We spent the weekend visiting the kinds of friends who always introduce me to something new to love. It’s rarely anything enormous, and our tastes are similar enough that it’s often something I could have found in my own home with a little more effort and attention. In other words, it’s basically perfection. The latest episode of this reality show is brought to you by the easy, breezy coleslaw recipe from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food, which Amazon reminds me I purchased in December of 2009. It’s not the kind of cookbook that just sits on the shelf, either. I pick it up regularly, whether to follow a recipe or to glean a bit of inspiration or reassurance. Still, I’m not at all sure I’d have discovered this coleslaw on my own. Yay for friends and cabbage, am I right?
Speaking of cabbages, here are our own petits choux skipping rocks during a Sunday morning hike along Pennsylvania’s Wissahickon Creek. This is such a gorgeous place for gentle hiking or for doing the kind of trail running and biking that would swiftly land me in the reconstructive dentist’s chair. Edgar Allan Poe was a fan of the Wissahickon, and I feel like he could have used that scenario as the basis of an excellent story. If only we’d known each other when. Alas. Missed connections.
Well that was nice, wasn’t it? But maybe you’re here for a different kind of petit chou — the kind that gets sliced into thin ribbons and made into a dreamily simple coleslaw recipe from Alice Waters. (Just one more thing, though: my high school French teacher was all about this whole petit chou = little cabbage = term of endearment situation, but now I hear, somewhat disappointingly for a Crisper Whisperer, that choux in this case actually refers to those little French cream puffs. Whatever, I’m sticking with cabbage, but I thought I’d set the record straight. Onward.)
This simple coleslaw recipe from Alice Waters has four ingredients plus salt and pepper, takes 15 minutes to assemble even if you’re chatting and sipping wine while you work, and sports just the right amount of flavor to keep things fresh and interesting while pairing well with basically everything you’d want to eat during the summer. You could absolutely jazz it up with a huge handful of chopped herbs or some additional shredded vegetables (carrot, red cabbage, celery root, you name it), but honestly, it’s perfect the way it is. Hope you love it. See you soon.
P.S. Links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links, which means that if you click through and buy something, I’ll earn a small commission to help keep Umami Girl bringing you gestalt and pepper on the regular. Thanks, as always, for your support.
Here’s a post on how to decorate a cake when what you’ve got is more will than skill. And you know it. And you’re cool with it. Think of this post as residing approximately two-thirds of the way up the scale from Pinterest fail to professional-caliber advice. Like my Easy Potted Herb Centerpieces, this is the type of project that makes me red-flag proud, meaning I’m so pleased with myself that it’s immediately clear, even to me, that I’m missing something. Again, I’m okay with it. And hey, I’d eat that cake. In fact I did.
How to Decorate a Cake
Check your ego at the kitchen door and grab your sense of humor. That’s a good call whether or not there’s cake involved, actually. And when there’s cake involved, hey, at least there’s cake involved.
Look at Molly Yeh’s Instagram for inspiration. Girl, your cake is not gonna look like that. But know that your mom (YOUR mom, I said) will like it anyway.
Bake a layer cake. I used our favorite carrot cake recipe here. I baked it in two 9-inch round layer pans, reduced the baking time by 5-10 minutes, and made a double batch of the cream cheese icing.
If you don’t already own a revolving cake stand, buy one like this (rated best by Cook’s Illustrated). Big-box craft stores with a baking section tend to have them too, though not always the best-quality ones. Don’t buy a cheap, lightweight cake stand unless you like the feeling of wanting to murder inanimate objects and the time you’ll waste wondering why that feeling can seem like such a real thing even though it’s definitely not a real thing. While you’re at it, grab an offset spatula and a package of basic cake boards. Also some lowbrow edible decorations like icing tubes and dragées. If you forget the word dragées, just search for “edible cake balls,” or so I’ve heard. When choosing decorations, just pick a color scheme and own it, I say. In retrospect ours may have been what my grandmother would have called a little bit “trampy” for a 70th birthday party, but I’m sticking to it.
Once your cake has cooled completely, just do what you’d think you’d do. Put a cake board on the cake stand. Place one cake layer on top (trim it if it’s very uneven, but otherwise don’t worry about it). Schlog a nice amount of icing on top — more than you might think — and schmear it around with your spatula. Place the second cake layer on top. Now you can do a crumb coat if you like — a thin layer of icing designed not to get cake crumbs in your outer, thicker layer of icing. I find it’s worth the time, especially if you pop the crumb-coated cake into the fridge for half an hour in between layers to firm it up.
Next, use your offset spatula to cover the whole cake with a nice, thickish layer of frosting. Start on the top, and then be brave with the sides. Do your best and don’t stress. Now comes the fun part.
Watch this video snippet for evidence of how seriously easy it is to produce the fancy-ish-looking icing texture we used for this cake. Ignore the part of the video where she says you should make a whole table of “five or seven” cakes with different icing textures. The one cake will be enough, don’t you think?
Then just use your edible decorations to schmutz up your cake with abandon. I do recommend coming up with some sort of vague or less-vague plan, especially if you’re not working alone. Use the rule of thirds. Or break all the rules. Whatever you like.
You’re done! Try to be just the right amount pleased. In rogue cake decorating, as in life, this is the hardest part.
Finally, always work with kids. Then if it turns out great, everyone is happy. And if it doesn’t, and you don’t say anything, people will assume they know who blew it. Or you can come clean that it’s your fault and be simultaneously hilarious and the Best Parent Ever. Not to overthink a cake or anything.
That’s it. See you soon.
P.S. Links to Amazon are affiliate links, meaning that if you click through and buy something I’ll receive a small commission, which helps to keep the site bringing you gestalt and pepper on the regular. Thanks as always for your support of Umami Girl.
I’ll just put it out there right away that this post about our visit to Alicante got lost at the bottom of the drafts pile for a while. Like a two years-ish while, as regular readers will notice immediately from those tiny silhouettes in Photo #2. But we’ve been to and loved Alicante twice in the past few years, and it’s worth reporting on even if the memories are a tad less sharp than they once were. (Or, oh, is that the cocktails talking? Alicante is a good place for cocktails.) I’ve done my best to research what’s changed — but I’ve done it from New Jersey.
Also! We didn’t really DO anything in Alicante. While we were living in London, we structured our rambling summer vacations (our hols, if you and your hot English mom friends will) with a triage system. Phase 1: Somewhere chilly and active. Phase 2: At least some attempt at cultural immersion. Phase 3: Beach and chill. (NB: Not with Netflix.) Alicante was Phase 3. So while my very own Photo #9 indicates the presence of a medieval castle and I’ve heard there are museums and snorkeling opportunities, know that the castle photo was taken from a pool deck, and the rest of those reports could be lies.
Furthermore. Alicante is…how do you say?…pork-forward. We? Are not. So we didn’t exactly eat like locals. With the exception of the Michelin-starred restaurant in our hotel (which has now moved — details below), we didn’t really even do tapas in Alicante. I KNOW.
If you’re starting to get the sense that the purpose of this post is less to guide you through Alicante and more for me to have an excuse to browse through my old photos, you’re not right, but you’re not wrong. I think it’s somewhere in the middle. Because, be honest — had you heard of Alicante before? Some of you hadn’t. So this post is to whet your appetite for Alicante, let’s say. It’s a small plate. We’ll just go ahead and embrace the irony and call it tapas.
Quick fact: Alicante is a port city on Spain’s southeastern Costa Blanca. Don’t ask me where I learned that.
Quick fact: The white sand beaches are wide and beautiful and bordered by cliffs, as indicated in Photos #1 and #4.
Quick fact: The city is actually quite large and modern, but you may want to do as we did and stay in the Old Town, which is steps from the beach and much more charming. See Photos #2, #3, #5, #6 and #7. Also possibly Photo #8, though I’m quite sure I photographed the Quid Pro Quo Terrazza-Disco Club as part of my ongoing efforts to amortize my law degree in unconventional ways. (It certainly isn’t because we went there.)
Quick fact: Sure, yes, putting this post together is really making me want to take a third visit to Alicante ASAP. But the point is, maybe it’s doing something similar for you.
In case you’re feeling like I’m not the first tour guide you’d take on your visit to Alicante, let me just stop you right there and say:
Please see photo #10 for evidence that I can plan a mean Peppa Pig-themed 6th birthday hotel room wakeup call in Alicante and
If you need to know anything about what it’s like to do a lot of yoga on the deck between the gym and the pool at our hotel, I’ve got you more than covered. (Oh hey, Photo #11.)
And now for what I DO know. Here’s where we ate and stayed and played on our visit to Alicante:
Monastrell: During our visits, Monastrell was on the ground floor of the Hotel Hospes Amerigo, where we stayed. I’m so glad, because given our less-than-stellar record of striking out in Alicante, we would probably have missed it otherwise. The restaurant has since moved to a different Alicante location, and I can’t vouch for that one, but it still looks good. Monastrell, the brainchild of Chef Maria Jose San Roman (who was always present when we were), has a Michelin star and lots of delicious, delicious tapas along with larger plates. We loved the cherry gazpacho, the patatas bravas and especially the unapologetic warm, thick slabs of brie with black truffles poured down the midde. (Photo #12 — the worst and yet best food photo I’ve ever posted.) The then-six year old got to have her birthday dinner there. As you do.
Sale & Pepe Pizzaria and Italian restaurant. Yes, I know, we were in Spain. But pizza and perfectly good house wine and a big-ass salad seemed easiest at times with two kids and a vegetarian husband. This pizza is quite good, though they will try very hard to get you to add ham to the plain pizza, because it’s Alicante, and what are you thinking, plain pizza?
Livanti Gelato. Delicious, friendly, accessible. You should go.
Hotel Hospes Amerigo: A five-star hotel in the center of the old town, situated in a former Dominican convent and renovated beautifully. It’s close to everything but feels very serene, which is nice in the middle of a bustling town. We stayed here on both of our visits to Alicante. It’s not cheap, but we liked it enough to plan a slightly shorter stay and just soak it all in while we were there. Small rooftop pool, big rooftop bar, decent gym, excellent breakfast in a beautiful setting, steps from the beach and restaurants.
Explanada de Espana: For lack of a better term, I’ll call this the boardwalk, but it’s an ornately tiled boardwalk lined with palm trees, bars, restaurants, shops and market stalls. (I know, it’s an esplanade, but where’s the fun in that?) It’s lovely and useful and open late and has many fewer carnival rides and fried Oreos than some of the boardwalks at the Jersey shore.
Playa del Postiguet: We spent mucho time at Playa del Postiguet, the lively but relaxing beach adjacent to the old town and the Explanada de Espana.
Like I said, there’s lots more to do in and near Alicante, but if you go and do it, you’ll have to let me know what it is.
Hope you enjoyed tagging along on our visit to Alicante. See you soon.
At the risk of seasonal self-aggrandizement, I’m going to say that I feel like we got the pace of summer just right this year. The kids have been crushing camp and swimming and chill time. We’ve done some sleeping in and some early rising. There have been lots of walks and plenty of easy dinners on the porch. We’ve purchased not one but two beginner ukuleles (with upgraded strings, full disclosure in case you decide to follow suit). Not to mention this super-savory frittata. I know. It’s impressive.
I said at the start of the season that I’d be trying to stay out of my own way in the kitchen, with a focus on simple preparation and assembly of summer’s best ingredients. So far, gotta say, so good. Case in point, this super-savory frittata, which makes a great weeknight dinner or picnic contribution. I won’t lie — it has what pretty much amounts to hash browns right in the damn middle, plus shiitakes and garlic scapes and capers and pecorino. I’d go on, but I’m at high risk of hyperventilating. (Also, that’s pretty much the whole ingredient list.)
Serve it straight out of the pan, or make it a day or two before. Nestle a nice piece of it inside a baguette and toss some arugula or slices of tomato on top. Maybe chase it with a quick duet of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. There’s really no going wrong.
See you soon.
P.S. Links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links. If you click through and buy something, Umami Girl will receive a small percentage of the profits, which help to keep the site up, running, and innovating. Thank you!
Here’s a happy little number to launch your weekend: baked eggs in tomato sauce and a little salad. It’s a great, light lunch or dinner for when you’re flying solo but still want to treat yourself like a full-fledged human. And why wouldn’t you?
In other news, I’m excited to have launched a brand new eBook that combines two of my favorite things in the world: cold smoothies and hot yoga. This weekend only, I’m offering 25% off the usual $7.95 purchase price. Discount automatically applied in cart. Let me know how you like it!
Hi! I'm Carolyn Cope. Welcome to Umami Girl, where I've been sharing mostly healthy, mostly vegetarian recipes, travelogues and occasional book reviews since 2008. Favorite things include: umami, travel, running, yoga, making music, laughing, reading, interior design, coffee in the morning and wine at night -- but definitely not making lists of favorite things. I live in a little seaside town outside NYC with my husband and two girls and two cats. Still here? Still curious? Hey, thanks.