Oh My Darling

People prepare for babies in different ways. Some set up their nurseries and make sure their cribs are positioned for optimal natural light. Others spend the weeks leading up to the big day by pre-washing the little one’s wardrobe. Most everyone has their car seat installed at the local police or fire station.

Unrelated gratuitous baby photo

Unrelated gratuitous baby photo

I faced a dilemma: on the one hand, Jewish tradition frowns on bringing baby things into the house before there is an actual baby; on the other, hand I am an inveterate planner. Perhaps not surprisingly, I found my solution in the kitchen. I spent the weeks leading up to Lilli’s arrival cooking, baking and freezing foods to make the first few months less stressful.

Give the people what they want...

Give the people what they want…

“I need to serve something to our guests that come by for a visit,” I explained to Rich about the added hours I spent in our kitchen. “I’m pretty sure people are supposed to bring you the food, honey,” he replied. And it’s true, a nice meal train has been set up through our synagogue, although it has been somewhat derailed by snowstorms and flu season.

I was vindicated this weekend. We had Lilli’s baby naming on Presidents’ Day (no pressure, Lil). She already had her name, but this was a Jewish ceremony to announce her Hebrew name and explain the origins of her other names. It’s a rough analog of a bris, minus the delicate surgery. If you’re interested, you can watch the video of the service on YouTube:

It was really touching to see all the people who came to celebrate the occasion with us. My guess is around 80 people showed up on Monday morning.

One more, but that's it for now...

One more, but that’s it for now…

On the day before we hosted some of our out-of-town guests at our house: my Cousin David, his girlfriend Wendy and Brian Levinson, who made the drive up from Queens (commiserating about the Mets the entire way, no doubt), and Sylvie and Miriam who had flown up from DC. Suffice it to say, I was quite pleased with myself because I had defrosted this clementine cardamom pound cake I had baked, weeks in advance, for just such an occasion.

Boxes of clementines are pretty ubiquitous on kitchen counters this time of year. In the late stages of my pregnancy, I’d taken to eaten them to spur Lilli, who was an exceptionally quiet fetus, to give me a reassuring kick or two. It became such a thing that for about a week Clementine was a serious baby name candidate.

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Before I ate all of them, I thought it best to bake a cake with some of them. I hunted around the Internet and came up with a Nigella Lawson recipe that called for boiling, grinding and then adding nuts — not unlike this blood orange and pistachio cake Sara and I made last year (although I have a feeling ours was better). Too much work for the ninth month of pregnancy, even for me.

I finally found what I was looking for on Food52. All this recipe called for was zesting and juicing the fruit, and I loved the idea of the cardamom adding a spicy warmth to the cake. Although spices can get expensive, I’ve found bags for very cheap at the Armenian stores in Watertown. Also, one cardamom pod goes a long way, so even if you end up at Whole Foods, in the long run, the price isn’t bad at all.

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After I removed this cake out of the oven and it cooled down, I wrapped it in a few sheets of tin foil, labeled it and stuck it in the freezer. It defrosted beautifully in less than an hour just by unwrapping it and setting it out on the counter.

Clementine Cardamom Pound Cake by SavvyJulie on Food52

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened, plus more for the pan

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 Tablespoon clementine zest, from about 2 clementines

4 Tablespoons clementine juice, from about 2 clementines

1/4 cup milk

Directions

Heat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9x5x3″ loaf pan.

Cream the butter, olive oil and sugars together until smooth.

Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until completely blended.

Stir in 1 cup of the flour, followed by the salt, vanilla, cardamom, clementine zest and juice.

Add the milk and the rest of the flour. Beat until the batter is smooth and consistent, but do not over-beat!

Scrape the cake batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the edges are browned and just pulling away from the sides of the pan, and a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Run a knife or spatula around the edges of the cake to release it from the pan, and flip onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Common Scents

It goes without saying that what I miss the most about my time in New York City are the wonderful friends I made and left behind. We snuck into the city for a long weekend last week, and I’m still a little embarrassed to have not seen everyone there that I love. At one point I found myself drinking an almond butter vegan smoothie on the Lower East Side debating if I could make it to the Upper East Side, Fort Greene and onto a barbeque in Williamsburg by 5PM. (Fort Greene and a visit with Aleza won out, and the passion fruit and cocoa nibs doughnut  convinced me I made the right decision.) We also managed to see the Cindy Sherman exhibit at the MoMA and watched my Cousin David give his first improv performance at a club in Long Island City. (He was far and away the best on the stage. Rich says I’m not allowed to say anything negative about his fellow performers, so I’ll leave it at that.)

There is one other thing I really miss about the city. It’s a little strange to say, but I miss the smell – in particular, the smell of candied nuts being peddled on every corner from the top of Manhattan to the bottom of the island. There’s a kiosk or two down by Downtown Crossing, but nothing compares to the sugared perfume found on every street corner midtown. I’ve thought about lobbying Yankee Candle to capture the scent in wax.

I managed to abstain in the city, but tonight I made these. (It’s a reprise of a dish from my birthday party; my father-in-law took quite a liking to them.) It’s a riff off a smitten kitchen recipe that Deb had also riffed off of. I changed the cayenne pepper to ancho chile powder. If that’s not in your spice cabinet, no need to go to the market. You can always use cayenne, or even smoked paprika. Although nuts can get expensive, I bought this can of cashews at Ocean State Job Lot for $3. I’ve noticed Trader Joe’s tends to have a good price on nuts as well. The choice of nut is entirely up to you.

And yes, your house will smell like New York City. That’s a good thing.

Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts Adapted from smitten kitchen who adapted from Elizabeth Karmel of Hill Country

Karmel says: “A mason jar full of nuts and a pretty ceramic bowl is my favorite gift. If you bring these to a party, tell the host or hostess to hide them, or they will disappear.”

Ingredients

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

2/3 cup white granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Generous pinch ancho chile powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 pound nuts – cashews, walnuts, pecan halves – this is entirely up to you

1 egg white, room temperature

1 Tablespoon water

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix sugars, salt, chile powder, and cinnamon, making sure there are no lumps; set aside. Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add nuts, and stir to coat evenly. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.