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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.