the aromas of sweetness and comfort

My daughter had a fever Friday night. Her eyes were glassy, and she didn’t have her usual bouncy enthusiasm for our Family Movie Night. Instead, she was sluggish and tearful. After dinner – and after chewing some children’s ibuprofen – she wrapped herself up in a cozy, red blanket and headed upstairs to her room. While she read a book on her Kindle, my husband and I watched Turbo (for the third or fourth time) with our son.

Maddie didn’t stay up late reading, though, as has been her habit lately. She was fast asleep by 8:30 or 9:00, tucked under her quilt and at least two other throw blankets. My husband, expecting her to wander downstairs in the middle of the night with pain from another fever, had set out an assortment of symptom-relieving medicines where they’d be easy for us to find without having to rummage through the cabinets. But she didn’t come down that night. She slept hard until morning.

On Saturday, her temperature was lower, and I could tell she felt a little better. She still wasn’t herself, though. When she didn’t want to take a trip with us to the local library to get a new book, I could tell she was still not feeling well.

I didn’t feel so great on Saturday either. I didn’t have a fever, but I felt a little achy, and my allergies were flaring up. Mostly, I just felt…blah. Unexcited, uninspired, and unmotivated. I wanted to feel like cooking, but I didn’t. And — I’ll confess it here — despite receiving a beautiful baking cookbook in the mail the day before, I didn’t even feel like baking.

As the morning turned into afternoon, I remembered that, sometimes, just committing to something – jumping in and immersing myself in an activity – can be inspiring, even if I wasn’t feeling it from the beginning. Writing is often this way for me. Often, I dread it, and I feel like the words – the right words – will never come. But if I just start writing, if I force myself to sit and focus (and no matter how many times I may end up hitting the ‘delete’ key), eventually something emerges, and I feel better about things. I feel better about writing, about what I have written, and about my life in general.

So, on Saturday, I decided to bake a cake. I let the butter and eggs come to room temperature, and by that point, I was committed. There was no turning back.

(Okay, okay, I could have put those eggs and that butter back in the refrigerator, but that would feel too much like defeat. And I am not one to easily admit defeat.)

By the time the cake was in the oven, I did feel better.

By the time the cake was out of the oven, filling the house with the aromas of sweetness and comfort, we all were feeling better.

Baking, for the win!

Yield: Serves 8-10

Cook Time: 50 minutes.

Ricotta-Orange Pound Cake

There's something special about the simplicity of a pound cake. Pound cakes are reliable and versatile, and everyone seems to like them. This one is no exception. And while this pound cake is gussied up a bit, it's not over the top. A slice of this cake, served simply with a dusting of powdered sugar or a dollop of sweetened whipped cream, would satisfy any guest of any age, on any occasion.


1-1/2 cups (145 grams) cake flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 sticks (170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting


Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with the oven rack in the middle position. Butter and flour a deep 9-inch round cake pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add the ricotta and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until just incorporated. Beat in the Grand Marnier, vanilla paste, and orange zest. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, beating on medium after each addition, just until incorporated. Give the batter a final stir by hand.

Pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake for 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out a few crumbs. Transfer to a rack to cool for 20 minutes, and then invert cake out of pan to cool completely. Dust the pound cake with confectioners’ sugar.

Very slightly adapted from this recipe by Giada de Laurentiis in Food & Wine.