In the swim: Strawberry rhubarb upside down cake

I’m swimming in local waters again—the pool at the Lodge is a few minutes away and if I time my visits, I can avoid the aerobic bouncers who take over the pool five times a week for six hours a day (not complaining, just reporting). In Chicago, I swam in a lap pool that was usually empty—one of the benefits of living in a hotel. Now I queue up and select my swims carefully (again, not complaining, just reporting). 

The Lodge pool, Lacey


Our first Chicago hotel didn’t have a pool, so I searched for alternatives. Concierge guy called the East Bank Club, a toney athletic facility a fifteen minute bus ride away, and set me up with an interview. We were clearly not a match—$25.00 for a one-day guest pass, a $500 membership initiation fee, $195 a month for “pool privileges,” plus an out-of-state annoyance fee. But what a beautiful place to swim!

East Bank Athletic Club, Chicago

Second stop—Elkhart Pool in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago, the journey was as good as the destination. I picked up the #65 bus a block from the hotel and took it to the end of the line. I was ready to move in as soon as I stepped off the bus. I walked five blocks to the pool past residential brownstones, independent coffee shops, small ethnic restaurants, neighborhood taverns, a bakery, vintage retail stores, and no big box stores, chain restaurants, or high-rise apartment buildings. Think Ballard, forty years ago. More my speed, no initiation fee, ten swims for $5.00, or $25.00 a month. But once the temperature dipped into the frigids, the bus ride back to the hotel with wet hair stopped me cold.

West Town, Chicago

Eckhart Park pool, Chicago

I hit the jackpot when we moved to our third hotel—a beautiful four-lane lap pool with a view. No bus necessary, I rode the elevator from the eleventh floor to the nineteenth floor and usually swam solo.

Homewood Suites pool, Chicago

I know it’s early—just getting ready. Saw this several places on line, so it must be true.

Strawberry rhubarb upside down cake

  • 1 1/4 cup butter (equals 2.5 sticks of butter)
  • 1lb strawberries (cleaned, stemmed)
  • 1lb rhubarb (sliced into chunky cubes)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 heaped teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 lemon (zested, and juiced)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 325 F degrees. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together in bowl, set aside.

On low heat in a cast iron frying pan (10” – 12” works fine), simmer brown sugar and 1/4 cup of butter for 2 minutes while whisking to incorporate; remove from heat.

Cut rhubarb into chunks and clean strawberries, leaving small ones whole and large ones sliced in half. Toss fruit with cornstarch and 1/2 cup of sugar, set aside.

Whip 2 sticks of room temperature butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add one cup of sugar and zest of one lemon. Cream until smooth, about 4 minutes.

Add vanilla extract, then add eggs, one at a time, mix well. Add sour cream and lemon juice, mix well. On low speed, add all of flour mixture 1/4 cup at a time.

Add fruit mixture to the warm frying pan, coating fruit with brown sugar and butter mixture. Pour batter on top of it, and smooth it out.

Place frying pan in oven at 325 degrees F. Bake for approximately one hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven, cool for at least 15 minutes, and flip over onto large serving plate.

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