It’s strawberry season here in the Land of Steady Habits.


I’m all about strawberry shortcake, but thought I’d change things up this year and make angel food cake. Angel food cake always reminds me of Poppy. After he had a heart attack, it was one of the few desserts he could still enjoy that wasn’t naughty. More on naughtiness and Poppy a little later.

For now, let’s just be nice and talk about cake. I took the best ideas from Ina Garten and Joy of Baking and melded them into the recipe below. It popped out of my new pan (YAAAY, Fat Daddio’s!) without issue. Rose just right. Tender, lemony, light and will make a lovely bed for the native strawberries I got from Gotta’s. Can you say breakfast of champions? Let’s sift (and sift and sift…) and whisk and bake!

2 cups sifted superfine sugar, divided
1 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
1 ½ cups egg whites, at room temperature (10 to 12 eggs–it was 10 eggs for me)
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon lemon zest (zest of regular-sized lemon yielded a tablespoon for me)
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine ½ cup of sugar with the flour and sift together 4 times. Set aside.

Place the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until the eggs form medium-firm peaks, about 1 minute. With the mixer on medium speed, sprinkle the remaining 1 ½ cups of sugar over the beaten egg whites. Whisk for a few minutes until thick and shiny. Add the vanilla, almond extract and lemon zest and continue to whisk until very thick, about 1 more minute.

Transfer the egg whites to a LARGE bowl where you’ll have plenty of space to fold in the flour mixture. Sift the flour mixture over the eggs–about a quarter at a time–and gently, but quickly fold it into the egg whites with a spatula. DO NOT STIR. Remember, the object of the game is to incorporate the flour without too much folding. You don’t want to deflate those nice egg whites we whipped up!

Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Run a spatula or knife through the batter to remove any air pockets. Smooth the top, then bake for 40-45 minutes (40 was the magic number in my oven). The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed gently. Do not overbake.

As soon as you remove the cake from the oven, invert the pan. I flipped mine onto a cookie rack. Allow the cake to cool for about an hour and a half.

When the cake is completely cool, run a sharp knife around the sides of the pan to loosen, then remove the cake.

It’s easiest to cut the cake with a large bread knife, or other serrated knife. Use a sawing motion so you don’t squash it.

Joy of Baking says this cake is best served on the day you make it, but it will keep covered for a few days at room temperature, or for several days in the fridge. They also say it’s great toasted!

So, back to Poppy. Last week, I ran out to my little local Italian deli, Lino’s Market, and heard an Italian song with a whistle in it. I asked the girl at the register what station they were playing. She said it was a CD–that she didn’t even know what the words were, but she’d find herself singing along. I said, “That whistle sounds a little like ‘Hey, Cumpari!’ You know that one, right–and they play all the instruments?” She nodded. I told her, “Apparently, my grandfather used to annoy my grandmother by singing ‘she was so naughty’ instead of ‘ci vo suonari!'” It isn’t even a naughty song. It’s really, “Hey, buddy. There’s something playing. What’s that sound? It’s a whistle.” And then he makes a whistling sound. Not naughty at all. But I can totally picture my grandfather making mischief with a twinkle in those blue eyes of his.

As an added bonus, Chicago takes a stab at “Hey, cumpari! Ci vo suonari!” in “Saturday in the Park.” Can you dig it? Yes, I can. Much love to my hometown. There’s truly no place like home!

And here we are all together at 216 way back in the day (Christmas or Thanksgiving, 1981)–Nanny, my cousin Al, me and Poppy. Good times. ♥


Native strawberries will be ripe for the pickin’ just around the corner here in the Land of Steady Habits. Gotta make sure our recipe’s right for soon-to-be summer sippin’, strawberry margarita-style!

You can make “normal” simple syrup by boiling equal parts sugar and water, but rhubarb’s in season, and I wanted to get that in on the cocktail party. So why be normal? First, let’s make the rhubarb syrup!

adapted from the Flourishing Foodie and Toby Cecchini (New York Times)

2 cups rhubarb, chopped
as a guide: for me, 2.5 stalks yielded two cups, but some of my stalks were HUGE (see above)
2 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 a lemon, squeezed
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
Wash the rhubarb; remove and throw away any leaves. Chop stalks into small 1/2 pieces.

To a medium saucepan, add rhubarb, water, sugar, lemon juice, cardamom and vanilla bean.

Stir to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a boil.
Reduce to simmer for 20 minutes. Stir just every so often. Remove from burner; let cool for 20 minutes. Strain and gently press through a fine mesh strainer. Pour the syrup into a glass container; store in the fridge.
It will keep for a week, and you’ll have plenty, so try it with seltzer as rhubarb soda or make a rhubarb Collins: 2 oz. gin, 1 oz. rhubarb syrup, squeeze of fresh lime, shake-a-shake-a, then top with seltzer…or maybe make a rhubarb bellini if you’re feelin’ fancy! One more for my friend Jay who rolls on the sweet side of the street and does NOT like gin: the rhubarb Julius! 2 oz. Stoli Vanil, 2 oz. rhubarb syrup, squeeze of fresh lime, shake and top with seltzer.

You can eat the leftover rhubarb (pick the vanilla bean out, of course)–it’s a bit like tart applesauce.

But, hey, let’s not forget the main reason we’re here: it’s time to go for a spin in the blender to Margaritaville. Fasten yer seatbelts!


1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled
3/4 cup rhubarb syrup
1/2 lime, squeezed
1 cup your favorite tequila (I’m diggin’ Milagro of late)
1/2 cup your favorite orange liqueur*
*I used Agavero, tho’ I’m also a big Patron Citronge fan–both are delish. Citronge is slightly stronger by way of proof (64 proof vs. 80 proof).

Ready? Go! See the ingredients above? Place them all in a blender.

Blend! Like magic, margaritas are made. I don’t know if it’s my new blender, or just the texture of fresh strawbs blended with rhubarb syrup, but these are exceptionally SMOOTH and DELICIOUS! Serve in sugar-rimmed glasses filled with ice.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom–CENT’ANNI to Janey!

Oh, and how did Janey like them? 🙂

On Mother’s Day, let’s just say these ‘ritas were kid tested–mother approved. Love you, Mom!