On a warm summer night in 1985, I awoke somewhere between our house and the next door neighbors’. I was in my father's arms, and we were headed somewhere fast. What in the heck was going on? Before I knew it, I was standing in the neighbors’ doorway clad only in my giraffe pajamas, that’s what. I won’t bore you with the details of the neighbors’ gigantic, snarly dog that had to be barricaded in a back room to prevent it from eating me alive. But let’s get one thing straight: On the night that Little Sister Number One was born, I sacrificed, people. I risked life and limb.

My bravery would be rewarded.

Today, dear reader, we celebrate the woman who single handedly granted me that most cherished title, Big Sister. There would be more little siblings to come, but you, sis, were the first. Happy birthday, Kasey.

From the very beginning, poor Kasey put up with a lot. In true big sister fashion, all I can say is, “Don’t look at me.” Her ridiculously squishable cuteness was to blame. I had no choice but to squeeze her pink, doughy cheeks between my hands whenever her face was within reach. This gesture would not have been complete without an appropriate cheek-squishing sound effect. I was more than happy to supply one. Here it is, for the first time ever in print: “Kweeek!”

I’m not sure how she managed it, but unlike most of us who move in the general direction of less cuteness as we age, Kasey just kept getting cuter. Two decades later, my family still has not recovered from a certain backyard sprinkler and water balloon scene, when a young Kasey in a soaked-through tank top performed a seriously rocked-out rendition of “It’s raining, it’s pouring.” I don’t think we ever will.

Kasey and I traded many kicks under the dinner table, and vehement denials, of course. But we were also partners in crime. There was the recipe-less baking experiment that included the questionable combination of peanut butter and maple syrup. Somehow, it ended up tasting sort of like Mom’s honey cake. Success! And who could forget our stage-worthy choreography to Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up?” We were hot. Just ask anyone who ever sat on our living room sofa and watched us lip-synch our hearts out.

Kasey is a taster, the kind you want at your table when you’ve taken great pains to prepare a special meal. She walks in the door already wide-eyed and sniffing about, asking questions, sighing and swooning before she even takes a bite. And when the dishes are done, she soundly whoops you in a game of Speed Scrabble (a.k.a. Bananagrams). The whole thing is very gratifying.

She keeps me honest. She keeps me real. When she throws back her head and laughs, whether it’s at me or with me, I can’t resist cracking a smile. Ohhh Kasey. I just love you so much. Thank you for moving to Boston so that I can squish your cutie, 24-year-old cheeks any time.

(And no, I’m not making a face at you. As Mom would say, my face “just looks like that.”)

Ginger Sour Cream Bundt Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2009

Don’t worry, Kasey, I haven’t forgotten. I know which cake you want for your birthday, and I’ll happily bake it for you just as soon as we’re back from the West Coast. To tide you over, how about a slice of this ginger cake? I have a feeling you’re going to like it. You too, dear readers. This cake features a delicate armor of turbinado sugar that gives way to a soft and buttery crumb. The original recipe includes chopped, crystallized ginger, but I leave it out. I like my slice with a smear of raspberry jam. It’s perfect for a mid-morning snack, with a cup of tea. This cake also dresses up nicely with whipped cream and strawberries spooned over top.

Softened butter (for brushing pan)
½ c. raw sugar (also called turbinado or demerara sugar)
2 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
4 t. ground ginger
2 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c. granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 t. vanilla extract
1 c. sour cream

1. Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Brush softened butter generously all over the inside of 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle the raw sugar over the buttered pan. Tilt and shake the pan to coat completely.

2. Whisk the flour, ground ginger, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add 2 cups granulated sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until blended, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the 1 egg yolk and vanilla. Stop to scrape down the bowl, as needed.

3. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with the sour cream in 2 additions. (That means start and end with an addition of flour.) Beat on low speed after each addition until just blended. Pour the batter into the pan, being careful not to dislodge the raw sugar.

4. Bake until the top is light brown, and a tester inserted near the center comes out with a few small crumbs attached, 50-60 minutes. On a rack, cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Then, gently tap the bottom edge of the pan on the counter, while rotating the pan. When the cake loosens, place the rack on top of the pan, and invert cake onto rack. Remove pan and cool completely.

Serves 12-14.


Anonymous said...


Amanda said...

I always wanted a sister, mainly because of those pinchable cheek qualities but also because of their high entertainment value.

Shannalee said...

Same goes for my brother, who, coincidentally, is also 24 - best friend I have. Don't you love siblings? Happy birthday, Kasey!

Nate Karol said...

The way you are able to describe people, sensations, feels, is a complete gift. First your step-mom, now your sister. Wow wow wow! The bundt cake doesn't sound so bad either! :)

Rogue Unicorn said...

" a delicate armor of turbinado sugar"- what a great image.
I'm loving these posts about your family. My little sis is currently my roommate, friend and official taster (also, she does dishes). Aren't siblings awesome?
Also, upon perusing through the recipes you've posted I discovered that Amy's recipe for Toffee Squares is precisely the same one that my surrogate grandmother makes (except we call them Toffee Bars). Those cookies were (and still are) the highlight of any trip to her house. I do believe they were also the first dessert I learned how to make as a kid. But no matter how many times I made them, nothing could beat Mrs. Anis' version. In short, any woman who makes Toffee Bars (or squares, as you will) must be pretty much perfect.

bluejeangourmet said...

um, yes, I believe I will be making this! I do love crystallized ginger, though, and finally managed to make some of my own (a la Alton Brown), but I know you won't mind if I include it.

always wanted to be an older sibling. you know, for cheek-squishing privileges and the like. happy birthday to your sis!

Kasey said...

Thanks everyone for the birthday wishes and the high praise for little sisters.

And thank YOU, Jess, for the post and for all of the delicious goodies that fill these squishable cheeks. After reading your blog, a couple friends tried to squish my face last night. It's a good thing you didn't put up a picture of me, or else I might have strangers coming after them, too!

nicole said...

I love your description of the turbinado armor :). Looks delicious!

Char said...

just found your blog (and your photography - wow) today. this is exactly how I feel about my baby sis. beautiful

Sprouted Kitchen said...

this looks so lovely! not to mention i love your writing!

Justin said...

ginger sour cream... yum. i was just commenting on another blog about perfect, simple cakes like these. i know people love show-stopper desserts, but it's tough to do better than these.

Lynn said...

Oh my. You make me wish I had a sister. Or, perhaps even more, you make me wish I were a little sister, with a big sister like you.

thomfech@aol.com said...

kweeeeeek to the cutie I've loved since her ruby slipper days.

Also in RE the sister dept,
Tonsillectomy Menu:
. 3 generous servings of Graeters coffee ice cream
. 1 grape popsicle
. Progresso chicken noodle soup straight from the can (promptly barfed up, btw)
. applesauce
. mashed potatoes with lots of salt and pepper
. Janet's cherry jello (hand-delivered in '30's era pressed glass goblets)
. Starbuck's mocha frappucino
. Arizona iced tea
. more water
. Juicy Juice Strawberry Kiwi


Jess said...

Anonymous - I think I can excuse the "yelling" in this case. (Or, in this uppercase, I should say. Ha!)

Amanda - It's a shame that you don't have a little sister, seeing as how you clearly understand their value.

Shannalee - Hooray for our sibs!

Nate! Thank you. Really. It helps that in both the family and the cake departments, I'm working with some great material.

Rogue Unicorn - Oh! Thank you for sharing your little sister and toffee bar love. I've always felt that those bars (or, squares, as we call them) are from a different time.

bluejeangourmet - I suppose we can still be friends. I actually love crystallized ginger, too - just not in my cake. What's this about making your own? Recipe please!

Kasey - What can I say? "Kweeek!" (And I love you.)

Nicole - Thank you. I just call it like I see it!

Char - Welcome! It's a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for your very kind words about my photography. My "models" happen to do an excellent job of holding still for the camera. I hope you'll stop by again soon.

Sprouted Kitchen - Thank you! That means a lot.

Justin - Agreed. Simple cakes are hard to beat. They provide a different kind of gratification - in the baking and in the eating - than the richer, oozier variety.

Lynn - What a very sweet note. Thank you.

Thomfech - Oh, poor Anna! I have to admit, the first couple of items on the tonsillectomy menu sound good to me (Graeter's! - black raspberry chip, please!). But after the grape popsicle, things seem to have gone downhill. (With the exception of Janet's jello, delivered in style, of course.)