In January 2018, I made a career pivot (my day job had been in real estate development) and enrolled at Parsons School of Design to study Interior Design. It’s fair to say I didn’t know what I was in for. Due to an accelerated course of study, the learning curve was vertiginously steep. Also–ridiculously, this isn’t open heart surgery–I basically haven’t taken a weekend off in a year and a half. But also: in a tidy span, I’ve learned a so, so much, and fallen for a new, compelling, creative medium to throw myself into professionally.
I elected to skip summer classes in favor of work this summer, which means that weekends are back. Happily, this coincides with the market’s return to life. Cooking again, for the pleasure of the act, for others, has helped me return to myself, in a way that I’d lost for a while.
Opening my blog dashboard for the first time in a very long time, I found this little essay I wrote last year, after mid-summer classes: I’m including it–it speaks to my mindset over the last year and a half. School has made me feel at turns completely under water, but also excited for what is to come.
I have six weeks off from school. I thought I’d spend it catching up on emails, taking care of what was necessary to put down across the six months I was an insane work monster. Surprise! This hasn’t transpired. I’ve been largely unproductive, an unremarkable fact to everyone except me.
The one thing that’s slinked back in is the desire, and energy, to cook again. I started slowly, like a skittish cat.
I’ve stewed many, many ratatouille riffs, some amalgam of saucy tomatoes with: onion and garlic and scapes, corn, olive oily-eggplant, zucchini, and burst cherry tomatoes. There have been young potatoes, boiled in very salty water, slicked with salty butter, green with every chopped fresh herb. It’s also been the summer of roasting tiny eggplants into pudding, splitting them open, lashing with harissa, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, labneh, chèvre, sumac, za’atar. I’m fond of the adaptable pan sauce: garlic, wine, capers, fresh herbs, and salty butter with any white fish; vermouth, thyme, shallots, black pepper, and stock with chicken legs.
Zucchini have been split in half, drizzled with cream, covered in snow caps of parmesan and black pepper, and roasted until soft-bubbly. Although the Hashimoto’s means that I should keep gluten to a minimum (so fun, who even likes gluten?), now that tomatoes are in season, I cannot stop myself from toasting rafts of sourdough (if you’re in New York, SheWolf bakery is particularly good, and Lost Bread Co. is next on my list), scraping each with garlic and salted butter, and piling them too-high-for-company with thick rounds of tomato marinated in lots of sea salt, pepper, very fancy olive oil, and sherry vinegar for at least ten minutes. (Alternative: tomatoes + sharp cheddar + homemade mayo.) I have treated zucchini-corn fritters as if they were crêpes, draping French ham, chèvre, and a runny egg over their tops. There’ve been Asian-ish wax beans, boosted with fennel-y sausage. I made scones. Every stone fruit, every berry, has been gently roasted, many times lashed with cold cream.
I cooked a five course dinner, and was unusually relaxed about it. I put out fish dips (swordfish and fluke), picked up on our trip to Long Island, with tiny tomatoes on the vine, coins of watermelon radish, and snappy cucumbers. Next came tomato toasts dressed to the nines, and squash blossoms full of green olive tapenade, burrata, and spicy honey. A first course of gnocchi, sauced in plenty of grated hard cheese, peas, prosciutto ribbons, and all the fresh herbs. I marinated a whole leg of lamb in an herb garden’s worth of stems, and copious garlic, served with bracing market arugula and breakfast radishes, boiled potatoes, and yogurt. For dessert, there were perfect market fruits with cold cream and verbena syrup. I made so much ahead, and we reused dishes, and I drank wine, and I wasn’t in standing over the range all night.
Reading this over makes me want to plan more dinners, to flip through my cookbooks gathering dust on the shelf. I hope it does the same for you.
I packed as much fruit into this cake as I thought reasonable, for it to still hold a crumb. It’s very soft, with the depth of brown sugar, and tart pockets of strawberry and rhubarb. I thought to add an icing, or a slick of salted butter over a toasted slice, but it’s just not necessary. It’s happy on the counter for up to 4 days.
Makes 1, 9 x 5 loaf or 10 generous slices
- 5-6 stalks / 525 grams rhubarb
- 1 cup / 225 grams strawberries
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar, divided
- 1 stick (1/2 cup, 115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (135 grams) dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces / 56 grams) crème fraîche
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 2/3 cup (235 grams) AP flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Wash and trim the rhubarb; wash and hull the strawberries. Slice the rhubarb into 1/2-inch pieces; add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and 1/4 of water to a small pan and cook, over medium heat, for 10-15 minutes, or until the rhubarb breaks down and is jammy. Meanwhile, slice the strawberries into thirds, and stir with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a bowl. Let sit until the rhubarb is finished cooking.
- Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350F/175C. Grease the pan generously with butter.
- Cream the butter with the sugar on medium speed; about 4 minutes, or until the one is undeniably incorporated into the other. Mix in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the vanilla and the crème fraîche. Sift together the baking powder and soda, flour, and salt; mix into the batter on a slow speed, until just combined. Fold in the strawberries and rhubarb, until evenly mixed throughout the batter. Spoon the batter into the loaf pan; bake for 60 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Out of the oven, allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes before running a knife along the edges of the pan, and turning it out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.