apple cake redux

It is just when I think I’m finished with the writing of my stories that have been forming into a book, that I think the next round of editing could be done by someone else, that this piece might truly be complete, that the nagging inside of ‘there is more to do’ finds expression. I have been sharing the developing chapters with my writing group for four years and it felt significant that I recently put a full working draft into their hands after all this time. My gut told me I would hear from these trusted colleagues what I already knew. They indeed gave me words for what more I could do, and led me to acceptance of where I am. I simply have not reached that moment in the process where I can confidently let go. After years of architecture projects and quilts that spanned years before completion, I am well acquainted with this feeling. Writing as a form of creative expression is no different. Time to strap myself back in the saddle and go for a longer ride.

It’s why the unexpected twists and turns in the path through the woods each day is so nourishing. No matter what the weather, the temperature, the season, or the temperament of dog cavorting with human on any day, I know that at the end of our time there, I will be inspired in some new unexpected way and will result in some creative act, even if just capturing the essence of where I am in that moment. Now, after weeks of deep snow, we were finally able to get out for the much needed longer walks we were used to,

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taking in the distinct smells and sounds of earth accomodating melting snow.

It’s also why the smaller efforts that take place in the kitchen have become so important. They are my fix, a point of punctuated pleasure in making something uniquely delicious right now. Even the things I have been making for years over and over that I keep coming back to like the ‘Small Macaroni Woodsman’s Style, with Mushrooms’, by following Marcella Hazan’s recipe in her book “More Classic Italian Cooking”. (Also referenced in Oct. 12, 2011 post called ‘woodsman style’) The only serious straying I do from her recipe is to substitute uncured turkey bacon for the ham. An impulse for making this dish came last week after purchasing some orecchiette. Next time at the store I bought the fresh mushrooms called for. I’ve been making this pasta for over twenty years, and most consistently use dried porcini mushrooms as well. It took over a week and repeated failures to acquire these dried mushrooms, and I finally ordered an entire pound of them online. Gorgeous pieces of the woods in a bowl ready to be re-constituted with a little warm water.

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From impulse to actual preparation of this woodsman’s style pasta, it was now almost two weeks. Here, I was making progress in being able to follow the natural flow of an impulse to its natural conclusion, no matter how long it took. It was worth the wait. My weeks of missing the nourishment of woods essence was satisfied here too.

Then there are the broad sweeping changes I will make to something like the ever evolving Apple Cake**. There are no limits to what I won’t try in an effort to enjoy the abundance of canned apples from my own trees. This morning I came across the most recent version of a recipe I wrote down toward this effort. And proceeded to do something completely different. Instead of creaming the butter with a cup of sugar, I endeavored to cream it with a cup of maple syrup. I finally gave up after rounds with both the electric mixer and wooden spoon, when the butter was broken down to a out rice size pieces and I could accept that this would not be a creamy fluffy blend like what happens with sugar. Adding the eggs and cream helped. By the time I added the flour mixture and apples, it didn’t matter anymore, this looked and felt like cake batter. And it came out of the oven with the sides of the cake provocatively shrinking from the sides of the pan just so, the top golden brown and glistening. So much promise here.

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After cooling in the pan for at least an hour, I finally cut a piece. The first wedge lifted out of the pan like a prize fighter in perfect form. Not a crumb left behind. I sprinkled a little powdered sugar on top as the fragrance of spice and apple was fully released.

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I gave it all a moment of reverence and then took the first bite. It had spring. It was light and moist at the same time. The tastes were all perfectly melded, not too apple, not too sweet, not too anything. Just sublime. I can’t wait to see what kind of apple harvest there will be this year in anticipation of making more canned apples and more cake. This recipe will bear repeating. Something to put in the file along with woodsman’s style pasta.
**Apple Cake Redux

Cream 8 Tablespoons butter (1 stick) with
1 cup maple syrup (an electric mixer is helpful here)
Add 2 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks
Add 1/2 cup heavy cream

Whisk together in another bowl and add to wet ingredients until just mixed
2 cups flour (1 cup unbleached white (organic) flour + 1 cup ww pastry flour/cashew flour mix)
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1-3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Fold in (1) pint spiced shredded apples + 2/3 pint applesauce

Pour into 12″ round cake pan prepared with butter & flour

350 degrees for 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

for the love of winter sushi

It is really winter now. Two weeks of storms, lots of snow, some freeze and thaw,

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more snow. Full moon and partial eclipse, some intense winds, more snow. Risotto, and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. There were a few days where I could get out into the woods with Yogi and Nora just wearing crampons, when the powdery snow was still nestled on branches and the slightest movement would bring it down in a cascade of whispers.

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I went long distance with the dogs those days, the full loop around Eagle Nest to the swamp, along the brook and back. They reveled in the freedom to explore the familiarity of the place we all love to be together

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and I loved seeing the transformation that came with the blanket of white.

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And then it snowed again. This time enough to warrant snowshoes and finally, a foray into my own back woods all by myself. It’s been months since I’ve walked this familiar path, abandoned in favor of deeper woods that could absorb the full energy of the dogs. I was invincible with the snowshoes on, I could go anywhere, every glance a new potential path. And familiar views that welcomed me back.

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Before I left on retreat to St. John I saw a movie I really liked called ‘East Side Sushi’. It is about a Latin born woman who aspires to become a sushi chef, and all the imaginable roadblocks that come with breaking with tradition and aspiring to something new. It is a sweet movie, moving, full of the kind of tolerance and acceptance that can make a difference. So I’ve had sushi on the brain ever since. Inspired, I took a package of nori and a bag of brown rice on retreat and ended up making vegetable sushi for one of the pot lucks while there. Seaweed wrapped seasoned rice was refreshing, and even more so I imagined after the ravages of typical winter fare.

Today’s vision was a strong one. Curried (purple) sweet potato and smoked sockeye salmon, which earned the name, ‘for the love of winter sushi’**. The key was to cook the sweet potato in the spices until just firm, not to let it get mushy. The potato was cut into thick slices and added to the center of the rice with a strip of the smoked salmon. An amazing combination of smoky and subtle heat with firm to the bite and soft. Warm. Today’s stew.

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All it needed was a little bit of tamari as seasoning, wasabi wasn’t necessary with the heat of the curry. With a bowl of steaming miso soup, the perfect supper….

**For Love of Winter Sushi

Sushi rice: I cup short grain brown rice, cooked in 1-3/4 cups water until just done, firm to bite. Heat 1 Tbsp. Rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp. Agave, 1/2 teaspoon salt and add to hot cooked rice in wide shallow glass or ceramic bowl. TOSS together (not sir) with spatula. Prepare curried sweet potato (thick slices sautéed in olive oil, curry, ground fennel, and a little coconut milk until just tender, but still firm). Open package of smoked wild sockeye salmon. Cover nori with a thin layer of rice. Cut each piece of potato to size to lay out a line in middle of the rice. Add strip of salmon. With moist hands or bamboo mat, roll. Slice. Eat.

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