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!]


Tamago-no-Shinzo Yaki

In Lucky Peach's All About Eggs, there's a photo of "Michael Anthony's Tamagoyaki." It looks so special: a rectangular, mid-century modern-ish spiral-layered omelet. I instantly wanted to make it.

When I actually read the recipe, I definitely did not want to make it. It required a special square pan as well as seemingly lots of practice and technique. I moved on. I don't speak a lick of Japanese, but the title of the next recipe sounded like a play on the previous one. I read the description and was one-hundred-percent on board to give it a try:

"My mother's tamagoyaki defied all tamagoyaki conventions. She didn't bother making the spirally layers. She didn't even own a square pan. She used a round 10-inch cast iron skillet to make a communal tamagoyaki. Hers was basically scrambled eggs packed together like an ugly pillow. She called it shinzo-yaki ('pan-fried heart), and sure enough, it looked like an organ... Every time I watched my mother make this tamagoyaki, it looked like a disaster. But she didn't seem worried. She was a brave cook."

It's written by Sonoko Sakai. I had never heard of her before but now consider myself a fan. I love the way she writes about her mother. And from her description, I love her mother too! (It looked like a disaster. But she didn't seem worried!)  She feels like an embodiment of what Tannaz and I were talking about re: women and mothers and their practical magic, in the kitchen and far beyond.

Indeed, this dish does come together quite magically. It also does look like disaster for most of the cooking time. But then eventually, it begins to shape into something. And then you flip it and see how the underneath has gotten all caramel-y and amazing.

I really, truly enjoyed making this. Sadly, Matt didn't love how it tasted. He thought it was too sweet. I thought as long as you paired it with some rice, vinegary greens, and vinegary hot sauce, it was quite delicious. In fact, since Matt didn't eat much of it, I ate the leftovers over the next couple of lunches (as I am a practicing practical woman), wrapping it alongside rice and avocado dressed in rice vinegar inside a sheet of nori, and I was very very happy.

I also wanted to quickly thank you all for your generous, kind comments on my last post. I feel semi-positive that if I didn't have a blog to voice that complaint, I may have slipped into a dark, dark place. So, thank the gods for the Internet, I guess? (I also feel the need to declare that I know Baked Ziti's real name and he/she is definitely not a young intern.)

Lastly, re: the first photo up there, Teddy's been learning all about the solar system, or as he would say it, "the saw-ler system." It's spurred so much conversation around here, like did you guys know the sun is eventually going to burn out and die? I didn't! Or else, if I did, I forgot. Speaking of dying, within two minutes of having picked him up at school, Teddy asked me: "When am I going to die?" I said that I didn't know but hopefully not for a really long time. He followed this up with: "And when I die, everyone dies?" Alkjdfljkafdaaflkakjfdljkafdladfljkafljkaflkjlkajfd.

On that note, I'm out of here. Enjoy this miraculous egg dish! xoxxo
Tamago-no-Shinzo Yaki by Sonoko Sakai via All About Eggs
makes 1 omelet (2 to 4 servings)

10 eggs
1 1/2 cups dashi (I actually made dashi for this! But am pretty sure substituting with chicken broth wouldn't be a heinous crime against humanity.)
1/2 cup sake
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 tbsp. sesame oil
1 cup grated daikon radish (optional)

Whisk the eggs, dashi, sake, sugar, soy sauce, and salt in a large bowl.

Heat the sesame oil in a well-seasoned cast iron or nonstick pan over medium heat. Pour the soupy egg mixture into the heated pan all at once and stir until the eggs split from the broth and start to coagulate. Using a spatula, start to push the cooked eggs to one side of the pan, packing the tamagoyaki so it holds together and scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure it is not sticking. When most of the egg has bound together in a heap at one side of the pan, after about 10 minutes, reduce the heat to low. Work the omelet into the middle of the pan, packing it into a wiggly oval. It will be very tender so treat it gently. Ladle the broth pooling in the skillet over the entire tamagoyaki while moving it around in the pan so it cooks evenly. Repeat until the tamgoyaki absorbs all the broth, about 15 minutes. (This is Amelia: try not to stray too far from the stovetop here and don't rush!)

When there is only syrupy dashi left in the skillet, and the bottom of the omelet is caramel colored, carefully flip the tamagoyaki and caramelize the other side, about 5 minutes.

Carefully transfer the tamagoyaki to a cutting board. Let it cool slightly, then cut it into square or rectangular pieces and serve it with grated daikon radish, if desired.


EatingWell Magazine: Putting the FREE in Freelance

I want to tell you a quick story in screen grabs. Ready? OK.

It all started on a Friday. Out of the blue, an editor at EatingWell magazine contacted me. To protect the guilty, I'm gonna call the editor Baked Ziti. Here's what Baked Ziti wrote:

[Update: Before posting this story, I briefly spoke with a lawyer who advised me to quote Baked Ziti's emails instead of using screenshots. "Fine!" I said. So, actually, it'll be a story in 50% screenshots of my emails and 50% quoted emails.]

"Hi Amelia,

I edit a new humor column at the magazine and wanted to reach out to see if you’d be interested in writing for us. It’s an essay (around 700 words) and it can be on any subject you like as long as it has something to do with food/cooking. Thought this was right up your alley. Happy to give you more details.

Baked Ziti"

I'm so used to pitching magazines and not getting responses that this email from an editor actually seeking me out(!) instead of vice versa seemed almost too good to be true. I think you can see my skepticism in my reply:

I am very used to people expecting creative work for free. And in fact, like an idiot, I've given my work for free before to places like Food52--for, you know, exposure! (Sidebar: people make exposure sound like some crazy reward when really, they can give you exposure and also pay you!) My point is that I am very careful to ask: How much does it pay? Baked Ziti responds:

"Hi Amelia,

It does. Generally around $1000. If you’re interested we could hop on a call to talk through possible ideas."

I write back:

To briefly sum up the next few emails: Baked Ziti is on the east coast. Baked Ziti throws out a time to talk that would be 8am my time. We land on 8:30am, after explaining that I've got to get my 1 1/2 year old and 3 1/2 year old out the door. And even still, getting back home by 8:30am is a hustle, but whatever. I'm freeeeeelancing! Weeeee! Let's ride this snake!

So, Baked Ziti and I talk about potential ideas on Friday. It's a nice chat. Baked Ziti tells me to write a few sentences down and send the ideas back, when they're ready, via email. I work on the ideas for much of Saturday while Matt cares for the kids. To be honest, I'm really excited about this opportunity. Not only do I need the money, but it really does sound like a perfect assignment. 

Late on Sunday, I send off my ideas. (NOTE: In my experience, the editor will either be on board with the pitch, in which case you've got the job and you will then come to an agreement on terms/payment or they're not, in which case you don't have the job and buh-byyee!!)
Baked Ziti replies with: 

"Hi Amelia,

I like the first idea of the challenges of working and getting a decent meal on the table--especially for someone who loves to cook. With new writers, we usually do these pieces on spec, if you're down. I'm attaching a couple of the other columns I was telling you about, as an FYI.


In the moment, I am definitely a bit deflated. If you are a writer or creative person, you will know all about doing things "on spec." Basically, it means that the company/person/entity wants you to do all the work for free and then if they publish it, they will pay you for it. I'm also slightly bothered by Baked Ziti's classification of me as a "new" writer. I mean... I do have a book and I've been writing this blog and publishing essays specifically in this food/lifestyle space for almost a decade! That's why Baked Ziti reached out to me, right? Because of my experience as a food/humor writer? 

As you can see below, I immediately forward this email to Matt and we have a nice little back and forth about how lame "spec" work is and how Baked Ziti should've really mentioned this in the beginning, back when I asked about payment instead of just dangling $1000 in front of me like it was nothing. After all, it would have been pretty easy to do, right?

That being said, I've essentially written the piece already. I like it and feel like I can get the job. I write Ziti back:

Baked Ziti writes back right away:


I didn't want to spend too much more time on it, knowing how editors are always editing. So, in two days, I write back with this:

Baked Ziti doesn't get back to me to say they received it or anything. So, in a few days, I follow up, mentioning that I wanted to check in before leaving town for a few days. Baked Ziti says they forwarded it to their editor and to check back with them when I return. 

But then, before I even return, I get an email from Baked Ziti. It says: 

"Hi Amelia,

Hope you had a good getaway! I love the topic of this piece—the idea of loving to cook and having no time to do it and screw all those people claiming you can throw together a great “dinner with ease.” The realness and honestness of that is really appealing to me. But I feel like it would be stronger and funnier in first-person form. I totally get why you spun it this way, I just crave hearing your voice saying all this stuff. Make sense?


This response, in my opinion, is borderline infuriating. Not that the editor is giving me notes. I always expect notes. What's so frustrating is that BZ is treating me like their hired hack without hiring me, and asking for more work without mentioning whether or not I got the job. As if I haven't already spent a decent amount of time on this job. To me, this is unacceptable. I gather up my tiny amount of self-respect and kindly write back:
Baked Ziti doesn't write back.

Three days later, I follow up. Baked Ziti still doesn't write back. 

I actually considered following up again, but what was left of my small, mostly-broken ego held me back. (Also, Matt told me not to.) (Thank you, Matt!)

We had exchanged multiple emails, a call, and the work of writing a column all in one week's time. Now there's been radio silence for two straight weeks. I think it's pretty safe to say I've been ghosted.

Here are a few scenarios in which I would not have gone to the trouble to write this blog post. 

1. The editor had written me back, saying something like: "Sorry! We just aren't gonna pay you until we are 100% sure we are going to publish the piece." 

2. The editor had written me back, saying something like, "Hey, Amelia. Thanks so much for your time and work on this. Unfortunately, we don't see ourselves running this piece. It's a pass. All the best!"

3. Baked Ziti had written me back, saying "Hey, Amelia. Sounds fair! After all, we came to you. You did a lot of work. And now we want you to do more work on the piece. Seems only right. Let's come to some agreement re: payment. I sure did tell you the job pays $1,000, when you asked after all! Oh, and by the way, thanks for clearly communicating with me like that. People generally don't ask if the job pays, they just cross their fingers that we treat them fairly! LOL."

3. The editor had written me back. 

4. If they wrote me back.

NOTE #1: Me being (overly?) sensitive and thoughtful, I Googled this editor's name to make sure that they hadn't died before posting this. After all, Baked Ziti reached out to me initially and had always been semi-quick to respond to my emails. Maybe Baked Ziti had died, part of me worried.

NOTE #2: I'm well aware that this is a minor (and super common) injustice in the grand scheme of things. (Puerto Rico, the history of women being sexual assaulted in this country, and specifically within USA Gymnastics, just to name two that I can't stop thinking about.) And as I said above, if Baked Ziti had just written me back, I would never have posted this. 

To me, this total lack of response is an example of something sick in our culture that causes problems far more serious and complicated than the one I am sharing--the ease with which we are able to dismiss one another. 

OK, friends. That's my story. EatingWell can certainly suck it.