I get to go back

Last month, I sent off the first big chunk of my manuscript to my editor. Progress! That should have felt great. And it did. For about two whole seconds after hitting that send button, I was certain that I deserved a medal, or at least a high-five. Then, I started feeling weird.

Writing a book is a little like being on the moon. (The dark side.) You’re relatively weightless, and that’s fun, but you have to wear a spacesuit, so you feel awkward and clunky most of the time. (Plus, if you have an itch, you’re screwed.) It is not comfortable. There’s lots to keep track of, and I tend to worry. Because, let’s face it, so much can go wrong. It’s dangerously cold, for one thing, except for when it’s dangerously hot, and if it weren’t for your spacesuit, your eyeballs would vaporize right out of your head. Also? No breathable air. But if you can manage to forget all that –stop checking your oxygen tank every five seconds and trust that, truly, all systems are go– it’s exhilarating. You’re on the moon! THE FREAKING MOON!!!! It’s terrifying being so close to things you’ve only ever seen from afar. It is also amazing.

Anyhow, I hit send, and there I was back on earth, kicking around in my moon boots, feeling weird, not at all sure what I was supposed to be doing. (More writing, woman! was the obvious answer. But ooof, lift-off is hard.) Mia helped by coming down with a cold. We had family in town, and I had a birthday to attend to (33!), and then some travel. Somewhere in there, I heard back from my editor, and just yesterday, I finished combing through everything she had to say. Then, I sat down to write, and you know what? That weird feeling was gone. Even better, I think I understand now what that weird feeling was.

The moon (even a jumbo, knock-your-socks-off super moon) is awfully far away. It doesn’t feel like a place where you can go. If I’d made it there once, surely it was a fluke, a very, very lucky galactic wrong turn.

Something changed, though, when I got writing again. I fear I’ve already taken this metaphor as far as it can go, but you guys, I could feel myself lifting off. I want to remember this feeling, and that's why I'm writing this down. Because I’ve still got a long way to go, many more crash landings, many more bouts, I am sure, of feeling hopelessly earthbound, before this book is done. When the moon is a distant sliver, I want to remember: I get to go back.

Now, about that cake I promised waaaaay too long ago. (Have I mentioned I’ve been on the moon?) It’s a dense whole wheat apple and marmalade cake from Nigel Slater’s book, Ripe, and it’s a good one. I first baked it back in March, then again in early April. Those are the months that are made for a cake like this, the dreary no man’s land after citrus has peaked, before the berries roll in. It’s full-on summer now; I’ll be the first to admit that this cake is not exactly seasonal. But in my neck of the woods, and maybe yours, neither has the weather been, with highs and lows all over the place. And isn't “unseasonal” rather unkind? Let’s call this cake “seasonless,” instead, with its raisins, and marmalade, and fruit you can find year-round. You might feel a tug of autumn, as I did, from the cinnamon and brown sugar, and find it wholly welcome, like the taste of last summer’s frozen strawberries in November. In reverse.

Man alive, it’s good to be back here.

Whole Wheat Apple and Marmalade Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater's Ripe: A cook in the orchard 

The only change I made to the ingredients here was to use light brown sugar instead of light muscovado sugar. The recipe calls for an 8-inch pan and a baking time of an hour and fifteen minutes. I used a 9-inch pan instead, and mine took closer to an hour. This cake would be a dry brick of a thing if left in the oven too long, so take care not to over bake. 

A scant cup (220 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
A scant cup (210 g) light brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups (250 g) whole wheat flour
1 slightly heaping teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
200 g peeled, cored apples (I used about an apple and a half.)  
2/3 cup (100 g) raisins 
6 tablespoons (125 g) orange marmalade
Zest from one orange
Demerara or turbinado sugar 

Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and line an 8- or 9-inch round springform pan with parchment paper. (See note on pan size and baking time, above.)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy and the color of maple syrup. Meanwhile, lightly beat the eggs with a fork in a small bowl. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon. Chop the peeled, cored apples into 1/3-inch cubes. Toss the apples with the raisins and stir in the marmalade and orange zest.

Add the beaten eggs a little at a time to the creamed butter and sugar. (Nigel Slater says to add a spoonful of flour if the mixture starts to curdle, but I didn't have to.) Gently fold in the rest of the flour, then the fruit and marmalade mixture.

Spoon into the prepared cake pan, sprinkle a light, even layer of demerara or turbinado sugar over top, and bake for an hour or so. The cake is done when a skewer stuck into the center of the cake comes out moist, but without any crumbs sticking to it.

Cool in the pan before serving.   


Sally said...

Congratulations on the book, and as a fellow academic, I know that feeling. Too well!

I've missed your words!

koshercamembert said...

Great to see you back here, Jess. I've missed your writing and recipes. And YEAH on getting the first chunk of the cookbook out and back! If you ever need a recipe tester, you know where to find me...

Molly said...

Love this. (And totally feel you on the book/moon thing. You're gonna get to go back so many, many times.) xoxo

foodlovefood said...

So pleased to see your post in my inbox this morning! I too have missed your words!

Anonymous said...

congratulations on the book being this far along. and yes there will be many more scary landings and lift offs before it is finished. or before the next one is because there will be others.

but why not fresh fruit. I can see this with rhubarb, or blueberries or plums or nectarines. perhaps altering the dried fruit a little. wouldn't that be delicious also?

kelsey said...

Yes Yes Yes! Moonwalking. Crazy town. But also pretty freaking rad. I'm waving up there to you. The suit looks good on ya.


Hannah said...

It made me happy today to see your site come alive! Welcome back. Hope your travels have been rejuvenating - and I for one can't wait to get my hands on that moon book of yours. (Also, I'll second the recipe testing offer! Any time!)

One of my very favorite cakes is an apple cake from a little bakery in Santa Cruz, CA. This looks like it might have the chops to stack up. I'll let you know.

tasia said...

I read your entire blog from end to end while nursing my (now 7 month old) baby when she was one and two months old. I've missed your writing very much, and am so delighted to hear that you're feeling strong in the editing process!

london bakes said...

Such an evocative and thoughtful analogy; it's going to stick with me for a long time. So happy to see a post from you.

shari said...

i've missed your writing! so happy to read this post and hear that the writing is going well. xo

Chelsea said...

Oh man, I know exactly what you mean. That's how I felt every time I sent a "finished" dissertation chapter to my adviser during graduate school. Weightlessness just felt wrong, and the grounded feeling of writing again was the best thing, once I fought my way through the weight of those darn moon boots disguised as research and teaching and plain old don't-wanna-ness!

Katie said...

Yaaay, Jess! LOVE this post, also I LOVE that I get to make this cake...I've been resisting opening that marmalade, since, basically, it landed in my hands.

...and I'm about to head off to my film lab to pick up some images that should have Mia in them. (I hope, I had a million rolls to drop off.) xo!

Rogue Unicorn said...

Welcome back! You were missed.

katy said...

I love your moon/writing metaphor. Although I never thought of writing in these terms, I've always felt the weirdness of the experience--of feeling not quite here, not quite there, lost somewhere in my thoughts. And, truth be told, I've been feeling like this a lot these days as I finish up my dissertation (finally!).

Good luck with your editing and return to the moon; I hope you have some of that cake around to sustain you. It looks scrumptious. Then again, one can never go wrong with Nigel.

Lisa said...

Hooray for moonwalking, Jess! Wishing you many more happy trips there and back.

anya said...

It's good to have you back too, Jess!

(Love the moon metaphor, just love it.)

Amy said...

Keep the metaphor comin'. In the the last 24 hours, I've made Aunt Clara's Tulip Cake, raspberry coulis (avec freshly picked black raspberries, yum) a blueberry pie, three kinds of spreads, including the sun-dried tomato tapenade that seems to fit all occasions and all seasons and please all palates. Anna baked cheesecake brownies and we're off!! We'll miss you all in Holy Toledo! this weekend -- have fun with Dad.

Kasey said...

I love the metaphor, Jess...so much truth (and I haven't even written a book, but can totally relate to these feelings!). Congratulations, and onto the next stages of this wild ride :)

El said...

Congratulations on submitting your book. What a achievement. The cake looks. Great too!

molly said...

If anyone can make it to the moon and back, once, twice, twelve times over, it is you.

Welcome back, my friend. (How kind, to bring cake!)


Nicole said...

Congrats on this milestone in your book-writing journey! And this cake. Need to make it.

Ena said...

I made this cake a few days ago as a way to spend a jar of Bonne Maman marmalade I bought on a Paris trip (unavailable where I live). It's a lovely cake and I liked it even better after a day or two. Since I have more marmalade in that jar, there will be a cake or two soon.