I tell you, I feel for ducks; all is calm above water, but below feet are paddling madly. That about describes how I feel some days.
As you may have heard, I've been busy these last seven weeks. A particularly life-changing event, in the form of a perfect little bundle of boy, has taken up most of my energies. Energies formerly used for things like wandering markets aimlessly, or going out for a coffee and a chat or, on some days, brushing my hair. Not that I'm complaining - my days are filled with much more worthwhile endeavours; endeavours that bring me boundless joy.
But come on now, its not all puppy dogs and butterflies and all things lovely; there still are those times when it is the end of the day and you have to get dinner on the table.
I know I've touched upon it before, but a well-stocked pantry can be a lifesaver. I consider mine my bag of tricks, full of my go-to solutions for easy meals, last minute entertaining options and perennial favourites.
I remember when I had my first apartment, I was so excited about setting up my kitchen. I spent hours scouring cookbooks and the internet for ideas on what to stock in my pantry. I looked at the way I cooked, the way I lived and, most importantly, the tastes I crave. I used these ideas, and some trial and error, to come up with my list of essentials - my desert-island kitchen kit.
My dear Sean laughed the first time he saw my grocery database I've made - a master list of the foods I always like to have on hand, ready to be printed out at a moment’s notice. Though maybe not everyone is as type A as I am, I'm sure most have at least a mental list of those ingredients that they would rather never be without.
There are the usual suspects; pastas, rices, vinegars, oils, canned goods and dried herbs and spices. My baking pantry has jars filled with dried fruits, sugars, toffee chips and all manners of chocolates.
I have also learned to treat my refrigerator and freezer as an extension of my pantry staples. Fresh herbs, lemons and limes, chilies and cheeses can elevate a typical meal into something special. Frozen stocks add a depth of flavour to a quickly-assembled meal. Prepared puff pastry, phyllo dough, shortcrust pastry and a best-quality vanilla ice cream mean that a dessert is never too far away.
My latest addition to my little inventory has been frozen fruit, especially berries. Perfect for not only smoothies and frozen cocktails, but also for sauces, pies and cakes. These little jewels bring a dose of summertime sweetness to the grey days of March. In truth, I rely on them year-round.
This last weekend, with family and friends visiting, it was a luxury to feel at the ready for hostessing ... even though we had not been to the grocery store in days. With my secret stash I was able to welcome them with open arms and a full table - the highlight of which was this berry cake. Rich with a cream cheese pound cake base and topped with luscious berries and a coconut almond streusel, I won rave reviews. Thank goodness for good planning and a full pantry.
Am I busy? Yes. Do I feel stressed? No - it’s all like water off a duck’s back.
Favourite Berry Cake
My own creation
For the cake
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
1 (8 ounce) block of cream cheese, softened
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
For the topping
2 to 21/2 cups berries, depending on your choice of mix
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup blanched sliced almonds
1/3 cup flaked coconut, use sweetened or unsweetened - your preference
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Additional butter for greasing pans
If you would like to make the miniature version pictured, grease 8 four-inch round spingform pans and preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). If baking one large cake, generously grease a 8-inch round springform pan and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
Make the crumble topping first. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, almonds and flaked coconut. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut in the cold butter until a coarse crumb forms. Set aside in the refrigerator while you assemble the cake.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all the ingredients are well incorporated. Take your time at this step, allowing about five minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time; beat well after each addition. Mix in vanilla.
In a bowl, sift together flour and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour to the batter. Mix until just combined and smooth. Pour batter into prepared pans, and sprinkle over berries. Finish with the chilled crumb topping and bake.
For the miniature versions, they will be done after about 50-60 minutes, when they should be a pale golden brown and a cake tester comes out almost clean (there may be a tiny amount of clinging moisture). For the larger version, it will take about 75 minutes.
Allow to cool in the pan, on a wire rack, for 20 minutes. Unmould and allow to cool completely.
• I use a full-fat (regular) cream cheese for this cake. I have not tried it with a reduced fat variety.
• Alternatively, you can also make this cake in two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans. Bake at 350°F for about 60-75 minutes.
• There are no leaveners in this cake; all of its rise comes from the amount of air beaten into the batter with the creaming process and the addition of the eggs. Take care at these steps to ensure a dense,yet well-formed, crumb.
• If the kitchen is particularly warm, you might want to keep the topping in the freezer until ready to use.
• If the cake browns too quickly, tent with aluminium foil.
My apologies. This recipe was initially published with a typo - the springform pan is meant to be an 8" instead of a 9" as orginally listed.
A sincere thank you to all of you who have written with your well wishes for the three of us. We are terribly happy and cannot express our gratitude for all the support we have received. I am sorry that I have not been able to respond personally to everyone, but please know that we are humbled by your generosity and kindness. All the best to you and yours.