There’s a middle-aged man in my neighborhood who lives alone. If you’re familiar with Pittsburgh vernacular, he’s what one would call a yinzer. He might be missing a tooth or more, has a smoker’s cough, and his fashion relies heavily on jerseys. His house is a large vestige of the 80s, complete with drop-ceiling tiles and surely some wood paneling. He lives simply, fueled by beer, sports, porch sitting and banter with the equally yinzer neighbors. When I walk up the hill, he greets me, applauds my dog training and pets little Julep on the head. It’s an endearing exchange to watch. Her tail wags rapidly, he smiles and calls me honey in a not-so-skeezy way.
I haven’t seen this man since winter put a wedge in porch sitting, but as I walked by his house recently, I was stopped in my tracks. Rainbow icicle lights draped over the large picture window on the otherwise barren porch. I paused to take in the blinking lights, trying to imagine what went through his head in planning the decor. I spend countless hours poring over design blogs, styled shoots, Pinterest boards, magazines and more. I earn money by making scenes come to life before a camera. Yet, a few blocks away, my home was lacking any holiday cheer- a fault of time and a stressed schedule. Without any plans for guests, I hadn’t made a point to decorate for myself, but my neighbor, with his drop ceiling in place, had adorned his porch with rainbow lights.
My observation did not emerge from a place of competition or condescension. His Christmas lights fascinated me. I think a lot about beauty and design, about how beauty is so often pegged as a superficial fixation. However, these little touches can really brighten a day, for both the person who decorates and the person who sees it. We each have our specific styles, our obsessions, and a certain level of indifference when it comes to design elements, but we also have some very human quality that causes us to seek beauty and adornment. This is why I believe in making and sharing beautiful food.
There’s a creative and fulfilling challenge for me in developing the recipes and the plating, and hopefully, there’s an experience for the recipients. Hopefully, we walk away having shared something- a brighter moment, a laugh, or a silence as we enjoy what just passed from fork to mouth. It may be a while before I feel adult enough or childish enough to buy and decorate my own Christmas tree, but I will be decorating cakes for the holidays, and thanks to my neighbor, I was inspired to add a little fresh greenery, candles and holiday cheer here and there.
Chocolate Cranberry Upside Down Cake
with Wigle Whiskey’s Hickory Finished Organic Wheat Whiskey
1 cup raw honey
1/2 stick organic unsalted butter
1 ¾ cup fresh organic cranberries
1 cup dried organic cranberries, divided
3 Tablespoons Hickory Finished Organic Wheat Whiskey (or the whiskey of your choice)
1 cup local heavy cream
3 large organic/cage-free eggs
3/4 cup organic coconut oil
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon pure orange extract
1 3/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup pure cocoa powder
1 cup organic raw cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Butter the bottom and the sides of a cast iron skillet or a 9-inch spring-form pan.
Combine butter and the honey in a medium saucepan. Once the butter is melted, and the honey is combined, let the mixture simmer for another 10-15 minutes.
Remove from heat and drizzle with the whiskey. Pour the mixture into the prepared buttered skillet.
Spread the cranberries on top of the honey-butter mixture, creating a single layer. Fill in any gaps with ½ cup of the dried cranberries.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Continue to beat, and add eggs one at a time.
Add the coconut oil, vinegar, vanilla extract, and orange extract until the mixture is well combined.
Add the flour in three increments, mixing until just combined.
Fold in the remaining dried cranberries.
Pour the batter over the cranberries in the cake pan, and spread evenly.
Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for about 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes. Run a knife along the edges to loosen the cake, and then invert it onto a platter and let cool completely. Do not let the cake cool in the pan completely, or you will not be able to remove it.
Serve with homemade whipped cream (booze up the whipped cream too).
May Your Path Glow With Rainbow Lights!