(Photo by Kristin Sjaarda for the Marion House Book)

I love being at home.

I’ve always been someone for whom my surroundings play a significant role in my overall feeling of contentment. Especially these days, when so much of my time is spent at home with my children, I require a great deal from my living space, and particularly my kitchen.

Happily for me, the kitchen in our current house is, if questionably configured, large enough for our whole family to settle into – I was even able to shoehorn a couch in along one wall, which, I am sure I don’t need to tell you, improves my quality of life immensely.

I am also an inveterate shopper. Someone told me once that I have a peahen’s fondness for pretty things, and although I could have done without the messenger, I couldn’t deny the accuracy of the message. And I do love certain things best when I have had them since they were shiny and new: shoes, books, most kitchen implements.

But more than anything, I adore old things. Vintage, antique, salvaged, thrifted, upcycled, recycled – as long as it is beautiful and doesn’t come with any lingering smells, I will happily find a place for it and its history in my home – and I am so happy at home, with my family and all of the beautiful things we have collected together in the few short years we have lived here.

So imagine my delight when one of my neighbors, the multi-talented and all around fabulous Emma Reddington, asked me if she could feature some parts of my home on her wonderful interior design blog, The Marion House Book.

The feature came out on Monday, and I am still basking in the glow. You can read the full post here.

go for it.

These are the last two slices of the most greedy-making cake I have ever known.

It was my son’s birthday cake, and I am quite serious about the greed: I am not a little ashamed to admit that when I was cutting a portion of this cake to send home with a friend, I actually short-changed her a little bit. And that the two pieces you see here are on the small side because I ate a very large serving all by myself after everyone had gone to bed the night before.

I am not actually a rabid eater of sugary things. I know that there is a certain comedic currency to be had in the “woman eating a whole cake while standing alone in a darkened kitchen in her nightgown” thing, but I would normally want to distance myself from that as much as possible.

In this case, when I realized this morning that the cake was all gone, I very nearly made another one immediately – this despite the humidity and the solo-parenting chaos in my house and the fact that there is not a legitimately cake-worthy occasion in sight on our calendar for the first time in several months.

I somewhat reluctantly fed it to my kids for breakfast the day after my son’s birthday, working under the shady logic that it contains bananas and is therefore a healthy choice (do I need to tell you the reason for my reluctance? Could there be any doubt? It was not motherly concern for my kids’ health and well-being. It was greed).

They loved it. Even my daughter, who is not much for cake, licked her own plate before reaching for her brother’s.

The recipe has been in my family for at least 40 years, its taste attached to more sensory memories than I have the means to articulate; so it felt especially appropriate to make it this week, when my mom has, incredibly, come to town.

I am revelling in every minute of her visit, and I know exactly what she will say when I tell her I am thinking of making this cake again (possibly even today) before she leaves:

“Go for it!”

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Icing

For cake:
1 1/2 c flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 c sugar
1/3 c soft unsalted butter
1 c mashed banana (from 3 average bananas)
2 tbsp milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 8″ round cake pans.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, stir together flour, baking, powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and sugar.

Add butter, banana, and milk, and beat for one minute.

Add eggs and vanilla and beat for another minute.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and bake 20-25 minutes, until cakes are light golden and spring back when touched. Cool five minutes in pans, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

When cakes are cool, make the icing:

1/2 c soft unsalted butter
2/3 c smooth peanut butter
4 c sifted icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla
4-6 tbsp milk

Using an electric mixer, beat together butter and peanut butter until smooth. Beat in icing sugar on low speed, then vanilla. Add milk a tablespoon at a time, until icing reaches a thick and spreadable consistency.

To assemble the cake:

Using a serrated knife, gently cut off the domed tops of both cake layers so that the tops are even. Place one cake on a cake stand and top with just over a third of the icing. Top with second layer, and cover top and sides of cake with remaining icing.

Serve generously, devour, and repeat.

whatever you need to tell yourself.

Is there such a thing as virtuous gluttony?

We celebrate a lot in our house at this time of year: my two children have their birthdays within four weeks of one another, and my husband’s birthday and our wedding anniversary are sandwiched in there too.

Not to mention enough family birthdays, friends’ birthdays, and friends’ children’s birthdays that, combined, this summer’s various celebrations have fused in my memory into one long party involving possibly more than one bouncy castle and many, many glasses of rose.

It has been wonderful.

It has also meant that my dinner hour cravings lately seem to veer wildly from something like this

…to something like this

…and back again.

Left to my own devices, I’d like to think that I could happily exist on leftover homemade birthday cake and cold, pink wine; and if mine were the only needs to consider, I might just give it a try. There are, however, children in my life, and although I submit to their dietary whims with embarrassing regularity, even I have my limits.

Enter this quick, simple, and delectable cauliflower dish, with its caramelized edges and salty bits and just enough olive oil to make it feel like an indulgence.

As to the question of vutuous gluttony: if there is such a thing, I am hoping this dish will get you there.

Especially if, like me, you’ve already been everywhere else this summer.

Roasted Cauliflower

1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/3c olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
2-3 tbsp capers
8 sundried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and finely sliced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In baking dish large enough to hold all of the cauliflower in one layer, toss florets with olive oil and salt until well combined.

Place in oven and roast, stirring from time to time, until cauliflower is tender and beginning to brow, 20-30 minutes.

Serve garnished with capers and sun dried tomatoes (and a large glass of wine).

Serves 4, generously

my good luck.

My husband and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary.

We went out to dinner, which, in our life populated with small children, is an exceedingly rare treat; and everything, from the lack of line up to the excellent service to the utterly wonderful food, went perfectly.

Which was lovely and appropriate, because when it comes to my home life, I occasionally have a hard time believing my good luck. I could go on (and in fact I have) about the delight I take in my relationship with my husband – I think we are the perfect match, and we continue to get along terrifically well even though we spend a lot more time together than many of the couples we know.

He is talented, warm, and charming, a great dad and a good friend. I absolutely adore him, and I love the life that we are building together.

I am telling you all of this today because he has gone out of town for a couple of weeks, and when he is not here for an extended period of time it is not difficult for me to descend quite quickly into ungraciousness.

So if you see me wearing a pained and/or openly resentful expression in the coming days, or if I am less than effusive on the subject of my wonderful husband, please don’t take it too much to heart.

I promise I won’t either.

you lucky people.

Just wait until you try this sauce.

A couple of months ago, things around here had begun to go so wildly awry that my husband was moved to ask me incredulously, as I struggled to pull a one-inch splinter out of the bottom of my foot using a sewing needle and a pair of tweezers, “how could you possibly have so much bad karma?”

It’s a question to which there is no real suitable answer.

Still, because I take deep solace in food during times of adversity, that period was one in which many great meals were consumed in my house.

And a fair number of them involved this sauce.

It started out its life as a component of what I would loosely define as an Andean-ish potato dish, but I had far more sauce than potatoes on that particular late-spring evening, so it morphed into the kind of catch-all condiment that could improve the (forgive me) karma of just about anything that was thrown its way.

Almost an entire season later, it is still in heavy rotation.

In the photo you see above, I tossed it with some sauteed peppers, but that was just because they were what happened to be laying about. I would highly recommend it with the little local potatoes that my husband keeps bringing home by the basketful, and I can’t even tell you how blissfully it pairs with corn on the cob.

(I have mentioned before, probably at just about this time of year, that I do not find summertime cooking to be especially inspiring: the grill and I don’t have a relationship to speak of, and I am largely fine with that. There are a lot of fun things that happen outdoors at this time of year, but for me, cooking is not one of them. I like my kitchen.

Still, I bet you could slather this sauce on whatever thing you just pulled off the barbeque, and it would redeem even that.)

What can I tell you? It’s just that good.

A Sauce to Redeem (Almost) Anything
adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

1 egg yolk*
1c whole milk
500g feta cheese, crumbled
1/2c olive oil (not extra virgin)
2 fresh hot yellow or green chilies, de-seeded and de-veined and finely chopped (leave in a few seeds for a spicier sauce)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp flour
* I would consider the egg yolk optional if you are feeding a pregnant woman, young children or anyone whose health may be compromised. If you opt not to use the yolk, increase the flour slightly.

Combine egg yolk, milk, and feta in a blender and blend until smooth. Leave in blender.

Place olive oil in a heavy saute pan set over medium heat. When oil is hot, add chilies, garlic, and turmeric to the pan, and saute, stirring frequently, until softened and slightly golden, about 2 minutes. Add flour to pan and stir well. Reduce heat to low and add feta mixture from blender to the pan. Cook, stirring, until sauce is thick. Using a rubber spatula, pour and scrape sauce back into the blender and blend until smooth.

Add a little milk, if necessary; sauce should be the consistency of heavy cream.

Makes about 2 cups, enough to dress about a pound of cooked baby potatoes and still have plenty left over. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.


Friends, where to begin?

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who asked me whether I planned on returning to blogging.

It’s a reflection of the slightly deluded state I’ve been living in this past while that, until she phrased it that way, it didn’t occur to me that I had been absent from these pages long enough that a reader might have fair cause to wonder where I had gone, and whether, indeed, I was likely to return.

Posting has been on my list of things to do for – well – now I am embarrassed to say how many months. But I don’t need to tell you that; you can see the date stamp on my last post.

And if I were to launch into the litany of reasons for my absence, it would likely end in tears and be enough to put me off posting at all – which is how we got here in the first place.

But I will tell you this: I have an amazing mother. She’s truly extraordinary, and if you were to ask me to tell you about my favourite people in all the world, she would be one of the first, right up there with my children and my husband.

And she has been very, very ill.

I feel I can tell you about it now, because she has just lately begun inching her way back to good health. But it has not been an easy road for her, and nor for those of us (and there are many!) who love her dearly.

All that to say, I have been a little distracted.

Still, I haven’t left the kitchen completely, and I have many things to share with you over the next little bit. While I am getting my ducks in a row, I’ll leave you with these gorgeous images of the town of Todos Santos, which is where my mom lives and works (that’s her shop with the soap in it!) in the winter time.

All images via At Home At Home.

Enjoy! And I’ll see y’all shortly!