Rhubarb upside-down cake

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Rhubarb upside-down cake

Finished rhubarb upside-down cake recipe. (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / April 24, 2014)

Orchids make me anxious. It's not just the glamorous good looks, the frail stems, the supermodel attitude. It's their habit of dropping dead. Or worse: near dead.

Happens all the time. I bring home some produce-aisle phalaenopsis; I admire its elegant blossoms, its tropical scent, its bored stare. Then watch the blooms shrivel and drop, never to return.

Eventually I gave up. Though one of my plants didn't. Its limp leaves slumped across the pot, green and dejected. I think it kept up the last-gasp routine out of malice.

Years into this standoff, I noticed that my orchid's sunny window wasn't particularly sunny. I moved the plant and pointed out the garden, where rhubarb — all sturdy pink stems and poisonous green leaves — was bounding from the dirt.

Awakening the competitive spirit. Within weeks my orchid had sprung a nub, like a toddler's first tooth. Soon it flaunted four downward-facing pre-roots and one upward-facing spike, which should grow into a stem. Which might swell into buds, which could unfold into flowers. Someday.

In the meantime, I'm baking rhubarb.

Rhubarb upside-down cake

Prep: 20 minutes

Bake: 35 minutes

Serves: 8

4 cups chopped rhubarb (from about 6 large stalks)

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1 cup flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (plus more for pan)

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

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