Hazelnut Lemon Cake with Roasted Blueberries

Hazelnut lemon bread & roasted blueberries // sweetsonian

Hazelnut lemon bread & roasted blueberries // sweetsonian

Summer has arrived, swiftly warning me of its brutality.

Today is my day off — I didn’t have much planned except for yoga this evening, but Kristen invited me to speak to her 6th and 7th graders about having a career in art. While one class seemed more interested in knowing if I knew “how to hack” or not (I told them that Google knew every single thing they did on the internet, so it was in their best interest to not hack), some students were genuinely interested in learning more about art and design.

Hazelnut lemon bread & roasted blueberries // sweetsonian

Hazelnut lemon bread & roasted blueberries // sweetsonian

I sure wish I had someone to talk to about careers in creative when I was younger! My newspaper advisor in high school (now a client!) was always supportive of my want to pursue design as a career, but being part of a family who only cared about finance made art school impossible.

It’s weird, isn’t it? I have friends working in almost every industry that exists. Some whose parents are creatives and encouraged creative careers — some of that backfires and sometimes it works. There seems to be a delicate balance. My parents strongly (forcefully) encouraged me to pursue finance and accounting. Sophomore year of college, I took an accounting class, and was doing pretty well. I hated every minute of every econ class I ever took, and I went into that accounting class with an A. But halfway through the final, I thought to myself, why the hell am I here? I hate accounting. I refuse to ever take another accounting class again.

So I walked out of the final exam. I got a C.

My dad wanted to kill me, but I knew I had made the right decision. It was the decision to choose my own courses, and to finally stop letting my parents dictate what I wanted. Back then, I wanted to be a CIA operative. I started taking Arabic classes, and I excelled. My parents rolled their eyes.

And don’t get me wrong, I loved my college experience, and my Arabic wasn’t bad — I had a couple of job offers for career paths close to being a CIA operative (but not quite the real thing). And I liked it, but there’s just no comparison to how much I love what I do now. I don’t think time was wasted, per se, but man, twenty-seven year old Sarah would loooove to travel back to 2004 and whisper some advice to high school Sarah. It wouldn’t be to specifically go to art school, but it would have been to stop letting my parents scare me into a career that I didn’t want.

Instead of the year and a half of economics classes for the business major, I could have been taking illustration and design. I can take those classes now, but sometimes, I wish I had a better base.

Hazelnut lemon bread & roasted blueberries // sweetsonian

Of course, the grass is always greener. Who knows, if I went to art school when I was an undergrad, the recession could have killed any marketing budgets that could have funded a budding career — especially in Los Angeles.

It’s one of the many reasons why I love talking to kids about my job. I tell them about how I always loved art and creativity, and that I was somehow able to make it my full-time job, and that these days, it’s much easier to find work in creative than it was ten years ago. And half of the interesting stuff lies in the fact that I didn’t go to art school. I technically didn’t have to go to school at all. But it shows that you don’t need a degree in whatever the rest of your life will be spent doing.

And when the kids ask me how many hours I spend working, it’s always shocking to add it up and tell them sometimes up to 70 hours a week. I can see their eyes bug out, but I always supplement it with telling them: You know, if you’re lucky enough to really love your work, it won’t always feel like work. Which is true. Now, if I could just turn writing this blog and making yummy treats my full-time job. That would be a treat, wouldn’t it?

Hazelnut lemon bread & roasted blueberries // sweetsonian

Hazelnut Lemon Cake with Roasted Blueberries, adapted from Diana Rossen Worthington

Ingredients:

3/4 cup hazelnuts, finely ground
3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons Greek yogurt
Zest of half a lemon

1 pint fresh blueberries, cleaned and picked over
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Mint sprigs, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

Combine the flour, walnut meal, salt, and baking soda in a mixing bowl. Stir with a fork, and set aside.

In an electric mixer, cream the butter and the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the sour cream and lemon zest. Slowly add the dry ingredients (I have this thing to keep my KitchenAid mixer from spraying flour all over the counter) and mix until just blended.

Pour the batter into your loaf pan, and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean. Let cool completely.

Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees F.

Pour the blueberries into a baking dish or cast iron skillet. Sprinkle with brown sugar and butter, and stir to combine. Roast them in the oven until the blueberries are about to burst — about 10 minutes.

Serve each slice of cake with a spoonful of roasted blueberries, and garnish with mint (optional) if you like.

Pumpkin Tea Cake

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

There’s a somberness that comes with the end of summer and beginning of fall. The air is drier, there sun is lower, and the sky feels a little bluer. Maybe it’s because the wind is a little colder.

But with every changing season, I reflect on the past few months — for me, summer was exhilarating. I was jet setting between California and New York and spotted through Europe (can I go back please?). The day job and the freelance clients have all been pretty amazing lately, so it’s safe to say I’m in a good spot.

I spent a couple of hours on Kristen’s floor with Winston last night, drinking wine and catching up after a busy day of work and biking all over DC. I’ve actually had a couple of anxiety filled days, mostly coping with the realization that no one is happy all of the time. It’s painful, to see people you care about struggling. Whether you’ve been in their shoes or not, it hurts. We meowed with Winston, told stories about how we’re too old to be drinking as much as we do, and chatted about the ups and downs, the balancing act of good times and bad times in our circles of friends.

A few of our close friends are going through some rough transitions in life, and I’ve been trying to figure out how the best ways to help them. Most of the time, I just want to rescue the people I love, take a few days off work and sit them down in my living room while I blast music and bake up a storm. Or fly to wherever they are and do the same in their own kitchen. It’s the company that matters; the location is usually meaningless.

Long story short, if you’re reading this, you know who you are. I love you, and this pumpkin tea cake is for you.

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

Pumpkin Tea Cake, derived from the Tartine Cookbook

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup + 2 tbsp pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/3 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Line one 9-by-5-inch loaf pan (or three mini loaf pans) with parchment paper, and brush with oil or rub with butter.

In a mixing bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves together. Set aside.

In your stand mixer, beat together the pumpkin puree, oil, sugar, and salt on medium speed, until well-mixed. Add each egg, one at a time, fully incorporating before adding the next. Slowly add the dry ingredients with the mixer on low speed, beating until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula, and then beat on medium speed for 10 seconds to make a smooth batter.

Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan (or pans) and smooth the surface with your spatula. Bake until the centers are set and a toothpick comes out clean — the time will depend on your oven, but it should take about 1 hour.

Serve the cake at room temperature. It keeps well if wrapped in saran wrap, but it won’t last long.

Cardamom Pound Cake

cardamom pound cake // sweetsonian

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Cardamom is a spice that you don’t come across too much in American cooking. I never really knew what it was until I was 19, wide-eyed and living in Tanzania for the summer — it was the main ingredient in a selection of teas and desserts, occasionally, in one of the rice dishes we had. Thinking back, there are a lot of things I wish I could change about that trip, but mostly myself: how I viewed life, how I acted back then. I’m sure we all have those moments (days, weeks, months).

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Just the taste of cardamom reminds me of how much we can change in just seven years. Back then, I was on a mission to prove my dedication to international development, and to prove to my parents that I didn’t need to listen to every piece of advice they scolded my way.

I deserved the scolding. I was an asshole back then (oh man, I hope-hope-hope I’m not nearly as much of an asshole now).

But no matter how broke I was because of that trip, I wouldn’t take it back for the world.

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I lived with a handful of other volunteer teachers in a house near Bahari Beach, just outside of Dar es Salaam. There were a few women who lived in the house that also cooked for us and taught us bits and pieces of Swahili — which I used to be alright at — but honestly, the memory that sticks with me more than anything is the scent and the taste of the cardamom-infused chai tea that greeted me every morning.

They mixed the tea from scratch, and boiled water in huge vats — water that was used throughout the day for cooking, laundering, and other methods of cleaning. The tea was strained directly into a giant, baby pink thermos, and had enough tea for everyone in the house to have at least a few cups of.

Breakfast usually included a few cups of tea, lesson planning, and toast with a glass of fresh passionfruit juice. Then, I’d hop onto tht dala dala, a bus that was so packed with people that no morning was complete without a stranger sitting on your lap or crouched between the other 20 riders on a 10-person bus. After teaching elementary school in the morning and high school in the afternoon, I usually took the bus back to Bahari beach, and walked to the beach itself — not far from Rold Dahl’s house, and a separate dial-up internet cafe.

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I had a typical Tanzanian school notebook that I used as a journal back then. It shouldn’t surprise you that I was a journal-writer, because, well, I write to you here as often as I can. I will say, it’s nice to have an actual reader for this type of stuff.

But after a drink or dinner at the beach cafe, I’d come back to the volunteer house and hang out with the girls and the other volunteers. I’d cross my fingers the entire walk back, hoping that there would be some tea left.

But then again, there was always beer, too.

Baking this cake filled my apartment with the scent of cardamom, which only made me drift back even further into these memories. I bought a massive box of Chai Bora before I left Tanzania — but I went through the tea ever so quickly, back in my UCSB days of daily, chilly morning Arabic classes.

They say scents spark the strongest memories, and when they do, years might have passed between the last time you even remembered the details your mind pairs with those scents.

It felt like years had passed since I smelled cardamom. The scent is comforting.

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Recipe after the jump.  Continue reading “Cardamom Pound Cake”