Where to Eat in Portland, Maine

As you may know from my previous two posts, I am an expert on Portland, Maine after visiting only one time. Read up on why I went and the coffee/bakery scene if you feel like it, but now let’s get to what we’ve all been waiting for:

lobster roll

I ate more lobster in Portland than most people would be comfortable with. Being from the Chicago area and living in Texas, it’s odd that I came to love lobster as I do. It probably began on a childhood trip to Alaska when my family ate king crab legs like candy. (And we eat a lot of candy). Now I don’t have many opportunities to indulge this lifelong love and it’s not even worth attempting most of the time. But, when in Maine. (LOBSTER, was the subtext there. In case you didn’t catch it. When in Maine: LOBSTER.)

The lobster roll above is from J’s Oyster and was the fruit of much last minute lunch research. J’s is a dive bar right off the water that smells of beer and seafood. It sports some framed boat paintings and looks like nothing, including the carpet, has changed since the 80’s. When I arrived a couple minutes before noon there were already several blue collar type guys, possibly retired, clearly local, drinking beer at the bar. The middle aged waitress seemed to be laughing at me for some reason (maybe my stupid glasses or turquoise pants? she probably saw me taking that indulgent food plate photo). I am still feeling the victory that was deciding to eat at J’s Oyster.

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If I choose a bad restaurant while traveling, I have the most crippling food regret of anyone I know. I cannot let it go–it will ruin whole days for me; it is what I will remember when thinking about a trip. J’s gave me the opposite. It was exactly what I wanted. The lobster was exactly what I wanted (the best I had)–perfectly complimented by a toasted hot dog bun, one lettuce leaf, and a hint of packet mayo. The beer was exactly what I wanted, perfectly average but local–Gritty’s seasonal, called Vacationland. The atmosphere was exactly what I wanted: I sat in a window looking out at boats, with those guys telling old work stories at the bar, the waitress humoring me, and the lunch crowd only getting started when I left. Everyone go, but don’t be there with your stupid glasses and bright pants, bringing the whole place down with Instagram photo shoots when I come back.

My second lobster experience started with the best seafood chowder that I have ever had. It was so good–full of big, recognizable pieces of lobster and fish. This was at Gilbert’s, a more touristy dive on Commercial Street, with a big deck in back, looking out towards the water:

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Seafood chowder and then whole lobsters. Because we’re on diets. But anyway, when consuming an ocean bug that looks at you while you gruesomely tear its body apart to eat in pieces, Liz and I decided it best to name the lobster. Because we’re adults. So, meet Ernest and Keith: two regular lobster guys who were just trying to make it in the world. They did not succeed.

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The following night, we wanted something light and healthy so we decided to go to a restaurant called Duckfat. It’s basically a little sandwich shop that makes incredible fries, fried in duck fat and served with different kinds of house-made mayonnaise and my favorite: truffle ketchup. Liz, Brian, and I are usually fully capable of finishing an order of fries, but there were more than a few leftover by the time our duck fat shakes came to the table. You heard me: duck fat shakes. The vanilla and Maine honey shakes that Liz and Brian ordered were too sweet for us, but the duck fat salted caramel I got was lovely. I was more than willing to share. Mainly due to my high intake of duck fat, as you might imagine. Our rich food comas did not quell Liz and Brian’s unquenchable love though:

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Portrait of a marriage.

We had a great time perching at their shared high tables, basking in duck fat and the small space’s perfect lighting, inadvertently eavesdropping on our neighbors’ conversation and trying to figure out their (business? dating?) relationship after they left. I could have done with some chair backs, but that might also have had something to do with all the duck fat.

And now I promise to stop saying duck fat. But I won’t stop talking about duck probably, because we ate a lot of it and my favorite extended joke from the trip started with duck. It wasn’t a joke really; we just got stuck on the wording of a dish we shared at the amazing Fore Street restaurant: Duck Two Ways. So, that’s not a strange name, but Liz, Brian, and I can tend towards investigative, Jerry Seinfeld (“what’s the deal with…”) type humor. ‘Finding absurdity in the everyday’ might be a subtitle to the biography of our friendship. Anyway, the ambiguity got us at first: “duck which ways–can’t they be a little more descriptive?”; “how many ways can we get other ingredients?”; “can we have dessert two ways?” And then we just started applying it to everything. I bought Boots Two Ways because the L.L. Bean flagship was having a sale. I’m not sure how funny this is, objectively, but we thought it was hilarious. And it came up a surprising number of times: Coffee Two Ways, Bradbury Mountain Two Ways (via different trails), Breweries Two Ways (which ended up being only one way, since we ran out of time). Sidenote: Maine has amazing beer. I wanted a Maine beer tour, and looked into visiting the Maine Beer Company and Oxbow taprooms, but we only made it to Allagash Brewery for a tour. It was more than pleasant:

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Allagash Brewery

Anyway, more importantly: Fore Street Restaurant. To preface: Liz, Brian, and I have a tradition of an extravagant Fancy Dinner once a year. The rules of Fancy Dinner are simple: order everything; share everything; try things you wouldn’t normally try; don’t think about the money just this one time. It’s a ‘spare no expense’ situation, but without any any man-eating dinosaurs.

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She’s just a beautiful person; in all the ways.

Fore Street was a great choice for Fancy Dinner. The space is what I’d call industrial-rustic-classy; there’s a lot of wood, exposed brick, and iron fixtures. It feels really open, with tall ceilings and short walls around raised seating areas, but the lighting is warm and intimate. It’s got a good vibe. And they have a really cool open kitchen–basically in the middle of the restaurant, with a beautiful wood oven that winks at you as cooks pass in front of the flames.

I think I’d hate working in an open kitchen–you have to look calm and like you’re enjoying yourself all the time without swearing or laughing or yelling too much–but I enjoyed watching the cooks. Some sous chefs probably thought I was flirting with them, but I was really just flirting with the food. Their menu is not experimental or flashy, but everything is made really well. We ordered quail, soft shell crab, duck (two ways), scallops, hake, fiddleheads, parsnips, mashed potatoes, lemon herb creme brulee, chocolate torte, and several Maine beers. See what I mean about Fancy Dinner?

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I think this was towards the end of the evening, when our eyes started crossing post-quail/duck/scallop/hake/etc./etc./etc.

The quail was heaven in the form of a tiny bird. I don’t usually order quail due to the price/riskiness of overcooked poultry, but oh man. This quail. The only thing better was the scallops, which were the best scallops I have ever had. I tend to over-use the “best I’ve ever eaten” compliment (which is easy, while eating something good), but this time the compliment is just clear fact. They earned the nickname butter-meat (or meat-butter).

That said, the side vegetables were delicious in theory but disappointing in experience. They were either not made to order or something went wrong with ours because they had clearly been sitting around a little too long.

For dessert, I was far more excited to try a weird new creme brulee than a boring chocolate torte; but even after eating to the point of pain and having no genuine interest in dessert aside from Fancy Dinner rules, I couldn’t get enough of the thing. The creme brulee was good and unusual but that chocolate torte was inappropriate noises good. Like, food seizure good.

In the past, Fancy Dinners have occurred at restaurants with a little more swank, or at least pretension, but Fore Street was the perfect place for the Maine edition: it’s fine dining in a flannel button-down. I’ve thought about the restaurant many times since leaving and I’ll probably make Liz and Brian take me there (and order fewer dishes/spare some expense) when I visit again.

…Which I will do as soon as possible. Though I hate having most of my favorite people scattered in so many strange cities all across the country, it’s less painful when they live in places I love to go.

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Morning in Portland, Maine: Coffee and Bakeries

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I already wrote a bit about visiting my friends Liz and Brian in Portland, but I’m going to post a couple more times on the food and drink aspects of the trip. First coffee and bakeries; next time restaurants and breweries. As someone who has visited Portland, Maine one single time, I consider myself an expert on their restaurant/coffee/bakery/brewery scene. My credentials are clear: I eat a lot, I love beverages, I have been to Portland, Maine one time, and I have this blog. So.

Let’s start at the beginning. The best coffee  in Portland, Maine (trust me I’m an expert) comes from Tandem Coffee Roasters on Anderson Street. My friend Liz and I came here before breakfast on my first morning and I was officially sold on Portland. The shop part of the building (which seems to be primarily dedicated to roasting) is bitty but just perfectly done–most of the room is taken up by what seems to be a hand-built, wood coffee bar; what isn’t old exposed brick is clean, minimalist white and wood; a few plants on windowsills, a few books lying around, and lots of natural light in the morning at least. I can’t speak to the espresso (though it looked good coming from a La Marzocco machine) but one sip of my morning pour-over elicited the first “OKAY, fine, I’ll live here” of the day. There were many.

The second best coffee in Portland comes from Speckled Ax on Congress Street. The coffee might actually be just as good. They had all the third wave coffee gear and snootery you could ask for, but the interior is trying a little harder and accomplishing a little less than Tandem with burnt orangey-brown walls and uncomfortable chairs. This is where you’d go to stick around and work, though, as it has over twice the space of Tandem and more than just a handful of stools at the bar. Liz and I went early my last morning, before she had to go to work and I had to catch a bus, and there were already a couple be-suited yuppies working at tables. Here’s Liz and a glimpse of Speckled Ax’s cute tin ceiling:

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Honorable mentions go out to Bard Coffee and Crema Coffee and Bakery, which seem older and were both sprawling and comfy with a 90’s/Central Perk vibe. I ducked into Crema for at least an hour after a long walk, returning from the Eastern Promenade on a drizzly day. I had a good enough cappuccino, researched lobster rolls, read a book, and was treated to pleasant live piano music that some old guy was playing in the front. I like to think he just waltzed in and started playing, but he might be a regular feature at the place.

When I travel, I love bringing home a pound or two of local coffee as a souvenir. It makes the trip seem to last longer, and the first day back at work is less painful with vacation coffee easing the way. That’s science probably, because smell is linked with memory so brewing vacation coffee makes you remember vacation. Science. Anyway, this time I bought Tandem’s El Higueron, Costa Rican, and a pound of something or other from Bard, where I stopped on my way out of town. They were a perfect combination to have available at home–the Bard being a good, solid, darker roast option (which I honestly prefer most of the time), and the Tandem Costa Rican being a fresher, frillier, more complex (and more expensive) treat. I liked the Tandem logo so much that I cut it off the bag and taped it to my storage jar like a nerd.

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But enough about coffee. Let’s talk about breakfast. First, let’s talk about bakeries. Specifically, the best bakery in Portland, Maine and probably all of Maine and maybe the Universe: Standard Baking Co. Their baked goods will cause enthusiasm and perhaps hyperbole. But I think I went every single day I was there, without exaggerating. And they do have the best pain au chocolat I’ve gotten in the states. I mean, look:

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Flakes for days. I can’t even remember everything we tried, but I impulsively ordered a spare roll just to check out their bread skills and immediately wished that I had gotten a whole loaf. The crust was crisp but tender, the crumb light but substantial and chewy. Damn. It’s clear they know what they’re doing and I kind of want an apprenticeship.

We also went to Rosemont Bakery Shop, which was delightful. I have no idea how their baked goods are, as Liz and I just popped in to the market part for a few things, but the cheese counter is worth a trip either way. We ogled and asked questions and were unable to restrain exclamations upon tasting a French double cream brie. So, we were generally obnoxious to the patient man working the counter, who chose to laugh (at) and humor us rather than be annoyed. Or maybe he was still annoyed. Either way, he offered samples. They have a good selection and offer a lot of information on the kind, source, and history of their cheese. It was another example of this Portland, Maine thing of caring a lot about quality and putting a lot of effort into doing simple things well. I’m for it.

If a donut place counts as a bakery, I also went to one of those. The Holy Donut makes potato donuts and they are so right to do so. I had never had a potato donut before and I loved them; they’re like cake donuts with a serious side. I got a cinnamon-sugar and a dark chocolate/sea salt to share with Liz and Brian when they got home from work and accidentally ate most of them. I have no regrets. Plus it’s a cute little shop across the street from Deering Oaks Park, where duck couples stroll in dewy, deep green grass.

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The only breakfast-breakfast we ate out on this trip was at Hot Suppa. I think mainly because Liz really enjoys saying Hot Suppa. Luckily, Hot Suppa makes some good food. The interior is small, which made for a long wait on a drizzly day, but a patio behind the building looked like it would double their space on a nice day. My trip was in the spring so there were fiddleheads and ramps everywhere. Living in Texas, I get none of that and loved every minute of it. Liz and I split a veggie and rice hash, which I’d say was better than it sounds, and a fiddlehead and bacon Eggs Benedict. I always want some sort of vegetable with Eggs Benedict and usually the only option is a pile of limp, soggy spinach. This was so much better than that. And their bloody mary is more than respectable, as a side note.

If my loquacity has not tipped you off, I am loving this opportunity to re-live my trip to Portland. I had only planned on one more Maine post, but didn’t want to make you sit through my entire personal Portland Zagat guide. So I apologize/you’re welcome. More Maine to come.

Wedding Cakes

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I know that I just gave you a beautiful image of love and happiness and cool hair, but we’re here to talk about cake. And here’s the thing about cakes, guys; the thing is: wedding cakes are usually dumb. Half the time they’re from a catering company whose thing isn’t cakes and the other half they cost one million dollars. Most often they’re fakified in some way—slices are brought out from the back that clearly weren’t cut from the monstrosity those giddy newlyweds cut into minutes before. A lot of times they even taste bad. There; I said it.

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People are getting wise to this. I’ve seen various dessert bars, special hometown candies, doughnuts, and other creative giant-wedding-cake-replacers in the past few years, and I dig it. My friends Gigi and Zach (aka: Zizi, seen above dancing in love) chose to have an assortment of normal-sized cakes at their recent wedding instead of one giant cake, all home-baked by the beautiful Kinfolk Fairy Queen Ellen and myself (though Ellen is actually a professional baker, which is kind of cheating). And guys, we did it. We baked cakes for two hundred people and they all looked good and tasted good and I still can’t believe it.

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Ellen made lemon rosemary cake, browned butter coconut cake, and a berry white cake (get it?). I made chocolate ganache cake, red wine blackberry cake, and a carrot cake with spiced cream cheese icing. Something for everyone! People were just raving and I had another epiphany about how much I love baked-good affirmation. I shamelessly asked everyone what they thought of the cakes all night. News flash: they loved them. I already knew or I wouldn’t have asked.

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Bakers + Cakes

The wedding was very DIY, with lots of friend help, which I have come to approach with a certain degree of anxiety. But, when the couple keeps things simple and their friends are all incredibly talented and super generous, the stress goes way down. The wedding was held in the courtyard of the cute old apartment complex Gigi and Zach lived in when they met. Friends and family decorated, organized, performed music, cooked, and generally made good things happen.

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Everything was delicious, but I think MVP goes to the beer which was specially homebrewed by Ellen’s husband Tommy. I’d like to take a moment to appreciate that beer. If your experience of homebrew is bland, oddly carbonated grain water that all tastes the same regardless of kind, THINK AGAIN. Tommy is kind of a professional too though, so I guess that’s not fair either. The red was my favorite, expect that the pale ale was.

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This couple knows their way around grain.

Old friends came back in town. New friends ran amuck. Children, puppies, and a goat were all in attendance. Dancing was magical. I’ll never not associate ruling the world with that group of girls. The cops even showed up for the last song, which was pretty funny and added a festive, strobe light vibe (for the record, we were not yet breaking any noise ordinances). The night ended with everyone snacking on Cheetos in their fancy clothes, lying in the grass. One of the best weddings on record.

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Happy couple Zizi cutting cakes.

Here are my pro wedding-cake-baking tips:

  • Bake all the cakes ahead of time and freeze the layers individually in a double layer of plastic wrap—the weekend before is prime time. This is absolutely necessary, unless the wedding is teeny-tiny, or you have a time machine, or you are just a full-time baker (in which case, why are you reading this?).
  • If you can ice the cakes the day before the wedding, do it! This depends on schedule, of course, but will also involve refrigerator real-estate considerations, and other practical things like that. I didn’t have time before the day of the wedding and ended up missing more bridesmaids together-time than I would have liked.
  • Make lists and plan timelines and triple count ingredients. This way you’ll know if you in fact did not buy enough chocolate for the ganache icing before you start making it in your pajamas when you’re supposed to go have mimosas and eat breakfast tacos in like an hour…ahem.
  • Which brings us to the most important tip: only take on this task for people you don’t fear. Cakes can be complicated enough without the added pressure of eternal wrath if you mess one up. Generally, this means that you should only high-stakes bake for friends who are close enough/low-maintenance/low-stress enough to be safe, or for people you don’t really know.

When I told people I was baking cakes for a wedding, most reacted with looks of fear and horror. I think they had visions of bridezillas and broken relationships as much as the actual logistics of baking. I had to explain every time that my friend Gigi is someone you can bake wedding cakes for without living in fear.

Gigi is up for anything and wants you to be too. I am generally in awe of the way she welcomes and cares for people (and animals) without hesitation or reserve. She’ll adopt a cat or get matching tattoos with friends she just met without skipping a beat. And her enthusiasm for and genuine interest in others don’t just maker her fun to be around, they’re strong enough to bring other people closer together. Gigi’s relentless inviting has made me more than one good friend. I am so thankful to know her, and was honored to be in her wedding. So, of course I’d make her cakes. #ziziforever.


Gigi + Robert

Anyway, I guess To Each His Scone is catering now. Cake recipe posts to come!

Lemon Chiffon Cake with Poppyseed Lemon Curd

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Lemon cakes, guys. I can’t believe this is my first post about lemon cakes. I have had quite a fling with lemon cakes over the past six months—the super dense kind, the lemon syrup drenched kind, blueberry glazed, buttercreamed, with rosemary, with poppy seeds. It all started with my sister’s birthday in June and hasn’t really stopped since then.

This is the one lemon cake to rule them all. Which makes me doubly glad that I took dramatic lighting glamour shots—as the previous three lemon cakes went woefully undocumented. Including the giant rosemary one with chocolate buttercream swirls and bunting I made for my friend Ryan’s birthday. I can’t even find the recipe I used. That pains me in a “seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone, / Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet…” kind of way. Though I doubt Hopkins was talking about cake.

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This lovely was served at my dear friend DeAnn’s engagement party last weekend. If you remember DeAnn you’ll know what kind of cake had to be made for that special event. If love is communicated by baked goods (which it is), the pressure was on. So I finally made this cake I have thought about but have been too intimidated/lazy to make, literally, for years. The thing that always tripped me up was the lemon curd. There were just too many elements; too much fuss. And that instinct was right—this is an all day kind of cake. You have to separate approximately one million eggs, fold in whipped egg whites, buy gelatin, double boiler some curd, dig out your cake flour, and whip butter for ages. If all that is too much for you, don’t run away though. The cake itself is by far the best element and it could be completed with less exertion by a glaze or a whipped cream icing.

Chiffon is right; this cake is light and moist and perfectly lemony. It uses olive oil instead of butter, which works with whipped egg whites to make the cake practically fluffy. You can’t taste the oil beyond a rich, fruity depth of flavor which compliments the brightness of the lemon perfectly. I cannot wait to make it again. With a lighter, whipped cream icing!

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Lemon curd requires double boilers and hassle.

Let’s talk about lemon curd for a second. When has anything ever sounded so bad and tasted so good? Never. This lemon curd recipe is not my favorite (this one is way better for scones or to eat with a spoon), but it works well in a cake. I wouldn’t normally put gelatin in a curd (totally unnecessary), but the added structure is good here, preventing the curd from disappearing into the cake too much.

The icing was described as “adult,” which I took a compliment. It isn’t overly sweet and has just enough flavor to prevent it from tasting only like whipped butter on a cake. Which it kind of is. It is dense and has a fairly elegant ivory color from the slight amount of lemon curd mixed in.

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It’s hard to know what to comment on concerning the party—the impeccable hosts, the house full of friends, the delicious food and drink, the lovey love birds, the winsome toasts? I will say, if you’ve read my post on DeAnn, you will be shocked to know that she has found someone worthy of her attention. Her fiance Kevin is one of the few, real, genuine southern gentlemen I have ever met. He stands when women approach a table and does so in such a way that none of my northern feminist hackles are raised. He’s so great I almost don’t resent him for whisking DeAnn away to live happily ever after in New Orleans. Almost.

The party was thrown by the Foleys, a family I have been incredibly fortunate to get to know this year.  Spending time in their home has given me a new, living definition of what manners are supposed to be about. They are effortlessly gracious hosts, and make you feel so comfortable that you forget you were intimidated and end up being yourself—which you regret immediately upon leaving, remembering the stupid, brash things your ease around them caused you to say. That last part may just be me.

The night was just what you’d imagine with such a guest list: sharp suits, pretty dresses, delicious snacks, an impressive selection of cheeses, fancy drinks, charming toasts to the happy couple, music all recorded before 1970, dancing, and Chinese cigarettes. Well, mostly what you’d expect anyway. Here’s the cake.

Lemon Chiffon Cake with Poppyseed Lemon Curd   


For Cake:

  • 8 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For Curd:

  • 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon poppyseeds

For Frosting:

  • 4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream


Cake Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line the bottoms of three 9-inch-round cake pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, and water.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium speed until light and frothy. Slowly add 1/4 cup of sugar and continue to beat until soft peaks form.
  4. Sift the flour, remaining sugar, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk gently to combine.
  5. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the egg yolk mixture and mix to create a smooth paste. Add one-fourth of the egg whites and fold in to lighten the batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites until evenly incorporated. Divide among prepared pans.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes or until a cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer to wire racks. Once cool, run a knife around the cakes to release, then invert onto wire racks. Cakes should come out cleanly.

Lemon Curd Directions:

  1. Place 1 Tbsp of the lemon juice in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over top. Let sit at least five minutes or until evenly moistened.
  2. Whisk the eggs, yolks, sugar, remaining 1/3 cup lemon juice, and lemon zest together in a medium heat-proof bowl.
  3. Place bowl over a pot of gently simmering water. Cook, whisking constantly, until the curd thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon (it should reach approximately 165ºF), about 5 to 7 minutes. Do not let it boil.
  4. Whisk in gelatin mixture and cook for one minute more.
  5. Strain the mixture through a sieve.
  6. Stir in the butter until melted and smooth.
  7. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap onto the surface of the curd. This will prevent a skin from forming on the top of the curd. Refrigerate until set and thoroughly chilled, at least three hours.

Frosting Directions:

  1. Beat butter on medium speed with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until very pale and creamy, about 8 minutes.
  2. Add powdered sugar, a little at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Add 1/4 cup of curd and mix until smooth.
  4. Add cream, a little at a time as needed, and beat until light and fluffy. Add more cream or powdered sugar as needed to achieve desired consistency.

Cake Assembly Directions:

  1. If the cake layers are really uneven, you can trim the domes with a serrated knife to make them lay flat.
  2. Stir poppyseeds into remaining curd.
  3. Place one cake layer, flat side down, on a cake stand or serving platter. Spread 1/4 cup of curd evenly on top. Position second layer on top and repeat. Position final cake layer.
  4. Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream as a crumb coat and let it set in the fridge for a few minutes. Sometimes I skip this step, but don’t. The cake is really light and the frosting is heavy, so crumbs will come off and make you look a slovenly cake maker. Considering all the work you just put into this damn cake, that is to be avoided at all costs.
  5. Remove cake from refrigerator and frost with remaining buttercream. I smoothed the top and created ridges on the sides by dragging the tip of a spoon from the bottom to the top of the cake in an even pattern. Garnish with some mandolin-thin slices of lemon, or whatever you want.

Adapted from Love and Olive Oil, which was adapted from Sky High Cakes, and so on.

Lamb Chili

Fancy, right? I made (NOT NEARLY ENOUGH) of this for my Catechism reading group last week and I realized something: if you use lamb in anything, even the most homely of dishes, people think you’re fancy. I’m guessing this is probably only true in the states, where giant cows are somehow less extravagant than tiny low-environmental-impact animals, but lets take advantage anyway.

I picked up ground lamb at the store with dreams of these baked kebabs my friend Emily made years ago after returning from a trip to Israel with spices I had never heard of. But reality set in when I got home and didn’t even know what those spices were, let alone own them. However, I did have beans, tomatoes, boring regular spices, and a dinner to host. So this happened. And I am glad it did. The lamb didn’t disappear behind the spices as I feared it might. It brings something very different to the whole chili situation than beef does, adding an unexpected flare to the experience. So fance it up with some lamb chili!

I’m going to be completely honest with you: chili is my improv territory. I never know what’s going to happen when I start making it and my “recipes” are generally written from memory the next day. So this is that. Plus I don’t even have any photos for you. And I call this a blog. But people asked for the recipe, so I thought it was worth sharing. Here’s a mental image, if you won’t make things you can’t see on the internet: it looks like chili. 

Lamb Chili


  • 1-11/2 lbs ground lamb
  • 2 cans diced tomato (I used one fire roasted with green chilies and one plain)
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can garbanzo beans
  • 1 can or bottle of beer (go cheap, it doesn’t really matter)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 lime
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2-21/2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 11/2 Tbsp cumin
  • 11/2 Tbsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • pinch allspice
  • salt and pepper


  1. Dice the onion and cook in a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt over medium heat until it begins to caramelize.
  2. When the onions start to look dry, add the can of beer and deglaze the pan.
  3. Stir in the garlic (minced) and keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until the beer is reduced by half.
  4. Add the ground lamb and stir it around until its broken up, taking on color, and the onions are evenly distributed.
  5. Mix in the spices.
  6. Add the tomatoes and beans, and keep stirring occasionally.
  7. Allow the chili to simmer for at least twenty minutes, then take a taste and add additional spices if it seems necessary. I started with just 1 Tbsp of cumin and coriander, but decided it could use more. If you’re into spice, I would definitely add more cayenne.
  8. Add the lime juice last.
  9. Serve with shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream or yogurt or sliced green onion or whatever you want.