A year ago, I was diagnosed with thyroid disease. Usually when you’re told you have an incurable ailment, it’s cause for concern. But learning my thyroid wasn’t working was actually a relief. See, for several years, I’d been gaining weight and had lost most of my energy. It was frustrating, as no matter how much I dieted my clothes no longer fit and I couldn’t find the energy to get up off the couch.
This sluggishness was both strange and depressing. But I just assumed it was simply part of getting old and it was time to settle into a heavier, slower life. So when I learned that my thyroid was the culprit, it was very good news. And after hearing that all I needed to do was take a pill every day to keep my thyroid running, I was over the moon.
Now, I can sometimes be a little dramatic. When I told my family and friends that if I didn’t take my thyroid pill every day I would die, I discovered that having hypothyroidism is quite common and many people were in the same situation. Of course, they all thought I was being ridiculous with my dire proclamations, so I soon decided to keep quiet about the whole thing.
That said, as my energy returned I began to question if I was on the correct path. I felt like I’d been given a new lease on life and that perhaps I should make some changes. So I went to the hairdresser and got bangs for the first time since I was a kid. I also bought some skinny jeans, a style I swore I’d never wear. And despite my better instincts, I decided to help some people open a Tex-Mex restaurant in NYC.
Well, I soon discovered there was a reason why I had stopped getting bangs. And the restaurant turned out to be wrong for me, too. So I’ve grown out my hair and I’ve left the restaurant. (But I am keeping the skinny jeans as I love how they fit!)
In any case, it’s been a tough yet educational year. There are no villains in this story and I’m not writing this to speak ill of anyone. And I don’t regret the choices I made or the risks I took, though I have learned you should always listen to your instincts—they do know best. I’ve also realized that there’s nothing like being away from something you love to re-affirm just how much you care.
Indeed, my true joy has always been cooking at home and sharing what I create with others. And this blog and my books have been an excellent forum for doing just that. At the moment, I’ve been working on a ton of new recipes, though I haven’t figured out quite what to do with them yet. But while I decide what’s next, I wanted to share with you a recipe from my second cookbook, The Homesick Texan’s Family Table.
One of my favorite recipes in the collection is this simple apple cake, something that my grandma bakes often this time of year. I realize there are many recipes for apple cake in existence. Heck, in my file of old family recipes I have at least five! This one, however, just may be my favorite, with its abundance of juicy apples and crunchy pecans gently nestled into a cake both tender and crisp. As one friend remarked, it’s as if you combined apple cake with apple pie.
The best thing about this cake, however, is how well suited it is for sharing. It’s not too fancy, so a slice is welcome when friends stop by for a causal visit. It also travels well if you’re headed to a potluck or simply want to give something sweet to someone you love. And as my grandma shared it with me, I now share it with you.
1 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 pound (about 3) baking apples, such as Braeburn, Granny Smith, or McIntosh, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4” dice
1 cup chopped pecans
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9×13 pan or a 12-inch cast-iron skillet.
In a large bowl, stir by hand the oil, melted butter, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Stir in the apple and pecans. Add the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon to the bowl, and then stir until combined. Please note that this is a very thick batter, in fact it’s more like a cookie batter. And while it may seem like it’s unable to contain the apples, don’t worry, it will be fine.
Spoon the batter into the baking pan or skillet, patting down the top so it’s even. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is lightly browned and an inserted knife comes out clean.
This recipe can easily be halved. If you choose to do so, bake in an 8×8 pan or an 8-inch cast-iron skillet, and reduce the baking time by 5 minutes.