I’m a fan of Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, who, I like to say, writes self-help books for the pragmatist. Most weeks, I listen to her podcast, Happier, while I’m testing recipes. If you read or listen to Gretchen’s work at all, you know that she does not cook nor does she like food that much. Case in point: Her big treat is Greek yogurt with fake sweetener. Ha! No thanks! Still, her way of condensing life lessons and creating lists resonates with me. Inspired by her Secrets of Adulthood (and instead of writing New Year’s resolutions), I’ve created my own list of lessons I’ve learned from over a decade of cooking. Some of them are personal, others more universal. I’d love to know: What are your Cooking Secrets of Adulthood?

  • When you make stock, it’s like putting money in the bank.
  • You never regret making a homemade sauce or stock to use or freeze.
  • Always make more grains, lentils, and soup than you need.
  • Roast more vegetables than you need.
  • Roast garlic when roasting other food.
  • Meal planning reduces stress.
  • For longer-lasting produce, sometimes you need to use plastic bags.
  • Check the fruit and vegetable drawers daily to prevent waste.
  • Tinned fish with bread, butter, and raw veggies is a totally acceptable dinner.
  • Roasted vegetables are an excellent breakfast.
  • You can put an egg on it and totally call it lunch (or dinner or breakfast, for that matter).
  • Grilling in the spring and fall is often more enjoyable than grilling in the summer.
  • It’s ok (and often better) to cut off the bad spots rather than throw it away.
  • Take the time to brown your meat.
  • Tomato paste and smoked paprika are your friends (especially when you’re not cooking meat).
  • It’s better to finish the container of a special ingredient than to savor it for so long, it goes off or moldy.
  • Things taste better with the right context (lobster by the sea; stew by a fireplace).
  • As Julia Child says, Never apologize. (I’m still working on this one.)
  • Your meals taste better than those at most restaurants.
  • Meals cooked for you in someone else’s home are always good.
  • As Gretchen says, Outer order leads to inner calm and this is definitely true in the kitchen.
  • Cleaning comes with cooking. Podcasts or music make it more fun.
  • When you just can’t deal, get take-out. You’ll like cooking again the next day, or the day after that.

 

Quick-Braised Kale with Fried EggWhen I worked at Food & Wine, we would brainstorm story ideas in April or May for the November issue. A former coworker and close friend would always remind the other editors, Thanksgiving is one day! We still need to give people things to cook the rest of the month.

And so, today, my gift to you is a dead simple recipe you can make the night before Thanksgiving instead of ordering pizza or something you can serve for breakfast, lunch, or dinner this weekend when you’re sick of turkey sandwiches.

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This cake is pleasantly dense, with a nice kick of bourbon. Last week, I ate scrambled eggs and take-out for dinner and plopped my daughter in front of the TV for longer than I care to admit to try to process the election results. My husband and I had lots of conversations about what we got wrong, how to be better citizens, and what, with the incoming administration, we both feared. Let’s just say, the list was long.

Bourbon Pecan Cake with Chocolate Chunks

Life must go on, of course, but I feel fundamentally different. I haven’t yet figured out how this will change my work, but I’m convinced it will. In my personal life, I’ve engaged with people who have different ways of looking at the world, really trying to listen and also respectfully share my views with the hopes of humanizing “the other side” and puncturing the echo chambers we often allow ourselves to live in.

Bourbon Pecan Cake with Chocolate Chunks

As I was writing this post, I found one little way to help the world today: A number of food lovers are donating to Share Our Strength inspired by Julia Turshen and her lovely cookbook, Small Victories. I gave a donation. Maybe you can as well?

Otherwise, what I can offer you is a listening ear and some cake.

The recipe here is from my own book, Modern Potluck and is something I’ll be teaching tomorrow at my class at The Farm Cooking School. It’s based on an Italian-style almond torte but relies on pecans instead. To continue the southern theme, it has enough bourbon to give it a boozy kick, which might be more necessary than usual this holiday season.

Bourbon Pecan Cake with Chocolate Chunks

Pecan Bourbon Cake with Chocolate Chunks
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This cake batter can be made entirely in a food processor, so you don't have to dirty other bowls. If you don't have a food processor, you can substitute pecan meal for the ground pecans.
Serves: 1 hr 45 mins
Ingredients
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened, plus more for the pan
  • 9 ounces pecans (about 1¾ cups)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (about ¾ cup)
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
  • Plain yogurt or sour cream, for serving (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper.
  2. Sprinkle ½ cup of the pecans in the pan and dust with 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the remaining pecans with the remaining 1 cup sugar until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add the ½ cup butter, the eggs, and bourbon and pulse until smooth. Add the flour and baking power and pulse just until incorporated. Add the chocolate and pulse just until incorporated (a few pulses). Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
  4. Bake in the lower third of the oven, rotating the pan halfway through, for 40 to 50 minutes, until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto a serving plate or board and peel off the parchment paper. Dust the cake with the confectioners' sugar, and serve warm or at room temperature with yogurt, if desired.

 

It’s 3 pm on a Wednesday. I’ve finally showered. I lit a candle and I burned sage. I walked to the mailbox and to the new bakery in town and cried with a new friend and ate the quiche she made. I’ve also received tone-deaf PR emails with titles like “Politics suck. This ladle doesn’t.” and resisted the urge to respond with vitriol.

This is not a blog about politics, but today, it has to be. I’m too distraught about the election results to tell you about a great new recipe. And as much as I want to tell you, “Let’s all just have a potluck and work it out,” I’m not there yet. I’m saddened, angry, and frankly fearful that about half of voters chose fear, protectionism, and yes, sometimes racism and sexism, over progress, openness, and equality.

So I’m going to take the advice of an eloquent friend: “Feel your feelings. Anger is a worthy emotion. Just don’t let it metastasize into hate because then you become what you’re angry at.”

And with that, I will leave you with a list of reads, etc. that gave me all the feels today.

  • Grace Bonney, thank you for these words. They resonated so much, because I, too, left the liberal bubble and am trying hard to see other perspectives with openness.
  • Elizabeth Gilbert, I DO want to choose these values. I will re-read this post every time I feel despondent.
  • Lela Barker is a fierce and amazing mentor of mine for Stewart & Claire. This story had me ugly crying.
  • And finally, Hillary Clinton’s concession speech: “And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”

** The illustration above is on a tote bag I have from Jon Wye. It felt apt today.