Chocolate-stuffed-cherry cake

Chocolate-stuffed cherry cake

Chocolate-stuffed cherry cake

We recently re-watched Exit Through the Gift Shop, a film that may or may not have been directed by elusive British street artist Bansky, and is about Thierry Guetta, who may or may not be a real person and who may or may not also be an artist named Mr. Brainwash. Is the whole film a mischievous hoax? A straight documentary? A mix of fact and fiction? I believe it is, of course, the last one, as are all films. (It’s clearly not, as Banksy claims, a re-edit of hundreds of hours of Guetta’s footage of street artists at work, because Guetta is in at least 90% of the shots.)

Whatever else it is, I think Exit Through the Gift Shop is a sneakily beautiful film. It’s clever and amusing, certainly, but underneath all this lies a warm and beating human heart. The film asks questions–literally–the characters are always asking questions, and then contradicting themselves in ways that raise more questions. It makes us think about anonymity and celebrity, about the commercialization of art, about whether or not art has any meaning, or needs to have meaning. Guetta’s art, which is dangerously similar to Bansky’s own, is seen as meaningless, but it sells for lots of money, and Guetta, like Bansky, becomes a celebrity, which seems like a depressingly empty pursuit.

The film questions whether or not there are rules, if we should play by them or make up our own, and if any of it really matters. “I don’t know how to play chess, but to me, life is like a game of chess.” Guetta supposedly took up the video camera because he didn’t want to miss anything. As a child he was away from home for the death of his own mother, and now he obsessively video tapes everything in his life so that he won’t miss it. He starts to follow street artists all over the world, amassing a prodigious amount of footage, and entirely missing the lives of his own children, and all the ways they are growing and changing all the time. He doesn’t watch any of the video, he packs it all away in boxes, for him capturing it is enough.

I’m so taken with this idea…the idea that capturing or creating a moment is sufficient, and that making it viewable, let alone sharing it or exhibiting it, is not a necessary part of the process. It put me in mind of Vivian Maier, a photographer whose work was recently “discovered.” during an auction of the contents of a storage locker that proved to contain a massive hoard of negatives.



Maier had lived in New York and Chicago, and she created a remarkable collection of gorgeous street photographs that she never developed. The images are strikingly beautiful…the focus is uncanny, the blacks are rich and dark, the subjects are full of humor and sadness. She has beautiful images of children on the streets and looking through windows, images of lovers and workers and parents and elderly people going about their day. Maier was a nanny but I don’t think she had a family of her own, and it’s strange to think about her capturing the passage of time in other peoples’ lives, the progress from childhood to old age. She was never a celebrity, never recognized or acclaimed in her lifetime. She became poor and, I imagine, lonely.

Her street photography lies in stark contrast to Guetta’s manically hyped shallow “works” and even to Banksy’s street art. But it seems as though they’re all asking the same questions and all deciding that there are no answers but it doesn’t mean they should stop asking, or that we should stop trying to capture moments as they fly by, though we can never catch time as it passes. The attempt may be futile, but that doesn’t mean it lacks value.

Chocolate-stuffed cherry cake

Chocolate-stuffed cherry cake

Well, I’ve said it was my summer of cherries, and here’s another example. We were playing with our new cherry pitter the other evening, and Malcolm invented the method of stuffing the pitted cherries with chocolate chips. Genius! The boy’s a mad culinary genius! Of course I had to take it all a step further and pit and stuff some cherries and then bake them into a cake. I made a very simple cake, with ground hazelnuts. This is similar to clafoutis, of course, but it really is a cake and not a custard.

Here’s Tonight the Streets are Ours by Richard Hawley from Exit Through the Gift Shop.
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Almond cake with chocolate and fresh cherries

Almond cake with chocolate and cherries

Almond cake with chocolate and cherries

Isaac is miserable about having to write a summer journal entry, so in solidarity I’m writing one, too.

July 11, 2013.

This morning I cleaned the bathrooms for the first time in a few weeks. I thought about time passing. A baby screamed outside the window with that sound that could be crying or laughing, and from behind a closed door Isaac made the same sound. I thought about how summer used to last forever and now it flies by; I know it’s a clichéd thought, but that doesn’t make it less true–it might make it more true. Our summer days are the old-fashioned kind, nothing planned, but long and busy. They race by in a flurry of periods of activity mixed with spaces of inactivity, but they’re not particularly eventful, and maybe that’s why it’s hard for Isaac to think of anything to write about. It honestly doesn’t feel as though we have time in our days for notable events, that’s how full they feel. I thought about how Camus said “Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter,” and about how he died in a car crash with a train ticket in his pocket, for a train ride he could have been on. I know about these things from wikipedia and some dumb website that collects people’s quotes, and I wonder if Camus would have had any respect for these because obviously it means people are trying to understand everything, on some level, or if he would have been depressed by them because he said, “what we ask is that articles have substance and depth, and that false or doubtful news not be presented as truth.” I remembered another time that I’d cleaned the bathroom, and I’d made a humorous quip about how scrubbing a toilet if two little boys live in the house is sisyphean and leads to existential despair, and I’d wondered if Camus had ever had to do it. And I think that this quip was proof that I’d gotten Camus completely wrong my whole life, and I wonder why that was. Because I’d read him in high school French class, and I don’t speak French at all? Because I speak precious little English, either? Because I’d read him in high school and I heard what my teenage self needed to hear? Maybe I have it all wrong now, because I’m forty-four and I’m hearing what my middle-aged self needs to hear. I thought about this quote “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” which is not despairing at all, but completely hopeful, and I claim it for The Ordinary, and I apply it to all things–to getting out of bed in the morning and deciding to wake up and live, to embracing the long littleness, to scrubbing toilets and listening to the boys bicker and scream and laugh, over and over and over again, to all the beautiful tediousness of our long, busy, uneventful days. Isaac just finished his journal entry, and he said that tomorrow he’s going to write, “Yesterday in my summer journal I wrote about writing in my summer journal, and next day I’ll write about how I was writing in that summer journal about writing in my summer journal, and in that summer journal I was writing about a river!”

Almond cake with chocolate and cherries

Almond cake with chocolate and cherries

We have so many vegetables now, from the farm, and I bought so much fruit from the store that I have a ridiculous sense of hopeful anxiety. I know what I want to do with all of it! But we only eat so many meals a week, and I don’t want any of it to spoil! I got myself a cherry & olive pitter for my birthday (thanks, Mom and Dad!) because it seemed like such a fun, frivolous item and therefore perfect for a birthday. So now, of course, I had to use it! I bought a big bag of cherries, and Malcolm and I pitted a bowlful. I made a batter of ground almonds, with almond and vanilla extract. I added chocolate chips, and I whizzed half in the food processor to break them down so they melted right into the batter. I made this in my big old french cake pan, but you could make it in any largish cake pan. Everybody liked it!

Here’s Everyday by Yo La Tengo.

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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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