Rhubarb and running to lift the spirits

Frozen rhubarb just won’t do for this tart and beautiful custard cake, so pick it fresh wherever you can find it

I’ve recently taken up running again. Early on every summer I go through a running phase that burns hot and fast and fizzles out long before the snow falls.

In past years this fleeting obsession was motivated by vanity, but this year I have no need for such a goal, and it has made the time so much more enjoyable.

I like to run first thing in the morning, when my stomach is empty, and my mind is sharp. I bound along the dirt path hard at work in both body and mind. I should use this time productively, to plan and organize my day, to strategize my summer for self-improvement. I could use the time destructively, to ruminate on past conversations and search for hidden meaning, or to punish myself with guilt for the mistakes of my past. Instead, I set my mind on a fantasy and let it play out in my heart.

Sometimes I imagine I’ve returned to the stage. Once again, I feel the adrenaline of the greenroom and the electric silence before the first note plays, and I feel the burn of the lights on my forehead as I run past my audience of trees standing in a perpetual ovation.

Sometimes I will craft a fantasy version of my future self, confidently actualized and already reaping the rewards of the dedication and competence I have yet to possess, and I allow myself to feel the unearned pride and satisfaction of success, and just the taste of that, even imagined, is enough to motivate me to continue. Although out of reach for the moment, these fantastic versions of myself are all possible, I tell myself, as long as I keep running… as long as I don’t give up.

My mother-in-law often facilitates these morning runs by occupying my little one, happy to see me off for exercise (which she encourages with great enthusiasm) and happy to spend her morning with our little sunshine. For her birthday this past weekend I once again made her favorite cake: rhubarb custard cake. Frozen rhubarb just won’t do for this tart and beautiful cake, so pick it fresh wherever you can find it.

Rhubarb custard cake


1 cup all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

1 cup brown sugar

¼ cup heavy cream

2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The zest of 1 lemon

4 tablespoons butter, melted

About 10 stalks of rhubarb


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour a baking pan. I used a 9-inch square pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, lemon zest, vanilla extract and brown sugar until the mixture is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes.

While stirring continuously, drizzle in the cooled melted butter, then the heavy cream, until both are incorporated.

Add the dry ingredients and gently fold until smooth, do not over mix.

Pour into the pan and chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the rhubarb.

Thoroughly wash the stalks and pat dry, then cut them diagonally in alternating directions. ***Be sure to keep them orderly and lined up for the prettiest effect.***

Take the pan out and start laying the cut rhubarb stalks down in order on top of the batter in lines, leaving spaces between and around each piece, to form a simple geometric pattern. Do not press the rhubarb down into the cake.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake doesn’t jiggle when you shake the pan, and the top is springy but still sticky.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and serve cold with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.