I know, everyone's on holiday and I said I wasn't blogging till next year, but as Britney sang in her cover of the song My Prerogative, it's my prerogative. Plus, cake! Cake.
The thing with traditions - they're wonderful. They give you something to cling to in this strange, scary world, a sense of where you've been and where you might go - they give you stories to relay and build upon and argue over the precise order of; they give you something to pass on to other people.
They're also damn vexatious, because once you get sucked into a tradition it's very difficult to break it. I have done roughly the same thing for Christmas every single year of my life, and as such the idea of being anywhere else during that time is un-contemplatable. (Admittedly: am not particularly good at compromising. Sure, Eartha Kitt romanticises it for me, but compromise does go some way to making other people happy.) As such, Tim and I have only spent one Christmas together in the past seven years...and that was when he came to my family's place.
My family (in the very extended sense of the word) has been camping at this one particular beach every single year since I was born. I'm still pretty young, but that's a lot of years. This year, for the first time, owing to a lack of money and time in equal measure, I'm not going along with them. I know I vocally dislike nature, but this place is magical and special and all we really do anyway is sit around and drink gin and play cards. Sigh.
And finally, the flat Christmas Dinner that I have had every year since 2006, when Tim and I moved in together, was not able to happen this year again due to a lack of time and funds - and also moving house on the 15th of December.
Damn you, traditions, getting me all emotionally attached to things and being so difficult to extricate myself from and making my heart hurt a bit! Is this what being a grown up is about? If so, then I stamp my feet petulantly in response. But also get on with it. Damn you too, grownuphoodity.
Before this gets all too, too hand-wringingly larychmose, let us focus on a cake! Tim and I are spending New Years with a tangle of our best friends. I'm bringing novels of a worthy (Muriel Sparks) and trashy (Jilly Cooper) nature; plenty of whisky; languid-friendly dresses, and this cake.
I adapted it from a recipe that I found in the Meat Free Mondays book by Paul McCartney. I don't eat a ton of meat as it is, let alone on Mondays, but there is many a brilliant and inspiring recipe for any day of the week to be found within its pages. This has ended up being really quite different to their recipe, but it's what spurned on the idea, so a tip of the hat to them all the same. (PS: I would just like to say though, the caramel pear sauce was all my idea.) (I guess I'm not that grown-up yet.)
Pear and Almond Cake with Caramel Pear Sauce
PS: this needs a food processor to make it sorry - though if you don't have one, I'd make sure the butter was quite soft, cream it with the sugar first, then the egg, then fold everything else in. So: still do-able, for sure.
1 x 70g packet ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
170g butter, cubed
1 can of pears
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
2 teaspoons cornflour
Set your oven to 160 C/320 F and line a 20cm springform caketin with baking paper.
Tip the ground almonds, flour, and baking powder into your food processor bowl and process for a bit to mix them together. Then add the sugar and butter and process thoroughly till it forms a thick dough. Tip in the egg and blitz briefly to mix it in. Spread this thick, luscious mixture into your caketin - it won't be very high - and then drain your can of pears, reserving the liquid (important!) and arrange them, cut-side-up on top of the batter.
Bake for about an hour, or till the cake feels springy and firm in the centre.
Meanwhile, in a small pot or pan, mix the brown sugar, golden syrup and cornflour to an unlikely paste. Slowly mix in the reserved pear juice from the can, and then continue stirring it over a low heat. Allow it to simmer but not quite boil till it all becomes quite syrupy and thick and dark. When it reaches this stage, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter.
Note: You have a choice when the cake is cooked - either do as I did, and leave it in its tin, spike several times with a skewer, pour over the hot caramel pear sauce and then allow it to cool completely. OR - unclip the cake from the tin, slice up, and serve the caramel pear sauce on the side to be poured over in quantities of each slice-eater's choosing.
So uh, even though I made this for other people to eat, I had to judiciously remove a small sliver and eat it, otherwise I wouldn't be able to blog about it. Or I could, but the most conclusive thing I'd be able to say about it is that it's very instagrammable.
Luckily for us all, I heroically ate said sliver of cake. And it's rather wondrous. The caramel sauce absorbs into its surface, making it a sticky confection of a thing, and the pear juice really does make itself known, flavourwise - giving the sauce a floral fragrance which elevates it above mere sugariness (though I do love mere sugariness too, to be fair.) The cake itself is dense and buttery and the almonds give it a slightly nubbly texture which echoes that of the pears. It's damn good stuff.
Cleaning out one of the cupboards stuffed with my old schoolbooks and things was surprisingly diverting. I was reminded how utterly, utterly righteous I was as a child. Seriously, almost all of my schoolbooks are filled with firmly written opinions like "why must we do maths? Why aren't Spice Girls more integrated into the curriculum? UGH SPORTS WHY".
I relayed this to Tim, who astutely pointed out that I could've believably expressed that same opinion yesterday.
Case in point. I was a righteous young'un. (Yes, Mum was my teacher for a while in school. Yes, it had its ups and downs, this shrewd humouring of me here a clear up.)
I also adored hanging out with the cats. Or at least attempting to. Roger was largely disinterested, but at least sat still long enough that I could situate myself very close to him and pretend like we were friends. Poppy, ever the baby raptor, decided she hated me and tried to shred my face off every time we approached. I did manage to pick her up for a quick minute though, and even caught the brief affair on camera. Me, thrilled to the bone, Poppy, at least displaying only ennui, instead of her claws. A Christmas Miracle!_____________________________________________________________________________
Title via: Yes, I elect to end the year on a truly atrocious pun. And I'll probably start next year with one too, as is my wont. I was always a bit terrified of the song Send In The Clowns from A Little Night Music when I was young, because frankly clowns are scary as hell. But after listening to it properly, I came to realise it's one of Sondheim's most quietly devastating tunes, and I rather love it. Especially when Dame Judi Dench absolutely kills it.
The Smiths, How Soon Is Now? Tim and I saw Morrissey in concert the night before we moved house. I know he can be horrible, but his music just turns my insides to melted butter and I love his voice and it was just amazing times a billion. It doesn't excuse any of his horribleness, but I was glad we had the opportunity to see him. Before the show, Tim and I each picked three songs we really hoped he'd sing - cutely, or maybe grossly, we both picked the same three - and he did! He sang all three. This was one of them - a song from his erstwhile band which is so good I hardly ever listen to it, because it makes me feel all queasy inside. Not the best recommendation, but if you've never heard it before...just try.
Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Blank Generation. Since being lent speakers by some friends, Tim and I have been ploughing through all the vinyl we bought over in America. This album of the same name is so utterly great, and I love this song, and Richard Hell is impossibly dreamy. Which maybe helps make the song sound better, who knows?
Next time: This really is the last post I'm doing for 2012 - have a joyous relaxed happiness-filled time, and I'll see you on the other side.