The Urban Pantry

Since we last spoke, I have been really busy doing a lot of little things that a mom/wife/teacher/baker/friend like myself does.  Getting valentines {shout out to Mr. Fresh Scratch and my sweeeeet new cherry blossom necklace!  “You done good!”}, fielding calls from parents of kids my eldest has been mean to {okay, it was only one, but it felt big}, filling baking orders, trying new recipes, filing my taxes, having strangers over under the guise of getting a bunch of free trees from our yard {truly, we were the winners; we didn’t have to dig them up or haul them away!}, going on a date with Mr. Fresh Scratch to the Metropolitan Market {I’m a girl of my word!}, going out for cupcakes with Shara, grading myths written by high school seniors, teaching my Teensy-Weensy Fresh Scratch how to stay in bed at night now that she’s too talented for a crib {that’s been fun!  Uhh, not really.}…..and being sick.  What?  Did you think I was going to let a little thing like that get me down?  {Sadly, it did ruin our plans for sledding.}

And I have been roasting chickens.

Not this chicken, silly.  This is Anita.  She was ours before we moved into our current, no-poultry-allowed neighborhood.  We were highly entertained by her lovely self and also by her two pals, Bernadette and Ruby (RIP).  No, we never had plans to eat those girls. Just their pretty eggs.

But I couldn’t help thinking about them when I was rinsing my little organic chicken this afternoon.  I happened to pick it up in a way that I used to pick up Ruby, and then I thought, “This was a chicken!” and remembered why I used to be a vegetarian. For, like, a second.

My mind then wandered {oh, does it wander!} to the recipe, which is so very easy.  And tasty.  It’s from Amy Pennington’s cookbook, The Urban Pantry. This is the first cookbook I have used nearly daily ever in my life.  I got it this past August when I met her {can you say “starstruck”?! I mean, Gwyneth loves her!} at the Bayview Cooking School here in Olympia.  She taught me how to can that night.  The next day I found myself making apricot mustard and feeling quite triumphant.  Then it was batidos, then peanut soba noodles…and so on.  It is my most dog-eared, written in cookbook.

On winter days, it’s fun to reflect on good memories you sort of keep stored up back in the noggin’.  The kind that make you forget you are sick and missing the fun sledding trip to Mt. Rainier and missing your old chickens who you’d tried to forget about and that you still need to find some paperwork before you can submit your taxes.  My day last month with Amy is one of those memories I was just storing up and waiting to share with you.

She invited some of her newsletter subscribers to her very own apartment with a killer view of Lake Union in Seattle in order to spend the afternoon drinking wine making meyer lemon marmalade and orange marmalade and preserving lemons.  I brought my new friend Stacee of the “Dwellings” site listed in the blogs I like to the right there {this is my nice way of saying I don’t know how to make links yet and my dear Mr. Fresh Scratch is busy grading papers and is sort of grumpy from the 132 times Teensy Fresh Scratch had to be put back into bed tonight on his watch, so I don’t want to bug him right now to show me how to do this.}, and we had a total blast together.  Don’t you love making a new friend?!  There are few things better in life. Plus, she took some awesome pictures she has been kind enough to share with me.

photos by Stacee Sledge

Amy is totally awesome and so knowledgeable, but in a really off-hand, casual way.  She’s hilarious and wicked smart.  She knows tons about cooking and gardening and writing. She’s opened up this whole new world of cooking to me.  I mean, I thought I was okay before, but now I can make jam. I can make a breakfast drink my kids like.  I can infuse stuff!

I can roast a chicken.

You can read Amy’s blog by clicking on “Amy Pennington” over there to the right, also. 😉

And you can buy her book pretty much anywhere.  And you should.  Then you could be cool like me, my awesome pal Stacee, my friend Amanda who got it for her birthday, my friend Marie who got it as a housewarming gift……only, mine is a signed copy.  Neener, neener.

Make These Sweets for your Sweetie!

Isn't this a striking dessert?

You didn’t think I was gonna leave you hangin’ with that Valentine/Friend’s Day post and no recipe, did ya?

Good.  Glad we understand one another…

Just like the Flat Apple Pie, I make these red velvet cupcakes once a year, for Valentine’s Day.  The recipe is my mama’s grandma’s.  They called her “Mom-mee,” at least that’s what it sounds like.  See, my mama’s from South Carolina, and sometimes the accent gets in my way of the spelling.

My mama’s not my mom that I’ve mentioned before.  Rather, she is my Southern mother.  I sort of adopted her as such when I was a sophomore in high school because my parents moved out west before the school year was over, and they left me to finish school.  They left me with Mama, who, prior to this, was the lady who drove me to school each morning in the carpool.  She was the pretty, refined lady I babysat for who had lots of China, painted portraits of her children, and a toolbox that looked like a makeup box.  She was the one who let us listen to Naughty by Nature in the car and didn’t seem to understand the lyrics, and sang along to The Lemonheads’ version of “Mrs. Robinson” on my mixed tape.  We got to know each other really well after I moved in for a while, and I truly was never the same.  I just love that lady!

Back to the recipe: red velvet cake, by itself, is not anything to write home about, in my humble opinion.  It’s best quality is its color, and I guess the fact that it’s really moist is worth mentioning, too.  The frosting is the true star here.  Mmmm…I have eaten enough in the last few days to expertly state these facts!

Another couple cool things about this cake is the fact that it takes like 10 minutes to make.  You can just throw all the ingredients into the mixer down the line in a row and it comes out just as if you’d mixed your wet and dry ingredients separately and then combined them.  Which is what I did for you below, just so you could see it better.  The other cool thing is that it has vinegar in it!  I am no chemist {totally failed college chem}, but when vinegar is present in a cake, magic happens!

This recipe can make a three layer cake or 30 cupcakes.  If you go the cake route, shove all three cake pans in on one rack together in the oven.  If it’s cupcakes you crave, they need to go in one batch at a time.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Mix your wet ingredients:

2 eggs

Aren't these gorgeous? They're from my niece's chickens!

1 c. buttermilk

1 1/2 c. sugar (not wet, but it goes here, and thanks to Callie for noticing I forgot this the first time!! sooo sorry!)

1 1/2 c. canola or other vegetable oil

1 tsp. vanilla

1 T vinegar

Whisk the dry ingredients in a separate bowl:

2 1/2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking soda

2 T cocoa powder

With the mixer on low, slowly stream the dry ingredients into the wet.  Once they’re incorporated, add:

4 oz. red food coloring (that’s 4 big bottles or 8 sm. bottles!)

This just looks so bad for you!

Mix well.

Divide into either 3 cake pans or bake as cupcakes.  25-30 minutes.

Here’s what they’ll look like:

Those are positively scarlet!

Let them cool off completely.  Then it’s time for the frosting!  Mmmm.  I save the leftover frosting and put it on bagels.  Or graham crackers.  Okay, fine; I just eat it!


1 lb. cream cheese (I always prefer organic everything, but for this cake, use Philly cream cheese.  It’s whiter and just provides a smoother, brighter contrast to those red cakes!)

2 sticks room temp. butter

4 c. powdered sugar

1 c. pecan bits, if you like nuts.

Pile it high! This frosting recipe is actually double the one Mama gave me.  I like to make sure I, ahem, have enough.

Aren't these sweet? {actually, they are sweet, both literally and figuratively!}

Give a bunch to someone you love!  Happy Valentine’s Day!  Aren’t these so much easier than you’d thought??