Comfort Food

Now that my sweetie and I have had both of our vaccines, we celebrated by having a very dear friend, who has had both of his vaccines, too, come to dinner. I cooked a “comfort food meal,” and for dessert I made a delicious carrot cake with a light glaze of cream cheese frosting. Like many of my favorite recipes, this one has a story attached, the story of me.

When I moved to Austin, TX in 1978, I found out there was no reciprocity for my hairdresser’s license here. Although I had been working as a hairdresser for two years in NY, I had to go back to beauty school to earn more credits for a Texas license. This was not what I expected!

To make ends meet, I worked evenings at the Austin Opera House slinging cocktails and buckets of beer. The music was good, the tips were great, and I made my first friend there, Terry. Her husband was a musician and her sister worked at Austin Public Library – she’s the one who told me about a part-time day job in the Children’s section of the library.

I was hired, and I was in Heaven. I worked with amazing people in a beautiful new library. Books everywhere! About six months later there was an opening next door in the Central Texas Library System film department that offered a few more hours, a little extra money, very interesting work, and another group of interesting and creative people.

Many of us were working towards something – a masters in library science, a masters in archival studies, degrees in public administration, library management, or creative writing and theater. I was working my way back toward enough credits for my cosmetology license.

Along the way, I developed wonderful friendships and became part of the tribe that made up the Austin arts and music scene in the 80’s. The early Capitol 10K races! Carnival Brasiliero! Liberty Lunch! Whole Foods! Armadillo Christmas Bazaar! Fiesta! at Laguna Gloria, Spamarama! Zilker Hillside Summer Musicals!

Soon, I was happily divorced, had earned my cosmetology degree… and began cutting hair at my kitchen table, or in good weather, out on my patio. A year or two later, and I was cutting most of the Austin Public Library staff’s hair, and a bunch of the local artists, artisans, actors, writers and musicians. That’s when I decided it was time to open my first salon. Many of the friends made then remained my clients for my whole 30+ year career.

This recipe was given to me by my boss, Biruta. She was a beautiful woman who looked very much like Ali Macgraw. She was an exceptional hostess, and a delicious cook, whose whole lifestyle exuded what is now being called a “Scandi” aesthetic: simple beauty and naturally elegant furniture and textiles. None of this was what I had grown up with at all – and I admired her style tremendously.

This is her carrot cake recipe… the original copy she handed me, jotted in her neat handwriting from 40 years ago, now stained, wrinkled and splattered from many great cakes.

You have the option of more white flour than whole wheat, but I always make it equal. I grate my carrots in a Cuisinart now, rather than by-hand using a box grater. My cream cheese frosting is just one 8 Oz. package of Neufchâtel at room temp mixed with enough powdered sugar to make it sweet, but not disgustingly so – about 1 Cup – and a teaspoon of vanilla. My electric oven baked it in 30 mins. Check with a toothpick for doneness. Let cool to room temp before frosting, then chill in fridge to set icing. 12 servings, more or less.

Bon Appétit!
XO Donna

8 thoughts on “Comfort Food

  1. Kathleen

    I loved this blog, everything about it. I especially love the copy of your recipe. I have a TON of those, all earmarked from previous uses.

  2. Laurie Scott Mahaffey

    Thanks for this wonderful story and recipe! So glad you moved here & helped me with my hair all those years. It has been a joy to know you. I’m retired now & see my grandboys weekly. Take care.

    • I am glad I moved here, too, Laurie! We got the best of Austin, I believe, and we had great times together. So many wonderful memories. I always loved doing your hair!
      Enjoy your retirement – and two grands – that’s great. I look forward to catching up with you soon. Much love!
      XO Donna

  3. The cake looks delicious – and the story behind the recipe was great. Enjoyed reading about your first bit of time in Austin. Also fun to read about “Scandi” aesthetic, since I am from Scandinavia…

    • Yes, you are! I wanted to write about Biruta’s mother Hagar, too. She was a renowned weaver who had a large loom in her living room, but little more than a beautiful chair with a sheepskin throw and comfortable wooden dining table for friends!
      So very nice to hear from you, Otto!
      XO Donna

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