A culinary wrap on 2021—with cake, of course.

A culinary wrap on 2021—with cake, of course.

Shikha Kaiwar

This year was just as dumpster fiery as the last. But we all love a good end of year wrap so here are my reflections on food and life in 2021. I'm also giving y'all recommendations for books, podcasts, and recipes that will pique your interest if you're looking for more food things (and if you're reading this, I assume you are).

And then there's a recipe for butternut squash cake! Statistically speaking, it is 10.5x better than pumpkin cake, and I promise that making your own puree is easy and more fun than scooping it from a can. Plus, now you got a cool flex whenever you feed this to people. Cool not weird!

Okay, here we go: Best and worst thing I ate this year:

Best: Tomatoes in Crete. The volcanic soils and cool island winds provide ideal conditions to grow tomatoes—who knew?! I never thought I'd be a hype girl for tomatoes but I'm not gonna turn down fruit that's this unbelievably sweet, refreshing, and filling. I'm not stupid!
Worst: I try not to eat bad food cuz you never know when something will be your last meal, but I did eat some weird cheese last week. It was a local cow's cheese with pieces of cranberry but it was the most dry and vapid thing ever.

My favorite books and podcasts this year:

I had a grand plan to read more this year but lol. I did particularly love Crying in H Mart, India Calling, and Wintering. Each of these represent the genres I read most—memoir, food, and creativity. I did not like A Promised Land, sorry Barack—it was very boring. I still haven't found a food podcast I religiously listen to, but I enjoyed the Splendid Table for interesting interviews and Proof for food origin stories.

Favorite and least favorite thing I made this year:

Favorite: Puff pastry! I had a lot of extra time this year (more on that below) and finally started making puff pastry at home...also because readymade puff pastry in London is NOT good. I make a rough puff that doesn't take all day and tastes amazing—check out the layers on this hand pie!
Least favorite: A greengage puff pastry tart that I made using storebought puff pastry. It was gummy and tasteless and the greengages (which are basically smaller plums) shriveled and looked so ugly. Never again.

What vibe was my food on this year:

Seasonal and simple. I didn't have the energy to experiment too much with techniques or fine dining tricks from my restaurant days. This year, pastry was purely for comfort and for exploring London produce.

No filter, butternut squash is really this pretty!

The thing I ate the most this year:

Biscuits. It took me forever to figure out how to adapt my recipe to our tiny UK oven. After several months, I finally got it. My US recipe is here, stay tuned for the UK version.

The best restaurant I ate at:

Restaurant Jan in Nice, France. They served French-South African cuisine, but the best part was their secret cheese room, which is exactly what you think it is—an entire room devoted to CHEESE. A+ for surprise and delight, it was unreal.

A room. full. of. cheese. 

What I'm most proud of this year:

Not having a complete mental breakdown every month. This year was creative garbage for me. I felt like a shell of a human addicted to scrolling, and I did the absolute least when it came to writing, cooking, and even working. I ungracefully cycled through two jobs, telling myself I was doing the right thing by standing up for myself, but really it shook my confidence in cooking, hustling, or networking. I (still) feel jealous of all the people around me creating effusively, but maybe I just really needed a year off?

I did publish a book and this essay, so that's cool too.

The stupidest thing I ate this year:

London pizza—WHY ARE YOU SO BAD. After valiantly trying several different pizza deliveries and finding them all soggy, bland, and worst of all, UNSLICED, we now only eat Domino's and Papa Johns. We tried.

What recipe was surprisingly good this year:

This butternut squash cake! Unlike in the US, cans of pumpkin puree do not overflow the baking aisle in the fall here. What is available however, are creates of oblong, knobbly, orange and green-hued gourds waiting to be hacked into something edible. What started as an urge to satisfy my basic bitch pumpkin craving turned into a spree of roasting, pureeing, and baking butternut squash into this gorgeous loaf.

Why butternut squash? One, it's the most common squash to find. Two, it's naturally sweeter than pumpkin, so you don't need to add as much sugar. It's less fibrous, so the overall cake is lighter, meaning you can eat two (or three!) slices and it ain't no thang.

I like to top my squash cake with whipped cream and something crunchy for texture—cocoa nibs, nuts, or if you're really getting into it, roasted and caramelized seeds from the squash itself. What's the word for nose-to-tail baking?

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