Last night I had a much-needed girls’ night with my friend Halani — it was way overdue. We threw together an impromptu array of finger foods and desserts and had a picnic on the floor of her adorable apartment.
Halani and I met back in 2004 when we were both still working in flowers. The shop where we first worked together was a charming, bright little space on Beacon Hill, not much bigger than my living room. I was a refugee from a bucket-shop (a floral-industry term for the older, townie-run shops around Boston) in Central Square. An awful place where slinging empty flower buckets (and expletives) at one another was not an uncommon occurrence, and few employees had a full set of teeth. When I arrived for my interview at Charles Street Flowers on a sunny day in March, I felt like I was walking into an oasis. Pure white orchids and fluffy hydrangea adorned the floor to ceiling window display and there was not a carnation in sight. Best of all, the owner, Peter, spoke comprehensible English and used words with several syllables. He seemed like he might actually be sane. I exhaled. From the work-area I heard a “HALLOO” directed at me, and looked up to see a vision of beauty and elegance sweeping up the morning’s prep debris.
Halani! Beautiful flower-shop girl extraordinaire!
Since 2004 Halani and I have had many adventures, together and separately, both in and out of the flower world. As fierce and loyal as she is lovely and talented, Halani is a treasure of a woman that I am blessed to know. I wish her the very best in her upcoming year of exciting changes. Everyone should be as lucky as I am to have a friend like her.
Applesauce Walnut Cake, adapted from Gourmet Today, edited by Ruth Reichl, 2009
I realize that this little cake is not much to look at. I have certainly photographed many, far more impressive-looking desserts for this blog. I promise however that it is moist, sweet and delicious, especially when shared with a friend over tea, wine or pink champagne…
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used a whole wheat pastry – all purpose mix)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter (or margarine), softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar (I used only 1/2 cup)
2 large eggs, left at room temperature for 30 minutes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened applesauce (I used a peach-apple sauce – delicious!)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
GARNISH: confectioners’ sugar (didn’t use)
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: a 9-inch square baking pan (I used a round pan)
Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat over to 350°F. Butter baking pan.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
Beat together butter/margarine and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer (fitted with paddle attachment if using a stand mixer) at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and applesauce, then scrape down sides of bowl (mixture will look curdled). At low speed, add flour mixture and mix, scraping down sides of bowl, just until flour is incorporated. Stir in pecans.
Spread batter evenly in baking pan. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 30 minutes.
Run a thin knife around sides of pan. Turn cake out of pan, if desired, and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
COOK’S NOTE: The cake can be made up to 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.