6.26.2013

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.