The kitchen. Simply defined as a place where food is cooked or prepared. But for many of us, it’s so much more than that. Food is tied intricately to memory, linking us to previous versions of ourselves, to people we’ve held close, to moments we’ve shared.
It’s in this space that I learned who my mom was, and most importantly, how she loved. She was (and still is) happiest in the kitchen because this was how she expressed her love. When words weren’t easy to come by, food could take its place, in joy or hardship, celebration or everyday living.
I can remember from a young age watching, all six feet of her in the kitchen, hands crimping the pie dough, the skins of potatoes flying as she peeled them, preparing meat for the grill, whipping cream for a cake.
As I grew older, I began cooking with her. She taught me how to can salsa the old-fashioned way, turn out pie crust, and grill (despite it being a “man thing”).
Spilled milk, sticky, sugar dusted counters, frosting as another coat of paint around cabinet knobs. She didn’t care that there was a mess, she only smiled and encouraged.
She had dinner on the table every night around 6 pm despite working a full-time job, and we always ate together as a family. No television, just our conversation. We were encouraged to ask each other questions, and engage. Laugh, and sometimes cry too.
She and I would clean off the table, then she’d wash, and I’d dry the dishes (even standing on a step stool until I was tall enough). We had the best of conversations as we scrubbed and shined, and she still hasn’t put a dishwasher in to this day because she can’t stand water spots. And I love her for that.
Now it’s the smells and passed down silverware, the recipes and the ingredients that bring me right back to the comfort of being with her in the kitchen.
Her love is patient, like a batch of fully proofed bread dough.
Her love is kind, like the pie she’d deliver when the neighbors needed it most.
Her love is comforting, like the bowl of chicken dumpling soup she’d make to cure a cold.
And her love, nor the cookie jar, is ever empty.
The dessert that vividly reminds me of my mom is angel food cake. Her signature style of serving it, with crimson red strawberries she’d somehow sliced perfectly using a scraggly pairing knife. She’d let them sit amongst a dusting of sugar, coaxing out their sweet juices that begged to be absorbed by the light and airy cake. The tender, juicy strawberries nestled atop homemade whipped cream, it was my favorite summertime delight.
I’d beg it her to cut me a piece as the smell of marshmallows floated through the house, but she insisted it had to spend hours turned upside down, balancing on a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, which I can still picture clear as day. She took me through the reasons, emphasizing that removing it too soon would be the detriment to its tall and staunch height. Even though she made hers from a boxed mix, it was still homemade in my eyes. She didn’t buy it in a store, she baked it in her oven and it turned out perfectly every.single.time. This is my homemade version, made grain-free with the use of cassava flour + tapioca starch. They have just the right amount of toasted edges with cloud-like fluffy insides, turned into the ultimate spring or summer dessert with whipped cream and strawberries.
Grain-Free Mini Angel Food Cakes with Strawberries and Cream
Makes 12-16 mini cakes
¾ cup (150 grams) superfine sugar, divided
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup cassava flour (70 grams)
¼ cup tapioca starch/flour (25 grams)
6 large egg whites, room temperature
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Strawberries and Cream:
2 cups sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar (regular will work, or you can use leftover superfine)
1 cup heavy whipping cream, very cold
1 tablespoon sugar (regular will work, or you can use leftover superfine)
zest of one lemon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place flours, ½ cup superfine sugar, and salt in a sieve set over a bowl. Sift into bowl and set aside.
With a mixer, beat egg whites on medium-high until foamy, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar; beat until soft peaks form. Continue to beat, gradually adding remaining ¼ cup superfine sugar; beat until firm and glossy stiff form, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla; gently beat just to combine.
Remove bowl from stand mixer. Add the flour/sugar mixture in five batches, using the sieve or gently sprinkling over the egg whites, folding in gently each time. You’ll use a rubber spatula to fold in the mixture by cutting down the center and coming up the sides.
Gently spoon batter into a lightly greased, 12 cup muffin tin, filling each one to the top. (You’ll have leftover batter, which I put into more muffin tins and bake after the first round is done.) Cut a knife or small spatula through each muffin cup to release air bubbles. Bake for 5 minutes at 350 degrees, then turn heat down to 325 degrees and bake for about 15 minutes, until cakes are golden and spring back when lightly pressed.
Let muffin pan cool completely. Run a knife around the inside of each little cake to release and unmold.
Stir together the strawberries and 2 tablespoons sugar, let sit for at least 30 minutes. To make the whipped cream, use a hand mixer or whisk to whip the cream with 1 tablespoon sugar, and lemon extract in a bowl, until soft peaks form.
To assemble place each cake on a plate and top with whipped cream, and strawberries on the side and a bit on top. Sprinkle with lemon zest. (I added more strawberries to the top of mine after photographing, so the juices really sank in).
Cakes are best eaten the day they are made but will last another day in an airtight container, out of the refrigerator.
BY Amanda Paa - May 9, 2017
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.