Baking with my dad.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my food heritage.  Partly because I have cooked little other than french food for the last two years, and simultaneously have spent more time in Chinatown than ever before.  And in part because as I wade deeper and deeper into a career with food, I am having strong food-related distant memories coming back to me.  I am remembering specific meals I had when I was a kid in startling detail.  Eating experiences I haven't thought about in decades are flooding back, making unexpected connections to paths I am exploring now--and in many ways, confirming that this was not an out of nowhere career change.

I have also started to revisit, and to collect and protect, old family recipes.  They are serving up smells and tastes that take me right back to meals with my relatives, some I've met, some I didn't get to.  And even more precious, is cooking from old family recipes, that are in the handwriting of those relatives.  I definitely feel them at the stove with me, looking over my shoulder as I stir and refer to their stained index cards.

I recently came across my father's carrot cake recipe.  My dad, who was an incredibly talented and curious home cook and baker, died just about 12 years ago.  I haven't made this cake, or had it, in at least that long.  First, it is the best carrot cake recipe I have come across, using at least twice as much fresh grated carrots as other recipes (in abundance right now at farmer's markets), resulting in an incredibly moist, yet grounded cake.  And also, it is such a powerful way to feel connected to him.  That little scrap of paper he sent me in college with the recipe could have so easily been lost.  I am so grateful I am a pack rat, and have it now to pass along.


(In his own words)

"Hi-Here goes. I'm going to eliminate the obvious, just give you the ingredients,OK?"
Carrot cake:
2 cups of flour
2 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 cup cooking oil
4 eggs
4 cups grated raw carrots
3/4 cup chopped nuts

Mix dry ingredients, add wet stuff then carrots and nuts. Bake at 350 degrees in two 9 inch greased and floured pans for 25-35minutes. check for doneness in the center, it takes a while.

Brown 2 cups of coconut in 2 tablespoons of butter, don't burn. Drain and cool. Cream 2 tablespoons of butter and one package of cream cheese, 2 teaspoons of milk, and 3 cups of confectionary sugar. Add milk and sugar a little at a time. add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and fold in the coconut, reserving some for the top.

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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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