Martha Graham vs. The Keystone Cops

I am accident prone. I just am. In fact, I always have been. When I was a little girl I skinned my knee and proceeded to fall and hurt that same exact spot countless times. It finally got super gross and mom had to take me to the doctor. On the way to the car heading to the doctor, I tripped over a tree branch and fell on it again. I have a scar to prove it.

Another time, when I was even younger, like a toddler, mom tells me she walked into my room and found me with a coat hanger wedged in my throat (the hook part - go figure). She panicked but very gingerly managed to remove it. I also opened the tremendously heavy front door of our house over my foot, which caused a huge cut. Mom put me up on the kitchen counter and told me I was very brave as she poured peroxide over it. I have a scar to prove it.

A few years ago after some openings and cocktails in Chinatown, a friend and I thought it would be fun to give me a piggy back ride – while running – back to the car. He tripped and I flew over his head and slid down the sidewalk on my face. No scar, thank God, but I do have a picture to prove it. I believe Heather entitled it “Eyeface”.

I have wrecked more bikes, stubbed more toes, and had more concussions than I’d like to count or admit. I bonk into corners of coffee tables, bed frames, door frames, you name it. I sometimes even close my own foot in the car door. I am, simply, a klutz.

But not in the kitchen. I wield large, sharp knives, juggle heavy pots and pans over high flames, I pivot and swirl with all sorts of dangerous kitchen equipment and delicate foods with nary a glitch. Why is this, I wonder? 

On Oscar night, my mom came over to bake bread, and cake and cook dinner and watch the awards with me. It was pretty over the top, the amount of action going on in my little kitchen. We baked a rustic loaf and a Parmesan-black olive loaf of bread. Dinner was a salad of shaved fennel, thinly sliced white mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, over mache, with a dressing of Meyer lemon, walnut oil and sea salt, and slices of pork tenderloin sautéed in ginger, garlic, soy and fish sauce over jasmine rice. For dessert we baked a polenta cake with a citrus glaze and homemade vanilla whipped cream. Everything was perfect.

Then, later in the evening, I was outside, lost my footing and had a colossal wipe out causing my knee, elbow and wrist to eat major concrete. It looked horrifying (and still does), and I have been having a hard time with movement, in general, ever since. And I’m sure I will have the scars to prove it. I guess I’m not surprised. I suppose I was overdue. It had been quite some time since the last incident, as far as I can recall.

How bizarre is it that I am like Martha Graham in the kitchen and then a Keystone Cop once I go out  into the world? 

I don’t have the answer, but I do have the recipe for that polenta cake.

Rosemary-Citrus Polenta Cake with a Rosemary-Citrus Syrup
(Recipe from Edward Schneider in the New York Times Diner's Journal)

1 stick unsalted butter
1 ½ cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 scant tsp salt
¾ cup polenta
5 eggs (at room temperature)
¾ cup sugar
Zest of ½ Meyer lemon
Zest of ½ small orange
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees and prepare a 9-inch spring-form cake pan (buttered and floured).

Melt butter and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt and polenta. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, whip together eggs and sugar until they are airy and have more than doubled in volume. Add the lemon and orange zests and rosemary.

Carefully fold in about a third of the dry ingredients and half of the melted butter, and repeat until everything is incorporated. Scrape into the cake pan and bake for 35-40 minutes; the sides should come slightly away from the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. It will appear dry but moisture will be added soon.

For the syrup:
1 big branch of rosemary, chopped
½ cup water
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of ½ Meyer lemon
Zest of ½ small orange
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon

Make this syrup while the cake is in the oven. In a small pot, cook water and sugar over medium-high heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rosemary and the lemon and orange zests. Bring to a boil, and let it steep, simmering, for 15 minutes, then strain and reserve. Before using, add the lemon juice.

When the cake has cooled for 10 minutes, spoon the syrup evenly over the cake (still in the pan). Let it soak and cool in the pan, then remove. Serve at room temperature, with vanilla whipped cream, either spooned on top or sandwiched in the middle.

Vanilla whipped cream
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup chilled crème fraîche
4 teaspoons powdered sugar
1 1 1/2-inch piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise


Combine whipping cream, crème fraîche, and powdered sugar in medium bowl. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; reserve bean. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until soft peaks form. Add reserved vanilla bean to cream mixture; cover and chill at least 2 hours.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 4 hours ahead. Keep chilled. Remove vanilla bean and re-whisk cream mixture until thick before using.


  1. Ouch! thank goodness you are good in the kitchen! Your Oscar menu sounds wonderful, and I hope you and your mom had a great time!

  2. We really did! Thanks so much! I'm healing well...


  3. This is so sophisticated and delicate. I have made polenta cakes before, but this one is so refined. I love it. GREG

  4. Eat cake, not concrete.

  5. Greg,
    I'm glad it looks good to you. If you make the recipe, let me know how it turns out!