I don’t plan on being single anytime soon. But these days, since Jim is spending almost a month at sea for work, the way I plan my life feels different. I don’t really leave time for those slow weeknight meals, the kind that gently unfold once everyone’s home. It’s not that I mind cooking for just myself and a three-year-old. It’s that somehow, spending the evenings with other moms and their kids—having mediocre pizza, or a cacophonous dinner at our favorite pho place, or just hanging out at home, piling a few kids into someone’s bathtub after the inevitable toddler drama—feels easy.
I don’t know what I’d do without these ladies. They know each other, but they’re not necessarily friends. Many of them float into and out of my life from week to week or month to month, by accident or necessity, depending on the season. What they don’t know is that at times like these, when I’m balancing work and life and a kid without hands-on help from my husband, I line them up like helpful little G.I. Janes, one night after another. One stops at the store for me for milk. One helps when I back over my son’s walker with the car. Another picks all my ripe grapes, because she knows I don’t like Concords and they’ll be a mess if I don’t take care of them. Unknowingly, each one helps with these single little acts of kindness, adding up to make these weeks not just doable, but enjoyable, and not at all single-feeling. I love them for it. This weekend, Graham and I will head to Boise to visit my parents (his first visit since 2009), and some of those ladies will take turns walking the dog and petting the cat and watering the vegetables, supporting me in much more tangible (but actually less important) ways.
I made this homey little gluten-free breakfast cake for them. It’s a fallish squashy sort of a thing, scented with allspice and topped with a fluff of honey-sweetened cream cheese frosting. I’ll take a piece with us on the airplane—because wouldn’t you?—and leave the rest on the kitchen counter, so that as they come and go, these friends that make my life whole, they can stop for a bite. They’ll cut jagged pieces from the pan, or maybe even dig in directly, with a fork, and hopefully, they’ll taste the sweetness they’re giving me each day.
Every fall, as soon as the leaves show the faintest hint of color, I bring a kabocha squash home. Roasted (whole, stem and all) in the oven at about 400° for an hour or so, a volleyball-sized kabocha yields about six cups of mashed squash. In our house, it goes into simple cakes and muffins—if I’m not eating it straight off the roasting pan with a spoon, like baby food.
This cake is tinged with allspice and flavored with honey, but you could use any fall spice (nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom come to mind as excellent substitutions) and substitute maple syrup or sugar for the honey, if you prefer. Since it’s not too sweet, I like it best for breakfast.
Makes one 8-inch square cake
1 cup white rice flour
1 cup millet flour
3/4 cup arrowroot starch
1/2 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fresh ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups mashed cooked kabocha squash (or one 15-ounce can pumpkin)
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup milk (cow’s milk or rice milk)
1/3 cup liquefied coconut oil (warm before measuring)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan with oil or butter, and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. Whisk the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl, then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until no white spots remain.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cake is firm in the center and just beginning to brown at the edges. Cool to room temperature.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the frosting ingredients together on medium speed for 2 minutes, until fluffy. Spread the frosting onto the cake, and serve.