Chai Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ah, Portland.  What lovely souls reside here.  What fantastic characters grace your coffee shops, your streets, your bars, your grassy parks, who stay for a while and then leave swiftly, guided by a curiosity and thirst for life nurtured only by such a wondrous town.

Those on the go, those willing to pack a bag at a moment’s notice and leave for adventures unknown, those dripping with uncertainty in their seemingly settled lives.  These are the people I want to know.  People who aren’t scared to take their own path, to squirm at the thought of chaining themselves to one life, to one idea, to one opinion, to one place, to one person.  Whose travels and teachings have only led them to know that they actually know next to nothing except who they are with great clarity.  Those who involve themselves in what brings them passion, excitement, livelihood and don’t bother with that which doesn’t.  Those who, just by being in their presence, you can feel something deeper.  Something wild, something untamed, something fierce that just might, someday, arrive unpredictably in full force.

And when I met Liz, it was for this reason that we connected.

A glance around Liz’s bedroom gives a good indication of who she is, covered with posters of the sea, of surfers, of naked girls on bikes, a map of New Zealand, eclectic clothes and jewelry strewn around the room, some textbooks and a beta fish.

She’s a surfer chick who’s studying towards a nursing degree so that she can travel the world while healing people, and she drives an old beater van with a backseat converted into a disheveled bed to sleep on while out on her surfing adventures.

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We first bonded over a Halloween zombie bar crawl a few months ago.  Then we climbed together, then jogged across the river together, then drank beer and, all the while chatting about how strange and funny life can be sometimes.

The other night she took a chocolate making class at People’s Co-Op, and the next day invited me over to attempt to make our own.

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We rode our bikes to the market and back with Gunner by our side, and proceeded to make delicious (and healthy) chocolate from scratch.  It was probably the cutest Valentine’s Day date ever.

Lesson learned, making chocolate from scratch really isn’t all too difficult!  You just need chocolate powder, a fat (such as butter), and a sweetener.  You can choose the quality of ingredients to use in making your own batch, but we opted for a nutritious and energy packed recipe.

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We picked up some cacao powder, a mix of cacao butter and coconut oil, and a mix of maple sugar and coconut palm sugar.  IMG_1158IMG_1162

After mixing the ingredients together in a double boiler, we poured the chocolate mix into molds and put them in the freezer to solidify.  We made a few different batches, including Meyer lemon and fresh ginger, dried rosemary and sea salt, chili powder and cinnamon, and chopped walnuts and sea salt.  Um…wow, they were AMAZING.IMG_1175IMG_1171IMG_1169IMG_1167

It’s obvious to anyone that meets her that she’s a rad chick, but not everyone who’s rad will wholeheartedly bring you into her little Portland world so openly as Liz has for me.

Also, not everyone who’s rad will bake you a cake from scratch for your birthday.

But Liz did.  And just like the chocolates, it was also AMAZING.

It was a chai cake with cream cheese frosting, a recipe borrowed from the journal of her great friend Vicki.

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And because my first birthday in Portland was such a sweet sweet memory for me, this is the recipe I want to share with you.

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Chai Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • 6 chai tea bags (without added sugar)
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tsp vanilla
  • 2 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 4 1/2 Tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 Tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 Tsp salt
  • 8 oz. unsalted butter at room temperature

For frosting:

  • 8 oz butter for frosting at room temperature
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer over low-medium heat.  Add tea bags.  Remove from heat and let steep for five minutes.  Let chai milk cool completely.

In a medium bowl, mix eggs, yolks, vanilla and 1/3 cup of the chai milk.  Whisk together.

In separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom and salt.  Add butter and remaining chai milk on medium speed with mixer.  Raise speed and beat until fluffy.  Add egg mix in three additions.  Add to a greased cake pan and bake for 26-28 minutes.

For the frosting, combine cream cheese and butter on medium speed in a mixer until consistent texture.  Add the vanilla extract, then slowly add sugar.    Once the cake has cooled, spread frosting on evenly.

Special thanks to both Liz and Vicki for introducing me to my new favorite cake and for lending me the recipe.  You two make me smile.

Raspberry Summer Squash Flax Muffins

This past saturday Tim and I took the puppy to the Oregon coast to splash around in the ocean waves.  We drove up through Astoria and drank some local brews at the Fort George Taproom, then headed south and stopped at a few spots along the way, including a delicious dinner and sunset beach stroll at Cannon.  It was quite the lovely adventure, really.

Bittersweet it was though, as this was one of the very, very few times the two three of us have had a day off together since we moved to Portland.  You see, Tim works a relatively normal work week but I, on the other hand, have a work schedule that is far more out of wack.  Sometimes I work days, other times nights, and almost always on the weekends with the lovely Plate & Pitchfork.  

Being by the ocean never fails to offer a welcomed change of perspective for me.  Its vastness is humbling, and the significance of day to day issues and stresses that normally get me just seem to slip away.  There is an impermanence about the ocean that I also take comfort in: the ebb and flow, the way the tide rolls in and out, the waves crashing in at one moment, and then retreating back the next.  

  Photography and film by my aunt Cheryl.

This week marks a welcomed last several days of a disappointing summer serving gig.  It wasn’t right.  It wasn’t even close to what I needed to be doing and this became apparent as my summer was gluttonously swallowed by my the time spent at work.  Here in my world, when it rains, it pours.  I’ve spent the past three weeks without a full day off, and it’s taken its toll on my soul.

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut, and I did.  I quit without alternative plans except for several remaining events with Plate & Pitchfork, a few suggestions and a hopeful interview for a new restaurant owned by perhaps the most well-respected chef in Portland, Vitaly Paley.

I got the job.  And mostly because I truly meant every word I spoke and wore it all on my sleeve.  It starts at the end of August, and until then I can relax and enjoy the ebb of the final days of my first Portland summer.  But first, to spend a long weekend at one of the most relaxing retreats I could imagine: Tim’s family’s cabin on Like Higgins in Michigan.

But back to our oceanic adventure.

As a sweet end to a beautiful day, we returned home to find this gift bestowed upon our dining room table.  It certainly isn’t a bad thing to have neighbors with a thriving vegetable garden.

So I made some muffins.  Because let’s be honest…who doesn’t love muffins?

Raspberry Summer Squash Flax MuffinsYields 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used the raw Trader Joe’s kind)
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 large organic summer squash
  • 1 cup raspberries (I used organic frozen, but you can certainly use fresh)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated is best!)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp. flax seeds
  • Non-stick cooking spray for muffin tins (I used vegetable oil to coat the tins, but spray is easier)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grate summer squash using a large cheese grater, and set aside.  Combine sugar, vegetable oil and eggs into a small bowl.  Stir to combine, then set aside.   In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients including flax seeds, and stir to combine.  Incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry.  Add grated squash, stir.  Fold in frozen raspberries, being careful not to over-stir at this point (because your batter will become pink and your raspberries will lose their body).  Pour batter to about 3/4 of the way up the tin using a spoon.  Place in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or metal object placed inside one of the muffins comes out dry.  


Apple Cinnamon Banana Bread

I have a very love/hate relationship with baking.  I love the endless delicious baked goods you can create with baking, but I hate how the recipes call for specific proportions and are affected by tons of different factors, kind of like a science experiment.  I am by no means a perfectionist, and I wouldn’t really call myself “detail-oriented”.  Sure, I took chemistry lab four hours a week for an entire year of college,  but I was not very good at it.  My measurements were never precise and I found accounting for all the variables quite tedious and time-consuming.  Truth be told, I’m not too comfortable with baking, and while I’d like to learn how to bake like a pro, I still find it quite intimidating.

Likewise, I have a very love/hate relationship with bananas.  There are times when I’m craving a healthy, filling snack and a banana seems to nicely fit the bill.  They go well in cereal, pancakes and are a key ingredient in the perfect breakfast smoothie.  However, what annoys me about bananas is the incredibly small time frame with which I find them appetizing before they go from hard and tart to mushy and overly sweet.  I never really know how many to buy at the store because in any given week I could crave a banana every day, or I could be turned off to the idea of eating a banana at all.

Today on my day off, with time on my hands and a much overdue blog entry to get done, I felt up for a challenge.  When I looked in the pantry and found two overly ripe bananas, the challenge became clear: it was a banana bread-making kind of day.  But most people, I figure, have made and/or know how to make a basic banana bread.  Thus, I opted to incorporate a few other ingredients that I picked up at the market yesterday and improvise a bit.  This is what I came up with:

Apple Cinnamon Banana Bread

Ingredients:

For filling:

  • 1 large or 2 small apples, peeled, cored and sliced into small chunks
  • Half a cup of apple cider
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • a pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • zest of half a lemon
  • juice of half a lemon

For banana bread:

  • 2 overripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/3 cup of melted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cup flour (I used whole wheat flour for this recipe, but have used white flour in the past and it turned out moister than with the whole wheat flour)

For streusel topping:

  • 2 tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. water
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

For apple filling, throw apple chunks into a saucepan with apple cider, bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.  Add all other ingredients and allow to simmer for at least half an hour, or until the chunks are soft and a deep yellow color.

For the streusel topping, combine all ingredients in a small bowl until combined evenly and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter for batter preparation and combine with the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl.  Add the sugar eggs and vanilla extract and combine evenly.  Add baking soda and salt, then the flour last and stir until all ingredients are mixed evenly throughout the batter.  Once the apple mixture has cooled, fold apples into the batter evenly.  Pour batter into a loaf pan and then once spread evenly use your hands to spread streusel topping over the batter.

Bake for approx. an hour (I had to bake for over an hour because of the high altitude.  The best way to tell if the bread is done is to stick a knife into the center of the batter and pull it out.  If any of the batter is stuck to the knife then your banana bread is not ready and you must cook for longer.  After five minutes, check again).  Remove from oven when baked thoroughly, allow to cool for five minutes.

Serve warm with a delicious cup of coffee and a newspaper on a leisurely Sunday morning.