Strawberry "Preaster" Cake with Cardamom Syrup and Crème Fraîche Whipped Cream
I made this cake for my friends’ “Preaster” party the weekend before Easter. The cake layers are from Alice Medrich’s recipe for Chocolate Layer Cake, which is a gluten-free yellow cake made with oat and rice flours from her excellent cookbook, Flavor Flours. You could use any yellow cake recipe you like, but if you have any interest whatsoever in gluten-free baking, I suggest you throw away every recipe you already have and just buy this book.
I am not gluten-free, but I own Flavor Flours because it is a fantastic cookbook. (And my gluten-free friends love me for it!)
To make my Preaster cake, I sliced a single layer of Alice's yellow cake in half, sprinkled the layers with a cardamom simple syrup (about 1/3 cup granulated sugar with a couple tablespoons of water simmered with crushed cardamom pods, cooled and then strained) and filled them with sliced strawberries and a mix of whipped cream, crème fraîche and confectioner’s sugar.
At least three people said, “I can’t believe this is gluten-free!” Thanks, Alice!
Indiana gets a bad rap. It doesn’t help that winter here drags on into March. Or that some of our politicians seem to have time travelled from before the Civil Rights era.
Still, I’m already missing Indiana—and I haven’t even left yet.
Thanks to my husband’s job, next month we head to Europe for the summer (whoo-hoo!). Then we’ll spend a year in North Carolina (yes!!), and, after that, we are moving—permanently, it seems—to Belgium (seriously, pinch me!).
I am beyond excited about all of this. I’m already fantasizing about Mama Dip’s fried chicken, Monuts donuts, Liège waffles, Escazú chocolate and buying Westvleteren 12 at the abbey. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with friends in Belgium and in Boone and Durham and my family in Greensboro and Wilmington. But I am also sad.
After seven years here, I’ve made better friends in Indiana than anywhere I’ve ever lived. I am a part of a community of smart, creative people, some of them native Hoosiers, others, like me, who just ended up here—and ended up falling in love with this place, even though its politics can also drive us crazy.
Last weekend some of our friends threw a Sunday afternoon party to celebrate what my children now believe is the holiday of “Preaster.” I baked a cake, my kids put on their costumes even though it wasn’t a costume party because that is how we roll, and we headed down the road to my favorite town in Indiana, which is also one of my favorite places in the U.S. Imagine a small historic downtown with independent shops, great places to grab a coffee or a beer, a local bookshop that is also a not-for-profit, and a killer bakery. Yeah, we have that here.
Adam and Sara’s loft is one of the coolest apartments I’ve ever seen. It’s the top floor of an old Victorian row house with huge picture windows that make the whole apartment feel like it’s floating and glowing, even when it hails (like it did on Sunday because that’s March in Indiana for you). Shelves of books and artwork line the living room, which feels cozy and expansive at the same time and makes you want to curl up on the old velvet furniture with that novel that you’ve been meaning to read and Sara and Adam just happen to have. It’s bohemian eclectic meets Midwest vintage, but it’s not about being hip or some lifestyle sold in a magazine. It’s real life here in the Midwest.
Adam is a musician in several bands, one of which was recognized earlier this spring by NPR’s AltLatino for a song about the persecution of undocumented migrants. He is dapper and wears great hats and makes me laugh every time we hang out. Sara is movie-star pretty (I swear she could be Michelle Williams’s cousin) and talks in a quiet flat voice that makes her dry wit sparkle. She is a writer and helps out with the local art house cinema.
Sara and Adam have talked about leaving Indiana. Truth be told, it’s a recurring conversation for many of us. Maybe, we say to each other, we would be happier elsewhere—somewhere less conservative, somewhere that feels more in sync with our politics and our aesthetics. Somewhere with food truck rodeos and James Beard-award-winning restaurants and fried chicken that gets written up in the New York Times. No, this isn't that kind of place.
Many of us have lived on the east and west coasts. We know how amazing it is in San Francisco, Brooklyn, Portland, or even just up the road in Chicago. Here in Indiana, we have to work harder to create community, to connect, to see the goodness and beauty in our surroundings. It isn’t always easy.
But that intentionality is what makes this place special. It’s why I’ll be heartbroken to leave.
Community is not about just happening to live somewhere cool or hip. It’s what we make for ourselves. It’s about the work of people like my friends Leah and Zach, who are starting a not-for-profit to teach art to teenagers. It’s about people like my friend Sarah M., who organizes potlucks and invites friends and strangers from down the street and all over the world to eat in her home. Or people like Joel and Willow, who launched a monthly Guerilla Gay Bar. Or my best friend forever, Julie, who is always my “emergency contact” and plays charades with my children so that I can pack boxes—and loves every minute of it. I could go on and on, but I might start crying.
We drank Corpse Revivers (it was Preaster, after all) and we sat and ate and talked and laughed. The children chased each other and ate too many chocolate eggs. The cake was a hit. There were pickled deviled eggs, and cinnamon rolls from the farmers market. It was a room full of book nerds, artists, writers, teachers, feminists, musicians, leftists, farmers and at least one philosopher and an aerial acrobat. It hailed and then snowed a bit. It was spring in the Midwest and it was a perfect Preaster.
We know Indiana isn’t always pretty. We are working on that. It’s not always an easy place to love, especially looking from the outside. We get it. But please don’t congratulate me on “getting out”—as if this place were a penal colony of endless cornfields and homophobes. Yes, we have those here. But we also have people you would be lucky to know, ones whom I am lucky to call my friends.