Food has never been a strength of mine. Preparing it, that is.
Eating is no problem. I grew up with a mother always humming in the kitchen, effortlessly preparing tasty and attractive meals that I took for granted.
Then I got married.
My husband had spent months far back in the mountains of rural Honduras and had mastered cooking rice to perfection and unbeatable beans. I remember standing timidly next to him as he gently explained how rice is to be made.
One day he asked, “When you were at home, who did the cooking?”
I smiled sheepishly. “Mom!”
Of course, with five girls in the family, we were all in the kitchen every meal prep time. But that’s just it- I was prepping, not cooking on my own.
I’d do the chopping and toss the onions into Mom’s fragrant pot and then tackle the sink bulging with dishes.
When we sat down to eat, we all dug in gratefully- it HAD been a joint effort.
But as for masterminding a menu and executing the recipes on my own- NADA.
I’m not sure how I did it. I am sure my little sisters would all agree that I coerced them into the hard work with a bribe that they would “get” to massage my feet that night, but that is a story they seem to remember so much better than I. And any bribery that I pitched towards them has more than been paid for in my recent years of mothering.
All years of ease lost in the memories of diapers and dishes and multiplication tables.
All debts have been paid.
But food never ceases to be a need, and with four growing tummies around me at all times, we have done our share of quesadillas and soups, sandwiches and burritos.
And at the time of my life with it feels I am stretched the thinnest,
the need to learn to cook properly and with love has landed squarely on my shoulders.
My recipe board on Pinterest is a testament to my longing to daily crank out picture-perfect meals. But just because it has 2K likes, does NOT ensure a similar-looking result to be sitting on your plate.
Just the other day, cheddar biscuits to accompany the soup were dubbed “dumplings” and hid with shame under the broth.
Some things are best disguised under a veil of chicken, celery and carrots.
But I AM trying to prepare food that gives life and health and joy.
And even occasionally brave the dark, scary waters of gluten and dairy free, this last year has been a one of discovery.
Lots of failure, but a few great moments in the kitchen too.
The grocery store shelves bulge this time of year with blatant sugar and cancer in a can. And I scratch my head and wonder what I could make that would be festive without such a sinister air.
And so it was that I discovered this ancient twist on a fruitcake recipe.
Now before you slam the computer shut at the words “fruitcake,” I share the sentiment. In fact, the never-ending song- “Please don’t send me fruitcake…” begins it’s eternally long round in my head. But this is no fruitcake with green and red foreign looking wads of “fruit” preserved in a dark cupboard for weeks before it is brought to the light and wrapped with a red bow.
This is the original, long before food coloring was thought up.
At least, I think so.
The only color in this round springform pan is the genuine festivity of cranberry goodness.
Thankfully, this time of year, cranberries hit .99 a bag, and I’ve learned that in order to meet my nine-year-old’s year-round pleading, I must stow several extra in the freezer. After all, why pay three times the price when you can easily grab four bags at Thanksgiving. Or six. Or ten.
He hinted that he wanted it for his birthday cake the other week. But I think it was just the boy’s way of saying, “Make it SOON.”
So this afternoon I pulled out the butter (lots of it) and let it get soft, whipped the eggs and sugar for 8 minutes till they are fluffy and tempting. Next, I added the almond and vanilla flavoring and tossed in the needed flour and other odds and ends, and then scraped it into a springform pan with a soft spatula.
When we married, we didn’t have a registry. And I think we got a total of 17 spatulas. So believe me when I tell you which kind is the best. You want the soft tipped ones. Even better, the ones that are fully coated from tip to rump in the soft coating and you will have no wicked crevices that wish to hide batter remnants. THIS is the kind you will want to own. Or give 17 of them as wedding gifts.
Daniel wandered into the kitchen as I was just getting ready to slide these holiday cakes into the oven, and he nodded in approval. He has loved me through the thick and the thin. The thick clumpy oatmeal and the thin gravy. But this cranberry fruit cake makes his eyes sparkle. And of course, I do anything for that sparkle.
(and of course, who cannot give into those pleading blue eyes just begging to lick the wisk? Everyone should have the delight of mixing and stirring with an eager baby at their elbow)
So here is the delightful recipe, which I found online and tweaked. It originally had a much heavier topping full of almonds, which must have been lovely, but I pulled up the memory of a simple powdered sugar and citrus glaze, and haven’t looked back since. Except to check and make sure the pan is empty. Which, once it is cut into, it never last more than a day or two. If that.
Here is the recipe as I have tweaked it, with a serious nod of gratitude to Faith Durand for the original recipe…
Makes one 10-inch springform cake. Alternately: Four 4-cup loaves or 24 to 30 cupcakes.
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature for 1 hour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract, optional (but really, you NEED it)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups cranberries (12-ounce bag)
1 cup powdered sugar
lime, lemon or grapefruit juice,
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan (or a collection of smaller pans. This make 10 to 12 cups of batter.)
Use a stand mixer or hand beaters to beat the eggs and sugar until very smooth and increased in volume. If using a stand mixer, beat on medium speed for 4 to 7 minutes, using the whip attachment. If using hand beaters, beat on high speed for 6 to 8 minutes. The egg and sugar mixture will double in volume and turn very pale yellow, leaving ribbons on top of the batter when you lift the beaters.
Beat in the butter, vanilla, and almond extract, if using. Beat for 2 minutes or until the butter is smoothly incorporated.
Use a spatula to fold in the flour, salt, and cranberries. The batter will be quite thick. Spread gently into the prepared pan.
To prepare the citrus glaze, squeeze enough juice until just the right consistency to dribble on and dry quickly instead of soaking into the cake. You want the thin lines of delight to be visible. 😉
Bake 60 to 80 minutes for the springform. Don’t remove it till the middle is starting to turn a lovely golden. For smaller pans, start checking after 30 minutes, but expect small loaves to take at least 40 minutes.
Cool for 20 minutes then run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and remove the cake. Cool for an hour before serving.
The cake keeps and freezes well. To store, wrap the fully cooled cake tightly in plastic wrap and leave in a dry, cool place for up to 1 week.
To freeze, wrap the fully cooled cake in plastic wrap and then foil. Freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight at room temperature, still wrapped. But at our house, it never lasts long enough to freeze.
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