Monday, December 3, 2012


Carrots for my carrot cake....  They say that the word "orange" doesn't rhyme with anything.  I think it rhymes with "carrot." For quite obvious, colorful reasons...
It was so easy to become a fan of Nora Ephron. An inveterate New Yorker, who occasionally put up with living in such backwaters as Washington DC and Hollywood, Nora Ephron was an author known for her intelligent, sophisticated prose. She wrote in a seemingly spirited and funny manner, hiding soulfulness and vulnerability inside paragraphs brimming with wit and sarcasm. Who can forget Ephron’s screenplay for the romantic comedy “When Harry met Sally?” There’s Billy Crystal’s Harry, sitting in a New York deli.  Between mouthfuls of coleslaw, he watches as Meg Ryan (Sally), demonstrates the female’s ability to fake orgasm. Loudly and quite flawlessly she moans and pretends to climax.Then she goes back to eating her salad. Famous for its hilarity is the retort which follows Ryan’s demo: it doesn’t come from Billy Crystal, but from a deli patron who has watched and heard the whole epic thing.“I’ll have what she’s having,” the patron tells the waiter. 

In addition to novels and essays, Ephron wrote screenplays and produced and directed some of them when they were made into movies. She was a Hollywood power player whose untimely death at the age of 71 came as a shock. For years, she had been in remission from leukemia, a condition she chose to keep hidden. She had planned her own memorial, and because she was passionate about food and cooking, she wanted favorite recipes included in the service. She died from pneumonia, a complication caused by chemotherapy. I admired Nora Ephron, and her intelligence and creativity were and are an inspiration.  
Read this book!
That which first made Ephron famous was the roman à clef “Heartburn,” a satire based on the collapse of her marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein. He threatened to sue over its publication but never did.  I guess “Heartburn” hit Mr. Bernstein too close to home. I remember the gossip going around at the time concerning his infidelity. Mr. Bernstein was quite a womanizer, and I have often wondered what compels that sort of man to marry. Why did he bother?
This picture was published in "People" magazine in the 1970s when Nora Ephron was living her "heartburn."  Unhappy, she turns her back while her then-husband Carl Bernstein entertains a friend.
“Heartburn,” is a funny story of love, betrayal and heartbreak. Humor acts as the salve which makes the heroine’s predicament bearable. Her name is Rachel Samstat, and she’s a cookbook author seven months pregnant with her second child. At seven months she is bloated, her feet feel “like old cucumbers” and she suffers from what she describes as “terminal heartburn.” To compound her misery, it’s at this stage that she stumbles upon the fact that her husband, Mark, is having an affair. What’s more, she is acquainted with her husband’s mistress and has had her over the house for carrot cake. At first, Rachel vows to win back Mark, despite the fact that he confesses he loves his mistress and has never loved another woman as much. Still, he wants Rachel to stay with him, at least until the birth of their child.  How kind.  Rachel is coming apart at the seams, but since the plot takes place in the 1970s, there’s a psychoanalyst waiting in the wings to offer help and advice. Eventually, Rachel delivers her baby and musters up the courage to gather her children and leave Mark. The catalyst is her discovery that he has spent a small fortune as a down payment on a necklace for his mistress.  It’s during a dinner party soon thereafter that a sense of clarity comes to Rachel.“You can love someone so much,” she thinks, “that you don’t see anything at all. You decide to trust him and you kind of notice that things aren’t what they were, but it’s a distant bell, it’s through a filter… I can’t stand feeling sorry for myself.  I can’t stand feeling like a victim… I can’t stand sitting here with all this rage turning to hurt and then to tears.”  Her new sense of clarity impels her to act. She lifts up the Key lime pie she’s brought to the dinner party and with ladylike civil impoliteness deposits it onto Mark’s face. And then she laughs. Rachel tells the story of her marriage, “because if I tell the story I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me. Because if I tell the story it doesn’t hurt as much.” In this manner, Rachel can begin to forget. As for the recipe for Key lime pie? Rachel gives it to us. The narrative of the novel is interspersed with Rachel’s recipes, some of them quite mouthwatering.  There’s even a recipe index at the end of the book:  Cheesecake, page 49. Key lime pie, page 166.  Vinaigrette, page 177. 

There’s been some criticism that the characters in the book are not well developed. My answer is that Ephron’s focus was mainly on satire, which is a genre that does not necessarily rely on a heavy-duty psychological evaluation of character motivation. The main purpose of satire is social criticism via the use of wit as a weapon. Ephron’s novel was socially significant. At the time of its publication in the early 1980s, divorce rates were climbing, but divorced women kept quiet about their predicament. Ephron was the first to write openly about living with a philandering husband and about experiencing a painful divorce.  She empowered women by changing the way divorce was talked about. She encouraged women to talk candidly about it and to share their stories. Plus, as she says in "Heartburn," she liked carrot cake. 

My advice?  Add extra whipped cream if you’re throwing a Key lime pie at someone’s face. 

With this reading of “Heartburn,” I am participating in Cook the Books, a bimonthly (not semimonthly) Internet book club/cooking event that features a different book for each round. The challenge is to read the book chosen, cook something inspired by it, and then blog about it. I chose to make carrot cake.  That’s what the unsuspecting heroine of “Heartburn” serves to her husband’s mistress. Years ago, I found myself in a situation similar to Rachel’s. One of the most important things I learned from my experience was not to be the victim in a relationship. Love, cohabitation, marriage, all relationships, even friendships… they should be victim free. Easier said than done, but as Rachel Samstat says in “Heartburn,” when your dream dies, you are left “with a choice: You can settle for reality, or you can go off, like a fool, and dream another dream.”


I call this my “Washington” carrot cake. That’s because the recipe was given to me by a wonderful cook and family member who lives in the Washington DC area. This is one of the first cakes I learned to make successfully, and it has been in my cake repertoire since I first made it, in the early 1980s. The cake is fruity and tastes a little like a spice cake. It's made with canola oil and with carrots, so as far as cakes go, I guess it's kind of "healthy." It can be eaten plain; that's why I usually bake it in a 9x13 pan. For a holiday treat, bake the batter in round pans and then slather cream cheese frosting on top, on the sides and between the cake layers.
Unfrosted.   In my opinion, the best way to enjoy carrot cake. 
butter and flour to grease the pan
½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
½ cups peeled and grated carrots(about 10 carrots)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts 
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
½ cup buttermilk
1/2 cup shredded coconut
4 eggs
1 cup chopped pineapple, drained well

For the Frosting:

8 tbsp. unsalted butter softened and cut into pieces.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon grated orange zest
½ cup mascarpone cheese
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
2 cups confectioner sugar
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Here's a close up slice without frosting.  I frosted my cake the day after I made it... What I love about carrot cake is the cinnamon and ginger, the walnuts, the pineapple, the coconut,  everything all mixed into a custard type batter.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  
Grease and flour a 9" x 13" baking dish with the butter and flour. This is an important step, don't forget it.
Gather the carrots, walnuts, drained pineapple and coconut into a large bowl.
Into a medium size bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Pour them on top of the carrot mixture.

The fruity mixture.  I think this is my favorite part!
Into a really large bowl whisk together the oil, sugar and buttermilk. Add the eggs one at a time and beat after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat in. Fold in the carrot mix in batches. Make sure that you don’t over-mix, don’t mix until smooth.

Bake this cake!
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes. Lower the heat to 325º F, and bake another 15 to 20 minutes. 
Let the cake cool in the pan for about 1/2 an hour.  Then turn it out onto a cake rack and let it cool completely.

Fresh out of the oven. 
For frosting, you can frost just the top if you've baked the cake in a 9x13 pan. If you want frosting on the top, sides and between layers, bake the batter in round pans.

For the Frosting:

Use an electric mixture with the paddle attachment.  On medium speed beat the butter with the mascarpone and cream cheeses until they are smooth. Add the vanilla and the orange zest and beat until they are integrated. 
Lower the speed and add the sugar in batches, beating for about a minute between additions. Finish beating by bringing the frosting to a smooth consistency. Chill and spread the icing evenly over the cake. When done, press the nuts onto the cake.  Chill before serving.


  1. You chose a really telling photo and wrote a very sensitive review of the book. Ephron certainly touched a nerve of many women with her novel. That's a lovely carrot cake. It reminded me that I had never made one and had been meaning to try for some time. Thank you so much for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books!

  2. What a great post for this CTB edition--you really captured book with your words and that photo. Your carrot cake looks perfectly moist and gorgeous too. I am really wishing I had a piece right now. ;-)