What I Can Hold in My Hands


It’s dark before five and the lights are shining on our little tree. Yesterday I had an urge to bake gifts to give to friends: tiny brown sugar-apple cakes, compact and rich. These I wrapped in waxed paper and tied with a bright bakers’ string. Cheery, satisfying and good; they looked adorable all wrapped and ready to go.  Before heading out to visit a friend, I baked off a double batch of cakes and prepped a large amount of granola, also for gifts. I don’t really have time for all this- I’m supposed to be packing and organizing my home, tying up loose ends; paying bills and suspending magazine subscriptions. We’re moving to Rome for the semester and there’s so much to do.

So what does all this baking bring me at a time like this? I can’t help but wonder where my priorities are. I know that busy hands help me put off doing the things on my list- I’d call it productive procrastination. Busy hands help me manage my feelings; and busy hands are also a way of remembering.

These apple cakes are filled with memories. About ten years ago I created the recipe for a magazine story, which featured a gifted ceramicist and her stylish husband. Our team from Martha Stewart Living brought a van and two cars filled with food and props from the city to the country, where we laid them out and spun a story out of pictures. In their kitchen I cooked mushroom and pumpkin soup, and spread artisanal cheese on wholesome bread. Then I checked with the photographer before darting out to the bathroom, where I unpacked my plastic breast pump and anxiously listened to the voices of my co-workers on the other side of the door while the pump did its work, extracting the nourishing milk from each breast. I would bring it home in little bottles for my first baby, Lucian. No matter that I had been away from him for two days. This mundane activity gave me a sense of purpose and allayed my guilt; if I could produce milk for my son while I made this beautiful meal for the ceramicist and her husband, I was still a virtuous mother.

The baby is gone, and now so is the child- taken much too soon. The hole that remains is so large. Can I fill it with my boundless love for the one who’s left behind – little Theo? Not completely. So here, in this new landscape of mourning, I take what I know and turn it into these warm cakes; lightly fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg and filled with warm apple slices. This is one way I can feel sure-footed while the ground underneath me shifts and I see the tilt of the planet as if from above. I can hold these in my hands before I give them away- they are nourishing and good.


Small enough to hold in my hands

Small enough to hold in my hands


Get your Early Glow(s) on


   Early Glow Strawberry Oven Preserves with Yogurt

Early Glow Strawberry Oven-Preserves with Yogurt

This is it: the moment when our late Spring fantasies finally come to fruition  We’ve been seeing those big, sour Driscoll strawberries in the grocery stores for months, and pretending Spring is strawberry season. But this ain’t California, and I’ve learned to be patient. And finally: real, red, pretty, strawberries are in the local farmers’ markets. I fell victim to their charms last week. I saw, I tasted, and I bought one 6 dollar quart of them without even batting an eye.  Then I walked around the corner of the market and spotted a table of even redder, riper, sweeter (I tasted again) strawberries. Oh, I bought those too. Early Glows, I was told- a super sweet and juicy variety. Get them while you can.  Based on my rudimentary research, only Sycamore Farms from Middletown, NY is selling these super-sweet berries at the Union Square greenmarket right now.

For three mornings I rinsed a few lovelies and served them up, judiciously selecting only the amount I thought we’d eat, so none would be waterlogged and go to waste. But my children are odd and even though the first words out of my 9 year old son’s mouth were: “Those are some Sweeeeet strawberries!”, neither he nor his little brother ate more than two. I did my part, but come Sunday, I still had more than a quart of strawberries, now somewhat over-ripe, sitting around.

Wanting to bake a treat I knew would get eaten, I made this:


                                         Strawberry-Pistachio Crumb Cake

This lovely, tender cake is a simple thing to make and you do NOT need a mixer.

Pistachio Crumb Topping: Stir together 3/4 cup four, 1/2 cup sugar ( I used some brown and some white), 11/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted pistachios, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (if you have it), 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted.

Cake: Preheat oven to 350 with rack in the center. Butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan, tapping out excess flour.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl: 1 1/2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Cream together: 1 stick room temperature unsalted butter and 2/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy- give it some elbow grease. Add 2 large eggs, beating well after each addition. Stir in 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.

Mix in, alternating: the flour mixture and 1/4 cup buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Spread into prepared pan and smooth top so it’s even. Dot with halved or quartered strawberries, to lightly cover the surface (about 2 cups). Sprinkle pistachio crumb topping over strawberries, and bake until cake is golden and a skewer or thin knife comes out clean when inserted in center, 55-60 minutes.  Cook on a rack for 10 minutes, and then invert quickly onto a tray- place rack on bottom and invert again, so crumb is on top. Let cool before cutting.


Ever the home economist, I decided to save gas and cook off the remaining over-ripe strawberries while the oven was on, so I made this: Early Glow Strawberry Oven-Preserves for spooning onto yogurt, ice cream, anything.

Toss: 2 cups halved or quartered strawberries with about 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 cup water in a deep-sided baking dish. Bake at 350 until tender and lightly syrupy, abut 1 hour. Let cool, transfer to a jar, and store in the refrigerator at least 2 weeks- if they last that long.


no strawberry shall
      go unused