I first met Ashley Rodriguez, the creator of Not Without Salt, and her husband Gabe at a photography workshop in Seattle. They were bubbly and sweet, each of their personalities naturally feeding off of the other’s as they demonstrated the inner-workings of a camera. In between teachings, they’d make playful jabs and jokes accompanied by a wink and a smile.
As a newly married woman at the time, I remember thinking: How do they do it? How do they stay so damn cute and connected even with three kids under the age of ten? I don’t have kids myself and, if I’m being totally honest here, part of my hesitation in doing so is because I’m a little nervous about how parenthood might change my relationship with my husband. But they were making it look easy!
Let me be clear before I continue on: I realize the unparalleled joy that children bring to the world. I see it in my own family members. I see it in my friends. But as a sociologist, I’m also aware that, on average, marital satisfaction decreases significantly for both women and men following the birth of their first child. That sounds so clinical, but, sadly, it’s true. New babies require lots of time, energy, and money, which can ultimately tug at the sweet strings that bind two people together in lifelong partnership. This is because at the end of the day, most couples are too physically and mentally exhausted to invest in connecting with one another, most using every free moment for much-needed “me time” in the form of social media updates and precious sleep. (I’m occasionally guilty of doing this myself after a long day at work!)
Some lucky new parents have family nearby to help care for children. The Sheryl Sandbergs of the world have nannies and excellent workplace support, both of which can ease the “growing apart” experience felt by so many new parent couples. But most people aren’t this fortunate. In fact, while issues of work-life balance exist around the globe, something most people don’t realize is that they are particularly bad here in the U.S., where we offer less social and organizational support to families than almost any other industrialized nation in the world. Undoubtably one reason why so many couples have to resort to such individualized solutions to maintain balance.
In her new book, Ashley very honestly describes how in addition to the overwhelming joy that comes with parenthood, she also experienced some of this feeling of loss in her own marriage, saying “the neglect to our marriage started to become clear, as we began to feel more like roommates than husband and wife” (Rodriguez 2014, p.4). The pair began a standing date night each week to keep their connectedness fresh, creating a meal and cocktails together at home every Thursday.
A couple-level strategy to rekindle their connection. A strategy to maintain their loving bond. And a strategy that would eventually inspire her new cookbook, fittingly titled Date Night In.
In the book, Ashley chronicles the history of her relationship with Gabe, seemlessly weaving stories of their earlier dates with creative recipes that span the seasons. And given the ubiquity of the work-family balancing act felt by so many, it’s not surprising that her readers have responded, overwhelmingly in fact, relating to her words, experiences, and creative “date night in” solution to nourishing a relationship with a growing family in tow.
I’ve read Ashley’s book cover-to-cover and have been taken aback by the inventive recipes, stunning photography, and tender and emotional story-telling that she weaves throughout. More than that, though, I applaud her for so courageously talking about a marital experience to which so many couples can relate.
So for today’s recipe, I’m making a cake inspired by a recipe in Date Night In. It’s a Rainbow Chip Cake, which I’m using to celebrate my birthday and C+M’s one-year blogiversary (eek!) Ashley is a professional baker, so I knew this recipe would be a winner. Its colorful dotted interior, made with homemade rainbow chips (!), is light and airy thanks to the addition of whipped egg whites and crumbles softly at the touch of a spoon. The rainbow chips, and by the way I’m still in awe that these are homemade, melt in your mouth as you chew similar to the way M&Ms will if left to linger on your tongue. The cream cheese frosting, which I dyed blush-hued in an embarrassingly cheesy tribute to the upcoming Valentine’s Day, was fluffy and sweet. Its sugary bits carrying on in my mouth even after the cake had disappeared.
The best part, though, was that this cake was the centerpiece of my own date night in with my husband following a long week of work-related travel and obligations. It was a night in which we feasted on mussels, drank fine wine, and washed it all down with the bright colorful sweetness that can only be found in a rainbow chip cake, all while playfully joking about how I’m now another year closer to 30.
I’m so thankful for the genuine honesty and emotion behind Ashley’s book and also that it has given me window of opportunity for speaking about a social issue so near and dear to my heart in this little space of mine. But more than that, I’m just glad she shared this ingenious and fun recipe with the world because it means many more rainbow-cake filled dates and celebrations as I enter the next year of life and embark on my second year of blogging!
- 11 ounces of white chocolate bars, broken into squares
- Assorted food coloring (I used red, blue, green, and yellow)
- 5 egg whites
- 1 cup of half and half, divided
- 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract
- ¼ cup of cornstarch
- 1½ cup of cake flour
- 1¼ cup of all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1¾ cups of granulated sugar
- ¾ cups of unsalted butter, room temperature plus more for greasing pans
- 1 cup of homemade rainbow chips
- 24 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
- ½ cup of unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3 cups of powdered sugar
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
- food coloring of your choice (optional; I used 5 drops of red for a pink cake)
- Place the white chocolate pieces in a large bowl and microwave on medium power (5 on most microwaves) in 20-30 second intervals, stirring at the end of each interval, until melted. Divide the chocolate into four bowls and add several drops of food coloring to each one, stirring quickly to incorporate. The number of drops is up to you. Just play with it until you get it as saturated as you like it. (I did about 8 drops per bowl.) If the white chocolate starts to harden, microwave it again on medium power until it gets melted again.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pour the contents of the colored chocolate out onto the sheet, keeping the colors separate as best you can. Smooth out the chocolate until it is roughly ¼ inch thick. Place baking sheet in the freezer to harden the chocolate. Once the chocolate has set, about 10-15 minutes, remove from the freezer and chop into small pieces, about the size of an M&M. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use, up to one week.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom of 2 9-inch round baking pans with butter. Depending on what kind of bakeware you use, you may want to use buttered parchment paper to line the pans so the cakes release easily from them. If you're using professional-grade non-stick cake pans, plain butter will work fine--no need for parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy, about 1 minute. Add ¼ cup of the half-and-half and vanilla extract, whisking to incorporate. Set aside.
- In the large bowl of a standing mixer (or a large bowl if you're using a handheld electric mixer), add the cornstarch, cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar and mix on low for 30 seconds. Add the butter and ¾ cups of half and half, continuing to mix on low until combined. Once well combined, increase to medium speed and beat for 1 minute, making sure to scrape down the sides as you go.
- Return the mixer to low speed and incorporate ⅓ of the egg white mixture. Once it's incorporated incorporate the second ⅓ of the egg white mixture and then the final third, continuing to beat until combined and making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl as you go. Add the rainbow chips and mix on low until incorporated.
- Dived the batter between two pans, smoothing out the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cakes are slightly golden on the top and spring back easily to the touch. Remove them from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes.
- Flip the cakes out onto a clean work surface or, if you're preparing to use the day before, wrap them in saran wrap and refrigerate until ready to frost.
- While the cakes are cooling, prepare the frosting.
- Beat the cream cheese and butter on low speed using a standing mixer or with a handheld mixer in a large bowl until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla and return the mixer to low speed until combined. Increase the speed on the mixer to medium and beat 3 additional minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add food coloring if you want a colored cake. If you prefer white, don't add anything.
- Place the first cake piece on a cake stand or sheet. If you notice either of your cakes have jagged edges or are puffed up in the middle, use a serrated knife to even them out. Take just under ⅓ of the frosting and spread it evenly on top of the first layer. Stack the second layer on top of it and do the same for the top of the cake. Take the final ⅓ of the frosting and spread it evenly on the sides of the cake.