July 22, 2010

I’d like to make an exhortation, if you’ll indulge me.

Go have the conversation nobody wants to have; talk to the people in your life about how you do and do not want to die.  Get them to do the same for you.  Be clear, even if it’s painful.  Put it in writing and get that writing notarized.  Make sure everyone knows where the papers are.  Please.  Do it right now.

These things are hard to think about, or talk about, or plan for.  But I speak from experience when I say that they are among the greatest gifts you can give your family, even as you vehemently hope they will never have to use them.  Because four years ago, I did.

I miss my dad; I don’t think that’s ever going away.  But I also know that my mother and I were able to make the medical decisions that he would have wanted us to make.  We did not have to guess, or wonder.  And while there is much else painful about the way I lost my dad, that certainty is a clear patch of bright relief.

So there you have it—the only piece of advice I’ll ever dispense on this blog.  It is what seemed right, more than anything else, on this day.

Subhash Chander Mehra
April 27, 1942 – July 22, 2006


adapted from a recipe I clipped from Martha Stewart Living years ago

This may have been my dad’s favorite thing that I make.  These little cakes are decadent (hello butter!), a little fussy (you can omit the candied orange peel, but I wouldn’t), and go perfectly with a cup of tea, all qualities my dad valued.

1 2/3 cup powdered sugar, plus more for garnish
1 cup almonds, toasted
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
½ cup flour
6 egg whites, slightly beaten
zest of 2 oranges, chopped fine
1 T orange blossom water, also called orange flower water (optional)
¼ tsp. salt

oven: 450˚
pans: mini loaf pans or ramekins, buttered & stored in the freezer

Grind the almonds to a near-paste in the food processor.  Turn out into a large bowl, then stir in powdered sugar, flour, salt, & zest.  Whisk in egg whites, then slowly stir in the melted butter and orange blossom water (if using).

Pour batter into pans, then place on a baking sheet for easy transfer.  Bake until the dough just begins to rise, about ten minutes.  Reduce the oven to 400˚ and continue to bake another 8-10 minutes or until the cakes brown.  Turn the oven off but leave the cakes in for another 10 minutes.  (I know this seems like a crazy method, but it works. Trust me.)

Cool the cakes on a rack, then turn out and serve warm or at room temperature, with a dusting of powdered sugar and/or strips of candied orange peel (recipe follows).


zest of 3-4 oranges

Cover the zest with water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, drain the zest in a colander and repeat the boiling process.  Do this a total of three times, to remove the bitterness from the pith.

Rise out the saucepan, then add 1 ½ cups of water and 1 cup of sugar.  Bring to a boil, letting the sugar dissolve to make a simple syrup.  Add the zest and let the strips of orange simmer in the syrup until they become translucent.

Cool, then store the zest in the fridge, with or without the syrup.  I like to use the latter in cocktails, especially margaritas or Cosmopolitans.



  1. What a pragmatic and touching blog, Nishta. May the good memories of your father be with you always. Thank you for the practical advice, too. It’s true: death is not an easy subject to speak about, and yet it happens to us all, eventually. I like the pragmatism with which you advise us all.

    I’m really excited about this recipe! I’ve been eating baked goods made from almond meal regularly, and it is a lovely ingredient to work with. I’ve always wanted to try orange flower water in a recipe, too. What pretty little cakes! I can see why your father enjoyed them.

    Comment by Karin (an alien parisienne) — July 22, 2010 @ 6:56 am

  2. Thank you Nishta – you are right, this is such an important conversation for adults of every age. My father passed away 10 years ago, and we were very clear on his wishes and honored them to the letter. As I have just gotten engaged, we have had this conversation as well, from what medical procedures we feel are appropriate to our wishes on being buried or cremated. It’s so much easier to talk about all of this when you are in good health. Thanks for putting this front and center today.

    Comment by lois — July 22, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

  3. thinking of you today! xo

    Comment by Lauren — July 22, 2010 @ 2:22 pm

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by rachAel, Greg Lopp. Greg Lopp said: RT @BlueJeanGourmet: new blog post: in which I make an exhortation (& almond-orange cakes) […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention ALMOND-ORANGE TEA CAKES « Blue Jean Gourmet -- — July 22, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

  5. This is excellent advice for us all. I come from a culture where speaking about death is avoided at all costs, but I’m going to have to take care of this business with my family. Your teacakes look lovely. I’m glad your father enjoyed them while he could.

    Comment by Dragana — July 22, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

  6. Yesterday morning I had never heard of orange blossom water. Last night I went to a new restaurant in my neighborhood (The Falalel Mediterranean Restaurant on Gessner, just south of Kempwood – I highly recommend it) and was served a fabulous dessert that looked vaguely like an orange version of baklava. I asked the owner what the ingredients were because I could not recognise a certain flavor. The mystery flavor was orange blossom water and here it is again.

    Comment by Sue C. — July 22, 2010 @ 5:57 pm

  7. I loved this entry.

    And that is fantastic advice. Even worse than not having all of that on record is trying to get it down while your loved one is in a hospital bed trying to fight for his life. It’s a terrible time to be playing the “what if” game.

    I really want to try this as soon as I find some orange blossom water.

    Comment by Emily — July 22, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

  8. Karin–thank you, as always, for your generous words. and I bet these cakes would be perfect–even better!–with almond flour. if you try them, please let me know how they turn out.

    lois–it’s so important but so easy to say “oh, I’ll deal with it later.” glad you two are getting your ducks in a row. it’s not what most people consider romantic, but I think it’s one of the truest ways you can show your love.

    Lauren–thank you, sweetheart.

    Dragana–I think it’s not as scary/difficult as we make it out to be in our heads. and the importance of it outweighs all of that anyway.

    Sue–I love it when that happens!

    Emily–I know you speak from experience, strong woman.

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — July 24, 2010 @ 3:22 am

  9. Facing our mortality is never fun, but you’re right, Nishta. Thank you for reminding us of what we need to do. I know what you mean about not forgetting…both of my parents are gone and there are not too many days that I don’t think of them.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful recipe with us.

    Comment by Jessica — July 24, 2010 @ 4:22 pm

  10. Wonderful blog! I was only fortunate enough to share one MFA class with you at Arizona-Alison’s literature of science course. I love this site and, thanks to classmate Ben Quick, I also just voted for you in the Houston Culinary Awards. Mazeltov!

    Comment by suzanne jameson — July 26, 2010 @ 7:48 pm

  11. Oh, you. You’re so wise Nishta, and so generous to share with us in the way that you do.

    Comment by Jess — July 28, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

  12. Thank you for this entry.. and your cakes are lovely. What kind of cake pans did you use?

    Comment by jen — July 29, 2010 @ 5:11 am

  13. I love the comment about how they would go well with a cup of tea. My father-in-law, also passed, would value the exact same thing!
    Always thinking of you.

    Comment by Cheryl Arkison — August 5, 2010 @ 4:24 am

  14. Thanks so much for putting that advice out there. I am glad we didn’t have to make any decisions like that for my dad as he passed peacefully as was able to tell my mom all the important details of the things he wanted. I appreciate the strong and close bond you had with your dad and the memories you share of him. It always reminds me of the wonderful times I shared with my dad too.

    Comment by Von — August 27, 2010 @ 12:15 am

Leave a comment