“The effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive, for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life.” An excerpt from Middlemarch by George Eliot
She lovingly, thoughtfully brings me some token from the great outdoors every week. V a gardener by profession is a seer of the subtle, ostensibly tending the wildness but in reality, between planting and pruning helps those that “possess” plots reconcile their own true nature. This week’s bounty, rescued side road clippings, assertive dramatic angles of branch punctuated with finials of curved leaf and bud. The uninitiated might swiftly pronounce the whole lot, a tangled confusing mess. But we look upon the handsome striking framework of form against space- and marvel. Hobble bush, Moosewood, Viburnum. And just like that, breath by breath it reveals the changing face of its being from modest angular reserve to blushing baroque majesty.
It is little past spring and far from fall yet anyways, I fumble towards the moist hug and welcome of apple cake. My mother-in-law used to make a particularly good one, if not a little on the sweet side. Regardless of variation and breeding I am perennially charmed and calmed by the thought of this wholesome and usually autumnal bonny bread. Its wrap around goodness reminds me of a combination of two different things; Duncan Hinds Snackin’ cake discontinued from the 70’s, an unusually moist commercial mix snug with its own pan and frosting packet, and a homemade version that my mom made utilizing far too many apples. These days I find myself wanting to curl up around a Cheez Whiz jar due to indiscriminate sensory overload. I’d like to jump back a few decades earlier when the weightiest thing on my mind was how many pieces of toast I wanted to consume with or without cinnamon sugar. Instead, I dream about apple cake.
Usually I try to not think about apples having been plagued by only Red Delicious and Macintosh almost daily in childhood past. Undeterred they’d show up again and again in my lunchbox pummeling the sandwich, even making the rounds to stalk the cornstalks and pumpkins, harbinger of the candy corn and cornucopias to follow. By the time September turned up, apples were okay as long as they were enrobed in candy, smashed into cider or sauce, bobbed or baked. But I exaggerate. The original fruit is a robust and cheery sort and must be in possession of some mysterious allure to be worth leaving paradise over. Still I am a little hard on them, as typical of things taken for granted and I confess too-- this ingratitude has on occasion spilt over into friendships.
See P was that friendly face that was there before the want existed- a little too available, good natured, and too often the brunt of the joke. Yet we became inseparable like best friends or maybe twin siblings, annoyed with each other at times but unmoored without the definite assurance of the other. At a time when my diagnosis, thesis, and resulting insecurities swelled large, I had a crushing need to have P there as I finished my final drawings and presented. There was a distinct sensation of feeling disconnected from my self while being suspended within a hollow metallic void. The only thing that kept me moving one foot in front of the other was the stabilizing presence of this person sitting in the same room.
Stunned to realize that the antidote to my overwhelming fear was in the form of that singular steadfast friend who over time, I had in ways ceased to see. Now when I reach for apple cake and gravitate towards comfort, I know I hunger to see the unwavering goodness that exists within the everyday and little; the friendships, kindnesses, and beauties that are framed by all the rest. I happily eat some as an act of appreciation for all those hidden delights which more than definitely includes, that certain special friend.
Super-Moist Apple Cake adapted from The Arrows Cookbook by Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier
This type of recipe usually has me tweaking and clipping the cream, butter, and sugar content. I was intrigued by the technique and did not have high hopes for substituting soymilk over the top, so plunge ahead I did. Boy was I glad. The texture is a marvel. Use of teeth optional as this is crushingly soft. It achieves what those puddin' cakes from the 70’s tried to create and more. Could be eaten with a spoon!
1 ½ C sugar
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 C plus 1 Tbsp. AP flour
1 C plus 1 Tbsp. spelt flour
2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
¼ C plain yogurt plus ½ C water
¾ tsp vanilla
3 medium apples cored and sliced
¾ C heavy cream
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 inch cake round. Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer at medium high speed for about 5 minutes until light in color. Beat eggs in one at a time and scrape in between additions. Sift dry ingredients together and put aside. Mix yogurt, water, and vanilla together. Alternately add half the yogurt mixture and then half the dry ingredients to the creamed butter, mixing gently and scraping from time to time. Finish alternating the wet and dry ingredients and mix until just smooth. Do not overbeat. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and arrange apples in a concentric pattern on top. Pour the cream evenly over the apples and sprinkle with the cinnamon and coarse sugar. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when poked in the center. Of course this could be gilded with a splot of whipped cream or scoop of vanilla, but I suggest you hold off for another time. This cake deserves all of the attention.