Wednesday, December 9, 2009

But a World in You: Norwegian Apple Cake

You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.
- Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth

Today I walked along the beach with Rangitoto to my left. Glittering water beneath a summer sun spread wide between islands and shorelines. And as my heels sunk into the sand with each wave that washed away my footing, I thought about all the salty ocean water that has romanced me.

Hawaiian waves were the first, faced in the safe grasp of my father or mother when my legs were still too wobbly and chunky, but even long after my baby fat was shed, my family would make our returns to Hawaii. Dad and I would slip out the back door together and cross the field to soft white sand and cool water for our early morning swim.

Years later I met the turquoise blue waters of the Mediterranean as they lapped against the stone wall on which I sat with an I "heart" Naxos sticker in my purse. Friends and I shared moments of awe and wonder from high on a ferry deck as we journeyed back to Athens, dark blue starry sky closing in on an orange sun that slipped beyond the horizon. Hundred Islands in the Philippines; Pacific waves that crash with Costa Rican flair; late night Mexican sand lit by beach fires and glowing cigars. Beaches along the Santa Barbara coast that acquired terms of endearment such as "good ol'" and "dear" refreshed my body and spirit, whether alone or bonding with new friends. There's homey Puget Sound, and there's the orange-lily-speckled Ibaraki coastline too.

I carry these images and memories in my heart, which tugs no less for the people with whom I shared each season than for the individual shorelines. Pebbles, shattered shells, black sand, and speckled white: I find pleasure in each circumstance and value in each face.

This little world living inside me, this world that Buechner speaks of, is indeed strongly comprised of people and places but it would not be complete without tastes. The taste of Norway on Christmas morning, India through friends' curries scooped up in wet orange fingers, Washington experienced in the sweetest of summer's berries and fall's apples.

And it's not all about geographical locations. It's about smelling coffee in the kitchen in the morning and thinking of my dad's espresso machine, eating leftover pear clafoutis with plain yogurt for breakfast and knowing my mother would have made extra for the exact same purpose, and it's about sitting down to a dinner without any vegetables in sight and wondering where the rest of the meal is. It's a marvel how much these stomach habits influence the psyche. Their disruption can depress, and their presence can comfort, restore, and inspire.

So it was that I was inspired in the making of this Norwegian Apple Cake. I was comforted in the process of halving crisp apples and turning their exposed pale faces down on the cutting board to be diced and swept into a pile on the side. I was restored in biting into something light and sweet and simple tasting that my own hands had made.

You see, I rarely spend time in the kitchen these days. And with that I have to say I miss it. I miss meal-planning and grocery shopping and knowing exactly what's going into my body. I miss the art and therapy and practicality of it all. But, in turn, I'm so grateful for the hospitality available to me in this season and will feel forever blessed by those who have opened their homes so freely to me.

Thus we return to the cake. (Sorry, this is what happens when I go too long without visiting this blog -- my fingers run away with me.) Mainly, what I'm wanting to say is that this cake was lovely. It puffed up airily in the oven and then settled into itself for a thin eggy inside and lightly crunchy top. The apples are the structure of the cake because the batter is thick and minimal in ratio, but if you use the back of a spatula it will spread out well enough in the bottom of your pan and all come together in the heat of the oven.

norwegian apple cake

norwegian apple cake

My accompaniment to this cake was a barely sweetened cardamom whipped cream. I wanted to emphasis the Nordic origin of the cake since it was being served at an international dinner and knew the warming presence of cardamom (so reminiscent of my grandmother's Christmas cookies) would pair well with apple. I got generous compliments on both and will be making this cake again. It's just the sort of thing that can cross over into breakfast the next day, like a proper fruit-filled crisp (or the aforementioned clafoutis).

I found the recipe on a brilliant food blog called Everybody Likes Sandwiches, which features a promising looking coconut bread recipe in the same post. And I must include the blog she got the original recipe for Norwegian Apple Cake from, as it is equally brilliant and lovely: Bunny Pie.

Recipe link: Norwegian Apple Cake.

norwegian apple cake