Introverted, homebody me launched a book club last month. Can you believe it? Rather uncharacteristic, but I’d been considering joining one for a while and couldn’t find any existing one that I liked. With a burst of initiative, I thought, “What the hell,” and decided to create the kind of book club I’d want to join. And, with that, “Literature and Libations” was born. We already have 60 members.
An unexpected side benefit of my book club is that on a grey and chilly day like today, I’m justified in brewing a cup of tea, cutting a big slice of this cardamom rose cake, and curling up with a book for the day, assuring myself that rather than being lazy, I’m industriously handling “club business.”
Now, if I can just find a way to justify my afternoon naps. This month, we’re reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.
My local coffee house serves a delicately flavored, slightly sweet cardamom-rose latte that I adore. I’ve captured its exotic flavor in this simple cake, inspired by this recipe.
1 cup almond flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon (scant) salt
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus more for pan
½ cup mild olive oil
2 Tablespoons rose water
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, browned and slightly cooled
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. lightly grease a 10” cast iron skillet and dust with sugar, knocking out excess. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar together until very thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Combine olive oil and rose water and slowly drizzle into the egg mixture, continuing to whisk as you go. Once combined, reduce speed to low and drizzle in the browned butter. Once combined, gently fold in the dry ingredients, taking care not to deflate the batter. Pour batter into the cast iron skillet.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Let the cake cool. Serve slices slightly warm or room temperature.
I’ve been practicing my staring technique. Staring at a blinking cursor on a blank screen; staring at a cooling mug of coffee; staring at raindrops traveling down the kitchen window; staring at the television.
“I should bake,” I think, but can’t even manage that.
I’m lingering before a crossroads, staring at divergent paths mere steps ahead. I cannot walk towards any one direction, on a road to any outcome. I’m weary. I want to rest a while, here in the center of the road, and just stare towards an unknown.
In a large pot, saute onion, carrots and celery until beginning to soften. Add green beans and saute 5 minutes longer. Add garlic, oregano and sage and sauce for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and broth, and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 45-60 minutes until beans are almost tender.
Add zucchini, cabbage and beans and cook another 15 minutes or until cabbage has softened and green beans are tender. Add peas and heat through. Season with salt and pepper.
“Have you ever had a difference with a dear friend? How his letters, written in the period of love and confidence, sicken and rebuke you! What a dreary mourning it is to dwell upon those vehement protests of dead affection! What lying epitaphs they make over the corpse of love! What dark, cruel comments upon Life and Vanities! Most of us have got or written drawers full of them. They are closet-skeletons which we keep and shun.”
– Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
I had a disagreement with a friend last week. Not to worry; we’re patched up now, but our clash brought this passage to mind – mainly the “difference with a dear friend” line. I first read Thackeray’s words 25 years ago and they nestled in my brain, obviously. My recent quarrel sent me ruminating on the fluidity of emotions, especially towards another person. The more we reveal of ourselves, the easier we can be profoundly injured – and the more cruelly we are apt to react when hurt. I’m reminded that love and hate are not the inverse of each other, but rather nest alongside one another, like Yin and Yang. The polar opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.
Re-reading Thackeray’s quote renders me melancholy, too. Where have those prose-stuffed envelopes gone? First email, and now text, has obliterated the art of the letter. There are no longer closet-skeletons to keep and shun (and, if we’re honest, revisit once the sting has faded).
Today’s recipe is a mash-up between last week’s onion tart and my favorite quickie single-girl dinner – fideo pasta with butter & pepper.
1 9” tart dough recipe (pâte brisée or premade refrigerated shell)
1 cup fideo pasta
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 onion cut lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 cups chopped spinach
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup grated gruyere cheese
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pinch grated nutmeg
freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line tart pan with dough and dock using a fork. Cover tart shell with parchment and fill with rice or beans. Blind bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove parchment and rice and bake another 5 minutes until sides are barely starting to color. Remove from oven.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Sauté onions in skillet with butter and salt until golden and tender (10-15 minutes). Turn off heat, add spinach and wilt. Add pasta to onion mixture.
4. In a bowl, whisk together egg, cream, cheese, thyme, nutmeg, and pepper. Add egg mixture to cooled pasta and onion mixture, scraping up brown bits from bottom of pan. Pour pasta and onion mixture into tart shell and spread evenly.
Bake 25 – 30 minutes until filling and golden brown and set. If the edges brown too quickly, cover edges with foil.
Isn’t the third time allegedly the charm? Not with these damn cookies. I’ve been struggling to develop a recipe – walnut orange shortbread cookies with sea salt – and failing. The initial lackluster version didn’t impress, but I sensed potential.
Version 1 – cookies with potential
As flavorless as the communion host, these bland disks needed more butter, more sugar, more flavor. For the second attempt, I augmented the butter and sugar and added orange flower water, an often-used secret ingredient of mine. Oops – buttery, but clearly too much of a good thing.
Version 2 – Too much butter, baby!
Today was attempt number three – the one that’s rumored to be “the charm”. No such luck – too much flour. I should return to the kitchen to try one last time, but honestly, I’ve lost interest and I’m moving on to something else.