Today is, once again, take your child to work day. David usually takes one or both boys up to his shop, but his job is too stressful and his deadline too close at the moment. So they’re spending the day with me. I had very mixed feelings about this, I must say, which made me more than usually cranky from the very beginning. I knew they’d think of it as a day off, a day to stay home and watch cartoons and play video games and chase each other around the house yelling and eating never-ending easter candy. Because, obviously, that’s what I do all day while they’re at school. I woke them up at seven, like I usually do, and I made them help me pack lunches and make breakfast. We went for a walk, because part of my job is taking Isaac to school. I usually go for a jog after they’re in school, so we tried to do that, and I apologize to anybody whose house backs on to the towpath. I realize you probably didn’t want to awoken by a small boy yelling “SLOW DOWN I’M GOING TO PUKE! DO YOU WANT ME TO PUKE?” And then, sigh, we did laundry we dusted and vacuumed and washed dishes, and I thought how incredibly tedious my day must seem. We got all the cleaning done in the morning, like I always try to do, and then they instantly made a complete mess of everything again, and I announced that I was going to write for the rest of the day so they had to as well. And how is writing “work”? How do I justify this way to spend the day? Sometimes I get paid for it, and I do have a job and a deadline at the moment, although I’m fairly successfully ignoring it. But mostly I don’t. Mostly I’m writing this novel, and I’m completely obsessed with it, and it feels incredibly important to me, despite being frequently confounding and disappointing. I lie awake thinking about it, the characters are living in my head, and if I don’t write it down I’ll lose it all. But that doesn’t make it “work.” That makes me crazy. I see that, but most of the time I don’t acknowledge that fact. As long as nobody is watching me and saying, “Why do you get to sit at the computer if we don’t get to play video games?” (and I honestly can’t say that my novel-writing is any more important than their video game-playing), as long as nobody is watching, I’m okay. But what kind of life is it, if you can’t look at it from the outside without everything falling apart? If you can’t justify your existence if you stop to think about it for a minute? The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the examined life sometimes doesn’t hold up to all the questions. Of course it all boils down to money. If I was getting paid to write a novel, as many people are, then it would be work, then it would be justifiable and even admirable. But I’m not and probably will never be, if my past history of creative success is anything to go on. And yet, perversely, I want my boys to see that I write and that I read, and that both pursuits have great value for me. I want to see them write. I want them to grow up to write stories, and to think of it as work, even if they don’t get paid for it. I want them to know how good it feels to create something you feel happy about, even if you know the next time you look at it you’ll wonder what the hell you were thinking when you made it. I want their values to be as skewed as mine, so that creating something that they need to create becomes more important than making money, although of course I want them to be financially secure as well. I want them to work hard at something, with passion, and know the great pleasure of completing something that has taken great time and energy and thought. I want them to feel good about their life, even when events make them look at it from the outside, with questions and judgement. Malcolm wrote, of today, “The day with mom was fun cause we took walks and I also figured out what her life is like.” He figured out what my life is like! Now if I could only do the same!
There was some discussion, last week on The Guardian’s website, of a coffee walnut cake. One commenter mentioned a cake he or she remembered from their youth, flourless, with coffee and walnuts and hazelnuts. It seemed like a pleasant challenge to try to recreate a recipe based on this small amount of information, so I did. And I think it turned out very good! This is one of the best flourless cakes that I’ve made, light but substantial, with a lovely flavor.
Here’s REM with Finest Worksong
4 eggs, separated
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
4 oz good chocolate
1 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup walnuts lightly toasted
1 t vanilla
1 t cinnamon
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup strong coffee
1/4 cup milk
2 T soft butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 T strong coffee
1 t vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350.
In a large bowl beat the egg whites until stiff. In a small saucepan over very low heat, melt the butter and chocolate together until just melted. Set aside to cool slightly.
Put the egg yolks in a food processor and process until creamy and lemony. Add the sugar and nuts and process until they’re well ground, and you have a thick smoothish texture. Add the salt, cinnamon, pepper and vanilla, process to mix. Add the milk and coffee and process till you have a light smooth batter. Add the melted butter and chocolate and process until completely combined. Stir 1 big spoonful of beaten egg whites into the batter to lighten it, and then fold the batter and egg whites together till completely mixed.
Lightly butter a cake pan. Pour the batter in. Bake until puffed and golden and firm to the touch, about 40 minutes.
To make the icing, beat the butter in a small bowl until light and fluffy. Stir in the sugar and beat to combine. Stir in everything else and beat vigorously until completely smooth. This makes just enough to ice the top of the cake, but the cake is so rich, it’s all you’ll need or want.
I grated a little chocolate over the top as well.