How does this sound to you: it’s a spring day—you know, the type described in every British romantic novel that takes place in the countryside where it’s warm and sweet in the sun but still cold in the shade. The clock hits 3 or 4 ‘o clock and you’re in the mood for a coffee and a treat (it’s obviously during the weekend, the only time that matters). You cut a nice, generous slice of a crumbly, tender cake, softly fragrant with fresh ginger, and dolloped with a spoonful of tart poached rhubarb. It’s a humble treat of a thing, but at the same time it feels special.
I had a vision of this when I first read this post with fresh ginger cake and poached rhubarb a few years ago, and have every spring since then hoped to get my act together enough to actually follow through with it all. Well, Spring 2015, you’re looking like the one. Spring 2015 is also the one, coincidentally (or …not?), where I finally buy flowers for my place. Look at me!
Side note: Isn’t that dead flower in the bunch of pretty blooming photos C O O L ? I like it because it’s a little bit of a momento mori to the rest of the pretty ones—like a gentle reminder, Dead Poets Society-style, to “seize the day boys, for you’ll all be fertilizing flowers one day.” I like thinking that Spring comes, rolling in as always on soft, sweet floral scents and the feeling like life is full of endless possibilities only after something came before it.
Anyway don’t make my mistake. Seize the spring, the day, everything; spend a sunny afternoon making cake and then serve it to whoever you can and especially to yourself. It’s a good one, a classic “everyday” cake to have. It’s made better with the rhubarb, which lifts your mood and confidence disproportionately to how much effort it takes to make it (in case you’re wondering: minutes, it only takes minutes).
One Year Ago: An omelette for one, Best Cocoa Brownies
Two Years Ago: Date, Orange and Almond Granola Bars and Raw Brownies
Three Years Ago: Peach Apricot Crumble Bars and Rhubarb Grapefruit Marmalade
Fresh ginger and buttermilk cake with poached rhubarb
Recipe from here
In poaching the rhubarb in simply syrup, you’re left with a lot of rhubarb syrup. I didn’t really drizzle much over the cake—it’s tender enough as it is and perfect with just the rhubarb. But I’m taking ideas for how to use the syrup otherwise: in cocktails and drinks?
260 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
200 grams (about 1/4 cup) peeled ginger, grated on a microplane
250 grams (1 1/4 cups) sugar
170 grams (12 tablespoons) butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250 grams (1 cup) buttermilk
Poached rhubarb and syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
4 to 5 large stalks of rhubarb (400 to 450 grams), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch round springform or cake pan. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the fresh ginger, sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add in the vanilla and mix to blend. Add in the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk so that you begin and end with an addition of the flour ingredients. Mix until well combined, making sure to scrape down the bowl as needed.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown with darker brown spots on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake, then take out of the pan.
While the cake is baking, make the poached rhubarb. Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring the mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the syrup to a boil; add in the rhubarb and continue to boil for about 5 minutes—ideally until the rhubarb is tender but still holds its shape (I forgot about mine and it turned to mush… still good, not as pretty. Isn’t that life, though.) Strain the rhubarb from the syrup.
Serve slices of the cake with a big dollop of the rhubarb. If you so wish, you can drizzle on a bit of the syrup but I don’t think the cake needs it. It’s also nice with a dollop of soft whipped cream.
There’s that famous line from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises that people like to throw around: “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.” In the past, I always used to cling on to that sentiment in the hopes of achieving some sort of personal existential nirvana—you know, as a kind of darker and more intellectual-sounding version of the endless “love yourself” or “be your own best friend” inspirational quotes.
Well I’m here to tell you that sometimes Hemingway is wrong! His character and sense of self might (more like probably, most definitely) be cut from a stronger cloth than my own, but all I know is that I feel like a completely different person in different places. But it makes sense to me—places are like people and some bring out the best in you while others might make you feel moody and akin to Kurt Cobain (ehhmmm Seattle).
Anyway all of this is to say that I spent last week in Playa del Carmen and Tulum with my twin sister, Lindsey. And the trip was perfect, flawless, A+++, wouldn’t change a thing about it. It’s obvious to everyone who knows me that cities that exist by the sea and under the sun are special to me (see: my love for Lisbon a year ago and my feelings towards Santa Barbara), but there really is something pure and sacred to them so much so that in conversation with Lindsey I likened my experience of floating in Playa Del Carmen’s salty turquoise waters to a baptism. And I’m not just trying to be funny or provactive when I say that—when I was laying in the white sand after a swim, hearing little Mexican children screaming and playing in the sand with the sound of the waves in the background, I felt like I could not be bought, like there was no price tag you could have attached to me or my day or anything, for that matter. I felt very good.
It’s kind of equal parts impressive and depressing at just how fast I adjust into the place I’m in. It’s fun if it’s somewhere new, not quite so much if it’s the return trip. But there is something comforting in the fact that places still make different people, and that they can sometimes make you a different person, even if it’s all just a temporary illusion. Something in those illusions is inspiring, no? To be able to live your dreams as intensely as your life, as l’amour de ma vie Camus would say. And yeah, it may perhaps be immature and entitled of me to view cheap airfare as a solution to that restless feeling of getting perspective or the illusion of being a new person, but hey, I am young and the world is mine just as it is yours.
ALL THIS IS TO SAY: check out Lindsey’s personal blog cause she is a talented photographer if I’ve ever seen one and her photos do justice to the beauty of Playa del Carmen and Tulum in a way I can’t in scattered words and iphone images. Then again her photos, beautiful though they are, don’t capture the sound of the waves and the smell of Playa and the way it feels to be somewhere that feels like home.
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Books, lately: La Premier Homme by Albert Camus and Room with a View by E.M. Forster. Camus’ La Premier Homme (The First Man) is one of a small handful of books that embodies everything I really care about. It was the most perfect book I could have imagined reading while laying on the beach on vacation—it was actually almost spooky at how perfect that book fit the trip, of how perfect the whole trip felt, really.
Last weekend I was laying on a bench in the park, listening to the radio in the sun, and this song by Sting came on. Someone may as well had poured a bucket of ice water on my head for how vivid the world began to feel. Within the first three seconds of hearing it, memories of my childhood started rushing to me like a flood: that stale smell of my childhood home’s living room carpet when hot sun poured through the windows in the summertime, playing with American girl dolls, being trapped in the purgatory that is the back of a minivan during annual 4-day long family road trips, those long sundresses my mom used to wear. Snapshots of memories came back in such a vivid flurry and it all felt so warm and heavy it made my heart hurt.
Oftentimes I feel like my life is ruled by one big pendulum. On one side I’m in a restless craze, trying to find and feel what’s new while on the opposite end I want nothing more than to relive all the feelings I’ve already had. It’s that pull between the foreign and familiar, I guess. It’s something that’s especially obvious with music—I get really into finding new music all the time just because, you know, the well runs dry! New music must be found! New experiences will get tied to them and then those random songs may (if they’re lucky) become sacred and special! Then I hear this Simon and Garfunkel song or this by Steely Dan or that Sting song and then I realize that everything I’ve ever wanted was there all along, waiting for me. They’re the ones that became special when I wasn’t noticing.
But this whole thing, that swing going back and forth from memories to the future, applies to pretty much everything. Movies, places, perfume, walk routes home, food. Right? You want to eat a new dish in a new place with people you just met until all you want is that meal your mom served you, that one you could recognize anywhere.
Anyway, about week and a half ago I made a 7-layer cake and the sun was pouring in through my windows like butterscotch and everything—floor, chairs, counters, cake layers, my clothes—was covered with powdered sugar and I thought, “yep, sick, I’m back at it.” So, lo and behold, here I am back at this space. I thought I was over it until I got that desire to write down some stuff, tag a couple of recipes and songs, and to start talking about food again. As you do. I really have no idea whether this blog falls into the foreign or familiar category. Like all the best things, I suppose, I hope it’s both.
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In other food news, a couple weeks ago I made a giant pavlova with lemon curd and whipped cream with pomegranates scattered on top and I also made some chicken liver pate by mashing the steaming hot chicken liver mixture through a fine mesh sieve (!!!!!!!). But that pate and pavlova were worth the efforts because THEY GOT POEMS WRITTEN ABOUT THEM—like, really, how often does that happen to your food?
I’ve also got some peanut butter cookies sitting in the freezer and I’ve got plans to make a cheesecake. On the non-diabetic side of things, I’m dreaming about making some stuffed cabbage, meatball subs and potato pierogis. We’ll see what turns up.
Yesterday morning as I was waiting for my bus at its stop at 8:24, ready to head into work, I felt the cold and fog nip around me (and that’s what it does, nip, like a bite) and I had my headphones in and I was listening to this song, and I thought, “oh boy it’s happened, this is when it all starts mattering, part II of the year is here.”
Part II. As in the descent down, the long stretch towards cold weather, thick sweaters, nostalgic moods, bob dylan, pale skin that makes me want to just give up already and hibernate until the spring, hot chocolate to make up for said feelings about not being able to hibernate, etc, etc.
I do have to say though, I’ve been looking forward to it (second time ever in my life). Because even though Part I of the year is obviously the superior half, what with that lovely, lazy descent up—riding the long, slow waves of warmth and sun and swims in the sea—it all has to end sometime. As much as I thrive and adore the summer, the only thing worse than summer ending is if it weren’t to end at all. I mean, can you imagine? The passing of time without having seasons and changes in the weather to measure it?? ????
To me I need the change to remind me that the sun can’t always be there—it can’t always be well under the sun, you know? I need the weather to remind me how to feel. And on a similar, but smaller scale, food both reflects and reminds this change too. For me food goes on the upswing come Fall. I love food year round (obviously), but when colder weather comes I get in reflective, attached moods about it all. I get really excited again about ingredients, I start flagging recipes and flavors to make, plotting future dinners.
This time round, so far, it’s been simple peasant-y stuff, but there’s really nothing new about that, I suppose. Nonetheless! Highlight #1: These potato cakes with creamy mushrooms recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi at The Guardian. Potato scones, potato bread, tattie scones—I really don’t know what to call them, but I don’t really have the patience to figure it out. I’ve made them twice now, the first time when I properly followed the recipe with mushrooms, wine, cream and herbs. And it was all great, too great to be bothered and interrupted with trying to take a photo for this blog (your loss, my gain, sorry). Then I made them again this past Sunday, patting out the simple potato-butter-flour dough and frying it out, only this time I topped them with with some chard that I sauteed up with bacon and a little bit of chicken stock and apple cider vinegar. It’s really an easy meal, and it’d be made even easier if you made the dough with leftover mashed potatoes. And as much as I loved both the mushroom and bacon-greens topping, I like the idea of these potato scones so much in themselves that I’m hoping to make them again for a lot of things—to be served under poached eggs, or as a side with some meat and gravy, or just by themselves, floury and buttery and delicious.
Moving on to Peasant Food Highlight #2: I made a simple French-ish-style warm lentil salad and topped it with a couple poached eggs and a sharp dijon vinaigrette and it was perfect. I’m not sure there’s anything else to say about it, because if that description didn’t do anything for you, well, then I’m sorry.
One Year Ago: Tarte amande aux poires / French almond and pear tart, and a nostalgia-inducing post about Amsterdam and Brussels (same Radiohead song that opened this post—told you my yearly moods run on a tight schedule)
Two Years Ago: Curried Lentil Soup and Baracky Road Ice Cream
Three Years Ago: Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Frosting (making a batch of these this week)
Warm French lentils with poached eggs
1 cup French green lentils, rinsed
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 heaping tablespoons dijon mustard
In a medium saucepan, bring the lentils, water and bay leaf to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 or 20 minutes until they’re tender.
While the lentil are cooking, heat a good tablespoon in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and a good dusting of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and a pinch of salt. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive in and whisk to combine.
When the lentils are ready, drain them of any leftover water, discard the bay leaf, and add them to the skillet with the vegetables. Add most of the vinaigrette, saving some for drizzling on top of poached eggs, if you’d like. Stir to combine and set aside while you poach the eggs.
[Poach the eggs. Google this or go call your mom if you don’t know how.]
Serve the lentils with a poached egg or two on top, topping with the remaining vinaigrette and some chopped herbs if you have them.