Gianduja cake

gianduja-cakeThere’s a pleasant sort of anxiety about the last week of summer vacation. We made plans to do every single fun thing we’ve talked about doing all summer long! All in one week! At the moment, of course, the boys are watching dumb cartoons, and I’m sitting in front of the computer writing about cake. (Did you ever see the Simpsons when Homer thinks he’s going to die, and he promises that if he’s allowed to live he’ll never ever waste another moment of his life? He lives, and the credits play out to the sounds of Homer watching bowling on the TV. It’s like that.) But we did go for a walk in the woods. The far far away woods. It was a big adventure. The weather was crisp and perfect, and the boys turned the walk into a search for efts and salamanders. There was a scoring system! Points were awarded! Four points for a red eft, and I can’t really remember the others. Well! The woods were teeming with efts! Generally we’re lucky to see one or two, and we saw hundreds of the tiny, unbelievably beautiful chinese-red, green-spotted, soft-skinned, dog-like, sweet-fingered little creatures. I went ahead at Clio’s pace, and stood to wait for the salamander searchers. The light was dappled and shifting. If you tried to take a picture of a boy glowing in a pool of sunshine, you couldn’t, because he’d walk into the shade and then the sun and then the shade again. The light ran over the moss and rocks and leaves like water, swirling with the shadows of branches far overhead, branches moved by a wind that felt like autumn. The earth was soft with dead leaves, which had been packed down year after year after year, and left the ground under our feet feeling hollow and sweetly, whisperingly resonant. I looked back at my three boys, bent over a stone or log that they’d moved, just for a moment. They ran their fingers through soft decaying wood and soil, wet and rich and fragrant. They bowed their heads together over outstretched hands, and David held their palms towards him as if he could read their future. They replaced the rocks and logs to their place of quiet, slow decay, and they ran to catch me up, nearly knocking me over with the force of their hugs. And so goes another summer, and I wonder what it feels like for the efts when they know that winter is coming. Do they remember their watery birth? Do they have dreams of their return to the water when the time is right?

Malcolm dressed as a red eft

Malcolm dressed as a red eft


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I made this cake for a back-to-school luncheon for the teachers. And, of course, I made one for us, too, just to be sure it was edible. It’s a French-style cake, quite simple, but very tasty with hazelnuts and chocolate. I made it almost all in a food processor, except for the egg white-beating, which I did by hand. It’s a simple cake…but flavorful and pleasing. Like soft, intensely flavored brownies, maybe. Very easy to make, and very tasty with coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon or wine after dinner, like all good-hearted cakes.

Here’s Flatt and Scruggs with Wildwood Flower.

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Nutella cake

Nutella cake

I was shelving some books in the boys’ room (their preferred method of storing books is heaping them in a giant pile on the floor, as if in preparation for a bonfire) when I came across a book from my childhood. My Learn to Ride Book. It was from the period in my life that I saved up every penny to buy myself a horse. Looking at the pictures – clean line drawings and simple colors, I recalled vividly what a keen pleasure the book had been for me. I can’t really explain why that would be. There was something so hopeful about it, maybe…the book goes from choosing a horse to jumping over giant hurdles on your horse in about twenty pages. It makes it all seem possible. I never did buy that horse.

Somebody asked me to bake a cake! For an occasion! I felt so honored. I decided to make a nutella cake – everybody likes nutella, right? So I added dark cocoa and ground hazelnuts to the batter, I put a thick layer of nutella in the middle, and I coated the whole thing with bittersweet ganache, just for kicks. While I was making it, I thought about a picture from My Learn to Ride Book. The picture shows the kind of horse you should avoid at all costs. The poor thing has so many problems, one of which is a sway back. Well…my cake didn’t get all puffy and round on top. It wasn’t meant to, I tell you! It was meant to have a dense but tender, cakey-brownie-like texture, with little crunchy hazelnut accents. It was all carefully calculated! But the people at the event might not know that! They might think my cake looked like an undesirable old horse! Sigh. I made myself a tiny version of the cake to be sure that it was edible, and let me tell you, people, it was delicious!! Firm on the outside, light and soft on the inside, with lovely lovely hazelnut taste and crunch. You really can’t go wrong with nutella!

This might seem like sort of an odd connection, but here’s Big Boi’s The Rooster. It was the PTA that asked me to bake the cake, and he talks about going to a PTA meeting on this track, which just kills me, somehow. I love this song!
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