So suddenly the old feelings come. Always when my mind stops wandering. Always when the chances come and I lose the gull to roll the dice. I’m more fearful now than I used to be, so suddenly when those feelings come. A well, an aquifer, a rain gutter. A response to gravity. A need to flow.
I remain lazy this summer, sleeping past my alarm. Hitting snooze so often, the sound harmonizes with the early birds. I fell asleep on the porch swing one morning, my coffee grew cold and so did I. I got seasick in this landlocked state. I washed my face with cold water when I woke up and found a spider in the sink.
I mowed the lawn while everyone is away. Two blisters and a callous because I don’t work often. I take care of nine cats while I’m here. We keep the gasoline in a small barn that used to house chickens, then ducks, then a wild pheasant that broke its leg. I don’t think much of those days now; the grapevine strangled what was left of the coop.
I think I used all my potential on healing these last few months. Wasted, but perhaps not squandered. Exhausted, but perhaps not exploited. I think I have a bit farther to go. I sit out and lay in the sun most days on my lunch break, trying to escape the Freon cold of air conditioner window units. I think back to a year ago, when I made my parents dessert in a house that had an outdoor kitchen. I think back to how every promise was broken within a year. I think of who I am now, if I’ve really grown at all. And I bake to combat the Freon cold of the air conditioner, too.
Victoria Sponge Strawberry Shortcake
An update on a classic with another classic. This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson's in How to be a Domestic Goddess. Makes one, 2-layered cake out of two 8-inch square pans.
Ingredients for the Cakes:
- 1 ¼ cup AP flour
- ½ cup almond meal
- 4 TB cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ cup milk
- Zest of one orange
- 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 eggs
Ingredients for the Cream:
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1 TB pure vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- ½ cup mascarpone cheese
Directions for Cakes:
- Preheat oven to 350*F, prepare two 8x8 square cake pans with parchment paper and butter
- Sift together the flour, almond meal, and baking powder four times, until very airy and light. Set aside
- In a measuring cup, whisk together milk, extracts, and zest
- In a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
- Add eggs, one at a time. Turn off and scrape with a rubber spatula when all eggs are in mixture. It will look slightly lumpy and curdled, but it is just fine
- With your rubber spatula (not with the stand mixer), lightly fold in flour mixture, a half-cup or so at a time
- When all flour is incorporated, your mixture will be pretty thick. Thin it out with your milk mixture and beat for fifteen seconds with the stand mixer on medium-high to aerate slightly
- Split batter in half between the two prepared pans
- Put both pans on a half sheet and bake for 22-25 minutes, or until golden brown and sides have pulled away from the pan
- Allow to cool
Directions for Cream:
- While cakes are baking and cooling, work on your cream
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, now fitted with the whisk attachment, whip your cream until soft peaks form
- Add your vanilla and continue beating on medium
- Slowly add your confectioner’s sugar and your pinch of salt
- Turn mixer off
- Gently fold in your mascarpone cheese. The whipped cream will deflate slightly, but the cheese will thicken the mixture to a nice, heavy consistency
- Set aside until ready to assemble cakes
To assemble: Lay one layer on your work surface and dump your cream mixture into the center of the cake. Using an offset spatula and working from the center, spread your mixture toward the edges, being as rustic as you so choose. Add about 5-10 chopped strawberries on top of this and a squeeze of orange. Sit your second cake layer on top of this. Sift confectioner’s sugar on this layer and sprinkle almond slices as a finishing touch. Serve warm or allow to refrigerate for a couple hours for flavors to mellow. Best within two days.