I made this celebratory cake a couple months ago. It was supposed to be my first-ever ‘blogiversary’ post and, unlike the 6 years prior, I actually did remember it this year, but it was just so crazy and hectic with all the holiday stuff around November 26th that I wasn’t able to do it in time. But, things have subsided a little and now I’m able to share it with all of you, huzzah! I’m not totally sure why I haven’t done a blogiversary post before. Maybe it’s because I hate the way the word ‘blogiversary’ sounds, or maybe it’s because I think its kind of self-celebratory and that kind of thing makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, or it also might be because in years prior I never remembered it until it had already come and gone. So maybe I do know why I haven’t done a blogiversary post up until this point. But, I am doing it now, because a lot has happened since I started this blog, and I think that to put things in perspective, I’d like to talk a little bit about how I got here.
Real quick-like, though, I wanted to let you know that I have a realllly gooey, cheesy, and tangy recipe for my Apple, Sausage, & Dijon Mac and Cheese up on the All Things Mac & Cheese blog for national cheese lover’s day. It’s with granny smith apples, dijon mustard, pork sausage, and melted cheddar so you get a nice sweet sour kick from the apples, a bite of mustard, richness of sausage, and creamy umami cheese goodness. I’ve made this three times since my recipe-testing session…I may have a mac & cheese problem. But I digress…
Six years ago, I graduated from college and was unemployed. Well, recently fired, I guess. I started this blog in November of 2009, and I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in May 2009, riiiight when the economy tanked. I studied film production, was living in Los Angeles, and was completely unable to find entry-level work in the entertainment industry that would pay my rent after school was out. So, I took the first job I could get. I was a receptionist at a plastic surgeon’s office in Beverly Hills for about 6 months, and it was the worst experience of my life. The office manager was a psychopath (this is not a term I’m using lightly, she passed the psychopath test with flying colors), the pay was just enough to make rent, and I left work everyday burnt out after having been verbally abused and berated with just enough energy to make a half-hearted attempt at dinner. The final straw was when the doctor called me into his office and made me stand there as he nitpicked the grammar of some office email I wrote, and offhandedly said “you went to college??”, as if in utter disbelief. Now, I had let myself been called a lot of terrible things at that job because I needed the money, and after a while, you kind of start to believe them. But the one thing that I did know was that I was smart. You can tear down my looks, my organizational abilities, my phone skills (“try to sound more chipper!”), but the one thing I knew for certain was my intelligence. I was smart. I was smarter than all of those a**holes. And him calling into question my intelligence was the wake-up call I needed that I had to get the hell out of there. So, when I got called in to see the office manager that afternoon, I was ready to call it quits. But, in a twist of fate, they fired me.
That was the first and only time I’ve ever been fired from a job. It wasn’t because of my job performance, the patients loved me and I kept everything very organized and punctual. It was because I finally stood up for myself that afternoon when I walked out of the doctor’s office and back to my desk while he was still talking to me, and they wanted someone who would be even more of a doormat than I’d been. It was a blessing and a curse, in that I didn’t get the satisfaction of telling them to go stick it to themselves, but it also meant that I would get unemployment benefits that would pay nearly the same amount as that crappy job did. And so began my 6-month unemployment streak. I had no idea if I’d ever find a job (and given the economic situation at the time, not finding a job ever seemed like a real possibility), or what kind of job it would be, but even the anxiety of unemployment was a million times better than staying there. Working environments like that are toxic to the human condition and start to eat away at the core of who you are. I was lucky to get out when I did.
So, my tango with unemployment began. And with all this extra time on my hands, I poured myself into what I loved most. Cooking. My parents had a Greek deli for over 30 years in Portland, and I grew up there helping with whatever I could. My mother worked full time at the restaurant, but still got up early to make dinner from scratch every day. Some of my earliest memories are of her pulling up a chair to let me stand in front of the stove so I could reach the pot. I loved helping her stir, and when she started letting me help sprinkle in spices and herbs into the pot, I was over the moon. It seemed magical to me the way that a little pinch of something could completely transform the flavor of a dish. I was hooked.
It stayed that way for a long time, helping at the deli on weekends and during summer and winter break, watching my mom whip up delicious meals in our kitchen at home. After I left for college when I was 18, though, I had limited access to a kitchen because of dorm life. And then once I had my own apartment, finding the time and energy to cook between school and the three jobs I had while I was in school, and then trying to cook after the hell of the doctor’s office everyday became a huge issue. But when I found myself unemployed, I started cooking all the time, making whatever I could with the meager grocery budget I had at the time. And that’s when I started this blog. I didn’t do it because I wanted to showcase my photography (you can look at those old photos as proof, ha! ), I didn’t do it because I wanted to find a way to monetize and make money, I did it because I loved food and wanted to share that love with as many people as possible. And I still do. Because of this little blog, I’ve been able to bring my photography to its current state and make a full-time living from it. But, the road hasn’t always been easy since that first pecan pie post over six years ago.
Six months into my unemployment, I was hired as a page at NBC Universal. Yes, like Kenneth, but the west coast version. I gave tours of the Burbank lot, worked on the Tonight Show, and then got hired as a Production Coordinator in NBC’s Television Production department. I wanted to be a producer at the time, so I eventually got a job as a Line Producer’s Assistant on a sitcom. During the few years that this all occurred in, I was throwing myself into my ‘dream job’ full time on the weekdays and working all weekend long on the blog; cooking, shooting, and writing. This non-stop cycle went on for several years.
And then, my dream job wasn’t my dream job anymore. I realized I didn’t really care about shooting schedules and viewership and budgets and producer’s egos. Those weekends of cooking and writing became a life raft keeping me afloat in a seemingly endless flow of monotonous, pointless days. At some point I eventually realized that all I looked forward to were those two glimmering days a week spent in the kitchen and on my computer nerding out with other foodies, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I wasn’t happy with my job, but couldn’t afford to quit and didn’t have the time to apply to other jobs. And then the universe dropped me the least subtle hint, ever, and the sitcom I was working on got cancelled. So, I got a transitional tech support job within the entertainment industry that had a *much* healthier work environment, and paid me well enough that I was able to save up enough money to take the leap into freelancing full time after several months there. I will always be indebted to that last job for helping me heal the emotional wounds that working on a TV show under another sociopathic boss inflicted. Everyone there was so kind and supportive, even with my food work on the side. It was hard to leave just because I liked the people there so much, but I knew it was time to move on. So I made the leap!
A lot has happened since then. I got married to my longtime partner, Jeremy. We bought a house and moved back to Portland, Oregon. We got two dogs, and then seven chickens. I met my best friend, Carey, online through our blogs and we started First We Eat, our travel-based food photography workshops. We started a podcast where we nerd out 1000% about food. I wrote a book that’s coming out this fall. It’s a whole, whole lot. And I’m really lucky to be able to lead this life. Even though I’ve worked really hard to make it happen, some amount of luck is always involved. But I think that when you do what you’re passionate about, you have luck on your side. When you care about your work, when it gives you purpose and joy and warmth, I think that seeps into you, leaks out into the world, and starts to attract all the good things. Good people, good opportunities, good choices. I know that most people aren’t able to pursue their passions full time, and that’s okay. But try to make your passion some part of your life. Even if it’s just for a few minutes a week, little by little, it will make each week brighter than the last. It might take you somewhere, and it might not, but at least you’ll be happy. And I think that’s just dandy.
For the persimmon cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Puree the persimmons and milk together in a blender or food processor until smooth. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and ginger until combined. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar at medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the persimmon mixture and vanilla extract and mix until incorporated. Add the flour mixture, and mix until just combined.
Evenly distribute the batter between two well-greased and lightly floured 8-inch cake pans. Place the pans in the oven and bake until a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 to 35 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
While the cake is baking, make the caramel. In a small thick-bottomed saucepan mix together the water and the granulated sugar until well blended. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat and continue boiling until the mixture turns a light caramel color, only stirring once every four minutes. This took me about eight minutes, but the speed will depend upon the heat of your stovetop.
Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the heavy cream, butter, and brown sugar until incorporated. Be careful as the mixture will spit and hiss a bit. If the sugar begins to clump up when you’re stirring do not fret, just stir as best as you can for about 30 seconds and then put the pot back on the heat and bring it back to a boil again over medium-low heat. Once it is boiling again stir until the sugar chunk dissolves and the mixture is smooth. Once it smoothes out, stir it every two minutes and allow the mixture to simmer for 3 minutes to thicken slightly. Remove from the stovetop and stir in the salt. Allow to cool to room temperature.
For the brown butter icing, beat the brown and regular butter at medium high speed with the paddle attachment for 2 minutes. Turn off the mixer, switch to whisk attachment, and then continue beating the mixture at medium high speed for an additional 3 minutes, or until the butter becomes very pale and fluffy and has roughly doubled from its original volume. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract and beat at medium high speed until very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes more. Cover and set aside.
To assemble the cake, cut the two layers in half horizontally with a sharp bread knife so that you now have 4 thin cake layers. Lightly spread the brown butter buttercream between each layer and up the sides, then on top of the finished cake. Pour the caramel sauce over the cake, making sure to place a dish under the cake to catch any extra caramel sauce that spills over the sides. Serve immediately.