Saturday, January 05, 2013

What a Mommy I had

Now that's a workhorse cookbook.
Hello. Happy New Year. Is the light in January harsher and more fluorescent than in December? Or is that my imagination?

Yesterday, I pulled out my copy of San Francisco a La Carte to make yet another batch of Nanaimo bars (I will link to the story when it runs, which will probably not happen until I write it) and the book almost fell apart in my hands.

Way back in 1979 my mother gave me a copy of San Francisco A La Carte and she inscribed it, as she inscribed all the cookbooks she gave me. One day I will write about those books, but not today. This post already rambles enough, as you will see.
Can you read that?
Opening the book yesterday and rereading the inscription, I was surprised to see that "Mommy" was still in play in 1979. I was 13, which is old for "Mommy." My children haven't called me "Mommy" in years.

But here's a sad/sweet/strange little story. When I was 42 and sitting at my desk one August afternoon, decades after I had last called my mother "Mommy," the phone rang. It was my mother, weeping, phoning from a doctor's office, and she said, "Jen, I have a tumor." And I cried out, "Mommy!"

That was definitely the last time.

I cooked compulsively from San Francisco A La Carte when I was 13, 14, 15. Do you think maybe I was a nerd? I just counted: I made 82 recipes from the book, including the cold peach soup and the molded cucumber mousse, and I know this because, as I've mentioned before, I write in cookbooks. My copy of San Francisco a la Carte contains 82 stilted and sometimes funny notations. Unintentionally funny.
No, rancid butter is never a good idea. 
Anyway, while ambling down memory lane, I spotted a carrot cake recipe and since Mark loves carrot cake and it was his birthday yesterday, I baked it.
And I thought I was such a good speller.

The cake was lovely, not at all "average." It was very soft, simple, and carroty and made me think we went wrong when we started putting pineapple, coconut, and walnuts into carrot cake batter, a trend I date to The Silver Palate, though I'm no culinary historian.

Isabel asked me why I would ever make a cake that I had once deemed "average." I told her I didn't know anything about carrot cake when I was 13, which clearly I didn't.

My one carrot cake wish is that it would look as odd, orange, and wonderful after it is baked as it does before.

The recipe is at the end of the post. It's really good and really easy.

Our love for The Homesick Texan continues to grow. No pictures because I've given up flash photos after dark as the results are always dismal. New Year's night I made Lisa Fain's barbecued brisket (slab of beef robustly seasoned, tightly wrapped in foil, baked for 6 hours) which I served with her coffee-chipotle barbecue sauce  (recipe here) and terrific string beans with cilantro pesto (recipe here.) I couldn't have been happier.

No, I could have been happier. The next night I made her Frito pie and I was happier. Do you all know about Frito pie? Chili poured over Fritos. I didn't grow up with this, but have eaten it on a handful of occasions, including straight out of a cut-open Frito bag. You need to make Fain's Frito pie. A non-pharmacological mood enhancer for glum January. Forget the diet, and while you're forgetting, try Fain's Dr. Pepper ribs. I'd give them 45 extra minutes in the oven to ensure melting tenderness. Recipe is here.  With the ribs I served Fain's cornbread, which is of the unsweetened Southern variety. This upset Owen, but no one else. I've never used bacon fat in cornbread before and highly recommend it as the crust positively crackled.

Yes, I have willfully forgotten the diet. I have not even told you about the nightly milk punch experiments. Milk punch = warm, alcoholic milkshake. But the new year doesn't really start for a parent until the kids go back to school and that is next week.

Carrot cake

I changed this only slightly, reducing the cinnamon, omitting lemon extract from the icing, and using parchment in the pans.


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
heaping 4 cups grated raw carrots (9-10)


8 ounces softened cream cheese
4 tablespoons softened butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 3 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment.

2. Whisk together the the dry ingredients. Beat the eggs until frothy in another bowl, then beat in the oil. Add the dry ingredients and stir well. Stir in the carrots. Pour into the cake pans and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick tests clean. Cool completely and turn out on to a cake rack.

3. Put all the frosting ingredients in a bowl and beat until thoroughly creamy and smooth. It's very easy to under-do this and end up with lumps of cream cheese, so beat hard and long.

4. Ice the cake, using just a little frosting between the layers. Frost the top and sides. I thought this might not be enough icing, but it is. I think as a culture we sometimes overfrost cakes. Serves 12-16.


  1. Do tell about the warm milk punch! I haven't heard of such a thing and should google it.

  2. Oh, Frito pie! I love Frito pie. I have a pot of chili on the stove right now, so perhaps I should consider it. I am a Southerner, so I am thrilled that you are enjoying these Southern foods. Growing up, we always made cornbread with bacon grease. Like lard, it does that magic thing that oil cannot do. And, do tell about that milk punch experiment. I am totally intrigued.

  3. That sounds like my mom's carrot cake recipe. I hate coconut, raisins or pineapple in carrot cake..that is venturing perilously close to fruit cake. Ick.

  4. Nothing says Texas like Frito pie. I will have to whip up a batch and impress the Bethesda PTA. It's perfect chili weather here.

  5. You did all that cooking when you were found your passion definitely improves cookbooks to have comments written in them....

  6. Frito pie sounds like the perfect camping food - I'm writing that one down!

    And I'm in huge support of putting off the diet - maybe until Spring? I just crave carby, fatty, comfort food all Winter long. :)

  7. I might have gotten a little something in my eye while reading the top part of the post.

    Carrot cake should definitely NOT have pineapple and coconut in it, darnit. I had to search far and wide for a recipe for carrot cake without it and the recipe you posted is similar to what I came up with (although I attempt to make it "healthy" by adding flax seed, applesauce, and, sometimes, whole wheat flour). Ah, here's the recipe!

  8. I "discovered" Frito pie for myself a couple of summers ago in the heart of California Gold Country--Columbia. Now it's how I usually serve my chili. I've found that the "Little Dippers" chips from Trader Joe's work well as "Fritos." Clare

  9. Love this post about your mommy. ALso love the notes you made on the recipes. thank you.

  10. The only thing expat Texans love more than meeting other expat Texans is meeting non-Texans who love Texas/Texans/Texan food. Thank you for highlighting, and enjoying, Homesick Texan. You convinced me to buy it for myself for Christmas. I plan to make a recipe from it each week and expose my family to the treasures of my homeland.

  11. Thank you for sharing the inscription your mother wrote and your thoughts. Beautiful. I've had similar experiences where notations in old cookbooks are an instant connection to the past, and I treasure that.

  12. We do overfrost cakes, but that is never a problem with cream-cheese frosting for me, because I use a reasonable amount on the cake, and happily take the leftovers, put a tablespoon between graham cracker squares, then freeze for 24 hours, which softens the graham crackers, and then have utterly addictive graham-cracker sandwich cookies.

  13. Ha! Where I grew up, we referred to Frito pies as "walking nachos." I was never a big fan, but maybe that's because the only time I encountered it was at the concession stand by the little league diamond. I could imagine homemade walking nachos to be much more exciting.

  14. I teared up just a bit there at first.

    You must have been a very interesting child. I wish I had known someone like you when I was 13.

    And we absolutely went off the rails when we started with the carrot cake inclusions.

  15. I cooked from that book when I was 13 too! Didn't leave notes... my sister did, though.

  16. I have that cookbook! (didn't get it quite as young as you did!). (don't understand
    those who don't mark up their cookbooks).
    There is a very nice bearnaise sauce and
    the Worlds's Best Cookies!

  17. I love Frito pie. I was a lifeguard in high school and college (in Texas) and would go to the snack bar for my lunch for a bag full of Fritos topped with chili, cheese, and onions. When I left Texas, I was shocked that not everyone knew what Frito pie (or Ro-Tel tomatoes) was (were). How can you live without them?

  18. Just made this carrot cake for a friend's birthday last night. It was perfect in its simplicity and exactly what I was hoping it would be.

  19. It’s really a great and helpful piece of information. I’m satisfied that you shared this useful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.Merry Christmas Wallpapers
    Advance Merry Christmas Wishes
    Happy New Year 2018 Greetings Images
    Christmas Greetings images
    Merry Christmas Quotes 2017
    New Year Quotes 2018