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Hiya.

Welcome to my little polymathic corner of the internet. I write about just about everything, but I have an especially soft spot for food, cats, Harry Potter, and embracing the crazy unpredictability of life.

Enjoy the ride!

Hurricane Cake (Recipe)

Hurricane Cake (Recipe)

Here’s the thing. Up until a few weeks ago, I thought I could control the weather. Not in a Storm-from-X-Men kind of way, but in a hippie-dippie, if-I-wish-it-enough-it-will-happen fashion. Manifestation, the power of positive thought, law of attraction, all that jazz. This is how I explained the White Christmas-like snowfall that escorted me out of my wedding reception when I was 28 (and turned into a mega-blizzard that ensured my new husband and I could stay safely ensconced at home without seeming rude), and the beautiful weather during my 30th birthday weekend extravaganza (despite the two hurricanes that were approaching Maryland from either side in the days prior).

So when I flew down to Sarasota to visit my BFF, Heather, and participate in a foodie-focused 5K, I didn’t think too hard about the weather stories reporting that Hurricane Irma was barreling toward Florida and shaping up to be a mega-storm.

“They always say that,” I said. “You can never tell this early where it’s going to go, anyway.”

Besides, I had my weather-controlling abilities on my side.

Fast-forward a few days. Irma was still headed straight for us. The 5K was officially postponed. They closed the schools. Despite my repeated tai chi-like movements, where I attempted to maintain my weather-controlling streak and push Irma’s energy to the east, Florida highways were jammed for miles and miles as people attempted to flee the MOST MASSIVE, POTENTIALLY DESTRUCTIVE HURRICANE IN RECORDED HISTORY. (That’s The Weather Channel talking. We turned it off about two days in — it was too stressful.)

Although the tai chi was good for my core muscles, I was starting to get worried.

I mean, Irma was larger than the entirety of Florida. So odds were we were going to get at least something. The thing was, no one was freaking out. Sure, Joe waited in line for four hours to get sandbags, and all of the bottled water was sold out, and everyone put up their hurricane shutters, but none of the locals were actually showing more than a slightly heightened sense of concern. Believe me. I looked for it.

We went for a walk in the increasingly breezy but still sunny Florida weather. Neighbors were out, getting their garages ready for “hurricane parties.” “Y’all take care, now,” they said to us. “Welcome to Florida!” others joked when they found out we were visiting from Maryland. The overall vibe was, “We've prepared all we can, now let’s try to enjoy ourselves while we ride it out.” Indeed, by that point, it was too late for us to try to evacuate — given how clogged the highways were, we would’ve risked getting stuck on the road during the storm. Besides, only the waterfront and low-lying areas were being evacuated — we were several miles inland.

See that red circle right along the hurricane's path? That's us.

See that red circle right along the hurricane's path? That's us.

At that point, I had two choices: I could spend the next couple days completely stressing out, worrying the entire time, or I could just … go with it. I finally decided that I would approach this as a challenge — as an exercise in letting go of my tendency to want to control things, instead trusting others’ experience and wisdom.

Instead of continuing to question Heather’s sanity (How is she this calm????), I had a much more enjoyable time just following her lead (Cocktail, anyone?) And if it all backfired, I told myself, I’d have one hell of a reason to go back to trying to control things next time.

Oh, did I mention it was my birthday?

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Yes, Irma decided to crash my 36th birthday party. How rude! Most of our birthday plans fell through, as it’s hard to visit attractions and go out to places when they’ve literally shuttered in preparation for the STORM OF THE CENTURY.

We kept ourselves quite busy, though. We put up hurricane shutters. We filled the bathtub with water. Heather cleared out her walk-in closet (not a small feat, considering her sizeable shoe collection) and prepped it to be “Hunker-Down Central.” Like clockwork, we refreshed the National Hurricane Center’s webpage every three hours. I mean, how many Marylanders can say they spent their birthday prepping for a hurricane, let alone the BIGGEST HURRICANE EVER RECORDED?

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Not one to be outshone by an extreme weather phenomenon, I decided to let Hurricane Irma inspire my birthday cake. Heather is an avid baker and talented cook herself, and together we came up with the idea of making a rum cake, but replacing the normal rum syrup with a hurricane cocktail-inspired syrup.

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Pretty genius, eh?

We thought so too. We searched the Internet for recipes, and settled on a King Arthur Flour rum cake recipe and the best-sounding hurricane cocktail recipe we could find. A little tweaking here and there based on what we had on hand (and our mutual aversion to Red Dye 40), and we came up with one stellar birthday cake.

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And it comes with a great story, involving power outages, puzzles-by-candlelight, Spice Girls sing-alongs, numerous hurricane cocktails, deep conversations about life, and opening the door mid-storm and smelling the ocean. Amazing, life-affirming memories: A birthday girl couldn’t ask for much more.

Maybe I’ll tell you the whole story some day. Over a slice of hurricane cake, of course.

Hurricane Cake

Based on:

 Ingredients:

Cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

  • 3.4-ounce box instant vanilla pudding mix (not sugar-free)

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup milk

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1/2 cup white rum/maraschino liqueur combo (see Notes)

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon rum extract

  • 1/4 cup almond flour (for dusting baking pan)

Hurricane cocktail soaking syrup:

  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

  • ½ cup white rum/maraschino liqueur combo (see Notes)

  • 1/8 cup orange juice

  • 1/8 cup pineapple-coconut juice (see Notes)

  • Splash lime juice

  • ¼ tsp salt

Instructions:

Cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.

  2. Place all of the cake ingredients except the rum, vanilla, and rum extract in a bowl and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Be sure to scrape down the bowl after one minute. Add the rum, vanilla, and rum extract to the batter and beat at low speed for another minute.

  3. Spritz a 10- to 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle on the almond flour and turn the pan to coat evenly; shake out any excess. Set aside. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread level with a spatula.

  4. Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes (see Notes). When done, the cake will test clean on a cake tester.

  5. Leave the cake in the pan to cool while you make the soaking syrup.

Soaking Syrup/Assembly:

  1. In a medium-sized saucepan combine the syrup ingredients, except vanilla. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to a simmer and cook (without stirring) for about 10 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly (see Notes). Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

  2. Leaving the cake in the Bundt pan, use a long skewer to poke holes all over the cake. Pour about 1/4 cup of the syrup over the cake (still in the pan). Allow the syrup to soak in, then repeat again and again until all the syrup is used.

  3. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow the cake to sit overnight at room temperature to cool completely and soak in the syrup. When ready to serve, loosen the edges of the cake and invert onto your serving plate. If the cake won’t release, place it in the oven, turn the oven to 350°F, and warm for 5 to 10 minutes, to soften the syrup. Remove from the oven, and tip the cake onto the serving plate.

  4. Serve with hot coffee or tea. The cake is very moist, fragrant and potent.

  5. Wrap securely (or place under a cake cover) and store at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage, up to 1 month.

Fat Canary in Williamsburg, Virginia

Fat Canary in Williamsburg, Virginia

Food in the Garden: Science and Sustenance at the Smithsonian

Food in the Garden: Science and Sustenance at the Smithsonian