Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Nice to Meet You

The Net of Indra is a profound and subtle metaphor for the structure of reality. Imagine a vast net; at each crossing point there is a jewel; each jewel is perfectly clear and reflects all the other jewels in the net, the way two mirrors placed opposite each other will reflect an image ad infinitum. The jewel in this metaphor stands for an individual being, or an individual consciousness, or a cell or an atom. Each jewel is ultimately connected with all other jewels in the universe, and a change in one jewel means a change, however slight, in every other jewel.” --Stephen Mitchell, The Enlightened Mind

I didn’t intend on getting philosophical right off the bat while baking my cake, I originally just wanted a good transition food that would assist in keeping my lungs clear for the approaching winter. After listening to a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner rattle off a number of medicinal foods appropriate for the long cold months ahead, I latched onto sweet and soulful adzuki beans, a favored childhood treat (which incidentally is rejuvenating to the kidneys and heart but is moisturizing to the whole system, said to give one a rosy complexion, and is the most yang of beans). Earthy rich with a chestnut like crumble; red bean paste stuffed into chubby sticky rice mochi makes me feel tucked-in, small and a wee bit nostalgic. Away from any Asian communities, it has been far too long since incorporating legumes into my desserts. Perhaps a simple rice and adzuki porridge would provide nutritive ballast for the day as well as recreate some facsimile to memories past.

In one hard blink I fly to J-town in San Francisco where I used to ritualistically crane my neck forward to peer behind the glass counter of May’s Coffee Shop angling to see if any fish-shaped waffles pocketing a dark magenta magma center might be hatched, stacked and steaming. If not, I’d leave disappointed and a tad disgruntled forced to feed my hunger down some other tributary or side lying nook.

Further in the pursuit of silky bean puree, I recall the tall silent men dressed in crisp suits, lean as shadows that would pop into my work place on rare occasion to sell pieces of bean pie shrouded in plastic on flimsy paper plates. Never having tasted such a thing, I no longer remember whether or not I bought the pie out of curiosity or out of strange discomfort with the severity that would descend upon a once ordinary room. Delightfully, the pie stood in odd contrast to the bean bearers’ cool disposition, full of homey comfort and redolent with honey and spice. Both baked goods and men were straight from Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland and years later I still think about them both.

So in a pull towards three parts (more or less) to the past, porridge became sticky rice which turned to pie, before finally shape shifting into a tea cake. And it is no secret; I have been lavishing sweet admiration upon my newest creation which seemed to miraculously emerge from my oven but in reality has been quietly gestating until now. Beautiful with an understated elegance, it seems impossible for anyone to refute this simple fact. But indeed even this upstanding cake has garnered its own share of opposition ***and once again I find the contrast in opinion to be just the thing to open my eyes.

It isn’t like I have never encountered various perspectives before. My architectural education has trained me to gather and synthesize bits of information from many sources and then whittle and shape my response into physical form. And then there has been living in the culturally sophisticated Bay Area for years where one can get swept up in every kind of diversity imaginable. Yet I can see now that my enjoyment and participation in those view points have been largely mental, an intellectual process, maybe an amusing trifle, and thereby always a little removed.

The recent dramatic changes in my life have altered my landscape as I have moved from one coast to another but more importantly lost a significant amount of my physical ability to move independently. I am suddenly more sensitive about deviating from the norm, sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own skin. Holding a different perspective incorporates much more than expressing a surface idea or opinion. Rather it plums the depth of emotions, wandering through socio-economic borders, it includes the totality of a lifetime of experience.

At moments I feel the edges of my new life bear down on me from all sides. Unwittingly my change in form and various other displacements which have occurred rise up in locations becoming an obstruction, blurring the way that I experience myself. This has been the true impetus for writing and drawing within this blog: to see deeper and connect with myself and other, unencumbered. And this is what I think of as I learn about the bankruptcy and criminal trouble which have befallen Your Black Muslim Bakery. I cannot help grieving in some small way remembering the distance of these men, feeling the knot and pain which comes from being marginalized, exiled and living on the fringe. But with this sadness also comes a hint of relief with the hope that walls and barriers attended by the desire for change can become conciliatory conduits and ultimately arms for embracing our shared humanity.

*** My attendant remarked that the cake had the same color as people have just before they die. I was dreaming along the lines of pale lavender and was somewhat startled to hear her response. I exaggerate when I suggested that this was “oppositional”. I was exploring the idea of divergent view points.

Adzuki Pandan Tea Cake makes 8” round- Inspired by Korean dduk, mochi and that bean pie. I seem to be putting disclaimers on everything posted lately. Around here three people thought this was fabulous. Two thought it was exotic but a little disorienting. Two other people thought it was different and disgusting (they were too repulsed to even try). For some, beans and desserts do not go together with the exception of jellybeans. If you are at all inclined towards Thai food, give this a go. If not, follow the link to the bean pie. That is very good too but I believe the vanilla has a typo and should be 2 teaspoons.

1 can 14 oz. adzuki beans drained
¾ C coconut milk
3 eggs
½ C melted butter
1 ½ tsp. pandan extract
3 Tblsp. Rice flour
½ C plus 2 Tblsp. Sugar
2 oz. grated dark chocolate

Directions: This is a busy cook's dream come true. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain your can of adzuki beans and dump into a blender with the coconut milk. Puree until smooth, add the other ingredients minus the chocolate and blend some more. I used ½ C sugar and very dark (74%) chocolate, this was nice but thought that a bit more sugar might enhance the flavor. Next time I would add a few tablespoons more and use a lighter chocolate. Pour into a buttered pie plate or cake pan and sprinkle the chocolate on top. Bake for about 45 minutes more or less until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. I’d suggest letting it cool before eating and serving it with green tea.


blatta said...

To respond to this post relative to the food component seems a disservice to the bigger currents you so compellingly swirl with your literary stick. But I will anyway.

Adzuki beans, red paste. yuck. Never have liked it. It is my singular reservation with the Asian cuisines that incorporate it.

But your cake sounds fantastic. I mean really. Gonna have to try this one. Soon. An intriguing amalgamate to be sure.

I too have followed the travails of Your Black Muslim Bakery as of late. Growing up in Oakland, it was a decided presence - that unusual combination of aloof dignity and really approachable eats that you touch upon. The corresponding image is lovely...and sad.

jbird said...

Yum....why not red bean cake? I remembered once my aptmate Paul got me a white bean pie (a southern thing) for my birthday and I thought, wow, who knew beans are so versatile they could be dessert! Chocolate is so DONE already! here's to the Adzuki beans!!

Honeycake said...

I can't wait to try this. Where do you think I can find the pandan extract?

Anh said...

I just followed the link and read about Your Black Muslim Bakery. What a tragic story! And it is so true that each one of us really need to open up, reflect and connect with each others. A beautiful thought yet it seems to be forgotten so easily until we experience how it feels to be in the minor group.

As for the dessert, the combination of dessert and chocolate is interesting. I would never think of that. Red bean is for me an ultimate comfort food, a bit nostalgic since my grandmom used to make it a lot. So simple and pure goodness, that's always my take on azuki beans.

Lydia said...

Thank you for the link to the Black Muslim Bakery -- I had never heard of it, and now it's so sad to read their story. As for adzuki beans... I've never been able to warm up to them, though I applaud their health benefits. Maybe it is the color....

Callipygia said...

blatta- surely with all that dim sum eaten you must have enjoyed at least one fried sesame ball? As for the Bakery definitely a long and estranged path.

jbird- did you like it? Kind of like a sweet potato pie!

honey- I believe pandan is pretty accessible in Chinatown. You probably could omit/add vanilla.

anh- that is so right, sometimes we are so interested in connecting with "difference" and othertimes we recoil... I wonder how your grandmom prepared adzuki for you?

lydia- That wikipedia entry was quite long, and yes their deepening estrangement with themselves/other is profoundly sad and for me a cautionary reminder. And since you don't care to eat em- you can grind them in your coffee grinder and mix the powder with some water to make a nice face mask/exfoliator.

sher said...

I don't know how anyone could not want to try this! But, I think a lot of people aren't madly in love with beans. Frankly, I would have been eating it with a spoon before I finished!

I had a bean pie years ago from a Black Muslim Bakery in Chicago, and like you, found it to be quite delicious..

Lucy said...

Callipygia, I often come back several times before I comment. I like to let your words and ideas wash over me for a few days, to soak up the atmosphere you create with each piece.

Am so very saddened by the story of YBMB - heart-breaking.

Cake? Brilliant. I have a little jar of adzuki's waiting for just such an outing. Lovely, as always.

Callipygia said...

sher- I think this recipe is ripe for variations & you're right it is a bean phobic world. I have tried both recipes and I can't decide which is better. Yeah for BMB!

lucy- Thank you for reading my posts with such care this means a lot to me. I start playing around with a bunch of ideas inside my head and at times I wonder if I'm going to pull it off w/o getting lost! I do hope you like the cake.

Anh said...

Calli,my grandmas (four of them!) normally boil the beans then sweetened with coconut sugar. We serve it with some fresh old coconut meat and mali essence (the real stuff!). Sometimes we add grass jelly, too. Having said that, each of my 4 grandmas has their own ways of using beans...

oggi said...

I love sweet adzuki beans in mochi or Filipino Chinese steamed buns. I will make this cake and let you know how it turned out.

BTW, did you use sweetened or unsweetened adzuki?

Callipygia said...

anh- I have never even heard of mali essence nor eaten grass jelly. And 4 grandmothers- lucky!

oggi- Please do try it and let me know, the sugar, chocolate ratio can be played with. And I used unsweetened beans not the sweet paste. BTW, I saw a pic of torrone on your sidebar (flikr). Do you have a good recipe for the soft kind? I'd like to make some this year.

Sven said...

Good JOb! :)