Last Friday we got back from our annual trip to Seattle. I’ll get into that in future posts, right now I’m still catching you up on the flurry of activity leading up to our departure.
I always draw up a seemingly insurmountable list of to-dos before heading away on a trip. I’ve even parked a notepad and pen to my bedside table so I can quickly jot down those thoughts that slap you awake just as you’re drifting to sleep. (As neurotic as this sounds, better to write it down and be done with it, I figure, than get myself wound up worrying I’ll forget in the morning). For every item I cross off–stopping the mail, giving the plants a good soak, packing children’s vitamins–I find I’m always adding one more. So I sometimes ask myself why I add a rash of kitchen chores to this list. Aren’t I just making things more difficult for myself? Maybe, but I simply hate the idea of letting things go bad. I only ever accomplish so much–after all, I spent the evening we returned from our latest trip cleaning out collected unpleasantness in the vegetable drawer resulting from a few rotting sweet potatoes–but I feel at least a compulsion to try.
And once again, sour cream was on the to-do, or should I say, to-use list. And I fall back on baked goods, which, although perhaps an uncreative use, is nonetheless an unassailable one. The acid (you know, what makes it sour) tenderizes the crumb. And if it were possible for a cupcake or muffin to have a spring in its step, sour cream would be the cause, buoying up that little cake and exhorting it–citius! altius! fortius!–to rise dramatically under the heat of the oven.
So, as one does before every major trip, I made pistachio cardamom cupcakes. And the pistachio and the cardamom is a combination that could transport you, airplane ticket or no. For me, the twin aromas trigger memories of a summer, now already 10 years past, spent in Sarajevo, and all its attendant images: small cups of strong coffee drunk leisurely, baklava sticky with honey alternated with impossibly delicate Austrian cakes, sunshine, new words and expressions. These associations are more than just disjointed clichés (though I freely admit that they are that too). There’s something more to them than just the standard vignettes of vacation: As time goes on, with more and more demands asserting themselves on my time, these images reflect the luxury of minutes and hours passing languorously. Summer nights that are magical because they only slowly fade into darkness, not rushing you to sleep. Drinks at outdoor cafes that are unhurried no matter how bustling the surroundings, simply because of your state of mind. Books. And being physically far away enough from “home” so that you can mentally distance yourself as well.
Shedding your mind of things like, you know, to-do lists.
Note: The water pitcher included in the photos is a souvenir from that summer in Sarajevo. I thought it was only appropriate to include.
Pistachio Cardamom Cupcakes adapted from epicurious
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9.25 ounces/266g)
- 1 1/8 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup sugar (7 ounces/200g)
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick; 3 ounces/85g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup sour cream ( 6 1/3 ounce by weight/180g)
- 1/2 cup unsalted pistachios (about 3 ounces/85g)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare 14 cupcake tins. (You can try for 12 but they do rise up a lot).
Stir together the flour, ground cardamom, baking soda, salt and ground cinnamon into medium bowl.
Using an electric or stand mixer, beat together the sugar and butter until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat in the vanilla extract.
Fold in the sour cream and dry ingredients in three additions. (Add 1/3 of the sour cream, then 1/3 the dry ingredients, add half the remaining sour cream, then half the remaining dry ingredients, and repeat). Scoop the batter into the cupcake cups and sprinkle with the pistachios.
Bake for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.