Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope.
And out of hope, progress.
- Bruce Barton
We have hesitated long enough. We have reasoned, argued, defined, dissected as much as is humanly possible, yet each time we have faltered. At each precipice we have paused and looked back at what lay behind us: solid, predictable, safe ground. We knew that we had no desire to stay on terra firma, not here, not now. But peering over the edge into the unknown or, worse, choosing a direction and plunging head first, only realizing much too late that we had made a mistake, seemed much to dangerous a chance to take. Or jumping into a decision with both feet only to figure out mid-flight that we should have waited just a tad longer, that we missed the real opportunity by giving in too quickly… sigh … But we have run out of words, no longer feel the pull of the argument. The time has finally come to make a determined compromise; time is now truly of the essence as precipitous, as terrifying as it feels. Realtors are being called, numbers totted up, lists made, apartments measured, plans analyzed. And bids mailed in.
We are fully aware that once one chooses to leave the highway and the expected norms of society, throws the predictable to the wind in exchange for paving one’s own path, searching for one’s own particular brand of happiness against everything that life has laid out for you, well, we are fully aware that there are risks involved. Three years ago, we sold our apartment and moved into a rental in order to be free, unfettered to one city, a job, able to pick up, pack up and leave if the urge struck. We could look for new jobs, exciting opportunities or even adventure anywhere on the planet, following our hearts’ desire. We settled down into a daily rhythm and the comfort of working on our own projects, side by side, meeting every so often in the kitchen over a comforting meal or in the livingroom in front of the news or a good film. Weeks then months rolled by, then one year and two, and as we arrive on the threshold of year number three and see our savings beginning to dwindle, we know that now is the time to make that decision, whether to stay in Nantes or leave.
- Winston Churchill
My own projects are better served by being in Europe rather than the States, allowing me to write about the life of an expat, my multi-cultural experience and my food-passionate existence as a foreigner and discoverer. JP is barreling towards the confirmation of his own project creation and this requires an extended residency in France, so why not Nantes? For now, our boys are here and it is a sleepy, comfortable town solidly planted amongst the gorgeous vines of Muscadet and the Loire wine valley, near enough to the sea and the gentle lapping of the Loire and Erdre Rivers to allow me year-round enjoyment of her luscious bounty of oysters, scallops, mussels and crab. Close enough to Paris, on the edge of Brittany, a stone’s throw from the rest of Europe. Alors, why continue to pay rent and use up our precious resources when we can be living once again in our own space, within our own four walls, our own home?
- Admiral Farragut at the Battle of Mobile Bay, 1864
And the race is on. Once Monsieur comes to a decision, all hell breaks loose and we are full steam ahead. His enthusiasm is only matched by his pragmatism; days are spent going through bank accounts with a fine-toothed comb, calculating renovation costs and resale value, discussing details with our in-house architect, printing out announcements, making phone calls, scratching notes in margins and recalculating every expense. A move like this becomes all consuming, our attention requiring forcefully being dragged away from walk-ups, facades, parquet, capital gain and taxes in order to be able to focus on our own work, those continuing projects. This new adventure has added excitement to our comfortable routine and we try and dissuade ourselves as well as each other from building castles in the air, châteaux en espagne, as the French say. We gather together, a wild frenzy of discussion, a flurry of activity, a tumult of hows and what ifs and but what about issue from this corner or that, from one worried son to the other, an intoxicating frisson of energy as we analyze the merits of this apartment visited or the possibilities of the other.
but no one thinks of changing himself.
- Leo Tolstoy
Yet, it never is as easy as that is it? He wants to make a bid on the first and I on the second. One son sides with him and the other with me, as far as he is capable of admitting an opinion at all. They want to set up camp in an on-going construction site and renovate, we want the comfort of a tidy, neat home. Discussion rages, pros and cons batted back and forth, doubts and dreams spattered against the walls. Terrified of making the wrong choice, just a tad scared of being pinned down, nervous to place a signature on a piece of paper, binding us to one spot for a length of time, no, decisions like this are fraught with risk, worry and doubt. We have always been terrified of being tied down, committed to something other than each other, our wings clipped, so to speak. We yearn for freedom and are choosing confinement; we hunger for adventure and are tying ourselves down to another we don’t know for how long here. Yet, there is excitement, something stimulating and inspiring about purchasing our own home, like planting a flag in the surface of the moon. We came, we conquered, we decorated!
- Arthur Schopenhauer
And so, life goes on. I prepare for a trip to New York and a conference; I fill up pages with stories meant one day to be turned into a book or sent off to this magazine or that, my dark hole of writer’s block beginning to melt away. JP works, Simon draws, Clem builds and life goes on, swirling around us in an emotional, action-packed whirlwind of chaos and comfort. Spring has arrived on a swell of sunshine, washing over our happy life in soft, warm waves. The oranges and pears begin to fade from the market stalls, yet to be replaced by sweet berries or stone fruit. Simon clomps endlessly around the house, wandering from his bedroom half an hour before each mealtime and through our workspaces inquiring about lunch or dinner, rolling his eyes in disgust when we look up at him in innocent confusion. He has taken it upon his 21-year-old self to do all the grocery shopping and meal planning, that way guaranteed to find something to eat when he rifles through the refrigerator or is hungry for a lunch or dinner. I am sorry to say that he is not at all happy with our behavior these days, our lack of interest in whipping up delicious dishes or keeping him well supplied in coffee cake, chocolate chip cookies or layer cakes, but I do what I can. Clem is rarely home and when he does show up to join us for dinner complains endlessly that it is a never-ending chain of the same old same old. JP and I laugh and tease, occasionally surprising them with a hearty, fragrant lamb and vegetable couscous, a beef and potato Parmentier or a cheesy gratin. Clem hooks up his computer to the television set, pulls up an American police series and we settle down happily for the evening.
Since rediscovering the joys of my mother’s old community and Sisterhood cookbooks and after my successes with the Chocolate Chip Pecan Butter Horns and her own Chocolate Chip Nut Bread, I decided to delve into Abigail Serves, the community cookbook put together, under the watchful and formidable eye of my mother’s aunt, Great Aunt Mae in 1956. Abigail Serves is the collected recipes of The United Order of True Sisters of Albany, New York. Perusing the yellowed, faded pages of this self-published cookbook, I couldn’t help myself when I came across Heavenly Chocolate Cake; with such a name, who could resist? Before the days when adding a box of pudding mix to cake batter was all the rage, this recipe is based upon this very idea to create a dense, moist cake. A chocolate pudding-like cream or custard is prepared with sugar, milk, cocoa powder and an egg then added to the cake batter to create a luxuriously thick and creamy mixture. Once baked, the cake is a deep, dark chocolate, the sweetness perfectly balanced, the texture extra moist without being overly gooey and dense, which as we all know, Simon the persnickety hates. Light, fluffy yet moist and tender, full-flavored, the chocolate kissed by the barest hint of espresso as I decided to replace some of the water in the batter with prepared coffee. I frosted the cupcakes with my own, favorite simple chocolate buttercream recipe, again replacing the boiling water with prepared café au lait. Scrumptious. And everybody was happy and well satisfied.
Please hop over to Huffington Post Food to read my latest article You Are What You Eat: A Food Blogger’s Dilemma. Should I even be asking the question? What do you think?
And speaking of From Plate to Page, due to an unexpected cancellation, there are now a couple of spaces open for our exciting Somerset workshop in May. If you are looking for an intimate, hands-on, practical workshop providing you with the tools, instruction and inspiration to define and hone your food writing, styling and photography skills and kick start your creativity all in a convivial, fun- and food-filled weekend then Plate to Page is for you! For details about the workshop, the four instructors (I teach food writing) and registration, please visit out our website! But hurry, spaces are limited to 12 and they are going fast! Questions? Visit our new FAQ page!
HEAVENLY CHOCOLATE CAKE
Makes 9-inch double layer cake or about 14 large chocolate cupcakes.
For the chocolate cream:
¾ cup (150 g) sugar
¾ cup (75 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup (185 ml) milk
1 large egg
For the batter:
2/3 cup (150 g) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups (250 g) sugar
3 large eggs
2 ¼ cup (255 g) sifted flour (sifted BEFORE measuring, not measured then sifted)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
2/3 cup (165 ml) cold water (can replace some of the water with prepared coffee)
1 tsp vanilla
1 ¾ tsp baking soda
¼ cup (62 ml) warm water
Prepare the Chocolate Custard:
Whisk the sugar, cocoa powder, milk and egg together in a medium saucepan until thick, creamy and very smooth. Place the saucepan over low heat and very gently bring to a low boil. Whisking constantly, continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer until it becomes a thick sauce or custard. (Once the mixture is heated, the sauce thins and then re-thickens as it cooks.) Remove from the heat, set aside and allow to cool. As I use Le Creuset, which continue to heat even after the pan is removed from the flame, I immediately scraped the custard into a heatproof Pyrex bowl to cool.
Prepare the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Either butter two 9-inch layer cake pans and line the bottom of each with parchment or oven paper or line cupcake tins with paper cup liners.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended and light. Beat in the eggs one at a time just until blended. Beat or stir in the chocolate custard in a few additions, blending thoroughly. Stir the sifted flour, baking powder and salt together; beat the flour mixture into the batter in three additions alternating with the cold water in two, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla.
Dissolve the baking soda in the warm water then stir quickly into the cake batter until very well blended. Pour into the prepared cake pans or ladle into the cupcake cups and bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes until puffed, the center is set and a tester inserted in the center comes out dry.
Allow to cool on racks – if baking the cake layers, allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes before running a sharp knife around each cake to loosen and turn out onto cooling racks. For the cupcakes, remove the cupcake cups from the tins and allow to cool completely on cooling racks.
Frost when cooled.
SIMPLE CHOCOLATE OR MOCHA BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
Double the ingredients if making a layer cake for spreading in between the layers, the top and sides of the cake. A single recipe will suffice for cupcakes.
6 oz (175 grams) powdered/confectioner’s sugar
4 Tbs (60 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
0.9 oz (25 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbs boiling water, hot prepared coffee or café au lait
Using an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and the powdered sugar together. Add the cocoa powder and the boiling water or coffee and beat, scraping down the sides as necessary, until well blended and fluffy.
Chill in the refrigerator until firm enough so that, if making a layer cake, when spread and the layers are stacked, the frosting does not slide.