Now that I think about it, I’m surprised it isn’t darker outside. Since the sun has ceased to exist, what light we do have must be emanating from old nuclear power plants or something.
Because surely there is no more, there will be no more, no sun. No more sun ever. Travis doesn’t care, but I do.
I’ve taken up walking recently. It’s been a long time. It took a good two years of concerted effort to heal that plantar fasciitis, and even now I have to be careful not to take my left foot for granted. But it’s really nice to be able to walk, especially with Travis, and most especially on days when riding a bike wouldn’t be any fun at all. Cold, windy weather is much better given over to hiking than to pedaling.
One morning’s walk took me through the woods on the other side of the Sendero drainage field. The greenbelt was deserted, the air was chilly and gray, and I was trying not to think of Hae’s body being found in that creepy Baltimore park even though I was at that very moment re-listening to Episode 4 of “Serial” (because what else was there to do as we awaited the series’s final episode?).
When a trail-runner came up behind me I jumped so suddenly my earbuds fell out.
This is the kind of thing that happens when the sun ceases to exist. No one lingers around long enough to starve when food can no longer be produced; the world becomes so pervasively scary we all just jump off cliffs or have coronaries when someone comes up behind us on a trail.
These are the kind of thoughts we central Texas residents think when we haven’t seen the sun in over a decade.
Okay, well, since Monday.
Can it be so recently that I was puttering happily in the yard, clearing the area along the back fence, marveling at the fantastic array of blossoms in the sidewalk garden? It seems so long ago. There were butterflies and honeybees and the world was filled with color.
Now all is wet, cold, and gray. With a little bit of brown.
Wednesday was a little strange. I had to bring the Prius into the shop, which annoyed me because I was just there two weeks ago for the 36K check-up and whatever the heck they do. That was followed by a trip out for new tires, but at least that happened at Costco, so no complaints. But there’s something about car dealerships I loathe so completely, I’m pretty sure I’d be unhappy going to the Porsche dealer to pick up the free classic Targa they were going to give me.
Anyway, I took a van ride back to my neighborhood and jumped out at a red light near the entrance to our neighborhood. This offered me a chance to add nearly two miles to my footwork total for the day, which was great. Checked out all the yards to see what’s still flowering, what’s been cut back, what people have put out for holiday decorations. Now and then I caught a whiff of woodsmoke, which is always pleasant.
Came home, brewed a pot of tea and sat down to write this when a huge clap of thunder burst overhead. So, good timing on the outdoor exercise. Isn’t it weird when a storm starts like that, the clouds breaking right over your house, no warning of distant rumbles? The sky had been solidly pale gray all morning, no rolling thunderheads, no atmospheric drama. Not even a sudden change in temperature: we stayed firmly in the 50’s all day.
Our new neighbors, originally from the Philippines, gave us a generous sack of “Goldilocks Polvorons,” one brand of what is evidently a traditional Philippine treat. These are a very short, not overly sweet cookie that go well with coffee and splendidly with tea, and prove themselves utterly addictive. They appear to be on permanent backorder, so be sure to stock up when you get the chance.
I don’t know what you do when the weather is stupid and life goes dull; one thing I do is bake. On Sunday morning I started working up the batter for a banana bread with coconut that I just knew was going to be fabulous. Got the creamy things to creaming and the floury things to sifting, turned to the counter where the blackening bananas had been blackening and…
They were gone.
If I told you that my dear spouse still possesses model airplane plans from the 1980’s, snap-front cowboy shirts he will never wear again, and every cell phone he has ever owned, would you think he’d be the type to throw away perfectly ripening bananas? Just because banana bread is not his favorite? Even though I had told him I was fixing to bake him a pound cake (his legitimate favorite) too?
I am no Martha Stewart. That would be my niece Chrissie. But I’d thrown a stick of butter and a bunch of sugar and a couple of eggs into the fray already, and couldn’t see the sense of throwing the whole mess away. So I tapped out a search for lemon blueberry bread and improvised without too much thought about measurements or equivalents. No recipe here, just a banana bread recipe with about a cup of frozen blueberries and 3-4 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice in place of three mashed bananas. The batter looked pretty darn stiff going in, but I figured the blueberries would provide quite a bit of moisture.
The “I’m Not Banana Bread” wasn’t even out of the oven before I started mixing up a pound cake.
Now in this house, there is only one pound cake, and that is Marye Crawford’s Sour Cream Pound Cake. My mother-in-law was, in her day, a committed baker. She may not have been all excited about making dinner every day, but if you wanted pies, cookies, bars, or cakes, and you had any sense about you, you would look to Marye. Well into her 80s, when she still lived on her own, we never came home from Nacogdoches without at least one frozen pound cake.
There may be times when I would like a little lemon flavoring, or even a little almond; there may be occasions when the chocolate version of Marye’s pound cake is called for. (It was the Groom’s Cake at Floyd’s brother’s wedding, for example.) But at our house, Marye’s Sour Cream Pound Cake in its purest, simplest form, is what is wanted.
And I am here to tell you that on Sunday December 21st, 2014, I FINALLY NAILED ONE!
After nearly ten years of trying, dozens of attempts, dozens of close-but-not-quites, I finally did it. I should say my pound cake has always come out supremely edible, and improved by residing in the freezer to have slices cut off one by one and given 20 seconds in the microwave. No one in the world who’d never eaten a Marye Crawford version would ever guess my efforts fell short of perfection.
But Sunday’s cake was granted the Charles Floyd Crawford, Jr. seal of Absolute and Complete Approval, right out of the pan. My first.
But I have no idea how I did it. Maybe a certain number of gray chilly days are a prerequisite. Maybe the lemon blueberry bread atmosphere in the oven helped.
I know I underbaked the this one as usual, since I loathe overbaked cakes and cookies. I’d like to tell you I baked it for 70 minutes at 325, but that’s an approximation. The cake tester did not come out completely clean: that’s too late. There was still a hint of moistness when I touched the top of the baking cake; it was just a tiny bit past “jiggle.” Worried I’d taken it out too soon, I left this one in the angel cake pan a little longer than usual. How long? Long enough that I only needed my shirtsleeve to hold the center of the tube to pull the cake up from the pan. It was still hot, but not oven-mitt hot.
Oh, heck. I’ll just admit it. I have no idea how this one came out perfect, What I will do is give you the recipe and tell you ten years of trying is totally worth it. I hope you’ll give it a shot.
Marye Crawford’s Sour Cream Pound Cake
6 jumbo (or 7 large) eggs at room temperature
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
8 oz. sour cream
2 tsps. vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 and place rack on second level up from the bottom. Spray a 10″ tube pan or its equivalent with Pam for baking, or grease up the pan however you prefer.
Put the flour, baking soda, and salt into your sifter and sift three times.
Cream the shortening a little (naturally I use my stand mixer, but you could do this with a hand mixer as well). Add the sugar and mix it up till smooth. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well. (For those of you unfamiliar with cake making, this part you can beat the heck out of. Once you start throwing flour into the mix, you don’t want to overbeat.)
Try to remember to slow your mixer down now although I do think if you can’t stand a bit of a mess you ought not to be baking at all. Add 1/4 of the flour, then 1/3 of the sour cream, then flour, then sour cream – ending with flour.
Add the vanilla and beat just long enough to mix.
Put it in the pan and bake it 80-90 minutes. Cool in the pan for 30 minutes (I usually cool in the pan for a much shorter interval), then invert it on a rack.
I generally cut ours into thirds, the better to fit two chunks into freezer bags and keep one chunk out for immediate gratification. Vanilla ice cream may be a bit of a hat on a naked lady, but is a superb addition. As are sliced strawberries in season.
UPDATE: Well, it’s a few days later and in actual fact the sun did come out yesterday. We can all breathe a sigh of relief. In fact it was seventy degrees and extremely pleasant where I live, so naturally I wouldn’t have been doing any typing. Travis and I took a good long walk all over the place, just drinking up the wonderful weather. And here I’d been thinking the sun had disappeared forever.
So it was just as well that today arrived windblown and arctic cold. Well, fifty degrees, cloudy and windy – arctic enough for our tastes. Because today I had to put together my kitchen contributions to Floyd’s family holiday, for which we depart tomorrow morning. We’ll make the trek to north Texas, eat too much, be grateful no one is in the hospital (both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were hospitalized last Christmas), and spend a few days quietly catching up.
I want to tell you about a couple of things I made today, and I’ll send you to the sources because you need to know about these food items. (Forget my snickerdoodles; I don’t have Marye’s recipe and so was forced to choose something off the internet and ended up with tasty but undercooked specimens. Sigh.)
For the main dish, I am contributing a spinach lasagna from Kenji Lopez-Alt and Serious Eats. If you don’t know Serious Eats, you should (http://www.seriouseats.com/). It’s like an America’s Test Kitchen for the younger set – although the younger set are very well trained indeed. It’s the one website I know that not only takes vegan food seriously, it renders absolutely irresistibly delicious vegan food. And to my mind, Kenji is the Alton Brown of his generation. He likes to break recipes down and work on them 100 different ways until he achieves a truly wonderful result.
Kenji’s spinach lasagna is not one of his vegan offerings. In fact it has so much cheese I am afraid the Surgeon General will find out about this dish and have it outlawed. But I’ve made it twice, with only three layers and with half-cooked DiCecco lasagna noodles. And the results are worth failing every cholesterol test you will ever be forced to undergo. No kidding. (http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/11/food-lab-creamy-cheesy-ultimate-spinach-lasagna-recipe.html)
Then, though I was tired from hours of cooking and washing up, I had the urge to make gingerbread. Who knows where these urges come from? I have never made gingerbread in my life.
Although I own a few dozen cookbooks, most of the time now I just scan the internet for recipes and work my way through the reviews. Why? most of the people who review recipes have tweaked them in half a dozen ways (while you are at it, run a Google on the Serious Eats piece about “How to Boil Water” – it totally captures what I’m about to say), to the point that you have no idea how the original recipe might turn out. Nor is it particularly helpful when someone writes, “Some of my family members loved it, some hated it.” What am I supposed to do with that?
So I went with Deb Perelman (http://smittenkitchen.com/).
A recent post had her making gingerbread waffles – in case you’re out of the loop on this, putting everything edible into a waffle iron is very trendy and, I imagine, often freakily delicious. But I followed her link to a gingerbread recipe that was full of disclaimers and a clear case of trouble waiting to happen (http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2008/12/gramercy-taverns-gingerbread/).
Making a cake with Guinness was odd, the batter was weirdly thin, and despite all pan-buttering efforts the thing just about refused to release. This is a dark, sticky, meaningful gingerbread, kids. After I took a couple of the pieces that stuck to the pan and kind of stuck them to the top of the cake, I found myself scooping up a stuck chunk and popping it warm into my mouth.
I don’t know what to tell you, except that I left the house in a trance and went to pick up the last two pints of whipping cream from the little store up the street. I don’t care what my neighbors have for their holiday dessert.
I’m having gingerbread.
Have gingerbread. Who needs the sun?