Wondering about chocolate loaf cake

I’ve always loved a woman who can bake and cook, why do just one when you can do both. Julia could and maybe that’s why I enjoyed Nigella Lawson so much. That and her late night snacking on the treats she had made also made me love her. English accent didn’t hurt either.

Visiting my almost 86 year old father this weekend when he mentioned he wished he had something sweet in the house. There’s not much you can buy for an 85 year old with a sufficient pension nor much you can do for a proud man who believes that allowing his kids to help with anything around his home is admitting to some type of weakness in character. What he does allow is an occasional home cooked meal, if it’s not too much trouble and anything sweet – especially if it involves chocolate.

Nigella to the rescue. I recalled a chocolate loaf cake that we used to enjoy from her How to Be a Domestic Goddess cookbook. A quick Google search did the trick …

Set oven to 375 degrees. Grease and line a 9 x 5 loaf pan with parchment paper. Melt 4 to 6 oz of bittersweet chocolate (I used 6 oz of chocolate chips because that’s what Dad had – I melted them in the microwave). Mix 1 cup of softened butter -Dad had salted (original recipe calls for unsalted) with 1 and 2/3 cups brown sugar, I generally choose dark but light was already opened, so used a cup of that with 1/3 of dark.

Add 1 tsp vanilla and 2 beaten eggs (I used large- which are typically used in baking) and beat till well incorporated. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

Add the melted chocolate and gently fold in until just incorporated.

Mix 1 tsp baking soda in to 1 and 1/3 cups flour. Then you will alternate mixing flour and 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons boiling water into the chocolate batter – do this in about 4 additions each. This will produce a very liquid batter. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Mine fills to about 1 inch below top of pan (if yours is going to go higher, internet directions suggest baking off the rest in one or more ). Also suggests placing a pan in oven below for any overflow.

Bake for 30 minutes then lower oven to 325 degrees and cook for 15 minutes more. Recipe explains that cake will still be “squid day” but that you should remove. In my experience cake is “raw” at this point and I have never been happy with taking it out at this point. I have always left it in over for at least an additional 15-20 minutes. Even an hour in, my tester never comes out clean – but for me the cake seems reasonably done and still on the squiddy side so I take it out. Remove from oven and let cool completely in the pan. Don’t worry if top sinks in a bit. As soon as it was cool we jumped right it. It’s great on its own and even better with some fresh whipped cream!

Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake

1 cup soft unsalted butter

1 2/3 cup dark brown sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

4 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons boiling water

Wandering around Providence

Just 50 miles south of Boston is the city of my youth. I grew up 30 miles south, but for Rhode Islander’s Providence is everyone’s city.

On Friday, I hoped in my car to meet my cousin for a little ‘downcity’ exploring. We started our morning at PVDonuts, 79 Ives Street (corner of Ives and Wickenden) for what PVDonuts claims to be Rhode Island’s first specialty donut shop.

We were in luck, only a few were sold out. We chose 3 so we could experience the 24-hour raised brioche-yeast stuffed – bourbon peach crumble, a 24-hour raised brioche-yeast unstuffed – maple bacon and a cake donuts – chocolate birthday cake. They also have old-fashioned, cruller, vegan, fritters and flourless options. These are locally sourced, homemade donuts and when they are gone, they are gone for the day and when they are all gone, the shop closes!

Stuffed but happy we headed to the Providence Place Mall – currently offering 3 hours of free parking and a beautiful view of downcity…

Despite tempertures in the teens we walked along the river walk – home of Providence’s Waterfire – to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum, 20 North Main Street. Admission is $15 (free under 18, $12 for 62+ and free on Sundays from 10-5 and on the third Thursday of every month from 5-9pm).

What a gem. I am sad to say that despite growing up in RI and considering myself an unofficial permanent resident, I had never been to the RISD Museum. Don’t miss out, there’s everything here from Gilbert Stuart portraits to a Chihuly chandelier.

We’d walked off our donuts, well sort of, so we headed for Ellie’s Bakery, 61 Washington Street. Arriving at a bakery after 3pm means you’ll take what you can get and although initially disappointed we soon were savoring an amazing seafood chowder loaded with muscles and monkfish and all sorts of other goodies along with a savory flaky kale and feta croissant – YUM!

Wondering if I can break the cycle of paper hording

I come from a long line of paper borders. In adddition to a bazillion photos and slides, my maternal grandfather left behind every checkbook register and check stub from every checking account he had ever held. Finding the 1940 receipt for his wedding brunch celebration to my grandmother was a gem that could have easily been missed among the rental table books for the Equitable building where he worked in the thirties and the programs from Oddsfellow productions, receipts and warrantees from appliances from two holdholds accumulated over a 60 year periods and just about every statement and receipt the man ever laid his hands on.

My mother carried on the tradition, I open my mail on my front porch next to my recycling bin in an attempt to avoid the mountain of mail that accumulated on the 4 foot long peninsula in my parent’s kitchen. It did disappear from time to time, relocate might be a better description, a hasty move to the top of the washing machine just prior to the arrival of guests or to make room for rolling out Christmas cookies or frying chicken in the electric skillet. However, most of the time it sat there taunting us, just waiting to explode.

I recall with horror opening up a cupboard in my parent’s living room shortly after my mother’s unexpected death at the age of 52 to find thousands of Christmas cards. Lovely cards with family photos, cards with handwritten notes and news of the year past, but more than 50% were just generic cards with “the Andrews family” or “love, Joan” nothing more. Who were the Andrews family? Joan? Why hang on to these?

Although I generally have the “mail” part of my families obsession covered, it is still a daily battle. Junk mail, fliers and solicitations immediatly hit the recycle bin. I open bills (unwilling to go completely electronic – especially with credit card bills that fluctuate from month to month) and write a note on my refrigerator calendar a week before they are due to remind me to make payment, recycling the outside envelop immediatly, adding any magazines to my reading pile (have given up most subscriptions at this point) and read any personal mail. Bills, personal mail I haven’t yet responded to and the I’m not sure what to do with it stuff ends up in my “box.” I learned a long time ago that if I did not contain things they would crawl and occasionally they still do but when the box starts to look like this…


…it’s time to organize – unfortunately – about once a week. So that when I am done it looks more like …


As I am currently job searching I have an extra “pile” next to the box.

Once bills are paid, the statement and any other statements, receipts, or miscellaneous paper goes into my personal box which has a lid and is kept in a closet or the house box (mortgage, taxes, electric, etc) that is kept in the basement. When they become full or unruly I mangage those – shredding what no longer is relevant or necessary.

Fighting the urge to save ticket stubs, letters, receipts is a never ending battle but one that become easier with each passing year as I realize that I rarely if ever need or look at the things I’ve saved and think about the fact that no loved one wants to have to sort through mounds of nothing to find the one gem. I keep reminding myself to keep a gem or two, but dispose of the rest!


Wondering if I’m the only one wondering when the skinny jean trend will end?

I’ve been horrifying my fifteen year old niece for at least the last year threatening the demise of skinny jeans and a return to bell-bottoms. With 70s and 80s trends in fashion popping up all over the place, I figured that denim would be in store for a change as well. I recall reading somewhere that unlike other trends, jeans trends tend to take hold for at least 10 years. Something related to the investment we make in jeans, the quantity that we own – making transitions take longer than for other wardrobe staples.

I don’t need nor truly want us to move toward “elephant ears” – someone out there must know what I’m talking about, right? I coveted the pair of a 4th grader who’s mother was obviously a bit more indulgent than my own. Watching them swing and sway as she ran around the playground brought out the green monster in me. I’m sure that my practical Mom recognized that although fashion forward, a seven year old could end up with a whole lot of hurt trying to rid a bicycle with a yard of fabric around their ankle. However, when Kate Middleton appeared in wide-leg trousers over the holidays I really hoped that were headed toward a wider leg cut or at least toward more variety.

Today as I went to put on my skinny jeans I was called to another pair in the back of my drawer. Yes, a pair with flair. Like you, I’ll continue to wear my skinny jeans, but I am waiting and watching and looking forward to the day when skinny, boot or bell are all an option that won’t mark us as “in” or “out.”

Wondering what to do with panettone…

I love Italy. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Italy, but for years I’ve told everyone how much I hate rosemary and panettone. In all fairness, I’m not sure I’d ever tried panettone, but I’m not a fan of raisins in baked goods and fruitcake is not something I will partake in. Isn’t panettone just Italian fruitcake? Shopping with my fifteen year old niece this Christmas she expressed an interest in wanting to buy gifts for my husband and I with her own money. A sweet gesture and although I didn’t want her to spend her money on us, I did understand that the act of giving can be as important to a teen as to anyone else. So let’s think, what could we purchase for Uncle Joe that wouln’t break the bank… as we were scouring the aisles at Stop and Shop in search of red currant jelly I rounded a corner to see an end cap full of Ferrara Panettone on sale for $5.99 – perfect.

Well the surprise has been on me. Toasted panettone with honey butter has been an extraordinarily delicious way to start the day. But then last night thinking it would be nice to serve desert after creating a meal from odds and ends found in my freezer, an idea came to mind. Why not a panettone bread pudding. I had about a third of a panettone left which turned out to make the perfect amount of bread pudding for four (in our case we get to enjoy it again tonight!)

Panettone Bread Pudding – serves 4

  • 1/3 of a 2lb Ferrara Panettone cut into 1 inch cubes – mine had been opened and in refrigerator about a week
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Bourbon Sauce – (2 Tbs butter, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 Tbs Boubon/Whiskey, 2 Tbs heavy cream)
  • Vanilla ice cream – optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter baking dish, I used a 2 1/2 quart round Corning Ware baking dish. Place panettone cubes in dish. Whisk together eggs, sugar, cream and vanilla and pour over panettone. Push cubes into egg mixture and let stand for 15-20 minutes. Bake for 30-45 minutes until knife inserted comes out clean. While bread pudding is cooling make Bourbon Sauce.

Melt butter in small saucepan. Add sugar, Bourbon and heavy cream and whisk to mix. Bring to a boil and let boil for 1-2 minutes. Scoop bread pudding into bowls, top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (optional) and spoon Bourbon Sauce over the top.

Wandering in Lowell, MA

Rainy winter Saturday with no plans? If it’s the first Saturday of the month why not head to Western Avenue Open Studios. About a half hour drive up Rt 3 (25 miles northwest of Boston) and you are in the Mill City considered the cradle of the American Industrial Revolution. Arriving about noon, we decided to give Four Sister’s Owl Diner at 244 Appleton a try.

I have always enjoyed an old fashioned diner especially if I can sit on a stool at the counter and watch my home fries sizzle on the flat top. We were not disappointed. Joe enjoyed the Hungry Owl and I devoured a Dutton omelette, filled with home made corned beef hash and a health dose of American cheese, wheat toast and hand-cut crisp tender home fries.

Just about a mile away you’ll find the Western Avenue Studios and Lofts (122 Western Avenue, Lowell) reportedly the largest artist community on the eastern seaboard. Open Studios take place on the first Saturday of the month from noon to 5pm. The Lofts consist of 50 live/work lofts giving visitors an opportunity to meet a variety of artists in their home studios (on this post holiday Saturday less than a handful of lofts were open).

The studio building houses 250 work only artist spaces on 5 floors. It’s a maze of artists of all types, there’s something for everyone from photography and paintings to woodworkers and knitters. The hallways serve as galleries that delight at every turn. We were especially enchanted with Bruce Wood’s creations (studio #427). The studio building is also home to Navigation Brewery Company where we stopped in for a pint of their double IPA and the Coffee Porter.

And lucky for me, one of Karen Chistian’s little bird followed us home!