Upside Down, and Right Side Up

It feels good to have my own space again. My belongings are finally unpacked (well, most of them, anyway) and put away in closets, cabinets and atop shelves—a sure sign of permanence in a housing situation.

There’s a supreme comfort in having your possessions accessible to you, isn’t there? As soon as I unpacked my cookbooks, which had remained sealed in storage since leaving Virginia, I couldn’t stop tearing them from the bookshelves and rifling through their photos and recipes. I was ravenous not for the food, but for the return of a sense of ownership. Even if I wasn’t planning on making anything—and for awhile, the fridge and pantry were too barren to raid for ingredients—it was still nice to know that Ina Garten’s Tuscan Lemon Chicken was there, just in case my eyes (or my soul) got hungry.

As I got used to the quirks of my vintage building (Exhibit A: radiator heat), rediscovering the trappings of my old home made the transition easier. Here was my old patterned tablecloth, with its familiar red patchwork. There was the dining-table-plus-bench I bought for my first unfurnished apartment, overwhelmed but optimistic about the prospect of filling it. Here were my heavy, cheery cherry cast-iron pots and pans, which have been burned and battered but still, somehow, keep on going strong. Everything is a little bit wrinkled, scratched and dented from the move, but it’s mine.

This week, I’ll be using Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday no fewer than three times. On Sunday night, I cooked up a panful of Rick’s red chile steak with black and pinto beans. Tonight, I’ll be whipping up his red chile chicken and rice (arroz rojo con pollo—I just love the way that rolls off the tongue). And over the weekend, I made a whole-wheat, browned-butter pineapple upside-down cake from the same book.

Maybe it’s because Rick’s the go-to celebrity chef of my new home city; maybe it’s because dropping temperatures call for the comforting heat of ancho chile powder. Whatever the reason, I feel right at home making and eating this food. And I felt proud of this dessert, which landed on its feet despite having been put together backwards and flipped around more than could have possibly been comfortable.

Come to think of it, this cake and I are a lot alike. Fortunately, I think we both turned out more than okay.

Serves 6-8
Adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday

– 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
– 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
– 3 cups pineapple, diced (or substitute an equal amount of other berries or fruit)
– 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
– 1/2 tsp. salt
– 1/4 tsp. baking soda
– 1 tsp. baking powder
– 3/4 cup granulated sugar
– 1 large egg
– 3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, with a rack set squarely in the middle.
2) Melt the butter in a heavy, 10-inch ovenproof skillet. Continue stirring the butter until it begins to brown; remove pan from heat before butter burns. Pour melted butter into a medium-sized bowl.
3) Spoon the brown sugar evenly over the surface of the buttered skillet, and top with fruit in another even layer.
4) In a large bowl, stir the flours, salt, baking soda and powder until mixed together.
5) Add the granulated sugar to the browned butter, stirring thoroughly until butter mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg, then the buttermilk or yogurt, stirring until combined.
6) Pour the butter mixture over the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Do not overmix.
7) Spoon the batter evenly over the fruit in the skillet, then bake for about 35 minutes. The top of the cake will be golden brown, and a toothpick should emerge cleanly from the cake when tested for doneness. Let cake cool for 10 minutes.
8) Using a plate large enough to hold the cake, invert the skillet onto this serving platter in one quick movement. Slice and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

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