I'm in a Transition so I made a Cake

It has been 59 days since my last post and I feel like the Catholic school girl I once was, going to confession to tell my audience in the dark box what I have been up to when he, my audience, had not thought about me or my life since the last time I visited his confessional box. Most of my readers haven't noticed that I'm gone from this world of endless information influx. My need to confess isn't because my readers are clamoring to know what I've been up to. This is about me. It is important to me to address my absence and figure out the words to describe how I went from completing essays with recipes weekly for nearly two years, to not posting a word for 59 days. I can call it busy, I can call it lazy, I can call it writer's block, but it truly isn't any of those things.

When I started writing this blog, it was necessary for me to have a structure to follow. The format of my posts became a way for my writing to exist. As I wrote, I envisioned one of my children, in the future, in their kitchen with the recipe book I had made for them, glancing over one of my stories before making one of their favorite childhood recipes for their family. I pictured them grinning at a memory, or tearing up over one of our shared losses. Every time I sat down to write one of the 86 posts I wrote between June 2013 and January 2015, I thought about my children reading them and it made me happy. The words flowed almost daily. And then, 59 days ago, they didn't.

My writing came to a halt.  Just. Like. That.  Every day I thought maybe I would write a new post. And then I didn't. My mind was working overtime on stories and ideas and creative endeavors. But the words and phrases all stayed nicely tucked away in my mind. I tried a few times to write down a the bits and pieces of stories that were swirling around in my brain. But the writing wasn't spilling out like it had in the past and it showed in the results. I have 35 drafts of posts that read like I am trying to write but don't have anything to say. My mind keeps taking me in new directions that don't fit into the blog format I created for myself. And after 59 days, I have finally realized that the structure that once gave me the ability to write is now holding me back.

I don't have the answer yet. But making this confession is my first step towards finding the new me. And since The Water is (still) Smiling, I leave you with a quote and a cake while I ponder my transition.

"A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you're in and take advantage of it." -Nikki Giovanni

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 Chocolate Date Cake (no gluten, no grains, no refined sugar) (rewritten from Sprouted Kitchen's Flourless Chocolate Date Cake)

1 cup almond flour (almond meal) 1/2 cup hazelnut flour (hazelnut meal) 1/2 tsp salt 2 cups pitted, chopped dates (about 20-25 dates) 1/3 cup buttermilk 5 eggs, separated 3 T cacao powder (or cocoa powder) 1/2 tsp baking soda 7 ounces semisweet chocolate 6 T unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10" springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine flours and salt. In a food processor or vitamix, combine dates, buttermilk, egg yolks, cacao powder and baking soda. Blend until smooth and mix into to the bowl with flour and salt. Set a pan over a pot of boiling water (but not touching the water) and melt the butter and chocolate stirring until smooth. Mix well into batter. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold into batter. Transfer to cake pan and smooth top. Bake for 30-40 minutes until toothpick comes clean. Cool completely and serve with whipped cream and berries.

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Notes: This cake is not as sweet as many chocolate cakes. It is dark chocolatey which I love, very satisfying so can be served in tiny little slices, and I think it is best topped with plenty of sweetened whipped cream (whip 8oz heavy cream, 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla until thick).

Pomegranate Flan for Allan

Flan seems like an appropriate recipe for One and Only Son's birthday, which is tomorrow, which begins the celebration of Mexican Independence Day, which is where I gave birth to said Son.

While living in Mexico, birthplace of One and Only Son, I discovered flan...an easy, delicious and quite impressive dessert.  Over the years, I have collected quite a few versions of the basic flan recipe.  They are equally yummy, with slight flavor variations that all seem to work perfectly, and guests always seem to love the rich, caramel flavor of a flan dessert.  But no one has ever loved my flan more than Allan, who is not my son, although he looks so youthful he could be.

I met Allan and his partner Tab when we first moved back to Santa Barbara in 2000.  They were close friends of our neighbors and we hit it off from day one.   Allan and Tab live an amazingly interesting life, starting in the early days of Hollywood when Tab Hunter was not only a successful actor but also had a record single that beat Elvis on the charts!  During the course of our friendship, Tab has written a best-selling book, Allan sold his Lucille Ball memorabilia collection to a museum and they have worked together on movies.  They travel the world doing speaking engagements and appearances and tours.  So we never run out of things to talk about.  I have enjoyed many elegant, casual dinner parties in the garden of their perfectly gorgeous spanish house.  And since Allan has the talent to cook the meals himself, I always offer to bring a dessert.  At one of our first gatherings I brought flan with pomegranate seeds.

Flan, while delicious and decadent, is not the most beautiful dish all on it’s own.  I always feel the need to add a little color to the finished dish before presentation.  Usually, raspberries are good because the rich taste of the flan goes well with the tart raspberries.  But when I was bringing the flan to Allan for the first time, it was nearly winter.  I had finished the flan and went out to the garden to find a suitable garnish when I saw the pomegranate tree.  Perfect!  I brought one in, cracked it open and spilled some seeds and juice on the flan.  That was almost a decade ago and Allan still asks me to bring the flan almost every time we visit.  I use raspberries in the summer, but Allan’s favorite is pomegranate.

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My pomegranates are ripening on the tree right now, a bit early this year.  It must be time for a dinner with Allan and Tab.

"Enjoy your youth. You'll never be younger than you are at this very moment." -Chad Sugg

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Pomegranate Flan for Allan

1 cup sugar 1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk 1 can (14oz) coconut milk 14 oz milk (1 3/4 cup) 6 eggs 1 fresh pomegranate OR 1 cup pomegranate juice fresh mint to garnish 

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt sugar in pan over medium heat until it melts to liquid.   Swirl the pan over the heat until the liquid turns golden brown.  Don’t overcook!  As soon as it turns golden brown remove from heat or it will burn. Pour the liquid from the pan into an 8-cup baking dish, tilting to cover the whole bottom before it turns hard.   I like to use something large and flat like a deep dish pie pan or a 8” square cake pan. Blend the rest of the ingredients in a blender and pour into the baking dish set into a larger pan. Put both pans in oven and pour hot water in the larger pan until it comes about 1/2 way up the side of the flan pan. Be very careful when closing the oven not to spill the liquids. Bake 1 hour.  Carefully remove flan pan from oven, leaving the larger pan so the water doesn’t spill into the flan.   Cool and refrigerate. loosely covered, overnight. Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen.  Put a serving plate on top of the pan and quickly invert so flan turns onto plate with caramel sauce on top.  There will be liquid syrup so use a large plate and hold it tight to the pan when turning. Any extra caramel can be spooned on top of flan.  Refrigerate again until serving. Break open pomegranate over a bowl and pull off seeds, letting juice drip into bowl with seeds.  Pick out white parts so that you are left with just the seeds and juice in a bowl.  Remove flan from refrigerator and sprinkle a few tablespoons of pomegranates over the top and sides.  Spoon some juice on the top.  Garnish with a piece of fresh mint. 

Note:  If you can’t find a fresh pomegranate, pour 1 cup of pomegranate juice in a small saucepan and boil until reduced by half.  Drizzle over flan.

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Mom's Memory Pie (aka Blueberry Lemon Tart)

Today is my father-in-law's birthday.And two days ago was Firstborn Daughter's birthday. You may wonder why I am posting about my Mom today instead of them. Well, here's the thing. I started testing recipes earlier this summer to commemorate their special days. But I didn't finish.  I am not stressing about it, I just haven't done it yet. I learned long ago that I can't let life get in the way of living.  I would rather celebrate with them than write about celebrating them. So I went to New York last week to be with Firstborn Daughter and now I'm in San Francisco for Father-In-Law's birthday. I'm doing a lot of living.

Last night Father-In-Law started reminiscing with his brother about childhood and family life and stories from growing up.  They are the stories that I love. Stories that let us peek into his world and envision a life that we didn't live with him. Mom gave me that peek into her world recently too and as I listened to Father-In-Law's stories I remembered I hadn't posted Mom's story yet. That is how my brain works.  The stories pile up in there and then pop out when triggered by something. So today I'm posting about Mom.

Mom seems to really like my blog. She doesn't have email or Facebook so she can't subscribe but she does have a computer and access to the internet so she goes to my site to see what I have posted.  She comes from an era where writers got paid if their stories were published so she's not so sure I should write for free, but she likes reading my stories.  And I like having her read them so she can keep me honest and correct me when something from my memory isn't quite accurate.

Mom called me recently and said she had an idea for my blog.  She didn't have a recipe to go with it but she thought it was an interesting topic and it did relate to my cooking.  She told me about it then wrote it all down for me and mailed it to me so I would remember the details.  Mom is awesome.

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Her story goes back to her childhood and as you will read, Mom has an amazing memory.  I couldn't remember what she told me on the phone a week later so it is a good thing she mailed me the details.  Clearly, she knows me well.  With her note, she sent a photo of her parent's house at 1201 Yankee Road in Middletown, Ohio, and included the information that they bought in 1930 for $3500.

1201 Yankee Road

Mom remembers a tiny door built into the side of the house where the milkman could leave his 5:00am delivery and they could retrieve it in the kitchen when they awoke.  They would get fresh milk, cream, butter and cheese.  Bread was also delivered every day but tea and coffee was just on Friday.  The tiny grocery was a block away from the house but it wasn't necessary to go there.  Mom's mom would call in her order every morning and by 3:00pm it was delivered to a room at the back of the house.  The ironing lady picked up on Tuesday and delivered on Thursday.  Even the Avon lady delivered toothpaste and soap once a month.  All to the room at the back of the house where the door was always unlocked and the things were left on the table if no one was home.  Everything was on an account so no money changed hands from day to day.

Mom said people would come to the back door sometimes asking for food.  Her mother would provide them a plate of food, which they ate while perched on the back steps before returning the plate with words of thanks for the meal.  It was just how things were at the time.  If someone was hungry, they asked for food and you fed them.  What a lovely concept.

The bus stopped on the road in front of the house so Mom remembers a childhood filled with freedom.  They could walk into town or they could go even farther on the bus.  Her and her siblings cried when they moved to a grand house in the country but it seems they got over it once they started going to the brand new supermarket.  The supermarket was about 20 minutes from their home and they went once a week.  Mom remembers how much her mother hated the store.  But Mom and her siblings loved the access to all the new treats they could find.  They didn't have an ice cream parlor nearby like at their old house, but now they could have ice cream in their own home! At the time, they thought this was progress..

The point of Mom telling me all this, so she said, was that my life when I lived in Australia reminded her of those early days on Yankee Road and she thought I should write about it.  My years living in Australia reminded her of a time gone by in America, a time when food was local and fresh.  Mom has such clear memories of her years on Yankee Road.  And I have clear memories that some of the happiest days of my life were when I lived in Australia with three young children, a husband that worked and traveled nonstop, and not a moment to myself.

I think often about why that time was so happy.  I realized long ago, shortly after I moved back to the States, that it was about the food.  Fulfilling the daily needs of my family was not a chore. It was a pleasurable outing.  I walked a block away pushing a double stroller where I chose my fresh food from variety of shops including a butcher, fish market, baker, produce stand and general store.  I knew all the owners and on the days I bought more than a few things, the owner of the general store would take it from me and deliver it all to my house.  He delivered to me a lot. I cooked nearly every day feeding five or six people or more.  The funny thing is, it didn't feel hard.  It was deliciously simple.

Those days in Australia gave me great perspective on how to enjoy the way I shop, eat, cook and entertain.  Luckily, we moved from Australia to California so my focus on fresh goodness is available at my fingertips every day.

Like Mom said, she didn't have a recipe to go with the memories of her youth.  So this dessert isn't Mom's recipe, it is my recipe, reminiscent of that time Mom recalled when life was simple and food was based on fresh goodness.  I created it for Mom, her memory and her inspiration.  It combines the delicious flavor of blueberries fresh off the bush, with homemade lemon curd all tart and creamy, and a nutty crust laden with butter.  It was the dessert that would have been made in Mom's day when everything was fresh and good.  I'm calling it Mom's Memory Pie.

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"I can't let life get in the way of living." - Cynthia Spivey

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Mom's Memory Pie (aka Blueberry Lemon Tart)

1 gluten-free tart crust (from Chris' Raspberry Tart sans gluten) 1/2 cup marscapone, room temperature 2-3 T. powdered sugar 1-2 T heavy cream (only if needed) 1/2 cup lemon curd (homemade is best) 2-4 cups fresh blueberries fresh mint and powdered sugar for garnish

Bake tart shell and let cool completely. Mix marscapone and powdered sugar until thoroughly combined.  If mixture is too thick to easily spread, add 1-2 T heavy cream. Spread marscapone mixture evenly on tart crust.  Refrigerate for one hour. Spread lemon curd evenly on top of marscapone. Top with blueberries. (2 cups if you want a single layer, 3 or 4 cups if you want it piled high.) Refrigerate.  Set out 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and garnish with mint leaves. Serve with stories of favorite memories.

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