Earth Day Birthday & A Note About My Day Job

April 2010

After graduating with three degrees from Carnegie Mellon, I needed time to decompress.  I worked in a cafe to save money to go to France, where eventually, I worked as a jeune fille au pair.  I returned to Pittsburgh still unsure what medium would paint my bigger picture.  I spent more time decompressing and even more time reminiscing about Paris while working at the best bread bakery in Pittsburgh.  Another change of plans led me to a summer staycation or funemployment as some like to call it.

It was a perfect summer of sunshine, picnics, farmers market inspired meals, swimming in lakes, reading, writing and daydreaming until the savings started to experience a severe drought.  It was time to buckle down and find a more serious source of income.  In my craigslist conquering, I responded to an ad for an “Administrative Assistant for a Fast Growing Green Start Up.”  The ad was very sporadic, and I was drawn to its energy, desperate need of assistance and its frenzy in the face of a green challenge.  I imagined a few people in a basement in front of computers.

When I went for my interview, it was one guy, a bike and a small office with bad, faux-wood furniture and a good view of the city.  When it was time for me to ask my questions, I had mainly one, “What is it you are doing?”  My interviewer, told me he was building the company for a CMU professor’s new battery technology- a saltwater battery made of all edible components (not that they’d be pleasant to eat).  An edible, long, cycle-life battery?  It seemed too good to be true.

After seventy candidates became four, four became me, and I accepted the job.  For a while, it was my boss and I working in a small office on the North Side of Pittsburgh.  Around November, we transitioned to the new site which would hold an office building and the first lab spaces.  For the first few months, we were confined to the attic space, where construction scents would waft and take years off our futures.  Everyday I learned a little bit more and more about this batter venture and the people who believed in it.

By January 1st, we were seven working in the attic while my interior design schemes became realities beneath us.  When my birthday came that month, I brought my own cake just as in the days of elementary school (before massive allergies and food sensitivities banned this sharing, or so I hear).  I thought the others in the company deserved a special break on their birthdays as well.  With that thought and Eric’s Earth Day Birthday, I began a work/With The Grains tradition.

Coconut Lime Honey Cake


1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup pure cane sugar
1/2 cup local wildflower honey
3 Large, free range eggs at room temperature
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cream from coconut milk
1 Tablespoon whiskey
1 Tablespoon rum
Zest of 1 lime

For the Cake

Preheat the oven to 350˚F and position oven rack in the center.  Prepare pans with melted butter or oil and spread across the pan surface with a piece of wax paper.

Cream the butter, sugar and honey in the bowl of a mixer until well blended, 4-5 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl with a spatula.

Beat the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl to blend.  With the mixer on medium, add the eggs, one at a time to the butter mixture, about 1 Tablespoon at a time, allowing each addition to be blended completely before adding the next.  About halfway through, scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula.  Resume adding the egg mixture.

Add the whiskey and rum to the wet ingredient mixture.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together.

With the mixer on low, alternate adding the flour mixture and the cream from the coconut milk, to the creamed ingredients.  Begin with one third of the flour mixture and one half of the coconut milk cream.  Finish with the flour mixture.

Scrape down the bowl.  Add the lime zest and mix by hand with the spatula.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s).

Bake the cake for 20-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Transfer to a rack and cool completely.

For the chocolate icing

6 Tablespoons pure dark chocolate baking squares
3 Tablespoons butter
Juice of one lime
2 Tablespoons honey
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Sauté all of the ingredients in a saucepan over low heat.

Allow to cool slightly.

Drizzle over cake.

Add coconut flakes for garnish.

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