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Sep 10 2014

I Fed My Kid Only Candy For a Day & This is What Happened

By at 11:13 am


My 4.5-year-old has been jumping the baby gate at the top of our stairs before we are awake to sneak into the kitchen and eat treats. He has his fill and creeps back upstairs. Last week he used a stool to get in the freezer and eat ice cream sandwiches; we later found a half-eaten 16 oz. bag of marshmallows in his bed and some baking chocolate under his pillow.

But one thing agile, sneaky 4-year-olds don’t do well is cover their tracks. One morning I came downstairs to find that my son had used a GRILLING SPATULA to serve himself a piece of his little brother’s birthday cake onto a plate. There was a dirty plate and fork on the counter (because if you are going to sneak cake you MUST serve it to yourself on a plate and use a fork like a sophisticated criminal), an open Tupperware with sugar cookie crumb-trails and a half-eaten nectarine. He looked at me innocently and asked, “What’s for breakfast?”

My blood was boiling. Lying and sneakiness makes me bananapants crazy. But lectures, warnings, and punishment have gotten me nowhere (don’t even get me started about the positive parenting sticker chart and the bazillion “good behavior prizes” rotting in our closet). All I could think to myself was, “I give up.” And then I thought, GIVE UP. Just GIVE UP. And I replied, “You’re in luck! I know how much you like to eat treats so today you are having cake for breakfast!” Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 9 2013

A Dairy-Free Summer Dessert Your Family Will Love

By at 12:16 pm

kuchenbuckleSometimes a dessert can be like a great poem–taking on a different interpretation every time it is approached, yet always retaining its greatness. The Summerfruit Kuchenbuckle is that kind of cake. It is uncomplicated in assemblage yet multi-layered in flavor. It is a celebration of sweet and juicy seasonal fruits, and fluffy flavorful cake. It is completely open to personal preferences… And it’s dairy-free to boot!

A Kuchen is a comfy Ashkenazic fruit-topped cake sometimes featuring a layer of streusel. A Buckle is a homey American dessert, descriptively named for the way the fruit sinks (or buckles) into the cake batter. This cake is a combination of these two cakey desserts, making it a: Kuchenbuckle. It’s a recipe that is dictated by the best fruits the season has to offer; use plump plums, sweet peaches, or the most appealing apricots your market, or garden, yields.

Coconut oil spread is a wonderful parve baking option in general, and in this cake it contributes to a really pleasing and moist crumb, with only the barest hint of coconuttiness. Double down on the coconut flavor if you wish by using coconut milk. Or, if you prefer subtle almond flavor use almond milk (soy and rice milk work well too). This is a sweet dish that you can make your own, every step of the way.

During the summer I make a different version of this cake almost every week. Last week it was Plum Almond, the week before it was Nectarine-Pine Nut. It always comes out of the oven tasting great. And whenever I add the streusel-nut layer, this recipe goes from a poem to a song.

kuchenbuckSummerfruit Kuchenbuckle
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup coconut oil spread plusmore for greasing pan (available in the refrigerated cases in some large
supermarkets and most health food stores)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or nut extract or citrus essence
½ cup coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk, or soy milk
2 cups thinly sliced (about ¼”) pitted stonefruit (peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, or if you have a lot of patience-cherries)
½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, slivered almonds) or Nut Streusel (recipe below) optional-but highly recommended


1. Preheat oven to 350° Grease pan. Fit a piece of parchment paper over bottom of the greased pan, and allow for it to overhang the sides.
2. In a small bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon , and salt
3. In a large bowl cream together coconut oil spread and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add vanilla (or whatever extract/flavoring you’re using).
4. Mix a third of the flour mixture into the wet batter, then add in half of the coconut milk and mix until well combined. Continue alternating between the flour and the milk, mixing well after each addition and ending with the flour mixture. A light and fluffy batter should result.
5. Pour batter into the prepared pan, and smooth it out evenly with a spatula. Place fruit slices in whatever pattern you please over the cake’s surface, so that it is covered in fruit. If adding chopped nuts or streusel-nut crumbles, spread them evenly over fruit slices.
6. Place in preheated oven and let bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the cake is light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in its center comes out clean.

Streusel Nut Crumble
½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cold coconut oil spread
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients. With a pastry cutter or a fork, mash all the ingredients together to form a crumbly-textured topping.

Apr 20 2012

In Search of the Perfect Kosher Birthday Cake

By at 2:09 pm
birthday cake

Though the kids don't remember it, the parents definitely do.

Do you remember your first birthday? I don’t. My parents do have photographic evidence that I attended, and they’ve repeatedly reminisced about the great cake I had. It was chocolate and featured a marzipan mousse, in honor of my baby nickname, Melissa Mouse.

In the intervening years, I have dedicated myself to becoming a dessert connoisseur. I don’t believe in eating just any dessert. I like to eat the best possible dessert. This proclivity even impacted the way we planned our wedding. Our brunch buffet was followed by a dessert buffet, showcasing treats we had the caterer create in addition to the wedding cake. Yes, we rewrote the caterers’ entire dessert menu. Dessert is serious business. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 17 2012

My Daughter Wants to Eat Just Like Me

By at 2:03 pm
chocolate cake

I've been dreaming about this cake for days.

If you are what you eat, then I am slowly becoming a birthday cake this week. But more than that, I’ve realized that I’m a full-fledged, certifiable food hypocrite.

I realized this the other day as I waited excitedly until my husband had whisked our daughter off for a nap. See, that meant I could dive into a slice of chocolatey goodness without Ellie seeing me do it. She would want some, but she is allowed one dessert a day, after dinner–and only if she actually eats said dinner. So as I pushed carrots, grapes, and blueberries at her, visions of icing roses danced in my head. Read the rest of this entry →

May 12 2011

Cake Walk

By at 9:34 am

My baby girl turns 3 today.


When she was born–looking like a cross between a plucked chicken and Lord Voldemort-I never imagined that she would suddenly, somehow, become the leaping and laughing KID she is today.

Three is big. Three remembers. (I remember my third birthday… the balloons, the presents, and the chocolate cake my mom baked.)

So, I want to bake my daughter’s birthday cake.

But the thing is, I am pathologically unable to follow recipes. When I cook, I end up experimenting, but not in a good way. I substitute honey for sugar and the cookie crumbles. Flour for breadcrumbs, and the schnitzel burns. And FYI if you want to watch your family turn various shades of green, use olive oil instead of butter when making scrambled eggs.

(Even when I heat up frozen food, I manage to screw up–soggy middle, scorched edges. And this is why we always stock up on Cheerios and milk. And maybe why Little Homie is anemic. )

“Would you rather I make the cake?” My mother-in-law asked when I shared my plans with everyone during Shabbat dinner. “Yes! Let her make the cake!” B. pleaded with his eyes. But I was resolute.

“Nope, I can handle it!” I said with a smile. (Although I may have lost a filling on one of my back molars from grinding my teeth.)

There’s a lot riding on this birthday cake. For the past few months, a cultural chasm has widened between my daughter and me, and as she hurdles through Hebrew, our connection in English has become frayed. There are times here when she’s laughing with her friends and the Imas of her friends that I feel like the odd woman out. Dimwitted, dowdy, and trying to hard to figure out the joke. (If I feel this way now, I shudder to imagine the teenage years…)

And as hard as I try to get by in Hebrew, I’m floundering. Swimming against the tide, barely able to catch my breath before the next sentence crashes over me.

And my daughter knows it.

So, I want this cake to be perfect. I want to see my daughter’s eyes shine with excitement when she sees the candles–three, plus one to grow on–blazing from the chocolate center. I want her to run her index finger along the top and lick the homemade frosting when no one’s looking. I want to watch her pick the sprinkles off and place them daintily by the side of her plate–saving the sugary rainbow pile for the very last.

And so, I scoured the internet for recipes, until I found one that wouldn’t be hard to foul up. Problem is, mother of the year over here doesn’t have a baking pan. Or flour. Or sugar. And after getting our last budget report from the kibbutz, we now realize that the convenience store here is eating away our savings.

So, off to Yohananoff–the Israeli equivalent of Safeway or Albertsons or Piggly Wiggly or whatever monster superstore y’all have up in your neighborhood–I went. But while I’ve gotten used to the intimate general store on the kibbutz, an Israeli supermarket is an entirely different beast.

Shopping at Yohananoff is a surreal experience, and walking up and down the aisles gave me insight into what the onset of dementia must feel like –everything looks poignantly familiar. From a distance, the colors make sense, the layout is almost what you would expect, but then, you turn a corner, and bam–another dimension. The canned goods are in the same place as the fresh fruit and vegetables, the dairy next to the shampoo. The Cheerios is on one end, the oatmeal on the other.

It almost feels like tugging the hand of a woman you are sure is your mom, and then realizing that you’re mauling a stranger.

Midway through the juice aisle, I started hyperventilating.

By the time I reached the baking goods aisle, I was almost in tears.

There were seven different kinds of flour–all labeled in Hebrew. I couldn’t find the baking powder, and it seemed they were out of vanilla extract. I started pawing through the dried goods looking for the vanilla. I knocked over a jar of colorful sprinkles–the plastic container split open, spilling  thousands of tiny rainbows to the floor while an old man who’s name tag read “Avner” (or “Avram”  or something with an Alef and a Vet in it… Hey, speaking Hebrew is hard enough…) came over with a broom and began to sweep.

“I just want to bake a cake for my daughter’s birthday,”  I said in a mishmash of Hebrew and English with a sob in my throat.

He rolled his eyes and gave me a look as if to say “lady, you think you’ve got problems?  I was in the Palmach when the road to Jerusalem was cut off and we almost starved to death!”

“Take!”  he said. And  he handed me a blue cake mix box. And there, smiling maniacally from the front was the Pillsbury Dough Boy.  It felt like meeting an old friend.

So, I took the mix. And a tub of chocolate frosting. And a jar of rainbow sprinkles.

(And off I skipped to the alcohol aisle. Because Smirnoff is Smirnoff in every language. )


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