Tuesday, January 18, 2011

boundaries of the familiar

There is an adjustment period for every relocation.

No matter how well you plan, there are always the details you will not think about until after you arrive. Where to buy a padlock in Rome (hardware store), how to say "bleach" in French (eau de javel), why there is no drip coffee to be found in Perth (no Starbucks.)

It isn't the language or the landscape that feels most foreign. It's the tiny things that make up everyday living, the fixtures you have come to rely on without realizing it. Their absence puts you off-kilter. Like stepping off a curb just a fraction shorter than you expected, the missing milimetres that leave you reeling.

To navigate, you must reestablish the baseline. Trace the lacunae, mark their lines. Seek out windfalls to stop the gaps. Redraw the boundaries of the familiar.

That which was prized is prosaic; that which is commonplace becomes rare. Know that this city will offer you neither apples nor buttermilk; here there is rosemary, but no sage, no thyme. Instead, chestnuts and fennel fronds; buckwheat flour, cheap and plentiful. Not an oddity here, but a constant.

Blended with ground almonds and sugar, mixed with butter and eggs, buckwheat produces a rustic cake of unusual fragrance. Absence of gluten gives it a delicate, tender crumb. There is still afternoon tea, basking in late winter light. Soothing, this ritual. Settling. The boundaries of the familiar, shifted.

Buckwheat Almond Cake

Despite its name, buckwheat bears no relation to true wheat, and is gluten-free.

I've kept the flavoring in this cake simple - just a little vanilla - but you could also add cinnamon, nutmeg, or orange zest, or use browned butter in place of plain. This cake can be served warm from the oven, but it's really at its best a day or two later.

(Draws some inspiration from this and this. Serves one with leftovers; cake may be wrapped and frozen.)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a mixing bowl, cream together one stick (four ounces) softened butter with half a cup of white sugar. Beat in two eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is thick and creamy (it's fine if it looks slightly curdled.) Stir in a half-teaspoon of salt and a half-teaspoon of vanilla.

Stir in a half-teaspoon of baking powder. Fold in half a cup (two ounces) of finely ground almonds. Fold in three-quarters of a cup (three and a half ounces) of buckwheat flour. The batter will be quite thick.

Glop the batter into a greased 5.75 inch by 3 inch loaf pan (two-cup capacity) or an eight-inch false-bottomed tart pan. Bake for thirty minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Allow the cake to cool in the pan. Wrap tightly and let it sit overnight before serving.

Serve with tea or coffee.


Cakelaw said...

Interesting. Even in supposedly similar places, you still have this adjustment period - and I am not sure that I ever fully adjusted.

Lisa said...

You are so right about the things that throw one off-kilter when adjusting to a new location, especially a new country. I appreciated this post.

adele said...

Lisa - The devil really is in the details. :)