Just about a year ago, my neighbor Helene walked into her midtown office at Bloomberg LP, where she was employed as in-house counsel, and told her boss she was quitting. She had two teen-agers at home and was tired of the grind, tired of her son’s friends asking him “So where does your mom live?” She wanted to be around more. To slow down. I’m sure her boss was shocked, but he couldn’t have been more shocked than I was. Because as long as I’ve known Helene, she’s been on the move. Seven years ago, during those magical moments nursing Abby at 5:30 in the freaking morning, I’d look out the window across the street and see Helene’s bedroom light on. What could she be doing at this hour…voluntarily??? A few months later, during our first winter on the block, there was a huge snowstorm that kept us all holed up in our houses — but instead of bunkering up and breaking out the boxed mac & cheese like I had planned, she and her husband Seth invited half the neighbors to a multi-course dinner featuring a spicy Thai-style squid salad. (Did I mention they are also world-class cooks?) I got used to seeing Helene zipping around town in her pumpkin-colored mini-Cooper convertible, which, during the week, was always parked in the first spot at the train station. She got in early and worked hard and was always home for dinner. Long before DALS existed, I asked her what the secret was to raising such smart kids and — I’m not making this up! — her answer was: “We eat together every night.”
No, I couldn’t imagine her slowing down. I couldn’t even imagine her sitting down.
But we sat down for morning coffee soon after she left her job. “What do I do all day?” she asked, still sweating from the 8AM spin class she had come from. “I’m so confused!”
“Helene, it’s Tuesday, ” I told her. “You’ve only been home since Friday.”
I should’ve known better than to think that she was going to “take a breather” or devote her summer to, say, working out the kinks in her backhand. Before June was over she had signed up for a vegan baking class at ICE and started talking about opening up a gluten-free, dairy-free bakery. By July she had transformed her oven into her home office, churning out lemony pound cakes, sugar-topped raspberry muffins, fudgey brownies, gooey chocolate chip cookies, orange-almond cakes, coconut macaroons, vanilla and chocolate cupcakes (the girls’ favorite) then dropping them at our house for a taste-test with the command: “Be brutal! I can take it!” By September, I could barely walk the dog without seeing one of my other neighbors shuffling up the block cradling some delicious cellophane-wrapped, raffia-tied baked good. (“Good morning Eileen! Coconut Layer Cake today?”) By February, Helene had perfected her recipes, designed an awesome logo, signed a lease on her storefront, and by May, i.e. last weekend, she opened the doors to By The Way Bakery. As in, “This is delicious! Oh, and by the way, it’s also gluten-free and dairy-free.” You’d really never know the difference.
On opening day, she was working harder and moving faster than ever, but this time she was flanked by her two sons, who were manning the register and taking orders. A lot of orders. If you’re local, please stop by and see what the fuss is about. If for some criminal reason you do not walk out of there with a bag of chocolate-dipped macaroons (my favorite), I guarantee you’ll walk out of there with some inspiration.
And here’s a treat for those of you who aren’t local — a recipe for her popular orange-almond cake.
Gluten-free Orange-Almond Cake
Recipe by Helene Godin from By The Way Bakery. Makes one 8-inch cake.
1 large (12-ounces) navel orange (the weight is important here)
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons almond flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons sliced almonds
-Place whole orange in a pot of water with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 2 hours.
-Remove orange from the pan and allow to cool. Slice the peel off each end of the orange and cut into quarters, leaving the rest of the peel intact. Inspect for seeds, discard, and allow to cool. In a food processor, pulse the orange quarters until it’s smooth but still pulpy. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes. (You should have approximately 1 1/4 cups).
-Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray an 8” springform pan with cooking spray and line with a circular liner.
-Whisk together almond flour, baking powder, remaining salt, cardamom and cinnamon.
-In another bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until light in color.
-Mix in dry ingredients.
-Mix in orange pulp.
-Pour the batter into the pan and sprinkle with sliced almonds.
-Bake about 1 hour. Test for doneness with a wooden skewer inserted in the center.
-Allow to cool completely in the pan for 25 minutes. Score around the edge before releasing the ring from the cake. Dust with powdered sugar.