Hey, isn't that the raisin cake from yesterday? Yes, but today we have the story of the raisin cake.

One of the privileges of being a published author is the ability to make a magazine-style pun headline out of my own book. The fact that about 12 people in the world may get it, and I’m related to most of them, takes nothing away from the feeling that I have arrived.

So, the explanation behind the pun is a really lovely story. One of the sweetest people (no pun intended there) I’ve come to know via the book is Cookie Baker Lynn, who does a gorgeous website of all the great things she bakes. After visiting her site, I considered hanging up my baking sheets forever and just going back to doing whatever it was I did before I started baking things for The Hubbins to take to work. Until I remembered that what I did was buy pretty-but-manufactured crap or very-pretty-and-pretty-expensive bakery goods. Hm. So I turned that jealous frown upside down and figured I could be inspired by Lynn and her cookie-baking ways. Thus was I led to another on-ramp toward the happy path of destiny.

Lynn wrote an incredible review of Cherries in Winter, for which I am indebted to her many times over. Then she managed to trump that: On a day when I’d come across a review of CIW that was a little less than incredible–in fact, it was a tad more than unkind–I got a box in the mail. It was a package of Trader Joe’s Raisins, big fat juicy ones, and a beautiful card from Lynn.

As any cookie baker worth her pinch of salt can tell you, timing is everything, and the timing of this package couldn’t have been better for me. Instead of spending my morning wondering whether I was a worse baker or writer, I tore open that package of TJ’s raisins and baked a raisin spice cake in honor of Lynn and her support of baking-challenged writers like myself.

My base recipe comes from one of my other favorite bakers–Edward Espe Brown, the baking Zen Buddhist priest and author of the renowned Tassajara Bread Book, among other cookbooks. I’ve cited Edward as an inspiration in an article I wrote for O, the Oprah Magazine, and my lack of prowess is not his fault at all. In fact, he’d remind me that baking is a process, just like meditation.

So, thank you to Lynn and Edward, who inspire and support me and countless others; such is the power of baked goods.

Raisin Spice Cake
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2-3/4 cup (depending on your sweet tooth) blackstrap molasses or brown rice syrup
1 1/2 cups milk or soy milk or vanilla soymilk or even almond soymilk; go wild!
Generous 1/2 cup of raisins–black, gold, red, mixed, whatever

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine dry ingredients in one bowl.
In another bowl, mix up those wet ingredients.
Dry meets wet as east meets west–gently, mixing slowly. Expect a few lumps and you won’t be disappointed.
Fold in raisins.
Pour mixture into a greased loaf pan.
Bake spicy little raisin loaf for about 40 minutes. Set kitchen timer in case you’re meditating while baking. Test center for doneness; if toothpick or shish-kebab rod comes out clean, you’re done meditating. If not, five-ish more minutes or until test probe comes out clean. Cool and then perform eating meditation ritual with a cup of tea or java.


This looked so much more delicious in person, but it was the best I could do at 6:47 this morning.

The “Earth Mama” part of the name refers to the good-for-you, wavy-gravy additions of flax seed and wheat germ. It reminds me of the time during the health-food movement of the ’70s that Mom switched me from Jif on Wonder Bread to natural peanut butter with the oil floating on top spread on nubby whole wheat. I freaked, but she just said, “Eat it.” (She didn’t take much lip from me.) Fortunately this banana bread doesn’t taste like it’s good for you–it just is.

Also, I’ve been trying to use natural sugars such as blackstrap molasses and agave nectar instead of refined sugar. Happily, the molasses goes really well with the coffee (the “Java” part) in this recipe–thanks, Mollie Katzen, author of the great Moosewood Cookbook series, for that tip! And thanks to Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker of The Joy of Cooking for providing the basis for this now-modified, hippie-fied, caffeinated recipe.

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
blackstrap molasses
agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 egg
1 Tablespoon flax seed (ground)
1/4 cup wheat germ
1-2 really ripe bananas
1/4-1/3 cup strong coffee or decaf
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
handful of chopped walnuts (optional)
a dash of nutmeg (optional)

Yep, I know I didn’t give any amounts for the sweet stuff. No worries, we’ll get to that.
Preheat oven to 350. Butter or oil a loaf pan.
Mix all dry ingredients together.
In a separate bowl, stir together oil, egg, and lemon zest. Add 1/3 cup of molasses and 1/4 cup of agave nectar. Mix and add to dry ingredients.
Add coffee and mix a little.
At this point, the mixture isn’t going to be too sweet. For a darker, stronger banana bread, add 1/4 cup more molasses. For lighter and sweeter, add 1/4 cup more agave nectar. Mix.
Break up bananas into little pieces and add with walnuts. Stir in lightly; don’t over-mix.
Add batter to loaf pan and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick or shish-kebab rod comes out of the middle clean. Let cool before slicing.
Enjoy with milk, soymilk, or, for the java-addicted, more coffee.