Chocolate covered caramel cake and salty toffee ice cream

chocolate-caramel-cakeI was ridiculously excited this week to learn that a person can log into the OED online using … a library card number! I’m so tickled to think of my library card being as useful and valuable as a credit card – the key to uncovering unknown riches!! I think it’s awesome! (Full of awe, profoundly reverential. He did gie an awesome glance up at the auld castle.) I’m a logophile! I love words, I always have. The sound of them, their weight and flavor in your mouth, their shifting meanings. I’m a vague, blurry sort of person, and I’m more than comfortable with the instability and ambiguity of meaning – I’m delighted by it! I’m not clever enough myself to play with words, but I have endless admiration for those who do. My idea of a good time is to discover the hidden meanings behind language, and to see how much fun the author is having as they set you their riddles. Nabokov’s subject matter is often disturbing and depressing (to me) but his playfulness with language (with three languages!) is thrilling. “Haze, Dolores…What is it? The tender anonymity of this name with its formal veil (“Dolores”) and that abstract transposition of first name and surname, which is like a pair of new pale gloves or a mask? Is “Mask” the keyword? Is it because there is always delight in the semitranslucent mystery, the flowing charshaf, through which the flesh and the eye you alone are elected to know smile in passing at you alone? Or is it because I can imagine so well the rest of the colorful classroom around my dolorous and hazy darling…” Or fellow polyglot Tom Stoppard who bemoans the complexity and insubstantiality of language with loving relish…”Rosencrantz: What are you playing at? Guildenstern: Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.” And of course Stoppard is playing with the words of the writer most seemingly in love with words, one William Shakespeare. ““Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord?/ Hamlet: Words, words, words./ Lord Polonius: What is the matter, my lord?/ Hamlet: Between who?/ Lord Polonius: I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.” I wish we gave words more weight and thought today, and didn’t devalue them as we sometimes do. Well, I wish that I did, anyway, to speak for myself!
I have to admit, though, that sometimes I find words overwhelming. I was going through some boxes in the attic the other day, and I found decades worth of notebooks and journals from every stage in my life. What a lunatic I am! Scribbles and notes and nonsense and sketches. Screenplays I filmed, screenplays I will never film. Stories I started, fell in love with, fell out of love with and never finished. Ideas for stories, random thoughts I penned while not trying to think of ideas for stories, usually in increasingly frantic and illegible handwriting. Little asides directed at whoever was sitting next to me as I wrote. Words words words!! No method, all madness! And why do I keep them? Why do I keep this dusty spider web of ink? I don’t know!! I should start a giant bonfire, and set the words free, to float into the air around us. If you’re a scribbler, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about! And it’s not just my nonsense that overwhelms me, it’s other people’s words, too. In a bookstore or library, the sight of all of these collections of words, so carefully crafted and combined, so ardently arranged, now sitting quietly on some shelf or another, bursting at the bindings with stifled words. It wears me out to think about it! But it’s beautiful, too, these worlds of words, so easily misunderstood, so accidentally powerful, so tricky, so musical, so full of life. Words words words.

toffee ice cream

toffee ice cream

We live in the “Used bookstore district” of our small town, which means that there’s a bookstore next to us and one across the street. I love them both! I love the smell of paper and ink and dust. I love the very old books – gorgeous stately objects – I love the trashy paperbacks with crumbling pages and lurid covers. And I love the soft caramels they have in a bowl by the register at The Phoenix. Wrapped in gold foil, so creamy and buttery and ridiculously good! I’ve been in a few times in the last week or so, and I take one every time. I decided to try to recreate their deliciousness in different forms, because that’s what I do. So I started with a small jar of condensed milk, and the rest is history! I made this cake, which is chewy, crunchy, buttery and, yes, caramelly. The boys loved it! And then I decided to try the ice cream – I made it a tiny bit salty, and it has a wonderfully buttery quality, though there’s no actual butter in it. It tastes a bit like praline ice cream without the nuts. I’m addicted to it! It’s nice and creamy and melty, too.

And that’s more than my fair share of words for the day! Here’s Word Play by A Tribe Called Quest.

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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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Almond cake with quince glaze

Almond cake with quince glaze

I love quince! So I was very happy to be given a jar of quince jelly recently (Thanks, Ellie!) It’s delicious on toast, of course, but it’s so pretty, and has such a lovely, distinctive, mysterious flavor, that I knew I had to make something else with it as well. Obviously I needed to make a cake. Somewhere in the back of my muddled mind, I remembered reading about a Uruguayan confection that combined quince and dulce de leche. So I wanted the cake to have a hint of dulce de leche about it. It doesn’t actually contain any, but it’s made with sweetened condensed milk and brown sugar, so it has that rich, caramel-y flavor to it. It’s a dense cake, and the almonds add a nice texture to it. The flavor of the cake itself is fairly simple, so that the quince-y quinciness shines through in all of its delightful flavor.

Here are two versions of Mr Jelly Lord, by Jelly Roll Morton. Don’t you love that song title? And the song?
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