photograph it on a weekend reminded me of how much effort it takes to bon appétempt. First, you have to find a new recipe (you have to make time to browse cookbooks and magazines). You have to seek out ingredients you usually don't buy (lemon grass, white pepper). You have to make the recipe (chop five shallots and slice eight cloves of garlic, ETC.), and then you must enjoy the recipe (someone has to convince Isaac to go watch Shaun the Sheep). But, I'm glad we did it. It was delicious and refreshing, especially for Matt whose been suffering from whatever kind of cold the kids had this past week (or three). I don't know if we'll make this exact soup again, though definitely a variation thereof. The meatballs came together so quickly and would be so good in a simple broth with some rice added to it.  

Speaking of broth, we may not have had the energy/bandwidth to try and document new recipes, but Matt has been making chicken stock on Sundays about twice a month with the carcass of a roasted chicken (plus veggies, herbs, and a bag of fresh chicken backs in a deal he's worked out with the egg guy from the Atwater farmers' market?). It's been quite special and also very Ina Garten of me to always have a freezer full of homemade chicken stock. 
When recipes call for white pepper, I usually use black anyway, but the meatballs in the Milk Street photo of this recipe looked so pale and white that I decided to get some. It was also a good opportunity to use my mortar and pestle. In the words of Patience Gray: “Pounding fragrant things—particularly garlic, basil, parsley—is a tremendous antidote to depression.” TRUTH.

OK, so what have I been up to, apart from chopping all these shallots? So much! 

1. I turned in a revised, respectable 307-page draft of my novel to my agent. I've hardly shared it with anyone. I have no idea what my agent will think/say. It kind of boggles my mind in a way, that I wrote another book without anyone asking me to / sans paycheck, and yet at the same time it makes perfect sense. Whether or not this book gets published, I needed to write it. I did write it. So there.

2. I'm starting a podcast with my friend Edan Lepucki. It's called Mom Rage. I hope you'll listen to it! We're aiming to air the first two episodes in mid-May. To read more about it, please go to our website. OR follow us on Instagram or Twitter

3. Yoga and gymnastics. Yoga and gymnastics are basically the new Bon Appétempt. When I started this blog, it felt so necessary and vital for me. Right now, yoga and gymnastics (i.e. feeling strong in my body) are the vital things. Maybe it's a mid-life crisis? Maybe it's not being pregnant or breastfeeding? Maybe it's just incredibly fun?
Thai Rice Soup (Khao Tom) slightly adapted from Milk Street
serves 4

8 ounces ground pork [next time I'll get closer to a pound b/c those meatballs were goooooood.]
3 tablespoons fish sauce, divided, plus extra to serve
2 tablespoons chili-garlic sauce, divided 
kosher salt and ground white pepper
3 tablespoons lard or coconut oil (or some sort of neutral oil)
5 large shallots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/2 a head of green cabbage, chopped (optional) [We had leftover cabbage in the fridge.]
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 lemon grass stalks, trimmed to bottom 6 inches, dry outer leaves removed, lightly bruised
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 1/2 quarts chicken broth (homemade, if you have a partner who makes some as his Sunday passion project)
4 cups cooked, chilled jasmine rice [Whenever I make rice now, I make a ton. We always eat it somehow. Usually via kimchi fried rice.] 
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons lime juice plus lime wedges, to serve
soft-boiled eggs, peeled and halved, to serve

In a medium bowl, mix the pork, 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of the chili-garlic sauce and 3/4 teaspoon white pepper. Form into 20 small meatballs. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat the lard until shimmering. Add the hard-fought sliced shallots and cabbage (if using) and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened or maybe even browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the lemon grass and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broth and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Reduce to medium and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove and discard the lemon grass. Add the meatballs, stir gently and simmer until the meatballs are just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Off heat, stir in the remaining two tablespoons fish sauce, remaining 1 tablespoon chili-garlic sauce, 1 teaspoon white pepper, the cilantro and lime juice. Ladle into bowls and serve with egg halves, chili-garlic sauce and lime wedges. 


Cake & Carnitas | Teddy & Isaac

Just a quick post to share these great photos Matt took from Teddy's birthday party this past weekend. Teddy wanted a chocolate cake. I prefer a vanilla birthday cake, so I wasn't too excited. I'd already decided I was going to make carnitas for the parents at the party (and the kids if they wanted, but uhm, they didn't) and was using the recipe from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. While flipping through the book, I saw Nosrat's recipe titled "Lori's Chocolate Midnight Cake." It was the way Nosrat described it that sold it to me: like one of those 90s-style, super moist, cake-mix cakes that she grew up on. I, too, grew up on those cakes and I gotta say, this chocolate cake is so so so nostalgic but also so so so good. I really feel like I found my chocolate cake recipe for LIFE. I paired it with a standard cream-cheese frosting, though one I added a nice amount of orange zest to, and the combination was truly A+. 
Please note Teddy's red, sweaty, post-trampoline-session face 
I also, of course, wanted to share THIS:

I wish I had more time to comment/write about other things, but right now my free time is going into my next book. I'm currently really close to finishing a draft and need to keep my head down and plow forward. In the mean time, go ahead and take your lizard for a ride (this is a reference to something that happens in above video).

Lori's Chocolate Midnight Cake via Samin Nosrat's Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
1/2 cup (2 ounces) Dutch-process cocoa powder, preferably Valrhona
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 3/4 cups (9 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup neutral-tasting oil
1 1/2 cups boiling water or freshly brewed strong coffee
2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly whisked

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Set a rack in the upper third of the oven.

Grease two 8-inch cake pans, then line with parchment paper. Grease and sprinkle generously with flour, tap out the excess, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa, sugar, salt, flour, and baking soda, then sift into a large bowl.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually whisk in the water-oil mixture until incorporated. Gradually whisk in the eggs and stir until smooth. The batter will be thin.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Drop the pan onto the counter from a height of 3 inches a couple of times to release any air bubbles that may have formed.

Bake in the upper third of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cakes spring back from the touch and just pull away from the edges of the pan. An inserted toothpick should come out clean.

Cool the cakes completely on a wire rack before unmolding them from the pan and peeling off the parchment paper. To serve, place one layer down on a cake plate. Spread 1 cup frosting of your choice (Whipped cream with a bit of sugar and vanilla extract is Nosrat's recommendation.) in the center of the cake and gently place the second layer atop it. Spread the remaining frosting or whipped cream on top.

Tightly wrapped, this cake will keep for 4 days at room temperature, or for 2 months in the freezer.


Let Me Guide You!*

*I don't know where I'm going.
What a year, guys! How have you coped? 

For me, it’s largely been books, yoga, gymnastics, and Matt being the kind of person who is open (excited even?) to watching the kids while I do these things.

If you read the blog, you know (too well?) that my mother and I don’t agree on much politically (or otherwise!). At the beginning of this year, looking for solace and solidarity, I reread Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? After this, I also reread Fun Home. Bechdel references Carl Jung a whole lot, and so one day, at the used book store, I picked up a copy of his juicily titled Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. The book has been reprinted many times, and so it came with five different prefaces by Jung to the five different editions. The preface to the second edition included the following, which has stuck with me and feels to sum up what my year has been like. Here, Jung is writing about his initial surprise that his dense book on the human psyche was as popular as it was. He conjectures that: “This interest may be due in no small measure to the profound shock with which our consciousness sustained through the World War.” (He wrote this at the end of 1918.) He goes on:

“The spectacle of this catastrophe threw man back upon himself by making him feel his complete impotence; it turned his gaze inwards, and with everything rocking about him, he must seek something that guarantees him a hold. Too many still look outwards, some believing in the illusion of victory and of victorious power, others in treaties and laws, and others again in the overthrow of the existing order. But still too few look inwards, to their own selves, and still fewer ask themselves whether the ends of human society might not best be served if each man tried to abolish the old order in himself, and to practice in his own person and in his own inward state those precepts, those victories which he preaches at every street-corner, instead of always expecting these things of his fellow men.”

I haven’t been through a war, but still, this idea made sense to me. That perhaps instead of shouting at my mother all the ways in which she was dead wrong, I could instead try and make sense of the world as it was, that I could try and embrace the chaos and pain and, you know, look inward. I believe this is colloquially referred to as starting with the man in the mirror?

In other words: cue the confetti and welcome to my gift guide!

[We’ll start at the top, go from left to right, down to the next row and so on.]

1. My Favorite Thing is Monsters. My introduction to this book came via a Fresh Air interview with the author. It was a haunting interview that stuck with me. Ferris almost died from the West Nile virus, but she didn’t. While almost dying, however, she had some crazy visions and hallucinations. You should listen to the interview. In short, the virus/tragic experience led her to write this incredible and incredibly amibitious book. It’s a graphic novel and if you’ve never read one before, this could be a great one to start with. It’s spooky, strange, magical, and heartbreaking. It’s also only Volume I. So looking forward to the next one.

2. Talking to My Body. This is some powerful, plainspoken poetry. I don’t have a strong urge to get a tattoo, but if I did, it might be a line from her poem, “Goddess of Matriarchy.” The problem is, which ones? Maybe: “Your bones are made of wealth, your meat of happiness.” But I couldn’t leave out the whole “legs thick as power” part, nor the lines, “And you will open your mouth / walled shut for a million years.”

3. Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything. Speaking of opening one’s mouth, after having been walled shut for a million years… You’ve probably seen a headline about how the team doctor for USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar, had been molesting women and girl athletes since at least 1998. Two women athletes, completely separate of one another, one from the 2000 Olympic team, initially came forward late in 2016, and now more than 100 women have come forward. Nassar has also since pled guilty on two separate charges—one for possession of child pornography and another for molestation.

How could this happen and go on for so long? Well, in a book that is admittedly written for teens and largely about Raisman’s Olympic success, Raisman also clearly lays out the many ways in which USA Gymnastics fostered a fearful, old-fashioned environment in which young women were not encouraged and certainly not rewarded for speaking up about much of anything. (Spoiler: Raisman recounts a story of a time she got totally shamed by a USAG staff member for eating a piece of pizza in Italy after a successful gymnastics meet!)

Of course, it’s also worth noting that many athletes throughout the years, both within USA Gymnastics and at Michigan State University where Nassar was a faculty member, did speak up about Nassar’s god-awful treatments, but they were ultimately either shushed, told not to worry about it, and/or convinced that if something were wrong with his treatments, surely he wouldn’t be allowed to continue doing them.

4. Taking a long hard look at American culture and yourself isn’t always fun. I recommend lots of baths and anything made by Kings Road Apothecary!

5. Jumpsuit by Nico Nico. I’m not sure where this jumpsuit fits in relation to my journey inward. It sure would be nice to wear though.

6. Life's a Witch. The world of bumper stickers is vast and daunting. Alas, I finally found one for me!

7. 2 Possessed Shirt. Keeping with the witch theme, this shirt makes me laugh. Someone please buy it for me.

8. Mrs. Dalloway. Tim Mazurek highly recommended this classic, which I hadn’t actually read in its entirety before. I owe him one because it’s one of those special, slim books where each sentence feels so important, so insightful, and then all of a sudden, you’re actually invested in the story too. I one-hundred-percent wanted to know: what was going to happen at Clarissa’s party?!

9. Cards by Gold Teeth Brooklyn make saying "thank you" a breeze.

10. You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin. I read this at the beginning of the year, chosen because I’ve always loved Rilke’s work, and am now realizing how it set the tone for my year’s reading journey. Yes, it’s a book about these men who loom large in their respective artistic fields, but truly what I got out of this book was how flawed they both were as humans—prioritizing art and work above all else, which is only actually possible if your wives/partners are grocery-shopping and raising your children. Rodin, I learned, was an often-cruel womanizer (as opposed to a fun-loving one like Hugh Grant's character in Bridget Jones's Diary?) while Rilke came off as so sensitive, so fragile and impractical that it left me almost laughing imagining how he would fare at the barely-recognized art of small talk with fellow parents at children's birthday parties. It also made me think about the always-timely debate on whether or not we can (or should? or must?) separate the artist from the person. Relatedly, originally I had Jim Harrison’s essay collection A Really Big Lunch on this list, but I pulled it because his constant references to women as sex objects suddenly really started to grate.

11. Honey From a Weed. I feel truly lucky to have discovered Patience Gray and this remarkably readable cookbook originally published in 1986. Her point of view on cooking is everything I’ve ever wanted in print. A few examples: “Once we lose touch with the spendthrift aspect of nature’s provisions epitomized in the raising of a crop, we are in danger of losing touch with life itself. When Providence supplies the means, the preparation and sharing of food takes on a sacred aspect.”

I could quote her all day. Here’s one more: “The merit lies not in the possession of the object but in putting it to use. Equally, cooking is not to be regarded as a display of virtuosity, it is far more vital than that.”

12. Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines. This beautiful children’s book brought me to tears and also really made me want to visit the Vietnam Veterans memorial, something that I knew about but never actually considered making a pilgrimage to see. I can’t wait to drag my whole family there!

[Including a quick link to last year's gift guide as none of the items were remotely timely!]