I have a friend who especially enjoys traveling alone. She brings along a stack of books, makes a day-to-day itinerary based on only the things she wants to do, eats dinner bar-side or with fellow travelers, and takes pictures mostly of her surroundings, rather than herself standing in front of prominent landscapes and statues. The few times I’ve traveled alone, I’ve found that I have enjoyed a maximum of one full day of me time, after which, I’m eager to reunite with my dinner companions and share stories with people who aren’t strangers. Doing things alone, it seems, isn’t really my style. I get weirdly paranoid about people knowing that I’m alone, and get antsy getting heads down in a book in a public place. I’m easily distracted by my own thoughts, rather than the experience at hand. More than anything, I get sad thinking that this day — this whole day I’ve just experienced — isn’t going to be familiar to anyone but me.
I’ve noticed that, in addition to traveling alone, I’m not so much a fan of cooking alone. Sure, I prefer to take the lead in the kitchen, and don’t even mind if I’m doing all of the work while others hang out in another room. But it’s knowing that there will be people or a person, to share with me what I make, to experience my new recipes, and to offer feedback, that makes cooking such a satisfying process for me. Cooking, like travel, is about the stories that are told. The stories that linger. Like that time my friend Maggie and I ate suckling pig at the oldest restaurant in Porto, Portugal, while ogling at a mountain man who sat in the corner of the restaurant. Or that time when Matt and I made our own pasta for the first time. Or when my study abroad roommates and I tried cooking our very first meal in our Sienese apartment (frozen fish and frozen vegetables — they were horrible!). I rarely remember the big bowls of noodles I make for myself and eat straight out of the mixing bowl when I’m home by myself. I think my love for cooking would frankly diminish or not exist, if I didn’t have people to share it with.
Unlike writing, which is my favorite solitary activity, cooking is inherently social. It implies sharing, nurturing, caring, exploring. I like when hands touch, and elbows bump. I like the rhythmic sound of multiple things going on at the same time — water boiling, knives chopping, salad leaves being torn. It is not the reason I started the site. It is the effect of wanting to create and wanting to share what I create, tell stories, and have new stories be told.
It was a solitary road that led me here. The desire to write. To put words on a blank sheet of paper or a white screen. To say something. But where it has brought me is quite different. It’s been a discovery of community, a discovery of my own desire to build a home and take care of the people I love. And so, I say, let us eat cake and celebrate — together — not alone.
When I first laid eyes on Nigel Slater’s book, Ripe, I couldn’t stand to not have it in my possession forever. As much as I love vegetables, it is fruit that I find most captivating. Round or oval, red or blue, tart or sweet, I find that fruit sings in a way that ingredients should in their peak. I associate all good seasons with their fruits, and the best childhood memories, too. The first recipe I chose to make out of the book features two of my absolute favorite fruits: the apricot and the raspberry. Encased in a tender, almond crumb, I can’t imagine a better way to showcase these jeweled beauties. I should mention that this cake, which can be eaten morning, afternoon or night, demands a sprinkling of powdered sugar, and a lovely cake stand or at least a pretty plate.
adapted from Nigel Slater’s Ripe
1/4 cup of unsalted butter
1 cup minus two tablespoons of brown sugar
4 ripe apricots, pits removed
2 large eggs
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1/3 cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup of finely ground almonds (almond meal)
2 tablespoons of milk
1 1/4 cup of raspberries
1. Generously butter a nonstick 8 inch springform cake pan. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until pale and fluffy. Whisk the eggs with a fork, then slowly add to the creamed butter. Use a rubber spatula to push down the butter from the sides of the bowl until the the eggs are well-incorporated.
3. Roughly chop the apricots and set aside. Combine the flours and ground almonds, then fold into the butter in several batches. Beat in the milk until you have a smooth batter. Next, gently fold in the chopped apricots and raspberries.
4. Transfer the batter into your cake pan and bake for approximately one hour – an hour and ten minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
5. Allow the cake to cool briefly before running a knife along its edges and carefully transferring it to a plate or cake stand. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.
Musical Pairings: Vacationer – Gone + Midsummer Cake
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