Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kitchen snapshot

I love taking the macro lens, close-in shots. Not only because you can see every drop of sauce and bit of garlic.

But also because, when you zoom out a bit, you can see that I cook in the middle of this kind of chaos.

Toddler special-treat lunch of ravioli, garlic, butter, and zucchini. Homemade playdough smashed in the pestle with fennel seeds. Leftover banana in a little bowl. Crumbs. Life.

It ain't pretty, but it is beautiful.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Angst with a side of cake

I used to write a lot. A lot. All the time.

It's so hard now, thinking while a little voice upstairs calls out regularly, "Quiet time over, mama? quiet time over mama?" The 50th time, my head explodes and all my words disappear.


I had one of those "wait a second, these aren't my people" flashes this weekend. We went to a party swarming with kids and pumpkins. I made a Deborah Madison cake with pears we scrounged freegan-style from the unoccupied rental next door.

And we took most of the cake home. I guess it looked weird next to the grocery store carrot cake. I was all, "who are these people, forsaking my monochrome lump of homeliness?"

I know I sound like a bitch no one would want to invite over to dinner.

But like everyone, I suppose, I walk around feeling like an alien. Sometimes it's lonely being so different.

I mean, seriously, this cake was nothing but fucking awesome. No one got it.

And on some level I really believe that if I can find the ones who will devour a pear-almond upside down cake—not Himalayan sea salt fussy, not ultra-sweet Costco cake—I will have finally found my tribe. And we'll sit around and drink cocktails and talk dirty and knit, and I'll feel like I've come home.

Then W. and I came home, tumbled the limp sleepy kid into bed, sat in a living room heavy with the scent of white lilies left on the doorstep by a good friend, and ate cake. And rued the frugal decision not to pick up a bottle of Black Label.

And realized that I have come home.

(My tribe is small. But I really did sit around and drink wine and knit and talk occasionally dirty with a few good girlfriends last night. So I'm counting my blessings and trying to enjoy the spark of being just a tad off typical.)

Pear-Almond Upside-Down Cake
(adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison)

3 T. butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 medium-sized pears
1/4 cup almond paste

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. almond extract
3 eggs at room temp.
2/3 cup almond meal (they sell this at Trader Joe's, or you can grind blanched almonds yourself)
1 cup flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put the butter and brown sugar in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet and heat on medium until the sugar is melted. Remove from heat. Peel, core, and slice the pears about 1/4 inch thick. Overlap the slices in concentric circles on top of the melty sugar/butter. Break the almond paste into pea-sized pieces and sprinkle over pears.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts, then the eggs, one at a time.

Stir in nuts and other dry ingredients. Spoon over the fruit and smooth out gently.

Bake in the center of oven until golden and springy, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in pan a few minutes.

Now the tricky part. Put a big round cake plate upside down over the skillet. With potholders protecting your hands, grab the plate and the skillet firmly and flip over with authority. (This is easy for me to say. W. always does this for me. I'm chicken.)

If any pears are left in the skillet, just transfer them to the top of the cake and pretend the whole thing came out perfect.