How’s your weekend going? I saw a sign in a shop today—a quirkily illustrated poster with the words ‘have a marvelous day!’ scrawled across the top. It showed 12 hand-drawn squares, each depicting something to marvel at: the scent of roses in a flower shop, a hot cup of coffee, the sun on your face.
I liked the reminder of what the word can be—not just excellent or fantastic but related to stopping and marveling at something (especially little things). How nice to wander through the world with a healthy dose of wonder: willing and ready and looking to be surprised or delighted or both.
Here are some things I’ve delighted in lately:
1. Infusions! As I sat eating lunch at the counter at a brightly-lit, buzzing Mexican spot I like (more on it here), I chatted with the bartender who brought me my soup. I asked about the drink menu—he told me about their famous margarita which is made with lime curd (!) for a creamy, sweet flavor. I said I wasn’t feeling quite up to margarita levels, given a winter cold, and a few minutes later he set down, with a wink, a double-walled glass tumbler filled with a steaming amber liquid. I looked confused, and he pointed at the menu, telling me that it was one of their house infusions: a sweet tea-like drink made in a miniature French press with yuzu marmalade, ginger, and fennel seeds. It was spicy and fruity and warm and comforting—just what I didn’t know I wanted.
2. A perfect French omelette—the fluffy interior dotted with fines herbes and oozing with melted Gruyere cheese—eaten at a sunny window table.
3. An even more perfect French salade verte enjoyed at La Mercerie, which is possibly one of the most beautiful spots at which to eat in New York City, and feels more chicly Parisian than Paris itself. You should order the buttery, almost custard-like scrambled eggs and the simple salad. When you do, a shallow stoneware bowl arrives mounded with greens, each so delicately glazed with an acidic cabernet vinaigrette and impeccably seasoned with salt that you suspect some young sous chef must be lovingly and gently placing each leaf, one by one, on the plate. Slivers of fresh pear and toasted walnuts hide beneath the tangle of lettuces along with an unexpected flavor: a burst of green in my mouth. Surprised, I look closer—parsley!
4. These lines of poetry from Nina Alvarez:
If you could be soft in what you are. In what you’ve felt in the world.
Have you considered much what it is to sit on the lawn. What is under your fingers, what is under your hands. And how to live an agreeable life, and how much it takes it in a night to get through what you must first get through in order to just sit here and be happy.
Or this piece of a poem, from Laura Kasischke:
A bear batting at a beehive, how
clumsy the mind
always was with the heart. Wanting
what it wanted.
The blizzard’s accountant, how
timidly the heart approached the business
of the mind. Counting
what it counted.
Light inside a cage, the way the heart —
Bird trapped in an airport, the way the mind —
How it flashed on the floor of the phone booth, my
5. The success of a new recipe! The heat of the warm oven air on your cheeks as you bend to pull the cakes out. The first bite: incredibly moist and subtly sweet. The second bite: tangy cream cheese frosting with just the right amount of spice. The third bite: okay yes this is going to be a sit-down-and-close-my-eyes-good dessert situation.
I love how this cake mimics the flavors of banana bread—comforting and familiar—but turns them up a notch. It’s cakier than banana bread, in a way, but far less cake-like than a regular layer cake. It toes the line between a moist, dense quickbread and light, delicate cake. Personally, I could do with even more cardamom in the frosting, but I’d suggest starting with what I have written here and then dialing it up only if you, too, love the taste of it.
Banana Layer Cake with Cardamom Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes one 8” three-layer cake
For the cake
2 1/2 cups (300g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 sticks (227g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (148g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (106g) brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup (113g) sour cream (or full-fat yogurt or buttermilk)
4 medium very ripe bananas, mashed
For the frosting
8 ounces (225g) cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (113g, 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (85g) confectioners’ sugar (use closer to 1 cup if you prefer a sweeter frosting)
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line with parchment rounds then lightly grease and flour three 8” round cake pans.
Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugars for about 3 minutes until very fluffy and pale in color. Add the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each.
Add half of the dry ingredients, mix briefly, then add the sour cream (or yogurt or buttermilk) and bananas. Mix until fairly well-combined, add the rest of the dry ingredients, and mix until the batter is smooth.
Divide the batter equally between the three pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cakes just start to pull away from the edges of the pan. Remove from the oven and cool in the pans for at least 15 minutes before flipping out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
**Chilling or freezing the cake layers briefly before frosting will make them much easier to frost!
To make the frosting: First, be sure your butter and cream cheese are completely at room temperature and not any colder—this ensures your frosting will be silky smooth!
Beat together the butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add the sugar, salt, and cardamom and mix well.
Level the cake layers, if needed, with a serrated knife and then frost the layers and sides of the cakes liberally with frosting.