Here’s Space Boy Dream, by Belle and Sebastian, which is a nice expression of a flight of fancy.
This is a simple cake. A cake you can have with a cup of coffee in the morning, a cup of tea in the afternoon, or a glass of wine after dinner. We always have something like this around the house! Some little sweet thing in the cupboard. It’s easy to make, and nice to eat. Meyer lemon zest, when baked, has a lovely piney flavor. Combined with the sweet tart citrussy kick of the juice, a few spoonfuls of marmalade, and a handful of fresh blueberries, this was a pleasantly juicy cake, with an unusual flavor.
Here’s Billie Holiday with Too Marvelous for Words.
I was ridiculously excited this week to learn that a person can log into the OED online using … a library card number! I’m so tickled to think of my library card being as useful and valuable as a credit card – the key to uncovering unknown riches!! I think it’s awesome! (Full of awe, profoundly reverential. He did gie an awesome glance up at the auld castle.) I’m a logophile! I love words, I always have. The sound of them, their weight and flavor in your mouth, their shifting meanings. I’m a vague, blurry sort of person, and I’m more than comfortable with the instability and ambiguity of meaning – I’m delighted by it! I’m not clever enough myself to play with words, but I have endless admiration for those who do. My idea of a good time is to discover the hidden meanings behind language, and to see how much fun the author is having as they set you their riddles. Nabokov’s subject matter is often disturbing and depressing (to me) but his playfulness with language (with three languages!) is thrilling. “Haze, Dolores…What is it? The tender anonymity of this name with its formal veil (“Dolores”) and that abstract transposition of first name and surname, which is like a pair of new pale gloves or a mask? Is “Mask” the keyword? Is it because there is always delight in the semitranslucent mystery, the flowing charshaf, through which the flesh and the eye you alone are elected to know smile in passing at you alone? Or is it because I can imagine so well the rest of the colorful classroom around my dolorous and hazy darling…” Or fellow polyglot Tom Stoppard who bemoans the complexity and insubstantiality of language with loving relish…”Rosencrantz: What are you playing at? Guildenstern: Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.” And of course Stoppard is playing with the words of the writer most seemingly in love with words, one William Shakespeare. ““Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord?/ Hamlet: Words, words, words./ Lord Polonius: What is the matter, my lord?/ Hamlet: Between who?/ Lord Polonius: I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.” I wish we gave words more weight and thought today, and didn’t devalue them as we sometimes do. Well, I wish that I did, anyway, to speak for myself!
I have to admit, though, that sometimes I find words overwhelming. I was going through some boxes in the attic the other day, and I found decades worth of notebooks and journals from every stage in my life. What a lunatic I am! Scribbles and notes and nonsense and sketches. Screenplays I filmed, screenplays I will never film. Stories I started, fell in love with, fell out of love with and never finished. Ideas for stories, random thoughts I penned while not trying to think of ideas for stories, usually in increasingly frantic and illegible handwriting. Little asides directed at whoever was sitting next to me as I wrote. Words words words!! No method, all madness! And why do I keep them? Why do I keep this dusty spider web of ink? I don’t know!! I should start a giant bonfire, and set the words free, to float into the air around us. If you’re a scribbler, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about! And it’s not just my nonsense that overwhelms me, it’s other people’s words, too. In a bookstore or library, the sight of all of these collections of words, so carefully crafted and combined, so ardently arranged, now sitting quietly on some shelf or another, bursting at the bindings with stifled words. It wears me out to think about it! But it’s beautiful, too, these worlds of words, so easily misunderstood, so accidentally powerful, so tricky, so musical, so full of life. Words words words.
And that’s more than my fair share of words for the day! Here’s Word Play by A Tribe Called Quest.
We’re keeping it simple again this week, in our french-cake-a-week division, with a lovely gateau de savoie. This cake is, in truth, remarkably similar to last week’s genoise. The ingredients are nearly identical. The difference is that the eggs are separated, in this cake, this cake has less butter, and the cake is baked in a deep dish. Last week, I went on and on (and on) about how a genoise is like my favorite movie, L’atalante. This week we’ll continue the tradition, because I’d like to tell you about Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre. (I promise not to ramble on about how the film is like a cake, but I have to tell you that one of the youTube comments on the trailer is “such a beautiful film, simple and deep,” which could be said exactly of a gateau de savoie, with one word switched.) L’atalante begins in the port town of Le Havre, and the town is (suprise!) the setting of Kaurismaki’s film. Le Havre tells the story of a former bohemian poet-turned-shoeshiner. He’s a man with a simple but pleasant life. But when his wife falls ill and he makes a new friend, his world is gently, subtly turned upside down. The characters are ordinary people; the lovers are older, they’re not glamorous; the story is slow and simple, but it tells of huge changes in the life of an old man and a young boy. The film is beautifully made, all sea-green and rusted red, with a style and grace reminiscent of much older films. Despite the perfectly professional technical quality of the film and the admirable attention to detail, it looks like they had fun making it – in some places it’s as though an old group of friends got together to shoot a movie. Similarly, though the film teeters on the edge of tragedy, and peers into some deep, dark places, it retains a lightness and a wry humor. I’d heard, once, that tragedy ends in death and comedy ends in marriage, and Le Havre ends with the salvation of a marriage. It’s a funny thing, but my reaction at the end of the film was that Kaurismaki was brave to end the movie the way that he did. I remember discussions, back in the days of endless talking, about the fact that comedies could never be weighty or substantial – they could never be great works of art. Only a tragedy could be considered high art; comedies are low, they’re light. I’ve always found that idea troubling. I think it’s actually more difficult to create something happy. It’s easy to be shocking, depressing, degrading. It’s the refuge of juvenile directors to make sad and disturbing films, and express scorn for anything joyful or pretty. And yet real life is a combination of joy and sorrow, of beauty and ugliness, and I admire anyone who can tell a story that shows this, with humor and taste, and just the right amount of sweetness. So, this cake is deep, and light, and subtly sweet. Because of its simplicity it makes a nice base for other flavors – for fruit and cream, or compotes, or liqueurs or syrups. The directions require you to bake it in “un moule profond.” That’s right, a baking dish deep and full of meaning. I don’t have a wide selection of cake pans, so I used a quart-sized souffle dish – about 6 inches wide and 3 inches deep. It worked perfectly! The recipe suggested that you make a ring of paper to help contain the batter, and I did, but it wasn’t really necessary. The recipe also stated that you could use the “parfum” of your choice, and suggested vanilla, fleur d’orange, lemon zest. I chose a bit of vanilla and a bit of rum, because that’s what I had. When I made the genoise I couldn’t resist adding a bit of salt, but I didn’t do that this time, instead I cheated by using salted butter! The cake has very little butter, though, which contributes to its lovely lightness. The recipe also says that you can substitute starch for half the flour. I assume they mean corn starch, but I didn’t have any, so I went for the all-flour option.
We went back to basics, for this french-cake-a-week-cake, with a Genoise. And now I’m going to tell you all the ways that a genoise is like my favorite movie. To begin with, there’s the frenchness. My favorite movie is L’atalante, by Jean Vigo, which was shot in France in 1934. To go on with, a genoise is a very very simple cake. In its simplicity, the full subtle sweetness of the flavor shines through. I say, “sweetness,” but in truth I don’t mean sugary sweetness. The genoise is not the least bit cloying, it has a scant half cup of sugar (by my calculations). The method of making a genoise is (to me) unusual and completely delightful. It doesn’t involve leavening, rather you whisk whole eggs until they’re frothy and “ribbony,” and this is what gives the cake its lift and texture. I was childlike in my amazement! I’m sure I’ve seen video of people making this cake, but I’d never done it myself. I kept saying “this is fun! this is my idea of fun!” (David, passing through the kitchen at that moment, muttered, “poor kid,” and patted me on the head.) L’atalante, similarly, is sweet without being cloying. Aesthetically, it’s unusual, but the method makes so much sense as you watch it, that it feels nearly perfect. Visually and emotionally it’s the exact right combination of light and darkness. It has a real elegance, not from sophistication or stylishness, but from the deft, loving way that the shots are framed and the plot is revealed. It has a fine crumb. The characters are simple as well – they’re not a bit glamorous – but they’re beautiful in the way that kind people become beautiful when you know them well. Many stories end with a wedding, and tell you the dramatic story of the relationship leading up to it. L’atalante starts with a wedding, and tells you the story of the life of the newly-married couple in the weeks after. It’s as mundane, dreamy, messy, glowing, erotic, and bewildering as real human love. And it has Michel Simon, the slightly tart apricot jam on the top of the cake.
I’m not sure I made the cake exactly as it was meant to be made. As I’ve said, the instructions in my cookbook are slight, vague, and in a foreign language. But I think it came out precisely as it was supposed to. (I wouldn’t change anything about it!) I’ve read that the eggs are supposed to be whisked over a bain marie, but I didn’t see any indication of that in my recipe. I was conflicted about how to proceed. I decided to hold my very thick pottery bowl over the warm burner on which I’d melted the butter. This seemed like a good compromise! My eggs became perfectly frothy and mousse-like (…le mélange soit devenu mousseux.) Perhaps it’s because the day was so warm. If I tried this again in colder weather, I might arrange a bain marie. We shall see! I added a pinch of salt. Also, the instructions said to mix icing sugar with an eggwhite for the final glaze. I’m a coward about using raw eggs, so I combined icing sugar with a bit of milk, and drizzled this on the edges and down the sides. It adds a nice sort of crunchy crust to the otherwise soft, light yet dense cake. I believe the genoise is the base for many other fancier cakes, and I’ll certainly be making it again and trying out different fancifications.
Here’s Le chalande qui passe sung by Lys Gauty. This song was an influence on the film, and at one point the title of the film was changed to Le chalande qui passe.