* I’m thrilled to introduce you to a partnership I’m especially proud of and excited about. Chateau St. Jean Winery in Sonoma contacted us several months ago after seeing our book, Date Night In. They loved the concept and I think it was pretty clear to them that Gabe and I are not only fans of dating each other but we also love wine. It’s a natural pair. Throughout the Fall and through Spring I will be bringing back the original series that inspired my first cookbook; Date Night In. I am so excited to share with you more stories about marriage and the intentionality needed to keep it going, stunning recipes with wine pairings, and beautiful videos shot by my brother, Chris Baron. Very special thanks to Chateau St. Jean for sponsoring this series.
Over five years ago Gabe and I started dating in. Then our kids were 5, 3, and too young to even have a number. We were deep in the parenting gig; changing diapers, scraping stale cheerios off the floor, and bandaging scraped knees multiples times a day. By the end of the day we’d congratulate ourselves for surviving and then retreat to our own corners until we fell asleep. Yes, we were surviving but as a couple, as a team, we weren’t thriving. And some seasons that’s really all you can do. When you bring a newborn home from the hospital I wouldn’t attempt much more than feeding yourself and your baby but as months passed and our newborn started to crawl and then walk and then beat up her brothers, we knew we couldn’t pass through this entire season without making a serious effort to connect in a deep and meaningful way.
If you’ve been a long time reader of the blog (thank you, I adore you!) or if you have the book (you’re the best!) then you know the story. You know that our exhaustion turned into a commitment to continue to date. One night a week, after the kids were in bed Gabe and I would turn on some music, change our spit-up covered shirts (maybe) and sit at our table to a meal I prepared (Gabe was in charge of bedtime and wine pouring) and then date one another. What was once deemed a consolation prize to actually going out on a real date turned out to be our preferred method of dating. We loved the privacy, the ease and the comfort we felt in our own home. These fun, intimate evenings took a marriage of roommates and turned it into one of intimacy, joy, and growth.
The other day this email landed in my inbox:
“Thanks for reminding my wife and me how we need to slow down and enjoy ourselves like we used to. Life had tired us out and we kept putting off “us” for another time. Hopefully, we can keep this in sight from now on.”
I keep reading that phrase “Life had tired us out” because yes, life does that doesn’t it? No matter the stage, the season, if you have kids or if you don’t, life is exhausting. You can’t wait for a time when you aren’t tired from life to invest in your relationship – you just have to do it. Gabe and I turned our date nights into a cookbook and collection of narratives and I am continually so encouraged by emails like this of others starting to date again and seeing the amazing benefits to their relationship.
Our date nights don’t look like they did even two years ago when the book came out. And that’s okay. Now that our kids are in school sometimes Gabe and I will take ourselves out to brunch or we’ll cook lunch here. When the weather allows it we’ll pop in a movie for the kids while the two of us head outside to the grill and enjoy some fish tacos. Our date nights change and evolve just like we do but their importance remains the same. Whatever we do, wherever we are in life we need to stay connected, we need to remind ourselves that we are one unit made up of two individuals – a living breathing being that needs to be fed and nurtured in order to thrive.
Wood grilling plank, soaked in water for at least 1 hour
Chef 1: Season the fish with the lime zest and juice, salt, chipotle powder and olive oil. Let sit for 20 minutes before placing the fish on the soaked wood plank and grill until the fish just starts to flake, about 10 minutes. Let the fish rest.
Chef 2: Put the tomatillos, onion, jalapeño, and garlic on a roasting tray with a bit of olive oil and salt. Roast in a 425°F oven for 20 to 25 minutes until tender and caramelized in parts. Carefully transfer the roasted vegetables to a blender and blend with the fresh herbs until creamy. Add the olive oil and a hefty pinch of salt and blend again. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Chef 1: In a large bowl combine the sliced cabbage, salt, lime and cumin. Let this sit for at least 10 minutes.
Chef 2: Stir together the sour cream, chipotle powder, lime and salt. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Chef 1: Grill the tortillas just until warmed through.
I had no intention of using the blackberries in cupcakes but I was on one of those end-of-the-season grocery store trips where I had this seasonal sense of urgency. “I didn’t eat enough tomatoes!” “There weren’t enough peaches in my diet!” “I promised myself I’d buy a case of apricots and I didn’t.” Somberly I dreamt of all the missed pies and cans of jam that I won’t get to tuck into in on a cold morning in January. Where did summer go?
So into my cart I tucked five pints of various colored cherry tomatoes, bags of soft peaches and fragrant nectarines and a flat of blackberries still dusty from the fields. The stone fruit never aspired to more than snacks for the kids and quite honestly I think the tomatoes had the same fate. But when a spontaneous evening sailing invitation came up and I volunteered to bring dessert to the little party, those blackberries found their calling.
This cake recipe is not new to this site. In fact I’m sure this is the third or quite possibly the fourth time it’s been printed here. It’s made so often in this house I have the recipe hand written and taped to the back of my cupboard for easy access. It’s delightfully easy (only takes one bowl!) and perfectly tender with a hearty chocolate flavor that satisfies my bittersweet cravings. At this point I should have it memorized. But the blackberries stirred carefully into the nearly black batter, now that is new and a very happy discovery. Tart cream cheese frosting and a bit of vanilla flecked salt was going to be the final flourish but a friend (hi, Krissy!) and I decided that a salty caramel would really put these little cakes over the top.
If I have completely missed the mark on sharing this recipe and berry season is well behind you, you’ll be happy to hear that frozen berries work very well and raspberries make a fine blackberry substitute. So regardless of the season these tart, sweet and oh so pretty cupcakes can shine any time of year.
One final word – for those of you who have shared your email address with me over the years you may have noticed a shiny, new surprise email from me! That’s right, I’ve become a big kid and started a newsletter. We’re aiming for this to be a monthly thing and we’ve got plans for all sorts of fun topics to discuss. This month we’re celebrating the in between – you know when the sun still shines but the leaves lose their green for shades of crimson and orange. Where peaches and apples briefly share the same shelf space and we can finally turn on the oven again without fear of overheating. There are a few recipes from the site that are my favorite to cook right now and then there’s a bonus recipe for a pungent Ginger, Pear Bourbon Punch that is perfect early Fall drinking. I’m aiming for a bonus recipe or something else definitely worth your while – so be sure to sign up!
Chocolate Blackberry Cupcakes with Cream Cheese + Caramel
makes 3 8” inch layers or 24 cupcakes
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar (I’ve used white or brown or a combination of the two and all work well)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup vegetable oil (or other, nearly flavorless oil)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups warm water
4 cups blackberries (fresh or frozen)
Prepare two cupcake pans with liners.
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl until everything is well blended.
Add the wet ingredients and whisk to combine. Fold in the berries.
Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 full.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the tops slowly spring back when gently nudged.
Let cool in the pan for five minutes before finishings the cooling on a rack.
Cream Cheese Frosting
3 (8-ounce) packages / 680 g cream cheese, at room temperature
1⁄2 cup / 115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 – 2 cups confectioners’ sugar (depending on the desired amount of sweetness)
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla bean
For the frosting:
Beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Stop the machine and add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, and vanilla. Turn on low and mix until combined.
Turn up the speed to medium and beat 4 minutes more.
The frosting can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge.
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
Combine the sugar and the water in a small saucepan. Bring a boil and let the sugar caramelize until it’s smoking and deep copper in color. I teeter the edge with my caramel – close to burnt so you get complex flavors rather than a flat, just-sweet, caramel.
Carefully add the cream (it will bubble up vigorously) then stir to combine.
Frost the cupcakes when they are completely cool. Drizzle on the caramel then top with flake salt.