Susan Hill is a master at weaving stories and sustenance together. Hill is a professional fiber artist of woven tapestries using pieced fabrics, stitching and embroidery, and she takes a hands-on approach to both food and fabric creations in her Kansas City home and studio.
With a family that includes two grown daughters and two young grandchildren, Hill stages fun food fabrications. “This is like my birthday cake, but mine had purple sprinkles,” says Hill’s 4-year-old granddaughter Kathryn Fisher. “I help Amma (Hill) on my stool. I crack eggs and stir. I like it.”
Q: What is your family’s history with this cake recipe?
A: This recipe comes from “The Silver Palate Cookbook” (by Sheila Lukins) and is my daughter Madeleine’s favorite cake. Most every birthday of hers was celebrated with this cake. I’ve shipped it to Europe, to Chicago, to Minneapolis — wherever she was living — to celebrate her birthday with this cake. When Madeleine was married, this was also the cake for her wedding.
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Now, like her aunt, this is Kathryn’s favorite cake, too, so we make it and decorate it for her birthday. I think tradition is important, and food can be the narrative of our lives together.
Q: Do you have mealtime memories from when you were young, too?
A: I grew up as the middle child and have clear memories of visiting grandparents near Alton, Ill. I learned how to cook, bake, sew and knit from my mother and grandmothers by osmosis. I have often said these skills are just in my genes, as I come from a family of industrious, hard-working farm people. My mother and grandmothers would knit, make rugs, tailor clothing and sew. I grew up with food that was grown in a garden and would help to can and freeze to preserve the harvest.
One of my favorite things to make is pie. There is nothing better than to harvest the raspberries from the patch at their peak and make a sweet treat out of them to enjoy that night with your family. That is what we did on the farm, and those lessons surrounding food have stayed with me.
Q: Your fiber collages are one-of-a-kind works of art that reflect nature and sometimes food.
A: I approach my cooking like I approach my work. I like building upon rich colors and textures in my fiber work, much in the same way I like layering different flavors and textures in cooking.
In addition to me being known for my fruit pies, I also really like to make salads. There are so many beautiful ways to enhance a lowly leaf of lettuce. Dried fruits, nuts and cheeses can all be dressed in a salad to create mouthwatering morsels that can be both crunchy and creamy.
I love reading cookbooks for inspiration in the kitchen, but like in my work, there is also an element of experimentation. Creativity strikes and, as an artist, you have to be willing to follow it to see where it leads. That’s true whether I’m dealing with fibers or foods.
Q: What advice do you have for families who want to include their children or grandchildren in cooking projects?
A: Although I spent time in the kitchen with my own two daughters, there’s nothing like cooking and baking with my granddaughter, Kathryn. She knows how to push her stool to the counter and help me in the kitchen. You can’t focus on the mess, you have to revel in the fun.
The more children help cook, the more likely they are to eat it, and that’s especially true with fruits and vegetables. It’s a way to allow children to be included and have a say in what they put in their mouths.
Cooking is a life skill. It’s also a beautiful bonding time because not only are we talking about what we’re making, we are also reading the recipe, counting and telling time. There is also a lot of pride in sharing what you’ve made with others. I like to think of cooking with children as creativity you can eat.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Banana Chocolate Chip Cake
Makes 12 servings
For the cake:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1/4 cup, 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 heaping cup semisweet chocolate chips
For the frosting:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 lemon, juiced
3 cups powdered sugar
1 pint strawberries, halved, for garnish
To prepare cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 (9-inch) cake pans. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt together and set aside.
Into a clean, large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together on medium speed. Beat in vanilla extract, scraping the bowl as necessary with a rubber spatula. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, mixing until completely incorporated.
On low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients in two additions alternately with the buttermilk. Beat for 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips until evenly dispersed throughout batter.
Divide batter evenly between 2 prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Allow cakes to cool for 10 minutes before inverting onto wire rack. Cakes should cool completely for about 2 hours before frosting.
To prepare frosting: While cakes are cooling, in a large, clean mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, vanilla and lemon juice using an electric mixer on medium speed. Slowly add powdered sugar, until frosting is a spreadable consistency. If frosting becomes too thick, add water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.
To assemble cake: Place 1 cake layer on serving platter and spread 1/2 of prepared frosting over all. Top with second cake round and spread remaining frosting over all. If desired, garnish with strawberries. Cover with cake dome and cool in refrigerator. Allow cake to come to room temperature before serving.
Per serving: 638 calories (48 percent from fat), 35 grams total fat (21 grams saturated), 118 milligrams cholesterol, 80 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 505 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.