Thursday, September 5, 2013

Little Apricot Cakes // The Great Divide (Week 3)

This summer was truly a sacred one in our household. Sure, that whole "opening a restaurant" thing was great and all. However, the real beauty was the fact that, since the shop was not yet technically up and running, and we were still very much in set-up mode, the chef and I were able to spend nearly every waking hour together. For some couples, this probably sounds like punishment. However, for us (despite the fact that much of it was spent meeting with plumbers, sprinting across town for countertops, and interviewing potential employees), it was a much needed reprieve. Sure, squeezing into subways in mid-summer heat while carrying multiple paint cans doesn't exactly scream romance. But when you are accustomed to owning a business and, as a result, find it normal to go days without seeing your spouse because you are both running in completely opposite directions in order to keep your business afloat, something as simple as getting stuck in traffic together -- which we did, a lot, thanks to a specific patch of the Westside Highway -- can seem as magical as a first date (especially when you have a few killer playlists on hand). 

This is confusing to many people. Wait, but you own a business together. Doesn't that mean you are, well, together, all the time? Quite the opposite, as it turns out. On some days, yes, we wake up to the same alarm clock and from that moment until the moment we reach our bed again that night, we are indeed within inches of each other. But on other days -- the majority of days -- with the exception of those few minutes in the morning, or those few minutes just before bed, we really don't see each other much at all.  

As a couple, we have the fortunate problem of sharing this one, completely grand ol' life together. However, our shop takes up a very big (massive, really) portion of it, meaning that other aspects of our life are often left untended. Which is why, much of the time, we're forced to roam down separate paths to be sure that, at the end of every day or week or month, we can rest with some sense of certainty that everything on our shared "to-do" list is done (i.e.: you go to [insert miscellaneous social event so our friends don't think we've become total jerks] while I stay and run the shop; you stay at the shop while I run home and handle all the paperwork for the business, toss in a few loads of laundry and make sure no suspicious smells are wafting from our fridge). 

Following our summer of "romance," this past long weekend was the first major chunk of time we've been forced to spend apart in several months. While the chef stayed in the city, I was on the moooove. First on my agenda was a quick get together in the suburbs to visit some of our beloved friends (who we have seriously been neglecting, and yet they love us anyway) and, following that, a solo-style road trip to Maine to watch one of my college roommates exchange her wedding vows (she was married at the water's edge in a silk Nicole Miller gown and I cried like an infant throughout the entire ceremony). The trip included everything that an end-of-summer road trip should include: a pristine lake, lawn games galore, a blazing fire (complete with s'mores, obviously), multiple coolers filled with craft beers, some seriously rustic cabins (picture Dirty Dancing) and bunk beds for every guest. Everything, that is, except for my husband.

While I was busy drinking, apologizing for the chef's absence, singing lakeside karaoke, taking leisurely canoe rides, and trying not to die on the most intense rope swing to ever exist, the chef and our team were here...

from the New York Times
Which is to say, sweating it out among tens of thousands of people while selling our food at an NYC music festival. Quite different landscapes, don't you think?

Although you probably won't believe me, I felt pretty guilty being on a mini-vacation while the chef was shoveling hotel pans in and out of our commercial ovens and serving crowds of festival-goers. But, as a couple, and more specifically as a business-owning couple, we have to make sacrifices in order to make everything in our life truly work.

Sometimes, I've found, those sacrifices come in the form of spending time apart so that, as a couple, we do not completely forget about our family and our friends (especially on their wedding day). And sometimes those sacrifices mean leaving your spouse so he can work into the wee hours of the morning and you can (finally) take care of practical things, like dusting shelves and paying household bills. Sometimes it means driving seven hours by yourself so your oldest friends don't think you've turned into one of those boring women who only care about work. Or worse, so they don't think you've become one of those women who only leaves her house with her husband in tow.

And every once in a while, those sacrifices require dancing through the shallow shoreline of a New England lake with one of your oldest friends, and laughing and crying as you tell her how excited and scared you are of this whole venture you and the chef have embarked on, and having the courtesy to only admit your fears out loud when your husband is five states out of earshot and, thus, will not view you as anything less than impossibly strong. And when your friend asks if you are okay and if you are happy with this journey -- like, really okay, Ang -- those sacrifices require that you take a moment to laugh at yourself and admit to your friend that you are drunk and being emotional and assure her that you promise -- PROMISE -- that you are okay. That you are more than okay. That you are genuinely happy, even if it means making sacrifices and only really seeing your husband a few hours per week. Because, after all, you had the time to bake those pretty little apricot cakes you brought her as a sort of sugary greeting, and we all know that a girl who was truly stressed would never have had the time or the patience to delicately place slivers of apricots across the most charming little cakes this side of summer. So there.

These tiny cakes (which are only about half the size of your typical muffin) are truly one of the easiest, and yet most charming desserts I've made in a very, very long time. The batter bakes up to become a beautiful and bright yellow cake that is moist and contains just the right amount of lemony burst in each bite. And then there are the apricots which, when sliced into wedges, prove to be the perfect size for these handheld treats. Plus, when one is busy navigating Labor Day traffic while heading north, it turns out that these single serving cakes travel pretty well. However, my recommendation for eating them is while standing beside your husband, the two of you hunched over your kitchen island very late on a Sunday night after you've gone days without seeing each other, when you're both just so damn happy and yet no words are needed to explain how tired you both feel: because you have cake, so, really, how bad could things actually be?

Little Apricot Cakes
from Bon Appetit

- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for coating the pan
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup whole milk
- 2-3 apricots, halved, pitted and cut into wedges
- 2 tablespoons raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat the bottoms and sides of the cups in a muffin pan with butter. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in another bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, lemon zest, and vanilla and beat until combined.

With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Divide the batter among the muffin cups (the cups will only be about 1/3 of the way full). Smooth the batter and then top each cup with apricot slices and raw sugar. Bake until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in their center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer the cakes to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool before serving.

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