Chocolate pecan cherry cake

Pecan chocolate cherry cake

Pecan chocolate cherry cake

Hello Ordinary friends! I hope everybody is having a wonderful summer. Ours is melting away in a dreamy succession of trips to rivers and creeks, just as summer should. I took another brief Ordinary sabbatical, and I’ll tell you why. Somebody read my novel! I gave it to my neighbor. I don’t know her very well, but I like her a lot and I respect her opinion. She’s a poet and a teacher. And she read my novel as you would hope a poet and teacher would, and had some generous things to say about it that made me nearly cry with relief when I first read them, and she asked some thoughtful questions that made me want to change a few scenes and add a few scenes, and that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s an odd feeling, like slipping down a pebbly hill. Once you start changing things, you could change anything! You could add scenes or take them away. You could make whole characters disappear; characters who you’ve come to think of as living, feeling people. You could explain everything! You could take away all the explanations! You could make the characters (your friends, as you’ve come to think of them) happy or sad, sick or well. And I wasn’t going to talk about my novel! I’ll tell you a story instead. Yesterday after dinner Malcolm and I and Clio went for a walk. We were all a little tired, but the weather has been so ridiculously perfect this week that it felt wrong to stay inside. By the time we got to the other side of the canal Malcolm’s stomach hurt and I had a blister on my toe. So we decided to come home and sit in the yard instead. Well, what should we see on the way back but a rambly bush with perfect tiny bright red raspberries on it! We ate a few, and they were lovely. Whenever I eat a raspberry I always say, aloud, that raspberry is the most perfect flavor in the world, which is not surprising because as everybody knows, the milky way tastes like raspberries. So we decided to collect a little handful to bring home to Isaac and David. And then, before I knew it, I was up to my knees and elbows in stinging nettles. By god it hurt! Malcolm found me some jewel weed, which helped to calm the sting, but it didn’t really go away. I think I got poison ivy, too. All for a little handful of raspberries. There’s a moral in there somewhere, but I’m not sure what it is.

Chocolate cherry pecan cake

Chocolate cherry pecan cake

Next to raspberries, I love cherries. And they’re perfect this time of year. I thought they’d be nice with pecans and chocolate, and they are. I made this cake, which is almost more like a bar cookie, because it’s thick and chewy and delicious, in the toaster oven. It was very easy to put together, and very easy to eat!

Here’s Charlie Haden with Silence. Beautiful.

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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.


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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Cherry chocolate coconut almond crisp

Cherry clafouti crisp

Here at The Ordinary, in our illustration division (located in a spacious and sunny atrium between the rooftop greenhouse and the outdoor swimming pool in the parpapets) we like to draw mixed up animals. You can find us hard at work, day and night, combining winged creatures, finned creatures and those with claws and tails. The best part of this fantastical exercise, is that the resulting mixed up creature is usually quite delightful. Let us present a few choice examples from our archives…
Malcolm’s fox-owl.

Isaac’s Ring-tailed Ouzel

Ring tailed ouzel

And my squirrel-giraffe

Squirrel giraffe

This dessert is a mixed up animal, too! Part cobbler, part crisp, part frangipane, part clafoutis. It’s fruity, soft, chocolatey, and crispy all at the same time! Here’s how it all went down: I had bought a bag of cherries. In general, cherries don’t last long in this house. However, we went away twice for a few days within a week or two, and before we knew it, the cherries were past their first blush of youth. Well! A chance to bake!! I wanted to make a cobbler/crisp type dessert. I also had clafoutis on my mind (the french cherry & baked custard dish) – specifically I was thinking about clafoutis with a frangipane type of custard. This combines all of those things. We have a layer of warm cherries splashed with rum, a layer of soft baked almond custard with bittersweet chocolate chips, and a crispy coconut topping. If I do say so, and I do, this is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made! It has a lot of different flavors, it’s true, but they all go very nicely together. We ate it warm with lightly whipped cream flavored with maple syrup and vanilla.

Here’s The Kangaroo Rat from the Beastie Boys. I know that’s an actual animal, but they look so unlikely (perfect, but unlikely!) And the album is called the mix-up, so it’s double extra good.

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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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Red velvet apricot & cherry upside-down cake


E.M. Forster

Apricot cherry upside down cake

Following on this morning’s post of quotes, (yes, it will be on the test, children!) I’ve been thinking about how the quotes connect in my head, when I think about them all together. I think about how they relate to each other in unexpected ways. And then I think about how it’s in our nature, as humans, to make connections. If you give us 3 random facts, we’ll put them together to make a story. That’s how we watch films – we connect still pictures (somewhere in the upside-down back of our brain) to make a coherent, fluid movement. And then we’ll connect those images to make a narrative, to give them meaning. Of course, Forster was talking about connections between people, and I love that idea as well. But I’ve been thinking lately about how a connection with a person becomes more solid when we share some random connection of ideas or images, and when they make sense to both of us. For instance…the other day we were listening to the Pogues in the car, and Malcolm asked if they’d written the theme to Sponge bob. (Which my boys don’t actually watch, as it happens.) I had a chuckle, thought “Who lives in a feckin pineapple under the sea, boys?” We came home, I told David about it, as a cute things the boys said. Then, days later, David took that funny connection, drew this picture… And I felt really grateful to have somebody to share silly things with.

So, when I showed David this cake, and he said, “bloody stumps,” I knew exactly what he was talking about! There was a show called Home Movies. We loved it!! It was about an eight-year-old that made art house films. Classic! One of the characters, McGurk, is possibly the worst soccer coach ever. When one of the children on the soccer team won’t run down the field, he threatens to cut his legs off. “Bloody stumps!” he yells. (It’s not a kid’s show!) Well, one night, after the boys were a-bed, we had a chuckle about McGurk witnessing the hand-cutting-off-scene in Star Wars, and yelling… (tee hee hee) “bloody stumps, Anakin!” The point is…this might not make sense if I explain it in this long and tedious fashion, but sharing some odd connection that makes you laugh, with another human being, is the best way to connect. And we’re passing the craziness along to our boys!

Another nice way to connect is to share food. I have a friend-mom at school named Jamie. She had a son in Isaac’s class. She’s a vegetarian, too! She gave me these beautiful red velvet apricots, and I thought they were so pretty, I’d bake them upside-down. I put them in a cake with cherries. And I’d read that they were apricots crossed with plums, which made me think about plum pudding, which made me think about cinnamon and ginger and spicy black pepper. So I put those in the cake. And I love cherries and chocolate, and apricots and chocolate, and sweet spices and chocolate, so I thought I’d throw some chocolate chips in as well. And these apricots are known for “bleeding” red into gold. And then…well, I’m going to stop talking now or nobody is ever going to want to make this cake.

Here’s Niney the Observer with Blood & Fire I love the surname “the observer.”
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Almond cake with cherries, white chocolate and chambord

Almond cake with cherries and white chocolate

I have a cupboard in which I keep all the cakes or cookies that I bake. I had a dream last night that the cupboard was overflowing. I opened the door, and mounds of cookies and pieces of cake came spilling out. In my dream I had a genius idea of what to bake with all of the excess baked goods! And then my elderly dog did this thing she does, where she click clacks frantically around on our wooden floors, and it sounds like she’s desperate to go outside, so you heave yourself out of bed and down the stairs, only to find her back on her bed, staring at you with a “What are you doing up at this hour” expression on her face. So we’ll never know what I would have done with the dream cakes in the dream cupboard. Perhaps the dream was a sign that I should slow down on the baking. Honestly, though, it’s February. If you don’t have the promise of some small sweet thing to have with your coffee, why the hell would you get out of bed at all?

I made this cake for my father’s birthday. He doesn’t really like chocolate, but I snuck a small amount of white chocolate in. He does like almonds and cherries, though. (At least I hope he does!) So this is the cake I made. It’s a dense cake with ground almonds, made slightly lighter by the inclusion of 3 extra whipped egg whites. (I used the yolks in the ice cream!) In the middle of the layers, we find some cherry preserves thinned with chambord. (I love chambord, but any fruity liqueur would do. Or amaretto. Or anything you like!) And then I topped it with a thin white chocolate/chambord ganache.

Here’s Bob Marley doing Sugar Sugar. Today is his birthday!! I wonder what kind of cake he would have liked.

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