Yesterday evening there was a goodbye party for Margo in the Coop garden. Margo has lived in the building for decades, but it’s starting to get difficult for her to climb four flights of stairs, so she’s moving into an assisted living community. Margo has led a pretty spectacular life. She was a foreign service officer’s wife, living abroad on several different continents. Along the way, she picked up Buddhism and still meditates daily and makes regular retreats to Buddhist monasteries.
The weather for her potluck party was gray and I had an urge to bake, like I always do on rainy days, so I made a blueberry crumb cake. On our way downstairs, cake in hand, we ran into Barbara, who was carrying a platter of caviar mousse. It was Margo’s recipe, one that she was famous for back in her foreign service days. It was delicious and beautiful, formed in a ring mold, polka dotted with caviar and chopped egg.
In the garden, there were a handful of residents at first and a nice assortment of food and wine, but then people started turning in off the sidewalk and up our steps with cake boxes and bowls of pasta salad. They were old residents, people who had moved out of the building 2, 5, 10, or even 15 years ago. There was a former marine, who Margo taught to meditate and who became her regular meditation companion. There was a couple with two 8 or 10 year old boys, who were born in the building. It was a wonderful mix of young and old, people whose lives Margo has touched and who came to celebrate her.
Margo reminds me of my childhood neighbor, Mr. Lieberman, who lived past one hundred and taught classes at Bunker Hill Community College into his late nineties. My dad always idolized Mr. Lieberman, his spirit, his energy, and his drive. They would stop each other on the sidewalk to talk, my dad treating Mr. Lieberman with the utmost respect. Margo is my Mr. Lieberman, that person who inspires me to live life a little fuller, a little slower, and with a lot more grace (and to find a signature dish as elegant and tasty as her caviar mousse). She will be greatly missed.
Blueberry Cornmeal Butter Cake from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. cornmeal
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
1/3 c. sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
2 c. blueberries, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 c. sugar
6 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. cornmeal
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, COLD and cut into small pieces
Preheat oven to 350*.
Line the bottom of an 8×8″ square pan with parchment paper, and then butter and flour the pan.
Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, for at least 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition, then add the vanilla and zest.
Then add a third of the flour mixture, all of the sour cream/yogurt, and another third of the flour mixture – beating until just blended after each addition.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix the remaining third of flour mixture with the blueberries. Gently fold the blueberry-flour mixture into the cake batter.
Spread the cake batter into the prepared pan.
For the streusel topping, combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. Mash in the COLD butter pieces with a fork, your fingertips, or pastry blender. Scatter the topping evenly over the batter.
Bake the cake 35 minutes until the top is golden brown and center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Run a knife or spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake, then flip out onto a wire cooling wrack (flipping again to make it right-side-up).
Keeps well in a covered container. If keeping for more than 24 hours, refrigerate in a covered container.