It’s been a while since my last post — I know, I know. I could make up wild excuses, beg forgiveness, blame other people for my absence. Instead, I will simply say that sometimes life just plain gets in the way of all the other stuff I have waiting on my to-do list. That said, I offer you not one but two — count ’em, two — posts today. One savory and one sweet. Just like me.
First up: THE GOOD, THE BAD and THE ZESTY. Second: I NEED A PERK-ME-UP. Let me know your thoughts.
I NEED A PERK-ME-UP
Staging an unplanned life reinvention at about the time I should be jotting a retirement date in my day planner is depressing enough. But doing it during a recession of epidemic proportions just might push me over the edge.
On my desk in my home office, to the left of my computer, is a small tablet of blank note paper with a cartoon drawing of a woman who looks strangely like me – right down to the bags under her eyes. She isn’t frowning, nor is she smiling; she is just there. Next to her is the quote, “I am not in my happy place.”
You said it, sister.
I can go from good days to bad days in the blink of an eye. Yesterday was a good day: productive, busy, fulfilling. Today, I feel like a fish in dangerously shallow water. I flip-flop about my home office in an uphill attempt at survival. I feel anxious, as if I’m in the last 30 seconds of a timed college exam, only to glance down at my paper and realize I’ve been writing with invisible ink!
On days when my most productive activity is gritting my teeth until my jaw aches, I force myself to stop and do a little soul searching. If I don’t feel creative or useful at the computer, I take a good look around the house to determine where my attention might be better focused.
And that usually brings me to the kitchen.
Like falling onto a plumped down comforter at the end of a long and exhausting day, my kitchen welcomes me with open arms; it celebrates my creativity and toasts my culinary value with high-end champagne. Or a sparkling wine from Costco.
The warmest room in my house holds serenity for me, and not just because it happens to be the most organized room in the house. When I enter my large, galley-style kitchen, I enter a world far more comforting than that which is currently snubbing its nose at me. When highly discombobulated days stretch my patience to fraying condition, I wave the white flag and admit I need a good perk-me-up. And that involves not only eating something yummy, it means creating it as well.
Today, every fiber of my being is longing for a moist, mildly spicy carrot cake from my past. A wonderfully generous indulgence, carrot cake offers the consumer two important rewards. First, it will satisfy even the most stubborn sweet tooth as well as anything else on the dessert menu, and second, if you think broadly enough, you’ll realize you’re actually eating vegetables for dessert. How cool is that?
In anticipation of the relaxation that baking promises, and the accompanying feeling of accomplishment, I decide to — no big surprise here — amp up Mom’s regular recipe with a nod to Polynesia. Introducing my tropical carrot minicakes. Not to be confused with cupcakes, these little beauties are the perfect indulgence for a day when you really need a perk-me-up, and a darling one at that! And when arranged on a tiered cake stand in the middle of a dessert buffet, well, it’s as if Marilyn Monroe just walked onto the set of Real Housewives. Classy, beautiful, and oh, so sweet.
TROPICAL CARROT MINICAKES
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 3 cups shredded carrots
- 3/4 cup canned crushed pineapple — drained very well
- 3/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut
- 1 cup chopped walnuts (plus a little extra for garnishing the tops of the frosted minicakes)
- CREAM CHEESE FROSTING — Recipe to follow
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large, oblong baking dish with cooking spray. (I used a 10 x 13 lasagna baking dish.) In a large mixing bowl, sift together first 5 ingredients. Add eggs, oil, carrots, pineapple, coconut, and nuts, mixing thoroughly. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 35 – 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack. (May be made a day ahead, covered and refrigerated unfrosted — I find the refrigerated cakes are easier to handle during the frosting process.)
When cake is completely cooled, cut out minicake rounds using a 2.5-inch cookie cutter: carefully but firmly press straight down, twist the cutter slightly, and pull up; the minicake round will slip right out of the cutter when coaxed gently. (I got 12 minicakes out of the pan size I used. If you don’t have a cookie cutter, a wine glass or other glass with a thin lip will do just fine in cutting the rounds.)
Using a sharp knife, slice each minicake in half horizontally to make two cake rounds. Frost the now-exposed top of the bottom half, place the top half on top of that, then frost the top of the minicake. Garnish with a sprinkling of chopped walnuts or toasted coconut.
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING FOR CARROT MINICAKES
- One 8 oz. package softened cream cheese
- 1/2 cup (one stick) softened butter
- 2 teaspoons good, pure vanilla
- One 1 lb. box powdered sugar
Using a hand mixer, mix all ingredients together carefully (so as not to coat yourself in white sugar powder), until mixture reaches desired frosting consistency. (If mixture becomes too thick, add a few drops of milk to thin.)