Saffron Walnut Bundt Cake

There is a certain kind of magic that seems unique to the Bundt cake. As frequently as I bake, I admit that I still gasp a little bit each time I pull up an inverted Bundt pan to reveal a perfectly--and beautifully--formed cake below. In fact, there are few other cakes that inspire me more.

For the past couple months, I've been recovering from a back injury (a "bulging disc") that has made going about my day a little bit more difficult that usual. The simplest movements--leaning over to brush my teeth, opening the oven, even putting on my shoes--have become an exercise in creativity and (at times) contortionism.

The first couple weeks after my "episode" I was in much too much pain to really do any serious cooking, let alone baking. Dinner became a bit of a slapped-together affair featuring a variety of sandwiches and salads and the occasional delivery from the nearby Italian restaurant that does dinner well, but dessert not so much.


After a couple weeks of this,  I'd had enough. I missed baking! I missed creaming together softened butter and sugar until it reaches that light and fluffy point. I missed sifting together a cloud of flour and baking powder and salt. I missed the familiar flow of running a spatula gently through the batter to combine the dry and wet ingredients. Most of all, I missed that moment, just a few minutes before the timer rings, when the scent of freshly baked cake seems to suddenly fill every nook in my home alerting anyone who is paying attention that it. is. ready.

I was still in quite a bit of pain, but I couldn't resist, and so one Monday afternoon, Eugene came home from the gym to find me cracking eggs in the kitchen. "What's going on here? Are you baking again?"

"I'm trying," I replied, moderating my response so as to not get his hopes up.

Inspired Living: 5 Fun Ways to Spice Up Your Cooking Life

As much as I love to cook, there are some weeks when even I find myself stuck in the middle of a total kitchen rut, with energy for little more than rifling through the take-out menu drawer. Inspired by the many "spice things up in the bedroom" articles that cross my desk as part of my (not-at-all-food-related) day job, I decided to create a similar list of quirky tips to help put the fun back in the other oh-so-important room in your house:

1. Make a Culinary Wish (list)
Sit down one day and write down anything (and everything!) that you've ever wanted to try making. Think dishes from restaurants you'd love to recreate at home, or something you love, but which has always seemed too daunting to try. (My own list includes things like "learn to bake fluffy and buttery homemade croissants" and "buy a real truffle and shave over scrambled eggs.") Don't edit yourself when making the list by worrying about cost or skill; just add every crazy and delicious thing you can think of--the details will work themselves out later. When you've got it all down, post the list somewhere conspicuous like the fridge or a pantry door where you're sure to spot it regularly. Whenever you start to feel a little bored or uninspired with cooking, take a peek at the list and pick one wild thing that really excites you...then give it a try!

2. Schedule a Play Date
Set aside one weekend a month where the cooking is just for fun...and just for you! If you have a family, arrange with your husband (or wife) so that they take care of food for themselves and the kids, or keep a back-up plan in place (read: phone number to the local pizza parlor)...then just play! Make whatever you want--an elaborate cake, homemade bread, a vegetarian meatloaf, liver pate...the sky is the limit! Don't worry about having to feed anyone or perfecting anything; just enjoy the time cooking. It it comes out fabulously, you can celebrate! If not, throw it in the trash and grab a slice of pizza with the kids. You just might surprise yourself!

3. Become a "Cheftestant"
Make your own "Top Chef" style challenges. On the popular cooking shows, the chef contestants are always being challenged to make delicious dishes with quirky obstacles. This could be a tight budget, having to buy all the ingredients in a 99 cent store, using only food of a certain color, or inspired by a particular film. Take a tip from those shows and create similar challenges for yourself. If you have friends or relatives who also love to cook, invite them to join in on the fun by setting a challenge for everyone to follow on the same weekend or even just within the same month. Then get creative and see what you come up with. You can host a potluck to share all the crazy dishes, or just share your pictures and results via a blog or e-mail chain. When you realize how much you can do when you let your creativity take over, you might find yourself a little more inspired on the other days of the week.

4. Talk to Strangers
In the market the other day, a woman asked me if I knew how to cook with a vegetable she had just noticed. She had no idea that I'm a food blogger and writer, but she saw me looking at them too so she gave it a shot. I gave her a couple ideas on how to prep the vegetable (sunchokes, in this case) and gave her my favorite recipe for a sunchoke soup. It might seem random, but why not follow that lady's lead and ask your butcher or another shopper at the store who is buying the same thing you're buying how they usually prepare it? If you go to a farmer's market, the farmers will usually be happy to talk to you about ways to use their produce. Or if you're in a small cafe or restaurant that you frequent, ask the owner or chef if he's willing to share the recipe for that dish you always order. You never know what you might find out!

5. Go Back in Time
Try to remember the first dish you successfully ever made by yourself. That could be a batch of back-of-the-box sugar cookies made with your mom looking over your shoulder when you were a little girl, or some simply sauteed chicken cutlets your second semester of college. Mine was a light and airy microwaved lemon pudding cake that I found in one of my mom's 80s "Microwave Cookery" books when I was about 10 and just starting to get curious about the kitchen. Whatever you early dish was, think back to the way it felt to make it, and (this part is key) make it again! Try and track down the original recipe (I spent a while hunting in my parent's house to find the exact sticky microwave book), or come up with the best approximation that you can. The mere act of thinking about that dish--and making and tasting it again--could be just enough to waken the excitement that the kitchen once held.

Your Turn: What tricks or ideas do you have for getting out of a kitchen rut?


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Thanks for reading!

(photo credit in this post only: iStockphoto.com)

Always Order Dessert and The LAMP Finalists for "Most Creative" Fundraiser!

Some of you might remember that back in June of this year, Always Order Dessert (aka "I") teamed up with the awesome media literacy nonprofit The LAMP for a delicious bake-off to benefit their many incredible education programs for children, teens, and their parents. The event proved a success, and we just recently learned that the Classy Awards have named us one of the Top 5 finalists for the "Most Creative Fundraiser" in New York category.  Awesome, huh?

Your online vote could help us win the City Award, which would then bring us one step closer to winning the National Award of $10,000--all of which would go to The LAMP to help them continue the amazing work they've been doing in the community.

Now that would be the best dessert of all!

Click here to vote for us to win the Classy Award for "Most Creative Fundraiser."

Thank you for your continued support!!!

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