You Can’t Win ‘Em All.

Happy Friday! The end of this week is a welcome sigh of relief for me, as I am recovering from my second COVID vaccination. Thankfully, I’ve had no horrible side effects so far, only a very achy left arm and a general feeling of sluggishness. Now I can look forward to getting through the next couple of weeks so I will be officially on the “other side” of COVID—at last, my husband, Les, and I will be able to hang out with friends again without so much concern of contagion. And just in time for summer—yay!

April has been a month of reflection for me, in part because of my commitment to walk every day toward a 40-mile goal, which, I am sorry to say, I have not quite met. It has been fun to share my “official” progress with my walking buddy on the West Coast, but the Map My Walk app we have used to share progress is only helpful when I remember to actually start the timer on my walks, and so the other walks I have done without hitting the “start workout” button were not captured. I wish that I had remembered to hit the button on every shopping adventure, given that this trip to Walmart added 2.6 miles to my total. The app is helpful, but it is not fail-proof.

After all that walking, I still did not find the liquid hand soap I wanted.

My iPhone, on the other hand, which apparently tracks every single thing I do (whether or not I request it), reports that my steps during April have added up to 31.53 miles, leaving me almost 10 miles short of my goal. I can only imagine how many steps were missed while I circled laps around the house looking for my phone! That’s another problem altogether. The walks have been fun, and the challenge paved the way to a new friendship with my pal in California, so I’m hardly a loser. 🙂

What I have realized from all this reflection and walking is that I had made a gradual slide into a sedentary lifestyle, and that is not a good thing, physically or otherwise. I feel like a stronger person when I am busy and moving, and being out and about among neighbors and strangers has opened my mind and my heart. My walks have given me clarity to realize how frequently I tend to focus on the wrong things, and how quickly I call failure on something that did not end as planned. OK, I did not walk 40 miles, but I have gained knowledge for improving some other things in my life, and I’m quite sure that will not end with April.

I am also still learning to give myself some leeway to be less-than-perfect when it comes to the stuff that happens in my kitchen. Take, for example, these lovely “rose tarts” I planned to unveil, just in time for Kentucky Derby, and the “run for the roses.”

Beautiful apple slices baked inside puff pastry.

Aren’t they gorgeous?! Only one problem—that is a picture of someone else’s apple rose tarts. No, I’m not plagiarizing another cook’s work; I’m offering a point of reference to help explain the disappointment in my kitchen yesterday, when I attempted to make those tarts, but something went off the rails and I ended up with these doughy lumps, which were equal parts burned and raw.


Despite having followed the instructions of a Pinterest-inspired recipe to the letter, my apple rose tarts turned out very different, and I’m pretty sure it was a problem with the recipe, but it could have been my fuzzy, just-vaccinated brain. I could see halfway through the prescribed “40 minutes” bake time that this was headed south, but I stuck with it. I ended up leaving the tarts in the oven for over an hour, eventually moving them closer to the bottom of the oven. I laid a loose tent foil over the top (too late) to prevent over-browning—in other words, I pulled out every trick I had in my baking knowledge bag in an effort to save them. Finally, after much fussing and cussing, I gave up and pulled them from the oven. Les was brave enough to taste one, and he just looked at me and said, “Nope.” I love him for that kind of raw honesty.

Oh well. Sometimes we fail, right? And it may be that circumstances are to blame, or it may be that we are to blame. Either way, it doesn’t end the story, and in the case of the rose tarts (or anything else that doesn’t go perfectly in my kitchen), I will raise the bar and try again. Maybe we will see the tarts come to successful fruition this summer, unless I get distracted by something shiny, which is entirely likely.

Even though the tarts flopped, I had a fun interaction with Miss Nilla, my “at-home” walking buddy, who was more than happy to help by eating the ends of the apple. And if I hadn’t tried the recipe, we would have missed that. So, even though the rose tarts failed, I’m putting the experience in the win column.

Happy Birthday Sourdough Chocolate Cake

We celebrated a birthday in our home this week for the newest member of our happy family. Little Pete turned 5 years old on Wednesday, and the occasion nearly escaped my memory, had it not been for the convenient date and time stamp my iPhone put on this photo.

February 24, 2016; 4:49 p.m.

Yes, my sourdough starter has been with me now for just over five years, and I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finally given it a name. “Pete” the sourdough starter is the namesake of Peter Reinhart, the James Beard Award-winning master baker whose instruction inspired me to begin this lively journey. Many years ago at a local festival of authors and books, I purchased The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Reinhart’s comprehensive collection of bread rules, formulas, tips and recipes—it’s a 300-page hardcover guide for mastering the art of extraordinary bread. And it was positively overwhelming.

It took me several years to gain enough gumption to actually make my first loaf of real bread and, once I took the greater plunge into building a sourdough culture, I never looked back. Pete began in the tiny kitchen of my former apartment, in a small bowl containing a mixture of whole rye flour and fresh pineapple juice (this was Peter Reinhart’s idea). There were plenty of midnight feedings and nervous watchful moments along the way, and at least once, I feared Pete would not survive my mistakes. Thankfully, the hotline experts at King Arthur Baking talked me off the ledge and helped me correct my feeding rituals. Pete has been thriving ever since. On one occasion, I shared a little bit of Pete with a friend whose daughter wanted to make sourdough, and when the daughter headed west, she took Pete’s offspring with her, and is now making beautiful artisan loaves somewhere in Montana (I’m so proud). I have already shared a few of my simple sourdough recipes here on Comfort du Jour, including English muffins and our beloved N.Y.-style Pizza Dough. If you’re a bread lover, you might also appreciate a glimpse of some of the incredible loaves Pete and I have made together since this adventure began.

It’s exciting for me to see and remember all those loaves. But for this occasion, I wanted to let Pete really show off, and so here’s the exciting news—Pete made his own birthday cake! I’ve mentioned several times that sourdough isn’t merely a flavor of bread, but a method of leavening, and in this richly dark chocolate cake, sourdough discard is the star.

The salted caramel flavor is a perfect match for the ultra dark chocolate cake.

I found the recipe for this cake on one of my favorite sites, King Arthur Baking Company, and I will proclaim out loud that, ingredient-wise, it is the oddest cake I’ve ever made. I will also tell you that it tastes nothing at all like sourdough. It’s a bouncy, spongy very chocolaty cake, and though the KA recipe is for a rectangle cake, I changed it up and did 9-inch layers. I also swapped the coffee-infused icing for one of our most-loved flavors to pair with chocolate, salted caramel. It may strike you odd that I am not sharing a recipe for either, but here’s why—King Arthur already published the cake recipe, and you can find it here (I followed it pretty much to the letter). I’m not sharing the salted caramel frosting recipe because, frankly, I was flying by the seat of my pants when I made it, so I don’t know exactly how much of what went into it. Besides, the texture was a mess. I wanted something akin to buttercream, but I didn’t get the ratios right and my frosting, though delicious and perfectly salted, wasn’t very stable. I will, however, share the photos, purely for comedic value. Those Great British Baking Show contestants have nothing to fear in me! Next year, when Pete turns 6, I’ll probably make challah. 😊