Pistachio chocolate chip cake

Pistachio cardamom chocolate chip cake

Pistachio cardamom chocolate chip cake

Sad news about Seamus Heaney! It’s strange because I’ve been thinking about him lately. As you may have notice I’ve been semi-obsessed with mythological characters–reading about them, writing about them, reinterpreting the lives of ordinary people as if they were mythological characters, following some pattern of characteristics of all mythological characters in all cultures. Back in March I declared Heaney a poet laureate of The Ordinary, and I said this about him…

    His poems seemed washed in the affectionate, melancholic light of memory, so that everything he touches quietly glows. We all cast mythical shadows in his poems, we’re all the gods and goddesses of our own creation. However humble our labors may seem, they become honorable in his words.

Probably not a very scholarly or accurate thing to say about his poetry, but that’s how it feels to me, and that’s how it fits my mood lately.

When asked to choose two poems that summed up his life’s work, he chose two with mythical overtones. In The Underground, he imagines a scene from his honeymoon in light of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.


    There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
    You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
    And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
    Upon you before you turned to a reed

    Or some new white flower japped with crimson
    As the coat flapped wild and button after button
    Sprang off and fell in a trail
    Between the Underground and the Albert Hall.

    Honeymooning, moonlighting, late for the Proms,
    Our echoes die in that corridor and now
    I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
    Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons

    To end up in a draughty lamplit station
    After the trains have gone, the wet track
    Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
    For your step following and damned if I look back.

Damned if I look back!!

This is a mild, plainish cake, with subtle flavors. A tea-cake, if you will. Good with your coffee in the morning, your tea in the afternoon, and your wine after dinner. It’s very easy to make, I did it all in the food processor in a matter of minutes. It has pistachios ground right into the batter. It’s flavored with vanilla and cardamom, and of course it has chocolate chips, because all good cakes have chocolate chips!! I made it in the French style, with whipped eggs and no extra leavening.

Here’s Seamus Heaney reading The Underground, for your song today.

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Almond cake with chocolate chips and ginger

Almond cake with ginger and bittersweet chocolate chips

Almond cake with ginger and bittersweet chocolate chips

Clio’s attitude towards fetching a ball is “I could, but why would I?” Some people might think this is a sign of stupidity, but I disagree. (And not just because I’m her biggest fan!) I think it’s funny that people take it as a sign of intelligence if an animal acts like a human, or in a way that a human wants them to behave. I had a theory when I was much younger. (I had lots of theories when I was younger, I had all sorts of philosophies to explain the universe. And then I grew up and realized that everything is too shifting and complicated to be explained.) My theory was this, this was the theory that was mine. I thought that animals were wiser than humans, and that the way that they understood to live in the world made more sense than the way that we did. A cow, for instance, who spends her day eating sweet grass, feeling the sun on her back, watching her world change subtly around her, thinking god-only-knows what thoughts behind her beautiful cow eyes, has everything figured out on a fundamental level better than, say, some girl that goes to school, and has her lunch packed in plastic, and learns what she’s told to learn by people who laugh at her for saying that cows are wiser than humans. The fools! And then they’ll say, yes, but what about the fact that people build highways and cities and cars and cure diseases! And the girl with the theory says, “That doesn’t prove anything! We created a lot of the pollutants and carcinogens that cause the diseases in the first place! And highways and cities bind up the world and hurt it, and make it impossible for us to understand the wild magical truth of nature, which is the only true religion! The electric lights of our homes blind us to the variations of the gradually changing sunlight and moonlight all around us! Our walls and windows make us immune to the cool winds that blow the stagnation from our brains and make us alive! The animals understand that, look into their eyes! They feel the beauty and truth of the world around them in a way that we will never understand, and that’s why they are wiser than we will ever be!” Yes, I was a very strange child, and I grew up to talk about my past self in the third person! So I think Clio is a wise child, and very smart not to fetch the ball, but to joyfully run after it and toss it around and drop it wherever she wants to.

My boys go through phases with food – they’ll love something for a while and eat it every day, and then one day, they just don’t want it any more. It takes me a while to catch onto these mood swings, so I often find myself buying something they used to like, and then having to figure out some other way to use it up when they reject it. One such item is vanilla yogurt. Malcolm used to eat it by the tub, so I’d buy a big carton of it, and he’d scarf his way through it in no time. Lately he hasn’t wanted it. So I decided to use it in a cake. Yogurt makes cakes nice and dense, and I combined it, in this instance, with almonds. I whirled the almonds and yogurt together in the blender until they were perfectly smooth and creamy. This cake also has candied ginger, chocolate chips, and a few spoonfuls of marmalade, so it’s a lovely cake, simple, but complexly flavored. Comforting yet piquant. If you don’t have vanilla yogurt, you can use plain, but you might want to add an extra smidge of vanilla flavoring, and be generous when you measure the sugar.

Here’s Done by the Forces of Nature by the Jungle Brothers

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Isaac’s Robot Cake!

Robot cake

I pretty much spent the entire day yesterday making a robot cake and blowing up 125 balloons. I consider it a day well spent, even though all of the balloons were popped within ten minutes once the party started, and the cake quickly became a headless, armless little lump of a robot. The party was wild! And noisy! And rambunctious! But Isaac had a wonderful time, slept late this morning, and then announced that he feels so lucky to be part of this family. I went on and on about Isaac yesterday, so I’ll just share a few pictures today. Here’s Isaac, wearing my shirt, blowing out his birthday candles…

Here’s a series of pictures he did for a flipbook. I just love them! I love the way his little brain works! It’s only part way done, and I’m on tenterhooks to see how it ends.

I made the cake with non-cake pans, I used an oven-proof bowl for the head, a souffle dish for the body, a small square baking dish for the feet (cut in half into two rectangles) and three cupcakes each for the arms. I used m&ms to make the control panels, and twizzlers to make the hoses, because Isaac assures me that robots have hoses. My policy is to make an ugly cake look nice with lots of candy, and make a messy house look good with lots of balloons, so that’s what we did!

And Isaac says his favorite song is Brianstorm by the Arctic Monkeys, so here it is!
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Malcolm’s tree cake

Tree cake

Our Malcolm is ten today! It boggles the mind! How did it happen? Where did the years go? *sniff* Of course I’m thinking a lot about the day that he was born, and the overwhelming joy of meeting him for the first time, with all its fear and exhaustion and hope and bewildering amounts of love. But I keep thinking back to a day a few years ago. He’d had a bad cough. I took him to the doctor to get it checked out. He hates the doctor! It’s one of the few things in life he’s afraid of. Well, the doctor said we should go to the hospital and get an X-ray. Horror! He was so anxious and reluctant. But we went, and he was calm, even cheerful when we got there. I was worried about him, I was trying to keep his younger brother happy. We were waiting and waiting. And then they brought us to see the X-ray. I was undone! He’d taken a breath, and held it for the picture, and you could see the air in his lungs. It was so beautiful! His small bones were so delicate and strong, and so gracefully formed. I nearly cried! It’s moments like that, and births, and birthdays, too, that hit you over the head with a wollop of all of the love you feel for someone that you see every day, feed every day, scold every day, clean up after every day. Our Malcolm is a bright, funny, sweet boy. He’s full-speed-ahead-on-to-the-next-thing. He’s a pack rat and an inventor. He tells wonderful stories about things he’ll make some day. He’s fearless in the ocean. He’s thoughtful and comforting when you’re anxious. He’ll teach you everything he knows. He makes me angrier than anyone I’ve ever met, and then mocks me in my anger. He doesn’t stay angry long, and will hug you and go right on with his schemes and plans in a moment. He breaks everything he touches, but he’s clever enough to put it back together again. He could swim in a puddle. He claims to be an outside-water-creature. He claims to be part dog, and he says he can hear dolphins when he’s underwater. He’s always up for a walk, and he’ll talk your ear off while you walk, as if his voice moves his feet, and he’ll say the sweetest funniest things. He never listens!! But he hears everything. You can’t get a thing by him. He’s savvy, he’s sassy. He’s wise. He’s decisive, and good at giving advice. I’m so happy to know him, so excited to see what he’ll do with all his energy and creativity and strength, as he gets older. I was walking with him the other day, thinking about how much fun he is to have around, and I realized how lucky I am to have him as a friend.

He wanted a tree cake with monkeys on it. He wanted the tree to stand up like a real tree, in three glorious dimensions. I was up for the challenge. We came up with a fiendish plan. We improvised as we went along, changing the scheme when we got to the candy aisle at the grocery store. And look at what we made! Martha Stewart eat your heart out! Doesn’t she wish she could make a giant messy lopsided tree cake? Doesn’t everyone! The trunk is made of brownies, and the two layers are held together with nutella. The cake itself is a chocolate chip cake. The frosting is a sort of buttercream. (That’s sugar and butter, people! That’s sweet!) We couldn’t find gummy monkeys, but we used spearmint leaves sliced in half, gummy flowers, a few gummy bears, and two little wind-up toy monkeys. It’s a mess, but I like it!! Here’s my philosophy about birthday cakes…I’m not the neatest decorator on the planet, but if you cover something with candy, it appeals. If you basically have a few giant chip cookies poised on top of brownies, you’re golden!!


Here’s July Tree, by Nina Simone. We’ve always thought it was about Malcolm being born!

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