When I first fell in love with Danny, almost a decade ago, I adored how much he loved food. Food for Danny is like words are to me: play, a chance to learn, a stutter step becoming graceful dance into something tangible, a letting go. He has never been bored by food, not one moment of one day since I met him. He will always be jazzed and meditative in front of the stove, connected and concentrating. And then we eat.
So, you know, I still dig him. 10 years later, I’m still watching him in awe.
In our first cookbook, I wrote about our first moments together every morning. I woke up slowly, the sunlight coming through the windows a gentle awakening. I looked over at him, smiling. And Danny? He was thinking, “What should I do with that leftover fish at the restaurant? Maybe a new special with artichokes and fava beans?” First thought? Food.
As much as I loved him, I thought that was a little weird.
Imagine my surprise when, 10 years later, I wake up in a dark room, alone in the bed. Danny has early-morning shift that morning, playing with Desmond downstairs before 6 am. Lucy is playing in her room, singing. There is no restaurant rhythm to our lives anymore. It’s all driven by children now and the wish for just a bit more sleep. And my first thought, upon waking?
Cardamom and orange zest.
I love the warmth of cardamom, the nuttiness of it, the green and slight sweetness, the hint of fennel. When I hold it up to Desmond’s nose in the kitchen, he smells and smells it, longer than any other spice. Most people associate it with Indian food, where it’s wonderful. But I have always felt that cardamom is underused in baking. There’s something satisfying about pounding the cardamom pods open, then grinding down the tiny seeds inside into a pungent powder.
And orange zest? In this first month of winter, when the rains are incessant and the sky a dark grey to lighter grey and back to the gloaming grey? We’re peeling all the satsumas, mandarins, and Cara Cara oranges we can find these days, to keep the colds at bay and satisfy our need for brightness again.
Cardamom and orange zest. Let’s bake.
Lucy and I have been baking together for years. When she was first able to stand, I put her on a chair at the counter next to me, held my hip against hers to make sure she didn’t wobble off, then let her smell spices and stir the flour. Desmond, at nearly 2, is even more sure on his feet than she was. He drags his wooden toddler high chair into the kitchen and climbs up it, triumphant. “I cook? I cook?” he pleads. So we stir — he’s not effective at it yet, but that’s fine — and whisk and blend.
Lucy’s at school all day now, so she misses the baking sessions that break up a day with an active toddler. However, she’s our best taste tester. That girl has a palate that demands a second testing of a recipe if it’s not just right. She’ll take a bite, scrunch up her face for a moment, and make all trace of it disappear. She doesn’t want to disappoint. We’re still persuading her that it’s fine if she doesn’t love a food. We just want to know why. It’s a powerful skill, being able to articulate why you don’t love something entirely, yet still saying it with kindness.
The first loaf of this bread we baked was heavy on the cardamom and made with honey. Honey in baked goods tends to make them a little dense, sometimes a little too browned. Lu thought about it and said, “Hm. It’s fine. But it’s crumbling in my hands, and I don’t want to take another piece.” Fair enough. I felt the same. The next time, we switched to maple syrup instead, which works more evenly for me. Lu tried one bite, then put it down. Ate another, then said, “No thank you.” When I asked her why, she said, “It’s just that….maybe a little more maple syrup?” We don’t believe in making a kid finish everything on the plate, especially sweets. Still, I thought about it that evening and the next day. And I realized it. I used sour cream to make the bread moist, in place of the same weight of mashed bananas I had used in an earlier recipe. Bananas are sweet. Sour cream is not. Of course it wasn’t sweet enough.
So Desmond spooned applesauce into the bowl for me the next day. Cardamom and apples are wonderful together. Apples and oranges, contrary to popular legend, are good friends. I had a good feeling about this bread.
It’s hard to photograph food in the winter in the Pacific Northwest. We only have good light about 3 hours of the day, it seems. So I put the hot loaf pan on the peeling-paint railing of our front porch and listened to the rain patter down into puddles while I looked for light.
And when the bread cooled down, I cut a slice of this cardamom apple bread for Lucy for her afternoon snack. She said nothing this time, except, after a few moments, “Could I have another piece, please?”
gluten-free cardamom apple bread
8 whole pods cardamom
225 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup maple syrup
80 grams (a little more than 1/3 cup) coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of 1 orange
360 grams (a little more than 1 1/3 cup) applesauce
Grind the cardamom. Gently crack open the cardamom pods to reveal the seeds inside. Put all 8 cardamom seeds into a mortar and bash them about with the pestle until they are finely ground. (You can also use a spice grinder.)
Prepare to bake. Preheat the oven to 375° Grease a 1-pound loaf pan.
Mixing the dry ingredients. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and cardamom. (If you’re using ground cardamom instead of grinding it from whole pods, use between 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom.) Set aside.
Combine the wet ingredients. In another bowl, stir together the eggs, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla, and the orange zest. Add the applesauce and whisk until everything is combined well.
Make the batter. Add the dry ingredients, stirring as you go, a bit at a time to the wet ingredients. When all the flour has disappeared into the batter, and you can’t find any more hiding at the bottom of the bowl, give it one last stir.
Bake the bread. Pour the batter into the greased pan. Bake until the bread is springy to the touch, the edges are pulling away from the pan, and the top is browned, 45 to 60 minutes.
Cool the bread in the pan for 15 minutes, then move it to a cooling rack. Turn the bread upside down so the bottom doesn’t grow too moist.