Pumpkin Streusel Swirled Cream Cheese Pound Cake

I recently attended the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco, California, 2,700 miles away from my home. Traveling alone is always a meaningful, reflective experience for me, and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing vignettes that I hope are meaningful to you, as well.

. . .

I’ve started to write this story countless times. Sometimes you get so tangled up in words that they suddenly seem more like a net than a lubricant, more like a shroud than a lamp.

It’s when the ideas are most important that the words get the stickiest. Personally, I find that I have to scrap those sticky words entirely — sometimes repeatedly — to set myself free and finally get the tale told. So. Here’s another try…

“Proposition?”

It was the first word the man next to me on the bus (the correct bus, thankfully) had uttered, and I didn’t understand what he meant. I looked at him quizzically. He repeated himself, pronouncing the word slightly wrong: “Proposition?”

I noticed he was pointing to something and looked down at the book in his lap. His finger was settled on — what else? — the word “proposition.” I finally put the pieces together. “Oh! Yes, that’s ‘proposition,'” I answered, pronouncing the word correctly. He thanked me and went back to his book with a satisfied nod.

I forget how the conversation started up again, but eventually we were chatting. He introduced himself as Vincent. I told him I was a food blogger and teacher from Charlotte. He revealed that he had family in Winston-Salem but had lived in California for years. Finally, the pleasant conversation ambled back to his book. “What are you reading?” I asked. It seemed like a totally innocent question.

Rather than answering aloud, he turned his book over so I could see the cover. It was 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, an Alcoholics Anonymous book.  I immediately stuck my foot in my mouth wondering if I’d embarrassed him, but he seemed unfazed by the interaction.  I was touched — both that he was diligently reading this book on the bus and that he was willing to share it with me.

But I was also a little self-conscious. How should I respond to the information he’d just shared with his simple gesture? Wouldn’t anything I had to say sound patronizing? After all, while he seemed to have had plenty of hard knocks, I was giving off the air of an easy life. I was wearing a blue Parisian scarf and a camel trench coat, holding a huge camera case, and I’d just flown across the country for a vacation of sorts.

He couldn’t know that the scarf was a gift, the coat a hand-me-down, and the plane ticket a contest prize. Nor did it really matter. I just looked floofy. Floofy in that wealthy lapdog sort of way. And compared to the sort of obstacles he was facing, my life was pretty floofy.

Floofy or not, I decided there was nothing to do except respond sincerely. Quietly, I said, “That’s awesome, Vincent. I really admire that you’re doing that.” He flashed a big smile and I inwardly sighed with relief.

Up until now our chat had been lighthearted, but we’d just turned a corner into SeriousLand (a little known suburb of San Francisco, apparently). Before long we were talking about his recovery (he was on his way to see his sponsor at that moment), his life in San Francisco, and about Jesus. You know, the usual.

I was nervous about missing my stop, but Vincent was getting off at the corner of Lombard too. “The view of the bay is beautiful here,” he said as we alighted from the bus. “You should try to walk around if you get a chance.” He took a moment to direct me toward my next bus stop before shaking my hand and rounding the corner toward his sponsor.

I met a lot of people over the course of my San Francisco trip — even some pretty fancy bloggers! — and I enjoyed them all for different reasons. I did some schmoozing, some eating, some shopping (Dear H&M, please come to Charlotte. Thanks.) But as I sit here in Charlotte with little Byrd snarfling into her supper bowl beside me, Vincent is the one who comes to mind. In a weekend full of people with their game faces on — me included — Vincent was the one who was sacrificially genuine. With a stranger, at that.

I gave him a Willow Bird Baking card. I hope he gets a chance to happen by sometime, and I hope he recognizes himself through the pseudonym I’ve given him. Vincent, if you ever read this: Thank you for a conversation I’ll have tucked in my heart for the rest of my days. Godspeed.

. . .

In honor of a special guy, here’s a special pound cake.

But listen, THIS AIN’T YOUR GRANDMAMA’S POUND CAKE.

Okay, it kind of is, actually. It’s Southern Living’s Cream Cheese Pound Cake and it’s been a staple in many family recipe boxes for decades. But first off, GRANDMAMA DON’T PLAY. She knows exactly what she’s doing in the kitchen, thankyouverymuch.

Second off, this pound cake has a new twist; namely, pumpkin-cinnamon-pecan-streusel-awesomeness swirled throughout the cake. Add the maple brown sugar glaze and some toasted nuts on top and you have the perfect autumn dessert. It’s a handsome one, at that, so consider this recipe for your holiday table.

Have you one of these unexpected, significant conversations?

Pumpkin Streusel Swirled Cream Cheese Pound Cake



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, inspired by Southern Living
Yield: 12 servings

This dessert was made for autumn! A ribbon of pumpkin custard and cinnamon pecan streusel winds through this luxurious, rich cream cheese pound cake. It’s topped with maple brown sugar glaze, toasted pecans, and a dusting of cinnamon. The finished product is pretty as can be — and so delicious!

Cream Cheese Pound Cake Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Pumpkin Pie Filling Ingredients:*
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
*This makes a little more filling than you need, but I used most of it and baked the small amount I had leftover in a greased ramekin for 15-20 minutes — instant pumpkin custard!)

Pecan Streusel Ingredients:
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoon cold butter
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup cinnamon chips (optional — you can find these seasonally at some grocery stores or online from King Arthur’s Flour)

Maple Brown Sugar Glaze Ingredients:
2 tablespoon butter
4 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
pinch salt
1 1/2 – 2 cup powdered sugar (I ended up using just 1 1/2)
cinnamon for sprinkling

Directions:
Toast pecans: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread pecans out on a baking sheet, and bake for 4-6 minutes or until fragrant, stirring and flipping nuts once in the middle. Spread the nuts out on a plate to cool. Leave the oven on for the cake.

Make the creamy pumpkin pie filling: In your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy and smooth. Add the pumpkin, egg, and vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice and mix until combined. Set in fridge while you make your cake.

Make the streusel: Combine the flour and brown sugar in a medium bowl and using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until you have crumbly streusel. Mix in the cinnamon chips (if you’re using them) and 1/2 cup of the cooled toasted pecans (if they haven’t completely cooled, stick ’em in the fridge for a bit first — you don’t want to mix warm nuts into this and melt your butter, since it should stay cold). Save the rest of your nuts for decorating the finished cake. Set the streusel aside.

Make the pound cake: Beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed for about 2 minutes or until it’s creamy. Gradually add sugar and beat 5-7 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating only until yellow disappears after each one. Stir in the vanilla.

Whisk the flour and salt together in a bowl and add to creamed mixture gradually, beating on low speed after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Pour/dollop 1/3 of the batter into greased and floured 10-inch tube pan and use a spatula to smooth it right up against the sides of the pan and level it.

Dump your streusel into your pumpkin pie mixture and fold it together a few times to loosely mix — you’re not trying to combine them completely. Dollop big spoonfuls of this pumpkin mixture on the batter in your tube pan and swirl with a wooden skewer or table knife. Top this layer with another third of the batter and add another pumpkin layer (swirling again). Top with the final third of the batter. Fill a 2-cup ovenproof measuring cup with water and place in oven with cake (this keeps it moist!).

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 55 minutes (the original recipe said 1 hour and 10 minutes, but this was way too short for me. Nevertheless, you should start checking early and often just in case. This is a good practice, also, because you may have to cover the top with foil if it’s getting too brown). To test for doneness, insert a wooden skewer in a few different areas of the cake and pull it out. You want it to come out with just a few moist crumbs (no liquid batter, but not completely clean either).

Let the cake cool on wire rack for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge of the pan. Remove the cake from the pan by topping the pan with a plate and carefully inverting it. Then invert the cake again onto another plate so that it’s right-side up. Let cool completely (at least 1 hour).

Make the Maple Brown Sugar Glaze: Combine the butter and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the butter melts, whisk in the brown sugar, syrup, and salt, whisking until the brown sugar melts. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the powdered sugar, starting with 1 cup and adding more to thicken per your preference (taste as you go to ensure you don’t oversweeten). Drizzle the glaze over the top of your cooled cake. Sprinkle the cake with toasted pecans immediately (the glaze sets quickly) and dust with cinnamon. Serve immediately. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container and microwave for about 20 seconds to serve.

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Fresh Open-Faced California Sandwich

This past weekend I attended the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco, California, 2,700 miles away from my home. Traveling alone is always a meaningful, reflective experience for me, and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing vignettes that I hope are meaningful to you, as well.

. . .

“Can you tell we’re tourists?” the gossamer-haired man asked the woman at the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) information desk after she guided him through the process of purchasing a ticket. He chuckled toward his smiling wife, and they walked over toward the ticket machine.

I walked up to the information desk, wondering if I was about to annoy the attendant by asking a question she’d already been asked a hundred times this morning. Like everyone else I’d met so far in the Bay City, though, she cheerfully offered detailed advice. With some help from the tourist couple who’d gone before me, I successfully purchased a subway ticket and stepped onto the escalator to descend into the rumbling belly of the city.

After a posing a few more clueless questions to kind San Franciscans, I stepped onto a BART train and settled into my seat with a self-congratulatory sigh. We sped off only to hear a robotic voice a few seconds later announcing the next stop: “Montgomery.”

Oh. Montgomery? I looked at the map on the wall. I was trying to head to the Mission area to visit the gorgeous, iconic Tartine Bakery. Montgomery, however, was in the opposite direction — toward Oakland across the bay. Once again I turned to a stranger. “If I’m trying to get to 16th and Mission–” I began.

“Oh, you’re headed the wrong way,” she said with a smile. “You needed the train on the other side of the tracks.” It suddenly dawned on me that of course the trains, like cars, would go in two different directions. I felt a little sheepish.

“Oh, thanks! I guess it’s a good thing I realized after only one stop,” I said.

“Definitely. You’re fine. You’re not under the water yet!” she replied.

Her reassurance at once comforted me and alerted me to an alarming fact that I hadn’t considered about the trains: they go under the water. Under the San Francisco Bay. Seriously? I could hear my mom’s voice in my head saying, “What if there’s an earthquake while you’re under there?!” I jumped off at the next stop and changed trains, relieved that I didn’t have to go under the water until I visited Oakland later in my trip.

A couple of hours later I stood at a bus stop, blissful after devouring a frangipane croissant, a gruyere and black pepper gougere, and a Mexican Coke at the communal table in Tartine. I hurriedly grabbed $2 out of my pack as the bus pulled up, but I had the good sense to pause on the bus steps and ask, “Do you head toward Lombard?”

I expected the bus driver to wave me onto the bus, impatient with silly tourist questions, but again, I was met with generosity: “Oh, you want the 22 that runs on the other side of the street.” He pointed to the bus stop across the way. A kind man at the bus stop confirmed the bus driver’s words, “Just wait over there and another bus will be along in a moment.” Buses, it seemed — like trains! and cars! and everything else, Julie! — ran in both directions. Since you might be wondering at this point, I promise I’m not dumb.

I walked across the street, once again redirected by the kindness of others.

Are you plowing ahead on your own power lately? Personally, I never grew out of that independent toddler stage of life — the one where you’re constantly insisting, “I’ll do it myself!” There’s nothing quite like being alone in a strange city across the country from your home to break you of that intransigence, though.

I found my way to Tartine and then up to the Golden Gate Bridge on Friday because I was willing to accept the generosity and support of others. (And if I hadn’t found my way to Tartine, what a tragedy that would’ve been!)

Reach out for help when you need to. You don’t have to handle everything alone. And hey, you’re not under the water yet.

. . .

What better way to kick off my California posts than with a gorgeous open-faced California Sandwich? It’s just as healthy as it looks, but don’t worry — it doesn’t lack a thing in the taste department. In fact, it’s one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever made in my kitchen. It’s a fresh, tangy combination of flavors that you just feel good eating. I made it on sourdough bread, which I love — and how appropriate for all this talk of San Francisco.

Was there a time in your life when you’ve had to break down and accept the help and kindness of others?

Fresh Open-faced California Sandwich



Recipe by: Adapted from Ezra Pound Cake
Yield: 2 open-faced sandwiches

This quick sandwich is cool and refreshing. The bright California salad is comprised of tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, and avocado bathed in lime juice. It rests on a tangy chive spread and a thick, toasty slice of sourdough bread. I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious the finished product was considering how little effort went into assembly. This sandwich would make the perfect lunch or light dinner.

Chive Spread Ingredients:
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper, to taste

California Salad Ingredients*:
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
1 tomato, cored and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
Squeeze of lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste
*This makes enough salad for 4 sandwiches, if you wanted to put a smaller amount on each, but I really heaped it on. I wanted more salad and less bread per sandwich. Yum!

Other Things You Need:
2 slices of thick sourdough bread
1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts

Directions:
Make the chive spread by mixing the yogurt, mayonnaise, chives, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside. Toast the 2 slices of bread in toaster or in a buttered skillet over medium heat. Lay these out on a plate.

Make the California salad by tossing avocado, tomato, cucumber, lime juice, cilantro, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Spread each slice of bread with half of your chive spread and pile on half of the alfalfa sprouts. Then top with half of the California salad, piled high. I ate mine with a knife and fork and considerable enthusiasm.

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Quick Dinner: Garlicky Peanut Noodles with Crunchy Vegetables

I was a mess of elbows and ankles today as I ran around school, the grocery store, the bank, and my apartment desperately trying to tug loose ends together.

In the store, I deftly ran over my own foot with a grocery cart just minutes before dropping not one but two 12-packs of diet Sunkist.

People stared. I acted nonchalant: Whatever, don’t act like you’ve never thrown some soda around. Totally under control over here.

I’m now doing laundry, packing Byrd’s things, packing my things, fixing up lesson plans, adjusting my budget, wrestling with Squirt’s stupid filter, and trying to find a moment to shave my legs. Oh, and writing a blog post, naturally.

All of this craziness came about because tomorrow I’m waking up at 3 in the flippin’ morning, collecting my mountain of luggage, and heading to San Francisco (with flowers in my hair! Except not really.) The 3rd annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival is this weekend, and I can’t wait to eat lots of good food and see some sweet people.

Well, I can totally wait for the airplane part, though. In fact, can we just delete that part altogether? I’m one of those hyperventilating-just-a-little, having-occasional-panic-attacks, making-weird-faces people you hope you don’t have to sit next to on the plane. It’s cool; as long as I take my pills I should be able to limit the panic to some periodic weeping in the window seat.

I kid, I kid. The pills actually knock me straight out. I may snore, but at least I won’t be convulsing?

Anyway, back to the current chaos. Even with all the hubbub tonight, I threw together a homemade dinner. I’ve been eating this quick, 15 minute pasta dish like it’s goin’ out of style since I saw it on Not Without Salt. It checks all of my most important boxes for a weekday meal: it’s low calorie, it’s almost effortless, it’s tasty, and it’s piled sky-high with fun toppings.

The peanut butter and soy sauce together form a hearty, savory sauce that’s saved from straight-up bitterness by a few glugs of white wine and some gorgeous carrot curls. I threw on some green onions, chopped peanuts, lime juice, and tons and tons of bean sprouts before mixing the whole dish together and digging in. I love that gorgeous salty soy sauce flavor in every bite.


crunch.

All right, my loves. On that crunchy, delicious note, I’m off to ‘Frisco (I know, don’t worry. I’ve already read all the blogs about how much locals hate it when tourists call it that) for a food adventure. Stay safe, and stay off airplanes, you crazies! If people were meant to fly, God would’ve given us jet engine biceps. Or helium-filled love handles. Or, like, wings or something.

P.S.: My apartment will be occupied and supervised while I’m gone. Probably by robots that throw themselves into bonfires so they can incinerate you in a fiery embrace. Nice try, thieves of the interwebz!

P.S. 2: AHHHHHHHH AIRPLANES.

Garlicky Peanut Noodles with Crunchy Vegetables



Recipe by: Adapted from Not Without Salt‘s recipe inspired by Nigel Slater
Yields: 4 servings

These noodles are bathed in a salty, garlicky peanut sauce before being topped with an array of crunchy toppings: carrot curls, bean sprouts, green onions, chopped peanuts, sesame seeds. A spritz of lime juice and a good toss finishes the dish in just 15 minutes. I love simple weekday meals.

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons peanut butter (or tahini if you’d rather, but I haven’t tried it)
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine (or dry white wine)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
4 servings’ worth of spaghetti (or other long noodle)

Optional Toppings:
carrot curls (just take a vegetable peeler to a peeled carrot to get these)
bean sprouts (boil these for a few minutes and then rinse in cold water for safety)
chopped green onions
chopped peanuts
sesame seeds
squeeze of lime

Directions:
Boil salted water over medium-high heat and cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Drain, return to pan, and set aside.

In a food processor, combine the garlic and shallots and process until fine. Scrape down the sides of the processor bowl with a spatula and then add the peanut butter, soy sauce, wine, vinegar, and sesame oil and process until combined. Add this sauce to pasta in pan and toss to coat.

Serve pasta on plate topped with shredded carrots, green onions, chopped peanuts, sesame seeds, bean sprouts, and a slice of lime.

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