I was contracting. The first steps out of bed each morning were awful; my left ankle was practically frozen, it was so stiff. It took 10 or 12 steps before I could walk on it without concentrating. Hard. It was time to move my butt, and the rest of me, much more often.
The water was waiting. From the time I first sat in the sand at NJ’s ocean beaches, too small to do much besides dribble sandy wet slurry into castles, the water has been my second home. One that’s much freer, more supportive, quiet, and soothing than my land life. From my first swim lessons in Packanack lake, to playing in the waves down the shore, to swimming across the lake and back on my break from lifeguarding, the lure of the water has always been there.
An aquatic center had opened recently on my glide path to work, and I went over to sign up. I had been summer swimming all along, but banging out laps for an hour was something I hadn’t done in years. I remembered how to flip turn, but there were a lot of humbling pauses on the wall, purple-faced and gasping. One of the local members who never swam anything but sidestroke was leaving me in his wake. So much for my former jock status.
Two lanes over, the Masters group was at practice. They looked like otters. So fast, so sleek, so beyond my level as to seem unattainable. One of those swimmers was a tiny woman with curly hair (and no, I couldn’t keep up with her. Still can’t.) and an open, kind expression. “I’m Allison. You should come swim with us.” I allowed as I’d like to get there one day, but for now I needed to build enough stamina to get back and forth without completely embarrassing myself.
She didn’t give up on me, though. Every time we crossed paths, either on deck or in the locker room, she tried to persuade me. “Come swim with us. You don’t have to be a college star, just try it.” A few weeks into my return to the life aquatic, Allison said it again, and for whatever reason, that time I was ready to hear her. “Just come over. We’ll make it work for you. Come swim with us.” I said ok.
And the door opened to one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of. An amazing coach, who creates opportunities to succeed at every turn. The nicest, funniest, and in some cases, fastest bunch of people imaginable. A new love affair with the sport in all its facets. Laughter, flexibility, emotional support, aerobic capacity, silliness, and better sleep. All of it priceless.
It’s been over 6 years now, and I fully expect to be swimming into my 90s. Whenever I think about the gifts that Masters Swimming has given me, I first think about Allison, with boundless gratitude. She’s more than a teammate; she’s become a friend that I cherish. Funny, acerbic, generous to a fault, always going out of her way for other people.
It was her birthday a couple of weeks ago, and I had the thought to make up something for her. I thought about carrot cake, and the differences you can achieve in its texture by changing how coarsely or finely grated the carrots are. I wanted to see if a carrot/orange/olive oil cake recipe I had would hold the details if I baked it in a madeleine pan. Then I remembered I had some maple cream cheese frosting in my freezer stash. That would do it.
If I was lucky, the combination would create Remembrances of Workouts Past and fuel for friendships present for Allison. She’s been so good to me in so many ways, it was a treat to come up with something special in her honor. This post is a little surprise, too. She knows I’m putting up the recipe. I haven’t told her she was my muse for it. Until now. Here’s to many more miles next to each other in the water, my friend.
Carrot Cake Orange Madeleines
With Maple Cream Cheese Filling
Coarsely grated carrots are too chunky to give the detail you see on these madeleines. They would also drastically change the texture from something that’s smooth and dense to a more open crumb with chunky bits in them. Fine for a muffin, but not quite to the point for this recipe.
2 1/4 cups (9 5/8 ounces, 271g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (1 ounce, 28g) almond flour
2 large eggs
1 cup (7 1/2 ounces, 213g) light brown sugar
3/4 cup (5 3/4 ounces, 163g) olive oil
3/4 cup (6 ounces, 170g) orange juice
zest of 1 1/2 oranges
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (10 ounces, 284g) finely grated carrots
Maple Cream Cheese Filling
8 ounces (227g) cream cheese, at room temperature
4 drops or scant 1/8 teaspoon maple flavoring
4 cups (1 pound, 453g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 to 3 tablespoons (1 to 1 1/2 ounces, 28 to 33g) milk or cream
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a madeleine pan with non-stick spray.
For the cake batter: Measure the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and almond flour into a medium bowl. Whisk together to combine.
In a large bowl, stir together the eggs, brown sugar, olive oil, orange juice and zest, lemon juice, vanilla, and grated carrots and any liquid that’s collected with them.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until combined. Scoop the batter into the wells of the prepared pan, using 1 heaping tablespoon for each; the wells should be no more than 2/3 full.
Bake the cakes for 13 to 15 minutes, until lightly brown at the edges and the centers spring back when lightly touched. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 10 minutes before using a thin-bladed spatula to take the cakes out of the pan. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
For the filling: Put the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl with the maple flavoring. Beat at slow speed, adding the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time. Mix until each cup is absorbed before adding the next; add a tablespoon of the milk in between if the mixture becomes too dry. Use as little milk as you can get away with; the mixture should be stiff enough to pipe.
To assemble: If the madeleines have a “belly” on them, trim them off with a serrated knife (taste test!!). Put the filling in a piping bag with a star tip or a zip-top sandwich bag (snip off a small corner to make a piping hole). Turn half of the madeleines over and pipe a layer of filing on its flat side, leaving ¼” at the edges uncovered. Top with another cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Yield: about 18 to 20 finished madeleines
Other good things to know:
•These freeze well; just put them in a single layer in an airtight container. They’ll keep for 2 months.
•You can bake these as muffins or a layer cake, as well. Portion into the paper-lined wells of a muffin tin (grease the insides of the papers). Bake for 18 to 20 minutes for mini-muffins, 23 to 25 minutes for full-size muffins.
•For a single 9” layer cake, line a 9” pan (it needs to be at least 2” deep) with parchment, grease the parchment, and bake the cake for 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.