“Hey Barb,” I chirped into the phone, hoping I sounded nonchalant. “You know our security deposit? Well. We’re, uh . . . we’re not getting that back.”
It was my first call to my roommate since we’d gotten the keys to our new apartment. I was standing in the living room surveying the debris field. Chaotic stacks of moving boxes littered the floor, as you might expect, but in front of me, the front doorframe lay in splinters on the floor. The door itself hung agape, swaying in the wind: a boat without a moor.
The tone of her voice took on a preparing-for-the-worst quality as she replied. “Uh-oh. What happened?” Do you want to know what happened, dear reader? I’ll tell you what happened.
It all started about an hour earlier, when I’d arrived in the parking lot of my new apartment complex with my dad and my brother, Alex, to begin moving in. We walked up the stairs and I began digging through my gigantic purse in search of my apartment key. I dug past lip gloss, receipts, gift cards, candy, my flashlight, my checkbook, my hippopotamus change purse, tampons, medicine, tissues, letters, my phone, several key rings . . .
I dug through that purse like an paleontologist for what seemed like an hour, uncovering months’ worth of fossilized garbage instead of cool dinosaur bones. And instead of, um, my apartment key.
Suddenly the awful realization dawned on me: I’d left the key at my parents’ house. I admitted this to my dad and we stared unhappily at the moving boxes we’d just hauled across town. We walked downstairs to consider our options.
We needn’t have worried, though, because Alex came down a few minutes later and relayed some “good” news: “The door’s open.”
“Wait, what?” I asked, thinking perhaps the apartment folks had left it unlocked for us. But you know where this is going. Alex didn’t mean that the door was unlocked. No. You know what Alex meant?
Alex meant that on my first day moving into my brand new apartment, he had just broken down my front door.
(Even better is that I don’t think he saw anything strange about this. He had kind of a, “Well, we had to get in, right?” attitude about the whole thing.)
As I stood in the living room relaying to Barbara that our new apartment had just been broken into (by, uh, my kid brother), I felt more than just my bank account plummet. The apartment didn’t feel so new and exciting anymore. My spirits fell. I’d been anxious about moving across town, moving in with a new roommate, and starting a new job; now it seemed my new living situation was already going poorly.
My dad returned the next day and fixed the door frame. A few nails, some spackle, and some paint and it was good as new. As for my morale, it took a little longer to improve. Barb is a magnets-on-the-refrigerator and tchotchkes-on-the-mantle person and I am not. The huge windows, while gorgeous, let in lots of cold air. The faucet in the kitchen was too low to fit a stock pot under.
Really, though, none of this was the issue. The issue was that I was in a new place and it just wasn’t home yet.
It’s been 3 years since I stood in front of my busted up doorway and broke the news to Barbara. I still don’t know if we’ll get our security deposit back. And as I mentioned to Kaitlin recently, I still don’t know that this is truly “home.”
But there have been plenty of moments that felt like “home” in this apartment. There was the time Mike walked in and saw the Valentine’s feast I’d prepared as a surprise for him. There was the time Barbara, Mike and I all decorated her Christmas tree together. There was the time I sat out on the balcony in the middle of a summer night all alone, writing poetry in the company of fireflies.
And there was the Make-Ahead Holiday Breakfast Party — Mike and I eating in our PJs by the fire, with little Byrd eating her breakfast between us.
This Gingerbread Coffee Cake was probably the easiest dish to prepare and also Mike’s favorite of the morning. The recipe began life as a regular gingerbread cake, but I revised it to include sour cream, cake flour, and a healthy dose of streusel on top to turn it into a coffee cake. It’s certainly Christmas-worthy! I hope you can find a little bit of “home” in it just like I did.
Gingerbread Coffee Cake with Cranberry Pecan Streusel
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, heavily adapted from Joy of Baking
Yields: 9-12 servings
This moist, gorgeous Gingerbread Coffee Cake is the perfect combination of sweet, spiced, crunchy, and comforting. The best part (besides the taste!) is that it can be made in advance and refreshed in the oven for just a few minutes before serving. You can even divide the preparation over a few days to ensure it fits into your holiday schedule. This was Mike’s favorite dish on our holiday breakfast table.
Coffee Cake Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses*
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
*Tip from Joy of Baking: To prevent the molasses from sticking to the measuring cup, first spray the cup with a non-stick vegetable spray.
Cranberry Pecan Streusel Ingredients:
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 cup chopped pecans (Oh Nuts! sent me Cranberry Pecans and they were so awesome for this!)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup apple cider
NOTE: If you wanted to make this cake way in advance, you could complete this recipe up to the point of wrapping and refrigerating the cake. Instead, you’d double wrap it and freeze it. Then you could just thaw it overnight in the fridge before warming it through in the oven and serving it.
2 days in advance: Place the cranberries and apple cider for the streusel into a small bowl and cover. Refrigerate to rehydrate the berries.
1 day in advance: Make the streusel. First, drain the cranberries. Combine the flour and brown sugar in a medium bowl and using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in the cold butter until you have crumbly streusel. Mix in the pecans and drained cranberries. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and make a foil sling for a 9-inch square baking pan: tear off 4, 16-inch long pieces of aluminum foil and fold them in half. Situate two side-by-side in the pan, covering the bottom of the pan to the edge (they will overlap). Situate the other two strips in the same manner, but perpendicular to the first. The overhanging foil of the sling will make it easy to remove the cake from the pan after baking and cooling. Butter and flour the sling.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. Set aside. In a separate large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy (at least 2-3 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the molasses, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl when you need to. Gently mix the sour cream and milk in a measuring cup. Add the dry ingredients and milk mixture alternately, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat until just combined.
Pour the batter into the buttered and floured baking pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for about 25 minutes before sprinkling the streusel evenly over the top of the cake (and kind of pressing it on). Continue baking for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool completely. Remove it from its pan using the foil sling and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap (I wrap the foil sling and all so I can just pop it back in the pan to refresh later on) and stick it in the fridge.
The morning of: Let the cake sit out and come to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pop it back in its pan and into the oven for a few minutes until warmed through. Let it cool for about 10 minutes.
P.S. Oh Nuts! sent me Cranberry Pecans to try free of charge. My opinions are always my own and always thoughtfully prepared with consideration for my readers — and I loved ‘em!