First Birthday Cake

First birthday cake with mashed banana, orange juice, and maple

Our little man turned one earlier this month so of course, I made him a cake.

My birthday dessert policy is simple: pick what you want, and I'll make it. This applies to anyone old enough to have an opinion (I've made my husband a cheesecake and friend a coconut cake in past years), but since Henry isn't talking just yet, I decided on a festive, mini-sized, and mostly wholesome cake to celebrate.

There are a lot of things we could discuss in this post. How fast the year has flown by. How different life is. How my capacity to exercise/write/cook/read/etc. has changed. How I no longer fit into my skinny jeans from two years ago. How I've completely altered my self-imposed expectations surrounding my writing life. How watching my son pick up pieces of homemade food with his own two hands is utterly satisfying. (And when he says mmmmm, with a smirk and a twinkle in his eye, it's one of my favorite things.) How I've been more sentimental than usual recalling the hot summer months at the end of my pregnancy last year, because, as I mentioned, the year has flown by.


Birthday Cupcakes (photo by Tawny Alipoon)

The truth is, in some ways I feel enormously settled into our new lives. But when your to-do list is long and ideas spark quicker than you can act on them, it sparks conversations about what's really important, how valuable my time is, and where to devote my energy. I've been managing to navigate this period of my life in large part due to Essentialism, a book I read this past spring. The general premise is simple: less but better.

1st Birthday Cake

It requires you to take a look at what's really happening and see where you can make changes. It means fewer events on the calendar. It means donating clothes you don't wear. It means letting magazine renewals lapse and hitting unsubscribe to old newsletters. It means saying no to activities that don't provide value. It means resting more.

It also means on a sunny October day, I spent more time enjoying the moment than worrying about all the details. Sure, I ran around in the morning to pick up cupcakes and set up the tables and blow up balloons. But once the party started, I was right there watching my son laugh and play, completely joyful and grateful to be celebrating this milestone.

That's what's really essential, isn't it?

The rest, well, I'll get to it eventually.


As first birthday cakes go, this one is relatively wholesome. Instead of granulated sugar, the cake is lightly sweetened with maple syrup and orange juice, and the mashed banana gives it a very banana bread-type feel. I riffed on this gem of a recipe from The Faux Martha.

A few weeks before the party, I tried Melissa's recipe as-written to make sure it worked in my pans and was the size I wanted. For the day-of, I doubled the recipe and baked 4 cake layers in individual, 4 1/2-inch springform pans (similar version here). I wanted a thicker smear of frosting, plus an extra cake layer just in case something went wrong during baking or assembly. To serve, I placed the cake on top of a 6-inch cake board

Makes 1 triple layer, 4.5-inch cake, with extra, just in case

For the cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1 small ripe banana

For the frosting
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
4 to 6 tablespoons maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of four 4.5-inch springform pans with parchment paper. Whisk the flours, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the maple syrup, orange juice, milk, eggs, and whisk until combined. Mash the banana in a small bowl, then add it to the wet ingredients and incorporate with a wooden spoon.

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Evenly distribute between the four pans, and place them on a sheet pan.

Bake for 16 to 18 minutes*, or until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool completely before assembling. (*This timing worked with Melissa's original recipe, but when I doubled it and had thicker cake layers, I found my cakes needed a bit more time, closer to 25 minutes. Just check on them periodically until they're done.)

To make the frosting, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add in one tablespoon of maple syrup at a time, until the sweetness suits your palate. 

To assemble, remove the cooled cakes and place one layer on the bottom of a cake board. If needed, slice through the tops with a serrated knife to make the tops even. Add a thin layer of frosting and stack the additional cake layers, inverted (so the bottom and flattest side is up), on top, and add more frosting. Repeat with final layer, then frost the outside of the cake.

Note: I did a light crumb coat first and let the cake chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before finishing, but Melissa's "crumb coat" also looks adorable if that's the look you want! Finish with sprinkles, candles, or other festive decorations.

Photos captured by Tawny Alipoon

"Ramps" by Kyle Potvin + Grilled Scallion pizza

For your consideration, a list of ingredients with very, very short seasons: figs, persimmons, perfectly ripe strawberries, and ramps. There are others, of course, but these come to mind as I draft this post—a post that, unfortunately, is paired with a poem whose brief window of glory was back in April, or thereabouts.

So we will adapt, as we do. Adaptation (the evolution, not the film starring Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage) has been on my mind this year occasionally when I've had time to stop and actually think. As someone who used to make plans and stick to them (everything from vacation itineraries to weekly meals), there's been somewhat of a learning curve to slowly transition from hyper organized to easygoing. 

You might say I'm a recovering Type A personality. I'm still organized and I still like to look at the big picture, but I don't stress about small things as much anymore, especially, especially when they fall outside my control (which is often). 

Grilled Scallion Pizza from Eat This Poem
Grilled Scallion Pizza from Eat This Poem

Like most things in life worth doing, progress was slow for a while, but years later, I can see a real softening of spirit and a much more peaceful mindset than I used to have, which has come in handy this year especially.

Because we had a baby. Because we moved. Because our oven stopped working on Thanksgiving Day, and our kitchen sink backed up on Christmas Eve. Because it took four months for our new slipcover to arrive. Because our building decided to change the garage codes the same day I was picking up my sister-in-law at the airport. Because that's usually the way it goes.

So, we adapt. We make a new plan. We just see how it goes. I still plan our meals because that's how my life stays on track these days, but I like to leave room for inspiration to strike, especially at the farmer's market. 

And although ramps might not be in season now that it's October, the poem below transports us back to the clear days of spring.

Grilled Scallion Pizza


by Kyle Potvin

After Poached Eggs on Toast with Ramps
– Bon Appétit, April 2014

Hail young allium!
Spring onion,
wild leek.

Your season is brief
yet you are complicated,
three parts in one:
pungent bulb that hides beneath the surface,
magenta stem,
broad tender leaf that disappears by summer.

Your ancestors have lined rivers
and fed tribes.
A city – Chicagou –
is named in your honor!

Some try to preserve you,
pickle you,
for the months ahead
but I say:

Sizzle in the heat of the pan.
Soften to unexpected sweetness.
Join with the delicate egg, poached,
on a thick slice of toast,
thinly spread with cheese:
fresh goat, ricotta, burrata.

This Sunday morning,
rock the Maldon.
Run with the abandon
of broken yolk. 

Printed with permission from the author.

This poem has summed up my feelings nicely. The directive is firm but friendly: "Sizzle in the heat of the pan. / Soften to unexpected sweetness." In several stanzas, we are given instructions in both cooking and living. Rather than hoarding ramps for the future and giving up precious time in the moment to preserve them, there's an alternative I very much like, which involves three cheese options, a thick slice of toast, poached egg, and flaky salt.

Stay present. Stay hungry.

I am both of these things. In wrong season, perhaps, but I have adapted. I have replaced the bread with pizza dough, and ramps with scallions. And we have what is still a very good meal indeed.

Grilled Scallion Pizza


When ramps are not in season, green onions make a worthy substitute for this spring/summer pizza. If you have an outdoor grill, it adds a nice char to the green onions, but blister them in a hot pan on the stove if not.

1 batch pizza dough (recipe here)
1 large bunch scallions
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly cracked pepper
4 ounces mozzarella
4 ounces whole-milk ricotta
Crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat a pizza stone in your oven for 30 minutes to 1 hour, on the highest setting you have, ideally around 500 degrees.

While the oven heats up, rinse and dry the scallions. Add them to a large sheet pan, drizzle with oil, a pinch of salt, and a few turns of freshly cracked pepper. If you're using a grill, keep them in tact and place them on the grates, heated to medium-high. They only need a minute or two per side before becoming brown and charred. Remove from the grill before they've gone too far, then chop into small pieces.

(If you're cooking indoors, chop the scallions into 2 to 3-inch pieces. Follow the same process coating them in oil, salt, and pepper. Saute over medium heat until wilted and slightly charred.)

Once the stone is preheated, get your dough in order. Shape one dough and leave the other covered. Pull out the stone and dust is with cornmeal. Place the dough down, then top with half the mozzarella, ricotta, and green onions. Finish with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and brown in places, and the crust is golden. Slide the pizza onto a fresh cutting board and place the stone back in the oven. Slice and serve.

September Food Haiku Winner + Steel Cut Oats with Fig Sauce

Steel Cut Oats with Orange-Stewed Figs

My recommendation for fig season is a simple one: don't hesitate. As in, if you see a basket of figs while you stroll through your weekend market, buy them. If you say to yourself, I'll get some next week, they might be gone. I speak from personal experience, it's worth noting. 

Steel Cut Oats with Orange-Stewed Figs

So, now that you have your basket of figs, you can make this comforting fall breakfast. It's a warm bowl of steel cut oats with syrupy figs, made sweet from fresh orange juice and a touch of maple syrup. But first, congratulations to Vivian Tu, this month's food haiku contest winner! 

steel cut oats with orange-stewed figs

for the oats
1 cup steel cut oats
3 cups water
1 cup whole milk or almond milk

for the figs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 basket figs (about 3/4 pound), tops cut off and sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt

To make the oatmeal, add the oats, water, and milk to a 4-quart sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. I like to add a splash of milk at the end, to make it a bit more soupy.

To make the figs, melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the sliced figs, orange juice, maple syrup, cinnamon, and salt. When the liquid is bubbling, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the figs are tender and most of the orange juice has evaporated, leaving behind a sweet and thickened sauce. 

Pour spoonfuls of fig sauce over the bowls of oats before serving. 

Steel Cut Oats with Orange-Stewed Figs
Steel Cut Oats with Orange-Stewed Figs

[BOOK ENDS] Introducing the Cover of Eat This Poem + Pre-Orders!

Pre-Order on Amazon!

Pre-Order on Amazon!


Book Ends is an occasional series where I share insights about the cookbook writing process. For even more, subscribe to my newsletter.

In the life cycle of a book, there are many milestones. Some are small, like finishing a chapter, or settling on just the right sentence. Others are large, like signing your publishing contract. I believe they should all be celebrated with a glass of champagne.

I often talk about milestones because when you consider your writing careerhopefully one that spans many years and even decadesquiet moments are common. There are more days spent choosing the right word, receiving an email from a reader, or attaching your poems in a submission email (or receiving rejection letters) than finishing book proposals or giving readings. 

The big moments are exciting. They provide momentum to keep going, certainly. But it's how we devote ourselves to the time in between that the life of a writer is really made.

I'm currently in a season where big moments come in more rapid succession. This, after three years of relative calm, testing recipes and working on chapters bit by bit, until a whole manuscript appeared. Now, we've only six months to go before Eat This Poem arrives in bookstores. And you can pre-order it! (I'll be writing more about pre-orders in a bit, because they're HUGELY important.)

I'm also taking a final look at the proofs, with pages designed and illustrated by a very talented artist named Cat Grishaver. You can get a sneak peek in this video.

And the cover!! What do you think? I smiled ear to ear when I opened up the email with draft art a while back. I wanted something timeless with a touch of whimsey, and I think this is exactly right. 

I hope you love it!

Haiku Contest Finalists | September 2016


Fig season is fleeting, and I consider the fruit sort of an emblem of transition. They arrive at the market in the last days of summer with matte, slightly shriveled skin, and a tender interior well suited to pair with honey or cheese. The days are not quite blustery, but no longer scorching hot. Fall is imminent, yet restrained. We are waiting for the inevitable, seasonal shift, which is the exact moment plump figs appear.

When it comes to matters of the seasons, and what to do about it, recipe-wise, I'm fond of thumbing through The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater. The entry from October 26 is especially poignant. 

The last fat, yellow leaves fell off the fig tree this morning, leaving next year’s buds at the tip of each gray branch and forty green fruits that will never ripen.

You approach the tree with caution, each piece of stone around its base splattered with potentially lethal squashed figs, hoping for just one edible fruit. But there is no such thing, and the tree that promised so much in May has failed to deliver.
— Nigel Slater

The moral of this story is to find a few figs and eat them before they disappear, and in an effort to encourage you, three poetic offerings are below. Choose your favorite food haiku before September 16th!

Food Haiku Contest September 2016


Choose your favorite haiku from the list below.
Communication Preferences

"Gardening" by Leslie Contreras Schwartz + Italian Stuffed Tomatoes

Stuffed Tomatoes with Arborio Rice and Potatoes

My cookbooks have a new home. 

You see, summer snuck up on me for one rather monumental reason: we moved. The whole thing was somewhat unexpected, and the short story with the happy ending is we found a new place to call home and moved in record time (10 days to be exact). I'm tired just typing that. 

The unpacking, naturally, took a bit longer.

June was also the month spent reviewing the copyedits for my cookbook, so this season I've been all about simple cooking, and revisiting some old favorites. And because my cookbooks look all fresh and perky on the shelf, I've taken to pulling them down one by one, flipping through a section or two, and cooking my meals for the week from what I find inside. I'm so glad I've started doing this again. 

Italian Stuffed Tomatoes

The most recent cookbook I've lost myself in is Rachel Roddy's My Kitchen in Rome. This one I was eager about from the start. It seems like so long ago now that Rachel announced she was even writing a cookbook, and I couldn't wait to order my copy. Sadly, we had to wait even longer for the U.S. version to arrive, but it was worth the extra months.

My Kitchen in Rome is beautifully written, truly. My remarks here likely do not do it justice. You should know that if you find yourself on the couch one afternoon, you will be transported to Italy and your heart might ache just a little bit when you realize you are actually not there.

But that is where food does its magic work, because I've been calling myself a Roman for the past couple of weeks by spooning beans over bread and stuffing the first tomatoes from my farmers' market. I've also been reading some poetry. Not as much as I should be, but enough to stumble across this lovely little poem.



by Leslie Contreras Schwartz

There is too much work:
the turning of soil,
the watering, and pulling
the bright green weeds that choke
and curl the fruit. I want only
the joy, the taste of tomatoes
pouring down my lips,
the sun on my throat.
I like the soil under my nails
but I feel forsaken, tricked.
I watch the garden fester
and dry out, the tomatoes
small and weakening in
the cracked bed. It is like my daughter,
who one day draws picture after picture
of rainbows, bursting hearts, spells “love”
backwards, sideways, forward, then
for days lies on the couch blinking
at television or just talking to herself,
her sister. Too much work, this joy,
the colors of fruit, the frothy soil,
too much sun and magic. We all
need retreat, to rest, to feel
sometimes that it will come to us
by itself, a heavy plate that
says this is all yours.


from FUEGO by Leslie Contreras Schwartz © 2016; ISBN:  978-0-9965231-5-8;
Saint Julian Press. Reprinted with permission from the author.

I can't think of a more perfect poem for the summer, and for my own particular season in life. First, wanting only the joy. I'm certain we all want this, though we're well aware of how life works. There are joys, then disappointments, then more joys, then a rough day, then a splendid one. This is the way of it. But I love how profound the ache is here, as if the speaker is on the brink of just giving up entirely, being ruthlessly honest.

Next, at the very end, the lines about needing to retreat, rest, to "feel sometimes that it will come to us / by itself." As someone for whom self-care is of the upmost importance, I resonate with these lines so much. Even when the tomatoes are ripe, and our days are filled with "sun and magic," it can all feel like too much work. Even the joys. Some days, this is true, but the poem ends on a hopeful note, doesn't it?

A hope that whatever it is we need most will find us when it's time. It's certainly a message I need to hear today, and perhaps I'm not the only one.

Italian Stuffed Tomatoes with rice and potatoes

Adapted lightly from My Kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy

This makes a wonderful, leisurely lunch or light supper, but as Rachel is kind to remind home cooks, "good stuffed tomatoes do indeed come to those who wait." There is a fair amount of waiting with this dish. Waiting for the tomato shells to drain, waiting for things to bake, then waiting for the dish to rest and settle and cool down a bit. Do not begin this dish without knowing what's required, which, more than anything, is simply your time and a bit of care. I halved the recipe and used four tomatoes instead of eight, but you can certainly double this for a crowd or ample leftovers.

Serves 2

4 firm, large tomatoes
1 plump garlic clove, finely chopped
4 basil leaves, torn
5 tablespoons Arborio rice
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus some extra for the potatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Yukon potatoes, peeled

Cut the tops off the tomatoes and set them aside. One by one, hold the tomatoes over a bowl and scoop out their insides by gently scraping the interior with a spoon. Let the flesh, seeds, and juice fall into a bowl. Sprinkle a bit of salt in the cavity of each tomato, then place them cut-side down on a clean tea towel or paper towel-lined cutting board so excess liquid can drain.

Blend the tomato flesh, seeds, and juice in a blender; pout into a large bowl. To the tomato liquid, add the garlic, and basil. Next, add the rice and olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper; stir. Leave to sit at least 45 minutes.

Cut the potatoes into 1-inch long matchsticks. Pout the potatoes into a bowl, pour a little oil over them, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Toss with your hands until well coated.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the hollowed-out tomatoes in a lightly greased baking dish. Spoon the rice inside until they are three-quarters full, then put the tops back on. (Sadly, I completely forgot to do this!) Scatter the potatoes around the tomatoes and bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the tomatoes are soft and beginning to shrivel. The rice should be plump and tender, and the potatoes soft and golden. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before eating. Pour yourself a glass of white wine while you wait.

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August Food Haiku Winner + Heirloom Tartine with Garlic Creme Fraiche

There are many ways to use a tomato. All summer long I eat them in pasta, toss them on pizza, make soup and even squish them whole between my teeth. Almost always, the simplest preparation is the best one, especially in these hot summer months. (The simplest recipe of all might be to grate a tomato over grilled bread, something I read in Saveur many years ago.) 

Now, I happen to live in a town that knows a thing or two about toast. Avocado toast, in particular, might as well be a prerequisite for brunch menu's in Los Angeles. It's everywhere, and I love it. Sqirl has a particularly good one. On the bottom is a thick slathering of creme fraiche spiked with garlic, which is where I got the idea. I actually licked my fingers the first time I had it. And when you find something that striking, It's especially nice to make in your own kitchen, especially if the restaurant is clear across town, and you can't just drive 45 minutes in one direction to get garlic creme fraiche whenever you very well want to.

So. On top of this slightly spicy and effortlessly creamy spread are slices of ripe heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with pepper and flaky salt. That's it. It's all you need, really. And this month's winning food haiku pairs so nicely.

Sarah's poem perfectly captures the allure of an August tomato, and the voters agreed. My favorite phrase is "grew sunlight." It's such a lovely description, don't you think?

Eat This Poem August Haiku Winner


This is one of those summer-on-a-plate types of things. Juicy, plump tomatoes, bread, and a bit of this assertive spread. I can eat it all afternoon. 

Serves 2

1/4 cup creme fraiche
1 plump garlic clove, grated (about 1/2 teaspoon)
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked pepper
2 slices rustic bread, cut 1/2-inch thick
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large heirloom tomato, sliced
Flaky salt, for finishing

Stir the creme fraiche, garlic, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Heat a grill pan over medium heat and drizzle the bread slices with oil, spreading it around with your hands, covering both sides. Grill the bread for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until sufficiently golden. Slather a layer of creme fraiche over the hot bread, and as it begins to melt and the scent of garlic plumes, cover with a few tomato slices. Finish with a pinch of flaky salt and serve.

Haiku Contest Finalists | August 2016

Usually the cherry tomatoes arrive first, followed by plump heirlooms, and later in the season, I carry home pounds of tender Roma's for fresh tomato sauce. (I even buy 25 pound boxes from a nearby farm over Labor Day weekend, which you can read about here.

August is easily one of my favorite months to cook and eat in, and the three haiku's below are perfect accompaniments to the season. Vote for your favorite before Monday, August 15th! 

August Food Haiku Finalists from Eat This Poem

Submit Your Vote