Tag Archives: cake

Leaves and flowers before the rain.

gl-2016-10-24-09-38-16My early walk was so variously interesting and nourishing, I thought it alone would have taken all morning. First thing, down by the creek I got the briefest glimpse of a strange bird, not a jay but with blue around its head somewhere, and I heard its call, but it always flew through the trees just out of sight.

The skies were cloudy, my house was chilled, but the air outdoors was gentler than is typical for these parts, and all the deciduous trees made their own light against the dark background. It was natural to be looking up, and to notice the music of bird conversations. I was made aware today of how wild birds live their own separate existence, so mysterious and otherworldly. When one is caught in a camera lens or is slowed down by an injury, making it possible for me to draw a little closer and examine the feathers or the colors, or to look in the bright eyes, the only reasonable response is reverence.

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And yet, the creatures are everywhere. It is estimated that there are 10,000 bird species and 200 – 400 billion individual birds in the world. Most of the free ones seem always to be just beyond reach, airy and on the move. Egrets at least will stand still long enough to be stared at. This morning a human mom, her baby in a stroller, was looking over the bridge, and when I asked her if she’d seen any waterfowl, told me about two egrets down by the next bridge. I went there, but they were gone.

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What I did see was a turkey vulture! Normally I think they are repulsive, but that may be because they are circling a dead something on the ground, or eating carrion on the highway. When I saw this one sitting on the bank of the creek, all parts but his head looked almost pretty. He was so slow and still, I think he might have been sick or injured. When I came closer he flew clumsily on to a nearby branch.

A breeze was coming up — rain was on its way. Some of the leaves were hard to capture with my camera as they fluttered and waved around, and I thought it amusing that I was so determined to take more Autumn Color pictures. It seemed that just a couple of days ago I was thinking that I was tired of them. It is true, this saying of G.K. Chesterton: “There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.” Today, I was keen on leaves.

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“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
― Albert Camus

My plan was, when I came homegl-yarrow-lavender-10-24-16, to finish cleaning up the yard before the rain came and made that kind of work more tedious. For some reason two of my lavender bushes are still blooming, but as even they are at the end of the season, I began to prune them back, and then I realized I could bring the cuttings into the house for a dry bouquet. And why not add some yarrow blooms; they are untiring in their production of yellow flowers.

The basil that was spindly and reluctant all summer has beefed up and made something of itself in the last weeks, so I cut all of it and thought I would make a batch of pesto.

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And why not bake a cake? Housemate Kit was due to return home today after several months in Guatemala on a missions trip, and wouldn’t she like a cake when she came in from driving through the rain for hours? I’ll tell you more about the cake in another post, but let me just say that it had chocolate in it, and what with all the sampling of 60% cacao chips, and licking of batter and tasting of crumbs, I was getting plenty of caffeine to excite my brain for hours to come – like now.

When I was thick in the business of messing up the whole kitchen with flour, flowers, and cake crumbs, I got the news that some cousins I had expected tomorrow  were also driving down through the storm and arriving this evening instead, and would take me out to dinner.

So the rain came drizzling as I was baking; then sprinkling while I washed the dishes; and by dinnertime it was pouring very encouragingly. After Chinese dinner we came home and Kit had arrived – we all ate cake together, and put the basil in the fridge for tomorrow.

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I surprise myself.

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Place card showing through rainbow cup

I thought I might be able to do a little something for someone special, and it turned into a surprisingly big something. What surprised me was the chain of events that resulted from a simple idea that would have been too stressful even to even consider just a month ago.

The baptismal name of one of my goddaughters is Sophia, and the day that we commemorate Saint Sophia was this month, just a few days after The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross. On Sunday I suggested that she come over after Vespers on Wednesday, the evening/beginning of the name day, for a light meal to celebrate; Wednesday is a fasting day so it would pretty much need to be a vegan meal. I hoped there might be three or four of us eating it together, but wouldn’t have been surprised or unhappy if Sophia and I were the only ones celebrating.

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<< (Favorite pewter water pitcher that my in-laws bought while traveling in Denmark)

 

This was not a very well thought out party I was giving, but was more the kind of thing that is "thrown together," though that phrase does not adequately describe the flowing way the guest list and the menu developed over the next two days, culminating in a dinner party for twelve! It seemed to me in the end that God had used this desire I had to bless my friend to steer me in the right direction, down the path at the end of which I discovered that I am adjusting to not having a husband to cook for, and that my grief is less consuming and disabling than before.

On Monday I shopped, after the festal liturgy, and put extra leaves in the table. Tuesday I GLS P1010622made the soup and the cake. Wednesday afternoon I made the bread and cleaned house and set the table. I didn’t have twelve matching of anything, but I had six of the same placemats, spoons, napkins, etc., so I alternated around the table.

The soup is one I created thirty years ago out of necessity, when we lived in such a small town that I had to drive a distance to do my major grocery shopping. One day the cupboard was somewhat bare and I didn’t want to make that trip, so I concocted this stew using what I had on hand, that has the colors of the Italian flag in its ingredients, plus some Italian flavors, hence the name. It’s probably the only recipe I’ve created that has any kind of interesting name to go with it.

I haven’t actually tried using fresh basil, which is very odd since in the last decades it’s been so available in my garden and would seem to be preferable. Having pulled up my spent basil plants only the week previous, I didn’t have it available this time, either. I thought about buying a bunch, but decided to just go with the original recipe for this party and be safe.

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Italian Flag Soup

½ cup olive oil
3 onions, chopped
garlic (optional)
5 cups large white dried beans
2 tablespoons salt
black pepper
1/3 cup dried basil (or equivalent in the fresh herb)
4 bay leaves
10-12 red potatoes in chunks
2 bunches Italian parsley, chopped

In a 16-qt pot or larger sauté the onions, and garlic if using, in olive oil. Add the beans and water to cover 2 inches. Simmer for about an hour.

Add the salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Simmer another hour, adding water as needed to keep it soupy.

Add the red potatoes, basil, and parsley. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, adding water as needed. Adjust seasonings and serve. Nice to make the day before so the flavors can mellow together longer.

It seemed to me that the soup and cake were the backbone of the culinary aspect, so I had to decide on those elements of the dinner at the outset. The cake I discovered on this website after browsing a while online. I wanted it to be vegan and also not chocolate, because these days I’m afraid of losing sleep over evening chocolate. The only change I made was to cut the sugar in the recipe from 1 1/2 cups to 1 cup, and it was just right.

I did make the Caramel Sauce, which I think is optional. I wouldn’t make it again, because 1) Caramel is much better with butter or cream, 2) Making caramel is a bother, and I’m not sure I didn’t scorch it a little (though it did taste nice with the cake), and 3) Everyone said it was completely unnecessary because the cake is perfect the way it is.

I appreciated the lack of cinnamon in this cake, because I think it gets overused in baked goods, and the spices that were present were not so heavy that they overwhelmed the subtlety of the pears. I have transcribed the recipe after making my adjustment.GLS P1010571

Gingerbread Pear Bundt Cake

For the cake:

1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 medium pears, peeled and diced 1/2-inch (about 3 cups diced)
1/4 cup powdered sugar for dusting the top, if desired

Caramel Sauce:GLS P1010636

1 cup full-fat coconut milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease bundt pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, water, brown sugar, molasses, vinegar and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Use a whisk to mix the batter together just until combined. Fold in the pears.

Pour batter into the bundt pan and bake until the cake begins to pull away from the edges slightly and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out nearly dry, 45 to 60 minutes.

Let cool for 5 minutes then use a knife to carefully loosen any stuck sides. Invert cake over a wire rack and lift off the pan. Let cake cool completely. Carefully transfer cooled cake to platter or cake plate and dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

While the cake cools, make the caramel sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, vanilla and salt. Set aside. Add the sugar and water to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir just to combine, but do not stir after that! Allow mixture to come to a boil and watch it carefully. After about 6 minutes, the mixture will start to turn golden, then light brown, and it will smell like caramel. As soon as it has turned brown, slowly pour in the coconut milk mixture. The caramel will bubble enthusiastically at first. If the sugar hardens around the whisk, don’t worry, this is normal – just keep stirring and it will dissolve. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the caramel sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes.

Slice cake and put on plates. Drizzle individual servings with the caramel sauce. Serve.

Notes

The caramel sauce may be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated in an airtight container. It keeps well for up to 5 days. Allow the sauce to come to room temperature to thin out a bit before serving. You can also warm it in the microwave for a few seconds to speed up the process.

It was a special evening in that two of my guests were named Sophia, and our priest was able to come, and “my” Sophia’s godfather as well. We had a lively group with more food contributions to the table coming in the form of salads, and much good and edifying conversation coming from everyone. The soup was popular and not much was left over.

We ate grapes, too, giant seedless Perfect Grapes, the consensus was. I made Himbasha bread, and it was the only part of the dinner that I wasn’t truly happy with. I overbaked it trying to make sure it would be chewy enough, and it ended up awfully crusty, but my friends thought it was wonderful because they like the crust. It was fresh, at least! I’ll have to keep working on that recipe, which I’ve told about before.

A couple of the women did most of the clean-up, so that part was easy, too. My feet were sore, but Sophia was radiant and blessed, which made me very happy.

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Web Gleanings from July

Several articles I’ve read lately strike me as worth sharing.

Boredom is a topic that comes up a lot, maybe more so in summertime, when some people have more time to be bored.  In “The Quiet Alarm” Andreas Elpidorou explains why  “Boredom is precious, but there’s nothing particularly good about being bored. Its unpleasantness is no illusion, its subjective character no taste worth acquiring. We should give thanks for it – and avoid it like the plague.” 5161~Girl-Reading-Book-Posters

I’m not sure what I think about all of this; perhaps Boredom is so related to Time that it’s one of those realities that I could muse on for a long time and get more and more confused – but never bored! Read the whole article here.

The threat of boredom comes to mind when I think of cocktail parties, but David Brooks uses them as a metaphor for the exciting “online life” in his article “Building Attention Span”: “Being online is like being a part of the greatest cocktail party ever and it is going on all the time….” He says that “This mode of interaction nurtures mental agility,” or what he calls “fluid intelligence.”

He contrasts that with “crystallized intelligence,” which is what we get more of in offline learning, “…the ability to use experience, knowledge and the products of lifelong education that have been stored in long-term memory.” This kind of learning leads to wisdom, and goodness knows we need that. Read the whole article here.

Fr. Stephen Freeman’s retheotokos Decani monasterycent article “Why the Orthodox Honor Mary” begins a discussion that continues in the resulting comments,  contrasting the humility and submission of Mary as something to recognize and emulate, with the actual veneration of her as an aspect of our worship of God.

A fascinating bit of Bible exposition is in the comments where Fr. Stephen explains Jesus’s words to Mary at the marriage of Cana, and the meaning that becomes clear when you see that they hearken back to the story in I Kings of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. Read it all here.

https://i1.wp.com/cdn8.openculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/28001845/Emily-Dickinson-Coconut-Cake.jpgTo end on a lighter note, how about some coconut cake to have with your iced tea on a summer afternoon? (If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, even better – just make that hot tea.) This picture of Emily Dickinson’s Handwritten Coconut Cake recipe, and the accompanying text, do encourage me that if I get back into the kitchen more, it won’t necessarily mean a lessening of my writing output. I do wonder what the form of the coconut ingredient is intended to be, but it would be fun to experiment with one of my favorite foods.

As I write, the sun has yet to emerge in my cool corner of California, but by mid-afternoon the situation will probably have changed enough that I could sit outdoors with some tea and some more reading material from which to glean. Happy reading to you, too!

A month later… the cake.

I just realized it is the one-month anniversary of my birthday. That is a bit odd to take note of, except that it gives me a chance to show you the cake that Kate made for me. It was a flourless chocolate cake, which she had baked before, but the recipe was for a smaller springform pan than I had here. So she increased the recipe and made a giant cake, considering how rich it was. All the 15 people who were here for our anniversary party (which was also my birthday party) could not finish it, and it was enjoyed by several liberal-minded people for another week, as breakfast.

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The girls did not want ask the person whom they were celebrating where they might find birthday candles, so they made do with my cute (giant) gumdrop-shaped candles they discovered. That made me happy remembering the cakes I made for the children when they were young, and very often decorated with gumdrop candies, because that was special and very easy.

It also made me think it funny the way things have evolved, that I keep birthday candles in a different place, clear across the house, from all the other candles.