chocolate clementine spice cake

We made a grand entrance into Paris, as you can see from the photo below. Honestly, my breathe was taken away as our driver pulled up to our hotel and I saw the decorations reminiscent of a winter wonderland. It’s as though someone knew we needed to be showered with lightness and love as 2012 draws to a close.

a grand entrance

I’m not sure I can capture all that has transpired this year in an eloquent fashion. A lot of it you already know. Frankly, as I read through posts from this past year in preparation for writing the second book, I wonder if I shared too much. Did I give away parts of myself that should’ve been kept private? Did I bare too much, and leave myself vulnerable?

Did I grieve the wrong way?

A rhetorical question really, but one worth asking myself as I continue to figure out the next chapter in my life. I can undoubtedly say I wouldn’t have come this far had I not spilled my raw emotions in such an honest way. Releasing the words from my heart to the page was like bleeding water from the pipes of a house you’re closing up for the winter. The only way for me to move forward was to purge the thoughts from my mind, and prepare my mental house for the next season, so to speak.

Saint Suplice Christmas Trees

One thing that has proven to be true is time does have a way of softening the harsh reality. I know this seems logical and sensible, and heaven knows people, those I love and strangers alike, doled out those very words in the days and months after Mikey died. You don’t really discover the magic of time and its rejuvenating powers until you step back and reflect on it all. This is not to say time is a solvent, capable of erasing the hurt and pain. Instead time forms a scab. Unfortunately, grief’s journey compels you to pick that scab over and over again, as you relive memories of your life before. And we all know what happens to a scab picked too much—it leaves a scar.

It is all necessary, though, and provided you learn to leave the scab alone it eventually begins to heal. The scar it leaves is simply a reminder…a reminder of what you went through, and a reminder that you survived. A reminder that you continue to survive everyday you wake and decide to keep on going.

sisters in paris

I’m eager to flip my calendar from 2012 to 2013. That’s not say 2012 was completely horrible. There were some incredible moments of happiness, as crazy as that may sound. It’s just that it was mostly a year of firsts, and those moments were beyond difficult. There will always be a first, that is the blunt reality. But the big firsts—they’re ice breakers, and pave the way to start finding enjoyment as more birthdays, holidays, school recitals, etc. come about.

Paris seemed a perfect place to usher out 2012. Our trip in July awakened so many parts of my soul. The weather today was much like my journey these last 16 months. The day started with a storm, winds kicking up so badly we needed to seek shelter during our walk. Then the rain slowly subsided, and by time we stepped outside of Saint Suplice the sun was shining so brightly I had to squint. Suddenly there were blue skies, with picture-perfect puffs of clouds.

There will be more storms, no doubt, but blue skies are always waiting in the wings, no matter how long the grey days persist.

Chocolate Clementine Spice Cake

Makes one 9-inch layer cake

Music Pairing: Blue Skies by Ella Fitzgerald

First note—I didn’t realize my metric measurement for the ginger was in my noteboook at home until I was already in Paris. I want to say it was 9 grams but will double check and add it into the recipe once we return.

Now that we have that technical business out of the way, this is seriously one of the easiest and fastest homemade cakes you’ll ever bake. It quickly became my favorite cake this holiday season, and honestly I intend to make it way beyond the month of December. The ingredient list is lengthy, but that’s about as complicated as this recipe gets. This is where I highly recommend baking by weight—in addition to producing exact results each time, weighing is much quicker than measuring out with cups and spoons.

Another bonus is that it’s dairy-free. The cake is based on this recipe I created three years ago. I must confess I like this version even more than the original. The shortening lends an incredibly light touch to the cake. When served warm, it really needs no further adornment. If you decide to make it in advance, a dusting of confectioners’ sugar is lovely, and a dollop of fresh whipped cream is brilliant.

1 1/2 cups (220 grams) all-purpose flour

1/4 cup (25 grams) cocoa powder, plus more for coating pan

2 teaspoons (11 grams) baking powder

1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) fine sea salt

2 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon cloves

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Freshly grated zest of two clementines (or the zest of 1 orange)

8 tablespoons (112 grams) vegetable shortening, softened (I use this one)

1 cup (200 grams) granulated natural cane sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/4 cup (87 grams) dark molasses (I love Steen’s)

1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

1/2 cup (125 ml) almond milk

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the sides and bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Sprinkle some cocoa powder in the pan and swirl around until the sides and bottom are coated (tapping out the pan over the sink to remove any excess cocoa); set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, spices and zest. Whisk to mix well; set aside.

Combine the sugar and shortening in a deep bowl and beat until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs and beat until it forms a thick batter, about 2 minutes. Add the molasses and extract, and beat until well mixed, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and almond milk. Mix on low speed until just incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl and mix on medium-high speed for 30 seconds more.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Let cool two minutes in pan, then loosen the springform ring. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar when completely cooled, if desired.


  • Debbi

    I always heard palm oil is bad for you. That is what the veggie shortening link leads to. Can I use Crisco instead in your recipe? It sounds delicious. (pre-ordered your book, can’t wait to get it)

    JP’s note: palm oil has been in hot seat, depending on where and how it is sourced. You can use traditional shortening, just keep in mind they’re usually partially hydrogenated which is less healthy than the non-hydrogenated organic brands.

  • Daphne

    How wonderful that you and the girls are creating such new and wonderful memories. The pictures are great & the girls are just beautiful! As always, very thoughtful and reflective post and we thank you for sharing! May God continue to bless & keep you all! Happy New Year!

  • Deb

    I love reading your blog and I find your honesty refreshing. I have dealt with similiar grief but I am not able to put it to words so eloquently – you are full of strength and grace. All the best to you and your beautiful girls in 2013 🙂

  • Elizabeth Aquino

    I have been reading your beautiful blog for over a year and believe it to have been an honest and often searing portrait of grief, tempered by the joys of life. That photo of your girls is so gorgeous — what a fine mama they have —

    I look forward to 2013 and to your continued healing —

  • Delora

    That cake looks so lovely. I’m curious though, how does almond milk change the consistency of the cake opposed to cow’s milk? Other than keeping it dairy free, why use almond?

    JP’s note: My goal was to keep this cake dairy-free, hence the almond milk. I’ve found it to be an even swap for cow’s milk in baked goods over the course of the last three years. Feel free to use cow’s milk in if you’d like.

  • Kim

    No one can tell us how to grieve. Each person reacts differently to any event that should come down the pike. As a writer, you express yourself through the written word. Beautiful language that inspires. I appreciate you sharing your story, your journey.

    And this cake looks delicious as well.

  • Tracey A

    Good Morning Jennie,
    Grieving is all individual and people all do it differently. Don’t think you did it wrong. You did it the way YOU needed to do it. You learned, cried and healed. You will know that you are strong, capable and tough. You know that you are human, more so than most. It changes you, changes life. This crazy life we have, has become more raw, more beautiful at times, but always more personal. Yes, it can totally suck, but we have grown in many ways. I still can’t wait to see them again, Tom, mom and all those that have passed on. But I am not ready now, just not ready now. May you be blessed with continual strength, courage and motivation. You and your girls are beautiful and Mike is proud.So am I.
    Hugs and rainbows and happy thoughts,

  • Maria in NJ

    thank you for sharing pictures of the girls, they are lovely…I’m glad that you are spending the New Year in a place that you love so well. The cake looks simple and divine…no one writes so raw and eloquently as you do Jennie, your words are words to ponder over…Happy New Year 2013 Perrilo ladies…

  • Joyce

    I have loved your vulnerability about your grief. And thank you for it. Your words often described my feelings after my mom died. It is a hard journey. We grieve hard for those we love dearly but I think it is a reflection of the depth of our love.

  • Tristen Lawrence

    I’ve been touched over and over again by the experiences and feelings you have posted on your blog.

    And the recipes, amazing.

    Thank you and hope your 2013 is full of wonder and joy!

  • Glenda

    I’ve been reading since Aug 2011. I relate on so many levels. Mainly with your daughters. As I was a young one when I lost my dad. I see my MOM through you. She passed in 2004. Left alone to raise me and my younger sister, but she prevailed. Thank you for shring your life with all of us. Hoping Paris and 2013 will be full of joy, peace, comfort and much love.

    I can’t wait to buy your book, and hear all about book #2.

  • Stella Ann

    Happy New Year. Paris! Wonderful. What hotel is that. I love the way they do the trees. Darling pictures of the girls. Take care of yourself. I worry when you don’t blog for a while. Love, Peace.

  • Nikki

    Happy New Years Jennie. Seems like Paris is starting to be your little sanctuary. I’ll be honest and say that I am a little jealous. I hope you and the girls have a wonderful trip and keep smiling.

  • Sharon in VA

    You have NOT shared too much! I feel that your blog has safely allowed you to release some of the hurt, sadness, frustration and despair that losing your husband caused! Your openness to share those emotions aid in the grieving/healing process. I believe that what you had done was perfect! Your honesty touched me so deeply and helps all of us remain connected to our humanity. PEACE

  • Christine

    No pun intended but there doesn’t seem to be a recipe for grieving. You are such an insipration and there were many days the tears ran down my face reading your posts. Your raw honest emotion was right there on the screen. Your girls are lucky to have such a strong mom…you are a gift to all of us.

  • Jamie

    I tried this cake tonight and found it to be lovely and very satisfying on a rainy Seattle evening. I have been enjoying about a dozen of your recipes repeatedly over the last year and am looking forward to the cookbook. Thank you for the recipes.

  • Leisa

    All the best to you and your girls–Happy 2013! This cake is on my list for the week… thank you so much for sharing your life and creations 🙂

  • Dana

    As always, a lovely post, Jennie. Your journey has been incredibly raw and honest… your scab, picking, scar metaphor captures it. And your willingness to share it I’m sure has and will help others experiencing their own grief… to know they are not crazy or alone in their tumultuous feelings.

    I also can’t wait to try this cake! It was my birthday on Dec. 31, but we made a jam tart in lieu of cake… this is the perfect excuse for a belated cake.

    For a special treat like this, it seems a little silly to overthink the fat used. Truly, any fat that is solid at room temp is technically bad for you, which is why cakes and cookies are treats not staples.

    Though (as I learned in my college chemistry class) some saturated fats are worse for your health than others, and I’ve been wondering about palm oil — a frequent ingredient in big-brand “organic” peanut butters.

    So I did a tiny bit of research.

    I found a study noted on the USDA website that showed that palm oil really isn’t much better for your bad-cholesterol levels than hydrogenated soybean oil (see link below). But they don’t specify the TYPE of palm oil used in the study — organic? palm kernel? fractionated?

    It seems very likely that the way the oil is processed can make a big difference to both the taste and the health of the oil (as it does, really, with any other vegetable oil).

    On Andrew Weil’s website, he says that minimally processed palm oil is best — and better than hydrogenated oils. But palm kernel oil and fractionated palm oil are heavily processed, and hence not good.

    Of course, Weil gets a lot of his information from someone at Spectrum Organics — the maker of the shortening you recommend. But it’s enough to make me opt for that over traditional shortening.

    Long story short — your organic palm oil shortening does seem to be a healthier option than traditional hydrogenated-oil shortening.

    Or, I might try coconut oil, which has also been touted as a “healthier” alternative to hydrogenated shortenings.

    USDA study:

    Dr. Weil’s post comparing different palm oils:

    A post about coconut oil:

  • dervla @ The Curator

    happy new year, Jennie. Your blog is one of my favorites and your honesty is beautiful and healing. Can’t wait to try this cake, it looks gorgeous! Looks like you and the girls had a lovely time in Paris. d

  • Ellen S.

    I was so thrilled to come here and see that you guys had gotten away to Paris. So gorgeous! (Paris AND the girls AND your photos.)

    It really is amazing the way time softens pain; I’ve found the same.

    I am not much of a kitchen girl but you make me want to be one. Chocolate Clementine Spice Cake, here I come!

    Here’s to a wonderful 2013.


  • Vanessa

    Jennie – Happy New Year! I just wanted to take a moment and comment that while I can’t answer if you’ve grieved in the right way – only you can answer that – you have truly inspired me and I’m sure so many. You may recall my dad passed this year and I found so much comfort reading your words. Your honesty empowered me to dig deep and and find the confidence to stand up to grief with words. It has truly been healing. Funny too as I was just telling my husband that I’d like to spend New Years next year in Paris. Probably a subliminal inspiration from all your lovely Paris photos 🙂 I wish you so much brightness and love in 2013 to you and your girls. Again, all 3 of you are inspiring. Thank you for sharing your world with us. -Vanessa

  • Cindi

    I have been following your blog for over a year. You have made me laugh and cry many, many tears. You have a beautiful way of writing your history. Your strength and determination are an inspiration to all. Wishing you and your beautiful girls the best in 2013. Ps is it weird I have not tried any of your delicious recipes but just love to read what you have wrote?

  • bjyorjkynn

    i don’t know if you read comments, but i am here finding myself commenting again. i found you soon after your husband died and have followed you since then — going through my own sense of grief. i value everything you say and no, you have never divulged too much. grief is horribly ugly and you have put it in it’s place!
    thank you

  • Debbi

    Wow, Jennie, thanks for telling me about red palm oil. I hadn’t heard of it and just saw a special on Dr. oz about it and its health benefits. I just ordered Spectrum from Amazon! Heard it here first!

  • Jenna | The Paleo Project

    What powerful words, Jennie. Happy New Year to you and the girls. I’m looking forward to your first book, your second, and everything that follows that you care to share. It’s a breath of fresh fresh stormy, sunny air!

  • Rocky Mountain Woman

    Only you can decide your level of comfort with revealing yourself to the world, but one thing is for sure sweetie, there is no wrong way to grieve. We all grieve in our own way and our own time and don’t let anyone tell you any different!

    Here’s to a fabulous 2013 for you and your girls.



  • rachel alexander

    Thanks again for a wonderful post. I am so glad hear the hope in your words. Happy New Year to you and your precious babies.

  • Jessie

    I came here hoping to read something like this. I’m going through a divorce, not the same, I know, but I’m struggling with moving on. I wanted to see how well you are, and I’m happy for you. You give me hope.

  • Sarah

    Jennie, I often wonder if I have grieved or am grieving in the wrong way. For me it’s been four months and twenty four days (and our anniversary would have been a week from now), and now I am trying to give dating a shot, if only to mitigate some of the loneliness of the grieving process. Losing your person at a young age is especially rough, because people of my generation can’t begin to fathom it and don’t know how to react or how to treat me, and now I’m a very different person because of it. It’s hard, and sometimes I feel judged with regard to my own process, but it helps too. I know we talked about it a little bit in terms of how to fit in with people our age after feeling so suddenly self aware because of this major event, and you were right that time has helped. So has my slow reintegration into society, but I have to keep an eye on my editing mechanism and try not to make people too uncomfortable.

    Anyway, I am glad to see that you and your sweet girls are feeling progress being made.


  • Bella

    I’m about to attempt this cake. It’s 9.41PM in a very cold south london (though not as cold as NYC I should imagine with Nemo looming..) and spiced chocolate cake seems like a fitting remedy for that. Seems like I’m not the only one compelled to comment and tell you how moving I find your words. Lets hope your cake makes me equally as emotional 🙂
    If you come to london anytime soon check out brixton village market, I think you’d like it, lots of small independent eateries and absolutely no surly french men reprimanding you for touching the produce! Keep up the excellent work please