I’ve spent the past few days giggling a lot, most times with my dad, at my dad and also behind his back. If you met him, you would know right away he’s a funny man, he doesn’t try to be, he just naturally is.
My friend Bonnie loves to tell the story of the time when she called my house looking for me. My dad picked up the phone and for fun, crooned in a high-pitched girly tone, “moshi moshi?” (Japanese for hello on the phone). Bonnie burst into a fitful of giggles and between breaths asked for me, my dad blushed and handed over the phone to me. We proceeded laughing for a good five minutes and ten years later, we still laugh about it.
The photo above was taken in Beijing during my summer vacation when I was visiting my parents, just in time to catch the Olympics. My dad still works in China and visits every year, though it's not easy to living on opposite sides of the world, we Skype everyday, sometimes with webcam (then again my mom and I can't help but poke fun at his baldness so he rarely turns it on). My mom hates it when we go out and people say we look nothing alike, they never guess that we’re mother and daughter. What do you think? I look a lot like my dad, the same eyes, the same round face, I talk like him too sometimes and I like to think I got his DNA for seeking adventurous foods.
Last week was his birthday and of course, I love birthdays because that means food. We shared a 5 lb lobster cooked in soy sauce plus lots of garlic and scallions, and soon enough, our plates were teetering with gnarly lobster shells and legs. There was a look of deep concentration hanging on my mom's face as she wrestled out succlent pieces of lobster meat, because even though we were there for my dad's birthday, my mom had long since planned to go to this restaurant for its lobster, it's definitely her favorite food.
When we got home, there was a cake waiting. I’ve been meaning to make this cake since I cracked open Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food and nothing says it’s the holidays quite like cranberries. In keeping with my experiment of whole grain flours, I switched out the all-purpose flour with a mixture of oat, spelt and whole wheat flours, dialled down the sugar in the cake just a tad and added orange zest to the topping for a little kick.
We invited my parents’ friends over to share some cake and of course, they obligingly said yes. They wolfed down their first slice and asked for seconds, I don't blame them, I had it for breakfast everyday with a dollop of plain yogurt. It’s a nice cake to have when you don’t want something too cloying, when you crave some fruit and something low-key and rustic. The sour fruit is brought to life with orange juice and a caramel topping and then paired with a moist cake batter that is just right, not too sweet and not too dry. The flours give the cake a nutty, grainy texture that crumbles to bite-sized pieces, perfect for your fork to stab at.
It might not be the prettiest cake, but when you make it for someone who you haven’t seen in a while and manages to cheer you up instantly when you had a bad day, it doesn’t matter.
Happy holidays folks!
Whole Grain Upside-Down Cranberry Cake
Makes one 8-inch round cake or square cake
Alice says this cake is versatile and can easily be made with apples, pears, peaches, plums or any full-flavoured, slightly acidic fruit, just arrange sliced fruit in concentric circles. If you don’t have any of the whole grain flours, just replace them all with 1½ cup all-purpose flour.
¼ cup unsalted butter
¾ cup brown sugar
2¾ cup cranberries, fresh or frozen
¼ cup fresh orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs, separated and at room temperature
½ cup whole milk, at room temperature
¾ cup oat flour
½ cup spelt flour
¼ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. For the topping, melt butter and brown sugar over medium heat in 8-inch cast-iron skillet or heavy-duty cake pan, stirring constantly until mixture starts to bubble. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Alternatively, you can cook this in a saucepan and pour into a regular cake pan to cool.
2. In a small saucepan, heat together cranberries and orange juice until berries just start to pop. Add in orange zest. Remove from heat and pour evenly over the brown sugar mixture.
3. For the cake, preheat oven to 350°F. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt, set aside.
4. In another bowl or a stand mixer, lightly beat butter for about 1 minute. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks one at a time until well combined. Stir in vanilla extract until well combined.
5. Add flour mixture alternatively with milk, starting and ending with one third of the flour. Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Fold one third of egg whites into the batter and then gently fold in the rest.
6. Pour batter and over cranberries in the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until top is golden brown and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from oven and allow cake to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a serving plate.