Almond cake with blueberry & chocolate filling

Almond cake with blueberry and chocolate filling

Almond cake with blueberry and chocolate filling

We went to look for eagle feathers though we knew we wouldn’t find any. As with most things in life, it was more about the journey–the walk on the towpath, over the old train bridge, down the hill through the tall ferns and prickly vines, up to the tower where the eagle had lived. Maybe we’d go farther past it, all the way to the river, maybe we’d see the eagles flying over the water, looking for fish. We didn’t see the eagles, we didn’t find any feathers, the prickly vines scratched our ankles, but it was a wonderful walk. The wild ferns and flowers and vines are taller than me down by the eagle’s tower, and it’s a strange bright green world with narrow paths, some that lead into the woods, some that lead to the river, and some that lead up the hill back to the path. Under the staring blue sky, with small white clouds and grasshoppers flicking across our path, this felt like summer. Is it the dog days? Because we’re living like dogs, sun dogs, dogs of summer, here at The Ordinary, with no plans. We snooze in the warm sun, and wake to eat or run to the river for a swim, or chase wildly through tangled ferny paths. Clio is the leader of our pack, she shows us how it’s done, and the boys are attentive pupils. We’re trying to slow down the days, with our lazy ways, but they’re flying by anyway. Evening falls earlier, and there’s almost a chill in the air in the mornings. So we’ll follow Clio into the sunshine, and soak it up, we’ll store it inside of us against the cold days ahead.

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You know what I’ve been making a lot this summer? Flat wide cakes with fillings inside. Almost like a gateau basque. This one had blueberries and chocolate chips. (They almost always have chocolate) I’ve made some with ground almonds or almonds and pistachios, and I’ve filled them with jam or other kinds of fruit. Sometimes they’re soft, sometimes they’re crispy like big cookies. This one was quite soft inside, and a little crispy on top. It was very juicy, you can’t turn it out of the pan or anything, because it will fall apart. David said it’s like blueberry fudge. I’ll tell you about the other cakes another time.

Here’s Summertime by Sam Cooke.

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Quince, chocolate and hazelnut cake

Quince, chocolate and hazelnut cake

Quince, chocolate and hazelnut cake

On the way to school we passed a tree full of crows. When we startled them they took to the air, bright and noisy. More crows than would seem to fit in the tree, more crows than I’ve seen together at one time. Black and significant and beautiful. They flew over the rooftops and settled in a tree on the next block, and I scared them up again on the way home. I thought I might spend the day following a flock of crows and setting them off, into the cold clear air: a hoarse and raucous ruckus. What were the crows talking about? The weather, I expect. Like everyone else in this part of the world, they were discussing the cold. It’s cold. Not unseasonably, not unprecedentedly, not unexpectedly, to be true. But remarkably cold, and we’re all talking about it. I don’t mind it so much, because it feels clean and pure, it feels like a way to start anew when things come back to life. I don’t mind it so much because I’m lucky enough to have shelter and warmth, and I’m not sorry for an excuse to stay inside, sheltered and warm, baking and writing, if only for a day or two. And this brings us to your Ordinary phrase for the day. That phrase is “tuck in.” As you may recall, Isaac wanted to try taking care of somebody a week or two ago, and as part of the game he tucked me in with two pillows and two blankets. I’ve been thinking ever since about how good it is to be tucked in by gentle hands, how nice it is to be made warm and safe. Such a simple gesture, but such a rare feeling of comfort and happiness, such a memory of childhood, such a dreamy feeling that everything will be okay. Of course, “tuck in” has another meaning that appeals to me as well, especially in this weather, and that is to eat a meal. I always imagine it to be a big, hearty, warm, festive meal, in a scenario that involves tucking in. According to my beloved OED, “tuck” also describes the food itself, as well as the appetite one needs to eat it. You might find, “ten or twelve of these little bowls on the table, each with a different kind of ‘tuck’ in it.” You might have a friend who “being inclined for a tuck out, repaired where he was likely to meet with oysters.” We might “have a solid, staunch tuck-in,” all together. You might, “steal out at night from your dormitory and take tins of sardines from your tuck-box.” (I want a tuck-box!) And finally and best-of-all, you might aspire to the earn the label “tuck hunter,” so that it can be said of you that “Nothing can stop the mouth of a tuck-hunter.” And so it is my hope for all of my Ordinary friends, far and near, that however cold it may be outside, it is warm and cheerful inside, and that we all have some fine warm tuck to tuck into, or some gentle warm hands to tuck us in.

Quinces! I love them! The smell of them, the taste of them, the very idea of them. They’re quite rare around here, and a little pricey, so I always buy very few of them and then save them up till they’re almost past-it, while I wait to think of something special to do with them. This time I decided to make a cake. I cooked the quinces until they were soft. Then I cooked them with sugar, and a bit of clementine zest and juice and some vanilla extract. until they were thick and jammy. I used this, in concert with some bittersweet chocolate chips, as the central layer of a cake with hazelnuts and a bit of sherry. It’s almost like a gateau basque, except that the cake itself is a little different, a little thinner and softer.

Here’s Tom Waits with Cold Cold Ground. God I love this song.
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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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Gateau basque (with quince & black currant jam, and chocolate covered cherries)

gateau basque

My mom recently gave me a book called Cuisine moderne et vieilles recettes. She bought it in Belgium, when she was an au pair there. I’m having such a nice time reading it! I don’t speak French at all, really, but I studied it in high school and college, so I recognize some words, and then I’ll use google translate to try and understand the rest. (“Put a bead on the mold of lacking, in the basement, before boiling the under wall?!?” Okay, I’m on it!! Sounds delicious!) My mom wrote some notes, in french, on some of the recipes. It just kills me! It’s the same handwriting she has today. I’d like to be there making the recipe with her! I admire my mom so much. She’s so brave and thoughtful and full of energy. She went from Kansas to Belgium, and she’s been more places since than I will ever visit in my life. And she travels with curiosity and empathy. She seems fearless, sometimes (but I know she’s scared of loud bangs and high heights) .

I’ve had to skip over some passages (and pictures) in the book, that talk about rabbits and livers and tongues (it’s a lot like reading Mrs. Beaton, actually!). But I was very taken by a picture of Gateau Basque. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of anything Basque since I read Bridle the Wind, by Joan Aiken. (The best children’s book author ever!) One character, a Basque girl, was fiercely, stubbornly independent, and so appealing. I love the idea of a region between Spain and France (both plenty fascinating on their own!) with its own language, its own music, its own history, and its own food. So I had to make this gateau basque – at least my poorly interpreted version of the recipe! It turned out dangerously delicious! It’s like a giant butter cookie or jam tart! It’s rich and dense and sweet. You had the choice, in the recipe, of filling it with pastry cream, but, it said, “…ou mieux, avec de la confiture de cerises (ce gateau se prépare géneralement avec de la confiture…)” So I was going for the jam, because that was better. I decided on a very Claire-y combination of quince jelly, blackcurrant jam and … Chocolate covered cherries. I was worried the whole thing would be too sweet, but Malcolm rejected his piece because it tasted bitter to him. And David said he’d like this cake for his birthday! Done and done, my love!!

I’ve just been doing some reading about Basque music. This is amazing! Martxea Albokeagaz, by Maurizia, Leon eta Basilio & Fasio. Smokes! It sounds gaelic, arabic… wild and beautiful!! I’ll be learning more about this!
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