I’m not usually one to point fingers, but this week, the blame for my absence rests squarely on the ginger-scented shoulders of the cake you see here.
It looks just about perfect, doesn’t it? Near-black with molasses. A moist and tender crumb. Cinnamon. Cloves. Black pepper. And to top it all off, several ounces of fresh, grated ginger. As my mother-in-law might say, “What could be wrong with a cake like that?” I have no idea, Sarah. No idea. For all of my conviction that this cake was decidedly off, I could find not a scrap of evidence to prove it. I’m not even entirely convinced that it wasn’t perfect. Loath as I am to embrace this possibility, it could be that I simply didn’t like it. That’s a hard thing for me to admit.
It was sometime back in 2006, I think, when my dad explained to me as gently as he could that “some people just aren’t going to like you,” no matter what you say or don’t say, do or don’t do. It’s the “he’s just not that into you” of fatherly wisdom. But what my dad never told me, and I’m finally beginning to figure out for myself, is that sometimes, I will be the “some people,” and no matter how springy the crumb, no matter how fiery the ginger on the tongue, a cake – or any number of things, really – may turn up now and again that, for reasons impossible to articulate, I just. don’t. like.
I’m not sure why, but for me, this realization is a much harder blow to my psyche than the fact that I (gasp) may not be the proverbial apple of every eye that glances my way. Don’t get me wrong. When I’m reading the paper, or a book, or watching a movie, and I come face to face with a nice juicy flaw, I’m the first to pounce. I’ll tell you precisely what’s wrong and precisely what’s right. If Eli’s around to egg me on (he’s a feisty little critic himself; I love it), I’ll sink my teeth into the “critical” part of critical thinking and run. (Have I mentioned that Virginia Heffernan is one of my heroes?) But when evil lurks behind a curtain of seeming perfection and refuses to show itself, it’s maddening. MADDENING! And suddenly, I’m back at the table, fork in hand, trying desperately to convince myself with a third slice that, actually, I loooove this ginger cake. Even when I don’t.
Had this ginger cake been the one and only letdown last week, I would have pulled myself up by my apron strings, greased another cake pan, and fired up the oven for plan b. But as it happens, this promising cake was the result of having already done just that when a different cake, a buttermilk spice cake with brown sugar icing, flopped earlier in the week. Like its replacement, the buttermilk spice cake appeared to be everything I had hoped for but, for whatever reason, fell flat. I didn’t even bother to snap a picture of the sorry thing.
With two failed cakes already on my conscience, I decided to back away slowly from my list of must-try recipes, and turn instead to my tried and trues. I dipped hungrily into the archives of Sweet Amandine and, since we last met, I’ve prepared two soups, one tomato, one carrot and fennel; a lemon tart; Eli’s roast chicken (okay, I didn’t make it, but I ate it); two batches of buttermilk biscuits; a tray of salted chocolate almond toffee; an olive oil citrus cake; eggs over anything and everything; and broccoli salad. I’ve enjoyed a lovely meal out to celebrate the birthday of my friend, Mary; slurped and sucked my way through at least half a dozen oranges and grapefruits; and gnawed the last bits from the rind of a very fine hunk of Gouda that followed Eli home one day. On Sunday, I indulged in a first-rate Swiss cheese, spinach, and mustard sandwich. It was considerably less blurry than it appears.
All of this hopping around in the archives and citrus slurping and slapping together of sandwiches made for some very good eating but, sadly, has left me without a recipe to share with you today. I’m sorry. But it turns out that a week or so with my tried and trues was just what I needed to get my kitchen legs back. I’ve got some new recipes on deck that I can’t wait to try. I’ll report back, soon.