Cake Lust

Have you found Manger yet? (the infinite of “to eat” in French.) Mimi Thorrison chronicles her life on a farm in southwestern France. She writes cookbooks, runs weekend cooking workshops, and raises children and fox terriers.

She also makes cakes like the Josephine ruffle cake. In this picture it looks like something that a couple of Botticelli angels should  be presenting to Venus as she lounges in her clam shell.

It’s a simple butter cake with a buttercream frosting–neither are that hard to execute in and of themselves, but it’s the piping technique that makes it special and looking as if the cake is class in a petticoat. For the uninitiated, that can be a challenge.

Since I found Manger last week, I’ve kept returning to this recipe the same way I return to favorite poems or books. I would love to make it. Usually the cakes I make much plainer, such as my grandma’s carrot cake or French yogurt cake. The former I don’t decorate too much. It’s s-o-o good on its own. Sometimes I’ll dust the top with a sprinkle of powdered sugar; maybe some cream cheese frosting if I feel really crazy. For the yogurt cake, I decorate with jam or berries or swap out some of the flour for almond flour or cocoa powder.

And those are good cakes. They are solid, tried, and true. This ruffle cake intrigues me. I limit cake baking to once a month. The impulse control issues due to the ADHD make it hard for me not to scarf it in a day or so. But perhaps for a very special occasion..yes. One is coming up for  a friend’s next significant birthday. Yes. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to practice, would it?

France is Where You Find It

I made my weekly run to the market yesterday. I bought bread made with an antique variety of wheat (with a lower gluten content and kinder to my tummy) from a young woman whose father, I believe, comes from Paris and whose mother hails from Russia. I bought a small tub of marinated olives and peppers from a man who comes from Marseille and is patient with my dusty high school French. The tomatoes just might end up in a tarte, made with a pastry crust (spelt or gluten-free) and some goat cheese. 

Kind of like the one I had when I went to the cooking class in France some years ago. We cooked and lived a la Francaise for an incredible week. 

It’s going to be a while before I get back, but in the meantime, small everyday practices keep me connected:

  • Flowers. I need flowers on my table. Nothing huge, but a $3.99 bunch from Trader Joe’s or the market can last for up to two weeks and go a long way.
  • Whether I’m getting produce from the market or the store, I select very carefully. I engage in conversation with the seller about the food, where it came from, chat about recipes, that sort of thing.
  • Making meals a little ceremonial. Having one without interference from the TV at least once a day, sitting at the table, and serving the salad as a first course, minor things to shift the focus. 
  • Focusing on the food. Ok, I have been known to read while eating if I’m dining solo. I do sometimes eat in front of the tube. But I try not to very often. Well, more often than I want to admit. 
  • Small touches, even with what seems like minor details, enhance the dining experience. Have you tried tuna and egg sandwiches? Most memorable meal for me was sitting on a bench eating one while watching motor scooters zip around the old quarter of Roanne (it’s near Lyon).  Can of drained tuna, chopped celery and onion, two chopped hardboiled eggs, enough mayo to make it hold together. I had it on a sandwich roll, but it would be great on whole wheat with lettuce and tomato. Perfect when you are getting the first draft of a novel started.

The market I frequent may be in an asphalt parking lot surrounded by small stores, railroad tracks, and early to mid-20th century homes instead of being framed by medieval church spires and supported by cobblestones. Its spirit and intent are the same. And that is where I find my small slivers of France.





The Answer is Socca

Spent time experimenting this weekend. 

Found an almond flour pizza crust that’s very passible. Only problem: for the love of what if any deity you believe in, use parchment paper to line the pan. The author was not kidding when she said to use parchment paper. It’s that sticky and I am still trying to soak off the remains. But it was really yummy and could stand alone as a flatbread. Here’s the link:

The other experiment: socca, one of France’s many gifts to the world. One cup of water, one cup of chickpea flour, two tablespoons of olive oil, dash of salt, and a teaspoon of chopped or crumbled rosemary. Let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes. You could either bake it in a 450 oven (heat a cake pan with a generous amount of olive oil in the bottom, then when it’s hot pour in the batter and bake until done) or cook it like pancakes. So far, I’ve used it for tacos and a base for pizza. It worked a lot better than the flaxseed fiasco.

I’m thinking…hmm…mince some kalamata olives or sun-dried tomatoes in the batter? Cumin next time I do tacos? Leave out the rosemary and add some sweetener for pancakes? 

The wheels are turning.