Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Hungry.

The good: My band recorded a few songs in our friend (and fellow band mate) Dan's basement studio last night, which was a lot of fun. Sitting in a tiny, hot room singing folk songs with some of my best friends for five hours was a lot better than it sounds, and hopefully, our songs will sound even better. Also good, the house still smells like Caramel Apple Crumble Cake! Our esteemed producer Dan is also celebrating a birthday this weekend, and he expressed interest in an apple crumble for the get-together last night. Not being able to settle for something simple (see the related rant below) I whipped up a cake-ier version filled with local apples, caramel sauce, and butterscotch chips. Yum. Wish there were leftovers!

The bad: I woke up this morning in a foul mood, as I knew this would be the first Farmers' Market Saturday I'd miss this year. Last night, while listening to some rough tracks, I felt my lower back seize - and proceeded to lie, immobile, on the floor for fifteen minutes. It does this from time to time, with no warning or provocation of any sort, a sharp, numbing pain that radiates out from my spine like a red-hot poker in my nerves.

I was eventually able to peel myself off the carpet and maneuver home, where I popped a few Aleve and went to bed with a hot compress (a Ziploc bag full of microwaved rice), hoping the pain would be gone by seven this morning, when I'd planned to be up and ready for the kid's cooking class at the market. Unfortunately, as soon as my cell phone alarm went off, vibrating through three pillows and shaking me out of a fitful dream, I felt the dull pain in my back and knew my morning would be spent lying in bed instead of wrangling kids and fresh produce.

A hot shower and a few Advil's later, I'm still in bed (though now I'm lying on top of the covers instead of curled up within them) and feeling crummy, especially because I didn't get my fix of farmers and fresh cheese this morning. Well, there's always next week.

The Hungry: Waking up with serious back pain makes one pretty disinclined to stand in the kitchen for any amount of time, so I've been eating slowly from one pot of "eternal soup" that has been on the stove for three days straight. The upside of my confinement is I've been able to make a bit of a dent in the growing stack of library books that have accumulated in my bedroom. I've been "eating" vicariously through cookbooks and food writing anthologies, and I'm halfway through Nigella Lawson's How to Eat, a really fantastic cookbook/memoir/culinary guide through quality home cooking. I've now got plans to make my own mayonnaise, roast a few chickens, and bake enough bread to last for months - once I get back on my feet.

Nigella (who is absolutely fabulous and is quickly becoming my new idol) makes a point of lamenting the lost tradition of preparing dishes repeatedly until the methods become intuitive. This hit home for me, because I have developed quite the disconnect between the standard, recipe-free cooking of my parents and my recent habit of whipping up something new every day. While I love experimenting in the kitchen (such as the deliciously cake-ier crumble), I think it is valuable to develop a repertoire of go-to dishes. The fact that I don't have this makes me feel really... young. In the scheme of things, I've only been cooking fully independently for (yikes) a few years, but despite my relative inexperience, I feel a lot of pressure to acquire a sense of ease in baking, or to know how to perfectly roast a chicken. Nigella Lawson makes it clear that this comes with repetition - setting aside what is in vogue and establishing a certain comfort with basic preparation - but I'm slipping into this habit of thinking that I need to accomplish all of this instantaneously.

I guess days like today - when my body literally forces me to slow down - exist to show me that I do have time. I have time to gain knowledge, I have time to experiment, I have time to read. I have the rest of my life to stand over a hot oven. Right now, I guess I'll have to settle with lying on my bed, reading and dreaming of the experiences yet to come.

In the mean time, there is this:

Caramel Apple Crumble Cake

For cake
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 4 large apples (I used Honeycrisp)
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup caramel sauce
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips

  • For Crumble
    1/2 cup butterscotch chips
    1 cup oats
    3 tablespoons butter
    1/2 cup brown sugar

    Preheat oven to 375. Using an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl. When fluffy, add eggs one at a time, then yolk, and finally vanilla, beating continuously until combined. In a separate bowl, mix flour, salt, and baking soda. Mix in flour mixture and milk with a rubber spatula until just combined. Pour cake batter into 9x13 baking dish. Peel and cut apples, toss with cinnamon, and spread over batter. Spread caramel sauce and butterscotch chips over apples and bake for 25 minutes. The cake batter will rise up over and through apple mixture. While cake bakes, combine all ingredients for crumble in a food processor. Pulse until small clumps form. After 25 minutes, remove cake from oven and sprinkle with crumble mixture. Bake for another 15 minutes. Remove and let cool. This cake actually tastes much better at room temperature a few hours later, if you can wait!


    1. Oh my... you've successfully made me crave a taffy apple in the worst way :)

    2. sorry to hear about the back spasm...i had a problem with my lower back at one point and it's just about the worst pain imaginable. But i'm happy to see you utilising your time with active reading, when any other activity could potentially hurt you even more...

      I so have to try that caramel apple crumble cake!! It fits so right in the midst of a band singing folk songs!

      PS. Does the Portland farmers' market stay open in mid winter? Just curious.

    3. an apple cake form. brilliant! i'm smitten.
      meanwhile, i hope you're feeling better!