Almond cake with blackcurrants, cherries and bittersweet chocolate

Almond cake with cherries, black currants and bittersweet chocolate

Almond cake with cherries, black currants and bittersweet chocolate

We’re watching L’eclisse at the moment, so today I’m going to wander around town in low-heeled but surprisingly noisy shoes, looking serious and wistful but bursting into laughter at life’s absurdities. Also, it’s my birthday, so I’m going to claim birthday privilege and write the most nonsensical rambling post ever. First of all, here’s a scene from L’eclisse that I like a lot. We haven’t watched the whole film so I’ll reserve judgement, but this scene I found surprising and beautiful.

Second of all, let me tell you about my lunch. I’m very excited about it. It was: a saltine cracker topped with brie, avocado, tomato, castelvetrano olives and lots of black pepper. I don’t usually eat lunch, but I’d been thinking about brie and avocado for a while now, and I had to try it. Everything tastes good on a saltine cracker.

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Finally, I’ll admit that this birthday is a hard one. 45. The only good thing you can say about turning 45 is that it’s better than not turning 45. For some irrational reason, birthdays ending in five or zero are harder than any other birthdays. So I’ve been in a blue mood all week. And then one evening after dinner the boys and I walked to the store to buy ice cream novelties. I was feeling heavy and tired and discouraged. We walked through a big open space in town, and Malcolm said, “Mom! Sky Dive!!” He grabbed my hand and flung his other arm out. Slowly, I caught on, and stretched my arm out, and then he took Isaac’s hand and Isaac stretched his arm out. We were flying and buoyant and weightless in the sweet air of a perfect June evening. And I feel alright, I feel grateful for all of it, for everything.

Almond cake with blackcurrants, cherries and bittersweet chocolate

Almond cake with blackcurrants, cherries and bittersweet chocolate

Our blackcurrant bush is bonkers. Full of fruit. You pick a bowlful in the morning, and it’s completely laden again in the evening. The berries seem to ripen as you pick them. So I boiled them for a long time with lots of sugar, and then pressed them through a sieve and ended up with a thick beautiful sauce. I added this to a custard one night and made ice cream. And yesterday I made a cake. I made a soft almond cake, and put a layer of blackcurrant sauce, fresh bing cherries and bittersweet chocolate chips. The whole thing is tart/sweet/soft and juicy. You have to eat it with a fork, though, cause it’s delightfully messy.

Here’s Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. Sounds like a June day, doesn’t it?
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Ginger cookies with white chocolate-cassis glaze

Ginger cookies with white chocolate glaze

It has come to our attention, Here at The Ordinary, that there are, literally, a gazillion food blogs in the world. This is a precise number, tabulated in our statistics division. A gazillion. When the field is saturated to such a degree, questions of sustainability arise. In order to “stand out from the crowd,” we have decided to rebrand ourselves. A careful review of the trending of recent posts out of The Ordinary, suggests that “the time is now” for a blog devoted entirely to the analysis of bird gestures. Henceforth, we will conduct a definitive exploration of birdy gestures, from both the scientifical and the poetical angles. If any bird in the tri-state area (any tri-state area!) should snap a beak, pump a tail, flap a wing or move so much as a feather…we will be there. We will head out into the field to become leaders of the field. We will provide in-depth-studies, detailed technical drawings, DIY guides, celebrity interviews, step-by-step instructions, virtual 3-D models, and printable paper cutouts.

I’m joking, of course! Rest assured we will still be firing a recipe at you (almost) each and every day! In the meantime, though, I have been thinking about birds a lot lately. Some time ago, I compiled a list in my head of my favorite bird related movies, birds and movies seem so perfect together – a movie is about capturing light and shadow and movement, and a bird’s whole life seems to be beautifully made of those things! I’d like to share my top four with you now. So, here we go, yo…

Le Poulet, Claude Berri’s ridiculously beautiful short film about a boy and his rooster. It’s joyful and simple, but it’s also incredibly thoughtful – it makes you think! It makes you think, specifically, about how it is harder to be cruel to somebody that you know, that has a name, than to a generic, unknown being. Once somebody (be they chicken or otherwise) goes from being a random, unnamed individual to being a friend – you have to treat them differently.

In Le Samourai, Alain Delon’s pet bird is, oddly, the most endearing character in the film. The title character is so cold and mechanical, he’d be a lesser man without this bird, who seems to represent his soul. I honestly felt more anxious about the bird than any of the other characters.

Ghost Dog. Inspired by Le Samurai. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again. Ghost Dog’s pigeons…his home is in their coup, he’s closer to them than any human, and they’re his only contact with people. Beautiful, fragile, and accompanied by some of the best movie music ever.

Kes is surely one of the most beautiful saddest movies ever. The bird is his refuge and his friend. I can’t even watch the trailer without getting weepy!

What are some of your favorite bird-related film scenes?

And your recipe for the day is ginger cookies with a white chocolate cassis glaze. I had a small amount of white chocolate chips left in the cupboard, and I wanted to bake something with them. I thought to myself…white chocolate is very sweet, let’s combine it with something with some bite – ginger! These aren’t like ginger snaps, though…they’re pale and simple, and quite elegant. I decided to mix a bit of cassis in with the white chocolate, because I thought its tartness would be pleasant with the spiciness and the sweetness. You could leave it out, or add the liquor of your choice. Rum goes nicely with ginger! So does orange! The flavors are very nice together. Strangely lemony, despite the fact that there’s no lemon!

Here’s Patti Smith’s remarkably ecstatic birdland
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Chocolate gateau basque with apricots, cherries & cassis

Chocolate gateau basque

I made a cake on my birthday, and it provoked a minor existential crisis. Making a cake for somebody else on their birthday is easy. You just arbitrarily decide that they like something (based, say, on a piece of cake they ordered at a restaurant a decade ago, which they might not have particularly enjoyed) and you make them the same kind of cake for every single special occasion ever for the rest of time. Easy! But to make a cake I like, on my own birthday, well…that raised all sorts of questions. I like chocolate, sure, but do I like chocolate cake? Not really. But I like brownies. What’s that all about? I love fruit, but what kind of fruit, and should it be fresh? Do summery fruits taste good when they’re baked in a cake? I like apple cake, but this isn’t October, for heaven’s sake. Good lord…DO I EVEN LIKE CAKE?!?!?!?!

I decided to make a cake with chocolate in it, but melted chocolate, not cocoa. And fruit, but with apricots and cherries baked in, and fresh fruit and ice cream coming in over the top of it, at the moment of ingestion. I decided to make it like the gateau basque I’d made a while back, because I loved that. I’d put apricots in, because I really like them, and I know Malcolm isn’t crazy about them, but that would be the selfish It’s-my-birthday-and-I’ll-bake-with-apricots-if-I-want-to part. I love cassis, so we’d be having some of that. And, of course…chocolate chips, because everything in life is better with chocolate chips. The boys helped me make the cake, and it was a lot of fun. Malcolm decorated it with my initial and my age, which looked much nicer than the pattern I would have made with the tines of the fork. We ate it with vanilla ice cream, and lovely fresh strawberries, blueberries and, as a special treat, rainier cherries. It’s a nice cake, because it keeps for days, so you can look forward to some with your coffee in the morning as a reason to get out of bed.

Chocolate basque cake

Here’s Black Sheep with The Choice is Yours. Sometimes it’s hard to be the decider! I love this song!
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Apricot almond cake w/ apricot-cassis cream

Apricot almond cake

I love the idea of a cake with apricot glaze – I always have. It’s strangely associated with some childhood notion of sophistication in edible form. Strange, because I can’t remember the actual moment that I ate an elegant cake with an apricot glaze. I can remember plenty of battenburg cakes, wrapped in plastic like the block of modeling clay that they resembled. They had a layer of apricot glaze under their oddly chewy marzipan layer. I loved them! But I’m sure I never thought of them as elegant. The truth is, whether sophisticated or not, a layer of apricot makes sense in a cake! It adds a pleasant fruity tartness that offsets the sweetness of whatever else happens to be in the cake. This cake happens to have almonds – a classic match with apricots – and bittersweet chocolate, which adds its own version of bitter-with-sweet, to complement the apricots.

Inexplicably, I became semi-obsessed with making apricot-cassis cream. I thought about a million different things to make, but I kept returning to this. So I turned to my new BFF, the pastry cream, and I added a purée made of apricots and cassis, and then folded in a little lightly whipped cream. I thought it was very nice with the cake – I don’t think I’ve ever had pastry cream or any of its subsidiaries alongside a cake before, but I thought it was a lovely combination of textures. You could easily eat the apricot cream on its own as a mousse, with some crispy cookies!

I just can’t not share this! It’s a song called Apricot, by the Armenian Navy Band, and it has my Malcolm dancing around the room in his pjs.
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Cider pancakes and winter fruit compote

Tuesday was Mardi Gras, as everybody knows. We didn’t have wine in the morning, but we did have some breakfast at night! I’ve talked before about my love for pancakes. There’s something so comforting and, sigh, I hate to say it, because this word has been advertise-speaked to within an inch of its life, there’s something so wholesome about them. (It’s actually quite a nice word, if you think about it!) When I was younger, I remember thinking that if I ever got pregnant, I’d want to eat pancakes three meals a day, because a baby made up of pancakes was sure to be sweet and happy. Silly, but true. (I didn’t do that, of course, but my boys are still mostly sweet and happy, I think!) And I’ve always loved eating pancakes for dinner. You feel like you’re getting away with something, even if you’re 42 years old. And we ate them with whipped cream – even more transgressive and exciting. The whipped cream was mixed with maple syrup, and it was deeeelicious. We also had fresh strawberries, as a treat. And I made a compote of fruits. (“Compote” is another word that I love! Compote!) I love the smell of fruit cooking – apples and cinnamon, for instance, because applesauce is a compote. I made a mix of things that are regularly (and not-too-expensively) available in the winter – dried tart cherries, pears, orange juice, and black currant jam. Bright, tart, sweet. I’ve been eating it for breakfast since tuesday, mixed with granola, but it would be good with ice cream, too. It’s like a distillation of summer smells and flavors for a February day. When we were growing up we called crepes “flat pancakes,” so, of course, we called fluffy pancakes “fat pancakes.” That’s what I made for fat Tuesday, and I made them with apple cider, cinnamon and ginger. They’re really tasty, and easy peasy.

pancakes!

Here’s the Carter Family’s Chewing Gum, because it’s been in my head all morning! She mentions apples and pears, which is why it’s in any way remotely connected to this post. Can I just say that I heard this song for many years before I saw that it was called “Chewing Gum,” and it was a huge surprise to me that those were the lyrics. That’s not at all what I heard!
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