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Nostalgia {+ Caramel Cake}

Yesterday was a cozy day; if there’d been any fog it might have reached perfection. I had a friend over for tea and browned butter-brown sugar blueberry muffins in the morning; when Sierra finally went for her nap I baked a cake and thought about little things to procure for our summer vacation and listened to some mellow music that always makes me think of Ireland and a grey sea and green green fields stretching across the horizon.

I miss fog and green fields and the ocean.

(And while I’m on the subject, I also miss my apartment in San Francisco, with everything just so; my tiny kitchen; windows that were perpetually open to let in the breeze; hardwood floors; the soft light in my dining room; that feeling of permanence knowing that I’d found my place in the world and was happily settled into it. I miss weather and fog and rain and sun that is not a terribly hot sun and truly fresh air and redwood trees and an overall feeling of lightness in the very atmosphere. I miss coffee shops a few blocks over with good bagels and pastries and I miss tea shops with rooibos tea in pots and vegan BLTs. Just for starters.)

Things change. My city is not my city anymore and is not even the city it was three years ago when I still lived there.

So until we settle into another, better-for-us city — TBD where exactly, but we will leave here in a year and counting — I’ll make tea for friends and wish desperately for cool winds and bake cakes for birthdays and just because. I’ll remember weekend trips to the Headlands because we had a few free hours to spend as we pleased; I’ll remember long runs in the Seashore when no one else was about except bobcats and elk along the path; I’ll remember walking up and down steep streets as a way of life and not for exercise; I’ll remember the sense of wonder and discovery that I felt for years living in that special place. I’ll remember that very little in this life has permanence, and perhaps this is not a negative. How, after all, would we fully appreciate what we have if we have it all of the time?

And I’ll be thankful that we came across a wild(er) section of the trail on a hot Friday late afternoon where there were fish in the pools of water under the palms, where we visited horses who looked at us very calmly from their dark stalls, where I swear I saw a eucalyptus tree amid the abundant foliage and it made us happy. A little touch of our Northern California in the desert. Sometimes the light before sunset is so soft and grey and still it is amazing and I will forever strive to capture it in photographs (not possible).

Cozy days, even when the temperature shoots well upwards of 100 F are not to be taken for granted. Nostalgia, too.

[print_this] Caramel Cake, adapted from Gourmet

I’ve written about wrote about this cake before calling it “simple and sweet,” and the same description still holds. It’s simple. It’s sweet. And it’s utterly lovely. A buttermilk-infused white cake with a gentle yet sturdy crumb bolsters a thick swath of rich caramel frosting. If they weren’t so darn expensive here I’d serve this cake with raspberries but slices plain with a cup of strong coffee are just as good. You could try a bit of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream here, too, but I kind of like sticking to the idea of ‘simple and sweet.’

Makes 8 servings.

For cake
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (gluten-free substute: 1 1/2 cups oat flour + 1/2 cup 2 tablespoons sweet white rice flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For caramel glaze
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
candy thermometer

Make cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8-inch square cake pan (I used a 7-inch round pan) and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Make glaze:
Bring cream, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil until glaze registers 210 to 212°F on thermometer, 12 to 14 minutes, then stir in vanilla.

Put rack with cooled cake in a shallow baking pan and pour hot glaze over top of cake, allowing it to run down sides. Cool until glaze is set, about 30 minutes. [/print_this]

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