Monday, December 14, 2015

We'll Be Fine

My mom noticed a habit of mine recently, a thing I say about a dozen times a day to my five-year-old daughter each time she spills some milk, scrapes a knee, breaks a toy, sulks over a rule deemed unfair, or generally suffers any minor disappointment/injury/setback. I acknowledge her complaint/boo-boo, give her a quick peck on the forehead and tell her, "You'll be fine."

I don't say it in a particularly dismissive way. But I do intend for it to serve as a quick acknowledgement without much fuss. I say it as an important lesson to stave off Only Child/Center of the Universe Entitlement and Attention-Seeking Syndrome. 

I say it also as a means of empowerment. Knowing you can survive small things will teach you that you can also survive big things.  Learn from it. Shake it off. You'll be fine. 

And it occurred to me today, just how powerful those words are. Because even if today, or this week, or month (or year) is particularly tough, we'll be fine. 

These holidays might stir up lots of family stuff, both good and bad. 

This year might not have shaped up quite how you'd have liked it. 

Maybe you spilled your coffee on your shirt on your way to work. Maybe you got a parking ticket, or a divorce. 

Maybe instead of working your way to the bottom of your Holiday To Do List, you'll decide that the only thing you'll get to the bottom of is a nice bottle of wine with a good friend or a good book at the end of the day. 

But you know what? You'll be fine. 

Maybe I'm saying, "You'll be fine," because what I really mean is, "I'll be fine." Either way, it's true. Even if it doesn't particularly feel that way this moment.

As I made this cake, I was racing the clock, weekend guests imminent, gifts not yet wrapped, house not yet cleaned. As I was measuring out the ingredients, my phone rang with news from fraud protection informing me that someone had gone on a shopping spree on my dime, and my bank cards were being cancelled. Distracted on the phone, I mis-measured, burned the sugar, burned my finger, and I cursed as I started all over again, my counters piled high with two sets of mess as I realized I wasn't going to have time to shower before everyone arrived.

And I know these are very minor problems to have. This is the grown-up equivalent to spilled milk or scraped knees.  But as I pulled the cake out of the oven and inverted it onto a plate and the sugar-coated cranberries glistened fragrantly in front of me, everything that felt so aggravating a moment earlier had passed. See? Fine. 

I hear there are some people out there who are not particularly fond of cranberries, including the two people who live with me. But I promise you, this is worthy of a space on your holiday baking list. It is the rare kind of recipe that I actually wrote down on a recipe card and put in my recipe box, giving it a position in the Holiday Hall of Fame. It saves well, is great with coffee in the morning, or after dinner with cocktails. I had an impromptu dinner party at my house with my incredible neighbors on Friday night, and they gobbled it up, every last cranberry-hating one of them.

The cake itself is sweet and has a tender but hearty crumb. And the cranberries on top are tart, but soaked in a kind of butter caramel situation that takes the edge off just enough. I feel like this cake should be called The Cranberry Converter Cake, because it will convert even the most cranberry-adverse into cranberry fans.

I dusted this with powdered sugar, just for the sake of presentation (it looks perfectly snow-dusted for the winter holidays), but it is not necessary.

I hope things are fine with you. And if they are not, I hope they will be soon. And I hope this cake helps things to be fine sooner than later.

Upside-Down Cranberry Cake
From Los Angeles Times/Abby Mandel

Active Work Time: 20 minutes
Total Preparation Time: 1 hour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, plus more for greasing
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups cranberries, rinsed, picked over and at room temperature
Generously grease 9-inch springform pan; wrap outside with foil (to avoid leakage). Set aside on baking sheet.
Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add sugar, water and cinnamon. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Stir in cranberries. Pour into pan and spread evenly. Set aside.
1 1/2 cups cake flour (or make your own using all purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Beat butter and granulated and brown sugars on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. On low speed, add half of flour mixture. Mix until combined. Add sour cream and vanilla. Mix until combined. Add remaining flour mixture. Mix until smooth. Transfer batter to springform pan, spreading evenly over cranberries.
Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, edges just begin to pull away from sides and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes. Set on rack 10 minutes. Run knife around edge to loosen cake. Invert onto plate. Remove foil, ring and pan bottom. Replace any cranberries that fall. (Can be made up to two days ahead and kept at room temperature, covered airtight.) Cut into wedges and serve.

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