A Coconut Cake for Emily Dickinson

by Cara Nicoletti on June 10, 2014

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This post has been a long time coming. I’ve baked and photographed and eaten this coconut cake three times with the intention of sharing the recipe here, but up until now, you have not seen it. The problem wasn’t that the cake or the photographs weren’t good enough, the problem was that I couldn’t decide which story to connect this cake to. There is coconut cake in Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding, William Faulkner’s The Unvanquished, it even recently got a small mention in Ruth Reichl’s new novel, Delicious! I’ve been avoiding what I know is the best option—Emily Dickinson’s poem, “The Things that never can come back, are several”– which she wrote in scratchy but elegant handwriting on the back of a recipe for coconut cake. It is one of my favorite poems, but gut-wrenching enough that a giant, flamboyant coconut cake has never felt appropriate. This is hard when a giant, flamboyant coconut cake is what your heart craves, and nothing else—not even homeliest but most delicious coconut quickbread—will do.

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“Harriet The Spy” Tomato Sandwich

by Cara Nicoletti on May 22, 2014

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There are a handful of things that I do when I’m feeling really, really bad. I take a walk to the Brooklyn waterfront and climb the flimsy fence to sit on a rock and look at Manhattan across the water. I go to the farmers market to squeeze things, or the bookstore to smell things. I find the saddest plant in the hardware store and bring it home to my sunny kitchen to re-pot it, even though my windowsills are full. I make something my mom used to make me when I was a kid, like milky breakfast tea and cheese-toast, or I scrub my apartment until my knuckles hurt.
A lot of people (Beyonce included) like to say that all they want in life is to be happy, and that’s a good, honest desire, but just wanting it isn’t always enough. The thing that no one likes to say, is that sometimes you have to work at being happy.

When none of my usual happiness tricks work, I turn to the books I know best for comfort—the ones whose bindings are burst and pages are frayed. Often they’re serious, grown-up books—Slouching Towards Bethlehem or “The Fact of a Doorframe,” but the other day it was Harriet the Spy that pulled me out of my pity-hole.
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“The Middlesteins” Matzo Ball Soup

by Cara Nicoletti on May 5, 2014

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Sometimes you judge a book by its cover—that’s just a real life fact. Because I am who I am and I like what I like, I was drawn to Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins because of the French fries, cheeseburgers, and soda cups strewn across its cover. I read the book in one sitting a few weeks ago, on a bus ride home to Boston for a Passover feast with my family. It was timely, seeing as the book focuses on a suburban Jewish family—the eponymous Middlesteins—and their relationship to food.
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