School has started, the sweaters have been dug out of drawers and closets, the evenings are just a tad shorter and a whisper of autumn is on the breeze. And our television series are picking back up; no more the dearth of excellent crime or political series from around Europe, no more need to succumb to the nonsensical, mind-numbing offerings on rent-a-film, all the Die Hard this and the Bourne that, the super hero this and the giant-fire-balls-end-of the-world-that. The city settles down once again into its natural rhythm.
I have written before about the ghostly presence in our old apartment. Doors suddenly slamming open with the force of a gale storm wind. Creaking armoire doors, knocking in the night, feathers left on the landing just outside the front door. “It’s your brother, you know,” JP assured me one day. So scientific, so pragmatic without the least trace of superstition, he felt Michael’s presence nonetheless. Or he felt my need to think so. Yet since we moved last November, I have lost his trace. No contact has been made and we wonder if my brother had not understood that we had changed homes, wonder if he is somehow stuck in that old apartment. Possibly he is wandering up and down the hallways, weaving through the rooms, jumping in and out of closets looking for us. Lost. Sometimes I stand on the street in our old former neighborhood and stare up at the windows willing him to notice me.
I felt like I had lost him. Even as I wrote about the fourth anniversary of his death, I felt a distance, a coldness settling in around me that had little to do with the season. I wondered if I was beginning to forget the sound of his voice or lose something of his laughter. I lie in bed at night sometimes and beseech him to appear to me, send a sign, move an object, anything. Yet there iss nothing but emptiness.
Until last night. I began writing this post yesterday yet had drawn a blank, simply not knowing what to say. I now know that I was meant to wait one more night. For I dreamed about him. He finally came back after such a long stretch of time. And an odd dream it was, too. He rang the doorbell – oh, I wasn’t in my own home. I might have even been somewhere that I shouldn’t have been. But he had come to see me. I picked up the interphone and asked who was there. “It’s Michael,” he answered, apparently having expected me to be the one to answer. Oddly, I could tell by his voice that he was already ill, that he was having trouble speaking and that his mind was far from clear. I panicked, fearful that he would wander off, that by the time I got to the door to open it for him, he would be gone. I panicked because I couldn’t find my clothes (oddly enough I was wearing nothing but an apron) and because I knew that from the bedroom in which I stood, it was a long, confusing way to the front door, a long way through a series of oddly organized, winding corridors that I didn’t quite master. I panicked; I would never make it to him in time.
I asked him to wait for me, urged him not to go away. He uttered something incomprehensible and then assured me he was there to see me, already his mind wandering away and then back.
And then I awoke. With the sound of his voice in my ears.
And so I made a variation of the Chocolate Spice Cake with black cherries in syrup. The orangey flavor of Cointreau marbled with a light chocolate is delicate yet so pleasing, perfect for breakfast or snack. A drizzle of chocolate ganache just makes it that much better.
If you love the combination of orange and chocolate, then you must try:
Chocolate Orange Grand Marnier Madeleines
Nigella's Chocolate Orange Cake
Chocolate Orange Sponge Cake
ORANGE COINTREAU AND CHOCOLATE MARBLE BUNDT CAKE
Makes one 9-inch (23 cm) Bundt – can also be baked in layers or in a loaf pan but adjust baking time as needed.
7 Tbs (100 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup (200 g) sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 ¾ cup (230 g) flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup (scant 200 ml) milk
2 Tbs Cointreau or Grand Marnier
Zest of one orange, preferably organic or untreated
¼ tsp orange extract
¼ tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp instant powdered espresso, optional
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 9-inch (23 cm) Bundt pan – (or two 9-inch layer cake pans or one loaf pan).
Place the softened butter and the sugar in a large mixing bowl. Using a hand or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar for 3 to 5 minutes until thick, smooth and doubled in volume. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition to increase the volume of the batter.
Stir or sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl.
Add the dry ingredients to the batter in three additions, alternating with the milk in two, beginning and ending in dry, beating after each addition until well blended.
Separate out 1/3 of the batter into a small bowl; if in doubt, use a scale and weigh the batter. In the larger amount (2/3 of the batter), whisk or beat in the Cointreau or Grand Marnier, the zest and the orange extract. Pour and scrape the orange batter into the prepared Bundt pan, gently evening it out around the center tube.
Whisk or beat the cocoa powder, the espresso powder and the vanilla into the remaining 1/3 of the batter. Plop spoonfuls of the chocolate batter on top of the orange batter in the Bundt pan. Using a long thin blade of a knife plunged into the batter and holding it straight upright, simply slash or run the knife in swirls, cutting and swirling the chocolate batter into the orange. Just do this twice around the pan.
Bake for 45 – 50 minutes (Note: if using layer cake pans or a loaf pan and depending upon your oven, baking times may vary greatly, so begin checking the cake for doneness after 35 minutes.) The cake is done when a tester stuck into the center of the cake comes out clean - or cleanish, with no liquid batter.
Remove from the oven onto cooling racks and allow to cool for 10 – 15 minutes before gently shaking the cake loose and turning it out of the baking pan and onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
Slide the cake onto a serving platter, dust with a bit of cocoa powder and serve. For a more elegant dessert, serve the cake drizzled with chocolate ganache.