Snatched phrases: on cake

‘This is bread in the way that banana bread is bread.
It’s not really. It’s cake.’

From ‘The Little Library Cookbook’
by Kate Young

 

I loved the recipe notes I’ve quoted above, which accompany a recipe for a ‘fruity nutbread’, in Kate Young‘s literature-inspired cookbook. That’s my kind of bread! (Cake?)

(So of course I had to make the recipe … )

The tea shop of heaven

Other people’s words about … coffee shops

Gerry sat down in an empty seat by the window and Stella went to the counter. Coffee places were so noisy. This one sounded like they were making the ‘Titanic’ rather than cups of coffee — the grinder going at maximum volume, screaming on and on — making enough coffee grounds for the whole of Europe while another guy was shooting steam through milk with supersonic hissing. A girl unpacked a dishwasher, clacking plates and saucers into piles. A third barista was banging the metal coffee-holder against the rim of the stainless steel bar to empty it — but doing it with such venom and volume that Gerry jumped at every strike. Talking was impossible. It was so bad he couldn’t even hear if there was muzak or not. And still the grinder went on and on trying to reduce a vessel of brown-black beans to dust. Stella had to yell her order.

Gerry looked out on to the square. Pigeons pecked and waddled after crumbs in between the green café tables and chairs. Stella eventually came to the table.

‘In the coffee shops of heaven they will not grind coffee beans,’ she said. ‘But coffee will be available.’

from ‘Midwinter Break’
by Bernard MacLaverty

Do you know the kind of coffee shop Bernard MacLaverty describes in the passage above? I do. I had to smile when I read his words.

I took the picture below on my birthday a couple of months ago, after I’d taken myself off for a bike ride to my favourite bakery in Aldinga, a place somewhat unlike the one in the description above. I sat down on one of the stools on the verandah and sipped at a cup of tea. It was a dull, cold, end-of-winter day, but the coffee beans ground away quietly in the background, and the customers’ laughter was genuine, and the tea was (weak, but) hot.

So when I read MacLaverty’s words, I found myself thinking that in the coffee shops of my heaven …

No, wait.

In my heaven, there will be tea shops, not coffee shops. They will sell loaves of sourdough, and slices of homemade everyday cake, and pots of tea made with malty assam tea leaves, left to brew so long that the tea turns toffee-brown.

And the baristas will pour the milk into my cup before they pour in the tea.

And fresh pots of tea will always be available.

And I’ll be able to drink cup after endless cup, because caffeine won’t have any effect on me …

How to live well

Other people’s words about … health and wellbeing

My Top 10 Tips for Health and Wellbeing

  • Listen to your body
  • Keep moving
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Read the small print
  • Eat out less; cook at home more
  • Reconnect with nature
  • Reduce your stress
  • Appreciate the simple things
  • Share the love
  • Be grateful

from ‘Feel Good Good
by Valli Little

I am fascinated by other people’s tips for living well. I like Valli Little’s suggestions above, which are simple and practical, and come from years of experience.

My own strategies for living well vary, depending on my mood, but here are my current top ten:

1. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. And some cake.

2. Move — however you can, whatever your physical limitations.

3. Step outside.

4. Read books.

5. Spend time with people you love. Let them know you love them.

6. Know that happiness and sadness are like the clouds and the wind. They blow in. They blow out.

7. Practise gratitude for how things are. Don’t fret about how they could be.

8. Enjoy solitude. Know that you can survive loneliness.

9. Cultivate humility.

10. Find things …

… that make your heart sing.

Creating ephemera

Other people’s words about … cooking

I’ve decided I need to make things with my hands, it’s my new thing. Everything else is just so intangible and bullshit. I know that really when you get down to it, cooking produces ephemera just like all the other crap we all do … but at least for a moment there’s a thing, you know?

From ‘The Innocents
By Francesca Segal

I often wonder why food writing has become so popular in the last few years. There are so very many food blogs and cookbooks and cooking magazines. Equally, there are so very many people who read them (including me). Why?

One of the reasons, I think, is that food photography is beautiful. Food photographs make use of beautiful props, gorgeous landscapes, natural light. They woo you. Though what they ostensibly promise you is a tasty meal, underneath they promise you something else entirely. If you make this recipe, they murmur to you, you, too, will have produced something beautiful. You, too, can lead a beautiful life.

(Instagram Syndrome, anyone?)

So Segal is right, in the passage I’ve quoted above: cooking produces ephemera, essentially. And yet — and yet — it doesn’t feel that way. When you look at a food photograph; when you tell yourself you’ll make it; when you go out and buy the ingredients and come home and spend a couple of hours cooking it; when you dish it up on the table and eat it with your loved ones — when you do all this, you feel like what you have in front of you is a thing, as Segal puts it: a thing that you made.

Even if, in the end, all you do is read the damn recipe and look at the damn photographs — still, that promise gusts through you. You might make this recipe. You might produce something beautiful. You might just make something.

I’ve spoken about my love of baking before. I’m sure I’m as sucked in by the ephemera industry as anyone else, but still, I keep going back for more. There’s always another cake to make, right? And the next one you make might even turn out to look as beautiful as it did in the photograph you spent so many hours drooling and dreaming over …

My own food photographs, as the pictures in this post amply illustrate, lack all the qualities that good food photographs require. Still, in case you should want to join the ephemera celebration, here’s a list of some of my (current) favourite food blogs:

delightful crumb
(for thoughtful words and beautiful recipes from Stacy in California)
oh, ladycakes
(for meticulously photographed vegan baking from Ashlae in Denver, Colorado)
ruby & cake
(for food with a lovely and quirky slant from Ruby in the Blue Mountains, Australia)
what should I eat for breakfast today
(for simple breakfast recipes from the wonderful, drily humorous Marta)
three little halves
(for gorgeous photos and illustrations from Aleksandra in New York)
Brooklyn supper
(from Elizabeth and Brian in New York)
eat in my kitchen
(for simple, stylish recipes from Mieke in Berlin)
the alimental sage
(for sporadic but lovely recipes from Camilla in Melbourne, Australia)
dagforever
(for tasty recipes and hilarious commentary
from my French, bench-loving friend Anne in Perth)

Happy cooking (and dreaming), everyone! Rebecca xo

What, then, is this?

Other people’s words about … therapy

Sometimes I wonder why I come here [to see my psychoanalyst] when the coming is so iterative, so forced. Having to come here sometimes feels like the biggest problem I have. I feel like a lonely man visiting a brothel, the money changing hands, paying for understanding as some people pay for love. And just as that is not love, so this cannot be understanding. What, then, is it?

from ‘Aftermath
by Rachel Cusk

As I’ve mentioned here before, I spent several years in and out of therapy, being treated for anorexia and its aftermath. I will be forever grateful to the therapists I saw during those years. They treated me with respect, patience, warmth and compassion. And they listened. Oh, they listened.

But I stayed in therapy too long, I think. I believed at the time that I was seeking a cure for my constant sense of malaise. That cure seemed terribly elusive. Now I think it was elusive because, subconsciously, I knew there wasn’t one. What I was really reaching out for was understanding, and that is not something I found in therapy sessions.

Therapy is a strange process. It is, as Rachel Cusk says in the passage above, a transaction of sorts. When that transaction starts to make you feel worse rather than better, when you feel lonelier leaving the therapist’s office than you did on arriving, it’s time to stop. It really is as simple as that, though it took me some time to figure this out.

Post-therapy, am I still seeking understanding? Yes, of course — just like everyone else. Have I found it? Not really. Perhaps no-one ever does. What I have found, though, is solace. I find solace in pots of tea, and walks along the beach, and wanders in the Scrub. I find it in cakes I bake, and books I’m reading, and camping trips I plan to go on. I find it in birdsong, and in leisurely bike rides, and in the company of my partner and my dog.

And I find solace in other people’s stories.

Tell me, then, where do you find solace?

A breakfast of clouds and chocolate

Other people’s words about … what works

Chocolate at breakfast has always seemed wrong to me somehow. It seemed too decadent and lusty, entirely out of place, like watching a sex scene on television when your parents are in the room. But I have now spent eight mornings eating chocolate granola for breakfast, and I have concluded –- with all due gratitude to [my husband] Brandon, my personal granola pusher –- that chocolate is, once and for all, perfectly acceptable at any time of day. I had been a doubter for so many years, but now, good lord, I get it. And I think this revelation might, quite possibly, be the cosmic purpose of our marriage.

From ‘All We Ever Really Want to Do
by Molly Wizenberg of Orangette blog

I came to Molly Wizenberg’s blog only recently, many years behind most people. There are so many cooking blogs out there in the internet-world now, and so many of them are so beautiful, that it is easy to feel overwhelmed, or bored, or cynical. Moreover, the idea of using a recipe to introduce a post that discusses a theme entirely unrelated to food — in other words, to discuss life — has become such a common approach amongst food bloggers that it seems to me to be verging on the clichéd. But Molly was one of the early bloggers to take this approach, and she writes well, which makes all the difference. I will be reading her blog again, I’m sure.

As for chocolate at breakfast — well, why not? A therapist I used to see once said to me, as I agonised over how to live my life better (or rather, how not to live it so very, very badly): Life is short. Do what works. Though I’ve left much of his counsel far behind, I think about these particular words of his from time to time. Life is short, indeed. If chocolate works, then eat it. Please.

(Alternatively, you could try cake. Cake never fails for me.)

Meanwhile, today is my first day of two weeks’ annual leave. I currently have two part-time jobs, so time away from both of them simultaneously can be hard to pull off. (It has only just occurred to me that I live between two houses, too — do you sense a theme here?) The next fortnight feels incredibly precious to me.

For some of that time, I plan to go camping in Yorke Peninsula again, with my partner and my dog. Autumn is in full swing now: our holiday there will be different from our last trip to Yorkes, back in February. There will be clouds; there will be rain; there will be wind. Now that the fire-ban season is over, we’ll light a fire at sunset and sit together by the flames, looking up at the sky as the stars come out. It will be too cold to swim, so we’ll walk miles down the beach and along the clifftops. We’ll sleep late into the morning and go to bed early at night. My partner will surf; my dog will play and sleep; and I will read.

I’ll read.

I’ll read.

Afterwards, we’ll come home grateful for heaters and hot showers, and ready — already — for our next camping trip, whenever that happens to be.

I don’t know if, like Molly, I’ll be eating chocolate for breakfast while we’re away. It doesn’t matter. Life is short, and these are the things that work for me. That’s why I do them.

All in all, it’s not such a bad way to live.

Of love and tomatoes

Other people’s words about … tomato sandwiches

I’d asked [my disabled friend] Jessie when a doctor had last looked at her. She couldn’t remember, so [while Jessie was staying with me] I went to my doctor, still Jock Ledingham’s wife, Una, at her practice, which was in their home in Ladbroke Square.

Una listened to me kindly, and then asked if anyone was nursing her. ‘Only me.’ There was an awkward pause, and then I added, hardly audible, ‘And I’m afraid I’m very bad at it.’ Lack of food and sleep made me start crying again.

‘I’m going to make you a tomato sandwich,’ she said. ‘All my family can manage a tomato sandwich whatever they are feeling like.’ She did, and I ate it, and felt much better.

from ‘Slipstream: A Memoir
by Elizabeth Jane Howard (p. 147)

When I was a child, my mother would sometimes make my sister and me tomato rolls for dinner instead of our usual cooked meal. This was a summertime-only ritual — she saved it for those evenings when the air was thick and heavy with heat. My sister and I would have spent the day dipping in and out of the swimming pool, so that our skin and hair reeked of chlorine. We’d come inside and stretch out on the carpet in the living-room at the front of our house, next to an electric fan. We’d read, or watch the cricket on television, or play Lego, or colour in, while the fan blew warm air over us and our hair dripped down our backs, forming great wet circles on our t-shirts. And then, at last, it was dinnertime.

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My mother made her tomato rolls with white bread — the kind that is crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside. She cut the rolls lengthwise in thirds rather than in halves, and then spread each layer thickly with butter. Over the butter she laid slices of tomato. Then, as a last touch, she seasoned the tomato with salt. (Never pepper. Children hate pepper.)

These were the days before Australians of Anglosaxon heritage knew about things like basil or coriander, ricotta or feta. We had never eaten avocado or garlic or extra virgin olive oil. We didn’t know of the existence of focaccia bread or ciabatta or sourdough. Most people ate margarine in preference to butter, thinking it was a healthier option. And we ate salt with everything — we lived in a hot climate, after all; we needed to replace the salt we’d sweated out during the day. So a tomato roll was just what it sounded like: a tomato roll. Nothing more, nothing less.

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It’s almost forty years since I ate one of my mother’s tomato rolls, and yet when I read Elizabeth Jane Howard’s words above about the curative powers of a tomato sandwich, I was instantly transported back to those simple summer meals my mother made us.

Bread. Butter. Tomatoes. Salt. I still think of this particular combination of food as the ultimate luxury, the greatest treat.

And as a symbol of my mother’s love.

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Note:
All the photos in this post depict our vegetable plot,  a plot at the back of our garden which my partner zealously tends, and which, despite his cheerful disregard for the weeds choking the vines, produces the most delicious tomatoes each year. Gardening, too, can be an act of love.