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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French cake a week # 2- Gateau Suisse

Gateau suisse

Today I made a cake. Or it might have been yesterday. I don’t really know or care. And then I sat in a dead tree and ate it, and looked up at the sky flowing over head. And when I fed it to the boys, they gobbled it down, like Gargantua and Pantagruel. And I thought, the cake looks like the moon. The moon! That’s the place for me, my kind of paradise. And then I went outside to cultivate my own garden. And I cried, “this is absurd, and none of it matters, so I will bake cakes!” Cakes cakes cakes, every week, to show the benign tediousness of life as it goes on day to day and week to week. And we will become accustomed to the sameness, and learn to find it interesting. And then we will eat the cakes. Cakes, cakes, cakes.

Can you tell that I took French literature in high school? Yup. The other week, as you may recall, I made a gateau au chocolat de Nancy from my Cuisine moderne et vieilles recettes, (1962 edition). As we sat in the yard on a pleasant summer evening, scarfing down chocolate cake and red wine, David said that he liked french cakes, and I should make one a week. I’m up for the challenge. So, from now on, I will be baking a cake from my french cookbook, one a week. I don’t speak french very well, and the recipes tend to be quite short and mysteriously written, and in measurements that are foreign to me (get it?) so the results may be mixed. We’ll consider the gateau au chocolat de nancy the first cake, so this gateau suisse will be the second. I think I made it wrong, and Americanized it, because it called for grated chocolate, to be mixed in till the whole thing was smoothly chocolatey. I like little melty bits of chocolate, so I used chocolate chips, and processed them till some were powder, but some were still fairly large chunks. Thus, I made more of a chocolate chip cake than a chocolate cake. It came out very well though! Very simple and pleasing. The boys beg to eat it for breakfast.

The series begins! There will be more cakes!! Watch this space!

Here’s Colettte Magny with Melocoton. It’s beautiful!!
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Isaac’s sweet and spicy ice cream

sweet and spicy ice cream

“What kind of ice cream shall we make?” I asked Isaac. “Carrot ice cream!” He said with a giggle. Little does he know that I actually plan to make carrot ice cream some day! Watch this space! In the end, after considering the fragrances of lots of jars from the spice cabinet, he decided on a few sweet spices, plus some chocolate chips. Cinnamon, a touch of nutmeg, and a touch of ginger. And we ground up the chocolate chips a bit, so they’d be nice and melty in the ice cream. Delicious! The words “ice cream” always makes me think of this scene from Down by Law. Jarmusch is probably my favorite American independent filmmaker, for reasons that should be obvious when you watch the clip. I could go on and on about why I like his filmmaking, but I’m late for work, so I’ll tell you instead about the music. In each of his films, I’ve discovered music that has become some of my favorite music ever. From Tom Waits in Down by Law, to RZA in Ghost Dog, to Mulate Astatke in Broken Flowers, watching Jarmusch’s films has added immeasurably to my musical library. So here’s a short playlist of songs I’ve discovered from his films, to listen to while you wait for your ice cream to freeze!

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Blackcurrants and black oxen

Blackcurrants

School’s out for the summer! This was the last week (well, 2 short days) of school. As Isaac said, we’ll be together every minute from here-on-in. And I’m genuinely happy about that! Last week was a funny week. The boys had field trips and mostly goofed off during the day, but they were wound up. They were exhausted. They couldn’t fall asleep on the light-late nights. They woke up through the night thinking they were late for their field trips. They were fragile. David and I agreed to give them plenty of space, and recognize their status as volatile substances. Malcolm had a few meltdowns. You’d ask him to tie his shoes. He’d give you a (ridiculously, unfairly adorable) sticken look, and then he’d lie on the floor and wail that nobody liked him. I never react well in these situations. I get impatient and yell, and worry, and make everything a thousand times worse. One evening we decided to cool down by picking blackcurrants. I have one blackcurrant bush. I’ve had it three years, and it’s just now starting to produce lovely lovely fruit. It’s laden!! I’m so thrilled. Malcolm was still in a serious, reflective mood, and as he picked the fruit he said, “starry night.” “They look like a starry night?” I asked, in my slow way. “A galaxy somewhere in space that you could never go.” Malcolm replied. “Doesn’t space seem awfully dreamy?” He asked. And then we talked about space for a while, and darkness, and dreams. And we both felt calmer and happier.

One thing I love about Malcolm is that he’s game. If you want to go for a walk, any time of the day, he’ll pop on his shoes and come along with you. If you have to go to the grocery store, he’ll push your cart, and only ask for two or three treats you wouldn’t ordinarily buy. If you want to go for a jog, he’ll come with you, and you’ll discover a secret path on the other other side of the towpath, and running along it will be like flying with ewoks, and he’ll chant “fun fun fun fun,” the whole time you run. And if you want to go take photographs of oxen you’ve been admiring for months – he’s your man! There are these oxen that live in a field up the road. They’re gorgeous! There’s a black one, a grey one with a white face, and a blue roan, which is the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen! I’ve had a crush on them for some while, and I’ve nearly driven into oncoming traffic innumerable times, trying to get a better look at them. ONE OF THEM HAD A BABY!! THE BLUE ROAN DID!! Holy smoke! (They look like holy smoke!!) On hot days they wander in this little wooded section of their pasture, and the sight of three giant oxen in a lovely dapply little patch of trees just kills me. And then there’s the baby!! Phew.

Blue roan &baby ox

Another way that Malcolm is game is that he’ll try anything I make. He really loved this blackcurrant, white chocolate, dark chocolate chip ice cream. It’s kind of a frankenstein ice cream. I picked a bowl of blackcurrants – a scant cupful, and I couldn’t wait to try them. So I cooked them with plenty of sugar (probably equal parts to the currants, in the end, I kept adding more) to make a syrup. I strained it, mixed it with some leftover white chocolate pastry cream, stirred in some chocolate chips and some (unwhipped – Malcom’s idea!) heavy cream and froze it in the old donvier. It turned out a lovely texture, but the blackcurrants do have a little bitter kick – even under layers of sugar and cream.

Here’s Jurassic 5 with Monkey Bars, because Malcolm likes them and he’s such a little monkey!

Red velvet apricot & cherry upside-down cake

“ONLY CONNECT”

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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Banana, peanut butter, chocolate chip cake

Peanut butter, banana, chocolate chip cake

There’s a flea market just down the road from us. It’s not the kind I remember from childhood, with fake leather boots, airbrushed t-shirts, rows and rows of new, cheap shiny things. This one is an antique flea market. You can find anything there. Any strange object that you can imagine, will one day show up at this flea market. The sellers always seem so Dickensian. I wonder about their lives – how far they’ve travelled, how they’ve come across all of these treasures, how much of their history is packed into their vans and pick-up trucks. And every object could tell a story. From old happy meal toys, two for a dollar (my poor boys aren’t ever going to go to an actual McDonalds) to super-8 cameras, ottomans, settees, paintings, scooters, antiquated medical equipment, old woodworking tools, beads, baubles, entire family photo albums, magic lantern slides, daguerreotypes… And of course, vintage military supplies. Knives, uniforms, binoculars, shell cases, canteens – all camouflage and olive drab and khaki. It always makes me think of Tom Waits’ Soldier’s Things…

A tinker, a tailor
A soldier’s things
His rifle, his boots full of rocks
And this one is for bravery
And this one is for me
And everything’s a dollar
In this box

When I was little I wanted to write a story that juxtaposed scenes in a museum, of armor or weapons, with scenes of those weapons being used – the actual story of the people that killed with them, or died by them. Maybe I will some day!

My favorite thing to find at the flea, lately, is china. Mismatched, cracked, beautiful plates and bowls. Well, on mothers’ day, David bought me a cake plate! I’m so excited! I’ve never had one, and this one is a beauty. From the fifties, maybe. Lovely, milky translucent form, with a foot, and a sweet silvery-gold polka-dot fleur-de-lis pattern. Of course I had to make a cake! We had two extremely ripe bananas. I wanted to do something a little different with them. I thought about one of David & Malcolm’s favorite sandwich variations – banana and peanut butter. And the rest is history!!

Tom Waits – Soldier’s Things
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Oatmeal cake with pears and chocolate chips

Oatmeal cake

A perfect pear. It’s such a nice phrase, and such a rare and wonderful object to find in real life. There’s something so hopeful about waiting for a pear to ripen. You buy a few hard, golden green unblemished boscs. You put them somewhere safe and you wait for that one day that they’ll be perfect. Not mushy, not hard, just sweet and yielding. But there’s no guarantee they’ll be sweet once they ripen! You don’t know! They could be mealy and bland. And the wait for them to ripen is like marking the passage of time – they change before your eyes, almost as you watch! In my house it’s a very rare pear that makes it to perfection without insult and abuse. They’re dropped, they’re played with, somebody sneaks little bites and then puts it back when they realize it’s not ripe. Somehow I miss the fleeting moment of perfection. And I have bruised, scratched, soft and overripe pears. Which is exactly why pear cake was invented!

This cake has ground oats inside, to give a nice oaty flavor and texture, and rolled oats on top for crispy crunchiness. It has cardamom, which is a mysterious but lovely flavor, and very nice with pears. It’s a nice cake to have with coffee in the morning, but it’s sweet and special enough to have with a glass of wine after dinner. Maybe with some ice cream or lightly whipped cream. It’s very quick to put together.

Here’s Big Youth with Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Time is running and passing, and you better get it right this time, but wait…there is a next time! If you miss the moment of ripeness – bake a cake!!
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Dulce de leche blondies

Blondies

We, here at The Ordinary, ate too many brownies some time in midwinter. As we lay with a glazed look in our eyes and crumbs on our bellies, we said, “I’m never eating brownies again.” Oh, I know, we’ve all said it, after a rough bout of brownie eating. But this time we meant it. Cakes and cookies and tarts? Sure. But no brownies. Fortunately, we didn’t say anything about blondies! So here we go! I had a half a can of sweetened condensed milk leftover from my almond quince cake. What a strange and magical substance sweetened condensed milk is. Who thought of it? How was it invented? Or was it discovered, like a rare and elusive natural phenomenon? For some reason it always makes me think of those 50s food ads from magazines, with the oddly fascinating coloration. The truth is, it’s a really nice taste. There’s something so comforting about the sweet, thick milkiness.

I seem to have made some indelible connection between dulce de leche and sweetened condensed milk. I didn’t use it when I made dulce de leche, but I bought a can then, just in case! Once again, I didn’t actually use dulce de leche in this recipe, but I melted brown sugar, butter and sweetened condensed milk to start it out, and that’s what I thought of.

The result is complete deliciousness. I’ve never made a brownie or a blondie with a more crackly top. And the inside is delightfully chewy and fudgy.

Here’s Blondie with Atomic. Wouldn’t you like to be Deborah Harry, living in NYC when this came out?
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