Happy mayhem cascaded through the house for a couple of hours.
Raena and Josie ran back and forth on the porch, whispering secrets. Rebekah shepherded the little kids to the garden with her sweet attention. Johnny ran like a little bull through the room, clipping the door of the pink refrigerator, unintentionally. Kieran drew on the chalkboard, big loopy circles, then asked us what we were all talking about. Abigail took her usual hour to warm up and then she bounced on the bed, her curly hair floating above her shoulders then falling from the sky. Lu ran outside after them, grinning at all these kids being in her house. Rosie stayed at the table with the adults. The baby slept.
Later, they all went into the garden to dig up tiny carrots almost frozen in the dirt, an errant potato I had missed, and all the chard I was hoping to keep growing through November. Oh well. They came back with dirty fingernails and huge grins, the whole lot of them, proud of their harvest.
There were tiny crisis moments. Raena had an accident, then she could howled at the grey sweatpants I offered in place of her wet pants. (Too ugly. This girl knows what she wants to look like at all moments of the day, and she wants to look fabulous.) Josie climbed the little house outside, straddled the roof with her body, then worried the other kids that she didn’t know how to get down. “Lucy’s mama? Lucy is crying!” I found her with wood chips in her hair, complaining that one of the children had been too loud near her ears. Abigail furrowed up her nose at the strange and spicy food at the table until her mother offered the plastic bag full of identical-sized pieces of cheddar cheese. Rebekah hovered, worried, over any of the small children who seemed concerned. Johnny bonked himself on the couch, then roared when he bounced back on the floor. Kieran couldn’t fathom why he couldn’t go on the swing by himself, especially after watching Josie fling herself on it with ease. The fact that adults were supposed to help with the swing swaying high off the ground didn’t register. He wanted on, now. The baby, passed back and forth between mama and daddy, could not be soothed for a time. Rosie wanted the red plastic car. Lucy wanted the red plastic car. A small war ensued.
We parents dealt with any small perturbation with calm talk and hugs, then went back to eating and laughing. They know how to take care of themselves. This wasn’t unusual.
There was one moment of quiet. A patient, hovering silence. We were about to eat this cake.
A few weeks ago, I made this kabocha squash cake, with brown butter, Chinese five-spice powder, and goat cheese. Danny ate one slice, late at night, and declared it the best cake he had ever eaten. Then, he ate another slice. Thinking about the flavors of Thanksgiving, I decided to make another one for our Homesick Texan party and take a photograph before I let the kids eat it.
They reached for it immediately. But I said, patiently, as I moved toward the door where the light was best: “Hold on, kids. I have to take a photograph of this cake before we can eat it.” Lucy nodded. She’s used to this. Raena gave me quite the glare, immediately translatable to, “What the heck are you talking about, woman? Give me some cake.”
I made them wait. At first, I asked them to move their hands away, out of the photo. Then, I realized, that was the photo.
Light ready, everything set, I stood above them with the phone, waiting. “Okay, you guys. Go.”
Hands dove and grabbed. Slices of cake moved toward mouths. Crumbs on the floor.
I stopped taking photos and passed around the cake to the adults. For a few moments, a few lovely moments, there was absolute silence in the room.
And then the mayhem began again, with small voices shouting out thank you, and a couple of them saying, “I want another piece!” The adults said how much they loved the cake. Kids peeled away from us and ran outside to fight over the swing again.
KABOCHA SQUASH CAKE
This cake came together in a smaller mayhem of children. I was inspired by this spice cake recipe from Heidi. After fiddling with spices and flavorings in my mind, we were ready to bake. Lucy and her dear friend Zea were sitting on the kitchen counter, helping me to make a cake. After I had my dry ingredients assembled, as I watched them cut up an apple with great seriousness, I went to the refrigerator to reach for some eggs. We were out of eggs. I couldn’t stay away from the kitchen counter for long, with two enthusiastic three-year-olds there, so I reached for the first substitute I could see. Soft goat cheese. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen?
The cake was delicious and wonderfully moist with this little mistake. With the goat cheese, and the apple pieces they insisted and some of those maple-roasted pumpkin seeds, this cake tasted like nothing I had ever eaten before. Danny sort of lost his mind for it that night. Note filed away: chevre as a replacement for eggs in a moist cake. Done.
This happens to also be an entirely whole-grain cake, as well. I’ve been playing with eliminating starches from certain kinds of baking. Great success! Here I used a combination of gluten-free oat flour, teff flour, buckwheat flour, and sorghum. They each lent an interesting flavor and texture. There was a wonderful nuttiness about the flour mix that really contributed to the cake.
I’m thinking about making it for Thanksgiving, along with all the pies, and making a new tradition this year.
115 grams unsalted butter (thats 1 stick to Americans)
170 grams whole-grain gluten-free flour mix
1 teaspoon psyllium husk
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
140 grams (about 1 cup) brown sugar
150 grams soft goat cheese
240 grams (about 1 cup) roasted kabocha squash puree (see below)
½ cup milk
1/3 cup maple-roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
1/3 cup chopped apple (optional)
2 tablespoons raw sugar (optional)
Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9-inch cake pan with the fat of your choice. (We like melted butter. You choose.) Flick a little sweet rice flour or the gluten-free flour of your choice into the pan and up the sides of it. There. Now the pan is ready.
Browning the butter. Set a small pan over medium heat. Add the butter and cook until it sputters then begins to brown, about 10 to 20 minutes. Youll know its ready when the butter releases a lovely nutty aroma. (It also helps to use a non-black pan so you can see the color shifting.) Be careful to not burn the butter. Set aside the butter to cool.
Combining the dry ingredients. Add the gluten-free flours, psyllium, baking soda, cinnamon, five spice powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Run the mixer until they are well combined and aerated. Pour the dry ingredients into a different bowl.
Combining the wet ingredients. Add the brown sugar and goat cheese into the bowl of a stand mixer. At first, they may not look like they will come together. Patience. Within a few minutes they will cohere together and form one honey-colored clump. At this point, add the squash puree and the milk. Mix them in until they have disappeared into the batter. Slowly, with the mixer running, pour in the brown butter and mix until it has become part of the batter.
Finishing the cake batter. With the mixer running, add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until the batter comes together. (It might look a little clumpy and separated, not like a typical cake. Dont worry.)
If you want, you can toss the maple-roasted pumpkin seeds and apple pieces in here. Stir until they are combined into the batter.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the raw sugar. Bake until the edges of the cake have started to brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 to 55 minutes. Do not overbake the moistness of this cake is half its charm.
If you have never made your own squash puree, youll be amazed at how easy it is. Cut the kabocha squash in half, scoop out the seeds, sprinkle the flesh with a bit of oil, and roast in a 375° oven until the flesh is tender. When the squash has cooled to room temperature, peel away the skin. (This works with pumpkins, red kuri squash, butternut squash, and hubbard squash as well.) Throw the squash in the food processor and whirl it up. Kabocha squash has particularly dense flesh, so you might have to add some kind of liquid (oil, milk, maple syrup) to bring it all together. Choose the liquid based on the flavor you like best for the dish you are going to create.