Orange, Almond and Pecan Cake (GF, V)

DSC_8005

We were away this past long weekend. Not far, less than two hours drive north of where we live. Briefly, I wondered why we were going away when we already live near the beach and could do a stay-cation without spending a cent. But a few hours into the holiday I knew. It was the otherness of it all, that just demanded relaxation. The absence of the urge to clean the bathroom, do laundry or even to stick to any kind of routine. It brought with it permission to just read, to move if it felt good, to open a bottle of wine at 3pm or to eat cheese with crackers on the beach in lieu of lunch.

A walk on the beach saw us clambering over boulders, hopping over waves that momentarily filled the spaces between them. We examined deep, straight fissures in rocky plains on the shore, concluding that they were the result of some long-ago sudden impact which sent shockwaves through the otherwise impenetrable stone. Over time, the sharp edges were worn into softly rounded ones on which tiny sea life made their homes. Colonies of perfectly formed grey sea snails no bigger than peppercorns crunched beneath our feet despite our best efforts to avoid them. We returned to the sand and an hour went by with us leisurely stretched out on beach towels, reading books.

On another afternoon, we meandered around the countryside visiting wineries and distilleries, sighing with pleasure when we sampled a wine made of rose petals here, wrinkling our noses not-so-subtly at the first sip of a gin infused with camomile somewhere else. Apple strudel, its buttery pastry filled with perfectly diced stewed apples was bought and shared with sips of hot tea while we lazed in hammocks. A slice of this cake would have also done nicely.

DSC_7988

This is not a fluffy cloud of a cake. It is dense, mealy and quite frankly rather hideous looking. Rustic, if you will. This is not a cake that bothers itself with holding together or providing a scaffolding for decoration. The upside though, is that it’s very forgiving. If you don’t manage to get the aquafaba into soft peaks, fear not. Beat it for at least 4 or 5 minutes until it is nice and frothy, and the cake will still work, although without the soft peaks the result may be denser.  Forget to buy pecans? Nevermind, walnuts (or just pepitas) will work just as well. No cinnamon to be found? *Shrug* it’ll probably still be delicious. Try not to skip the cardamom though. It is vegan and gluten free. Most importantly, it is the crumbly, fall-aparty, syrup soaked nature of this cake that makes it utterly satisfying with a cup of tea.

DSC_7951

Orange, cardamom and pecan cake (GF, Vegan)

Ingredients:

6 tbsp aquafaba*
1/3 cup coconut oil
Zest of 2 oranges, finely grated
Juice of 2 oranges- 2 tbsp in cake, rest in syrup
2 cups almond meal
1 tsp baking powder
2tbsp honey for cake + 4 tbsp for syrup
1/3 cup pecans roughly chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp Vanilla paste or powder
Pinch salt
4-6 cardamom pods- grind the seeds and reserve the skins
4 tbsp honey for syrup
Small handful pepitas or a few more pecans

Thick or whipped cream to serve

Method:

Grease a small loaf tin and line it with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (340 F).

Use an electric beater (handheld or stand) to beat the aquafaba until soft peaks start to form. Add coconut oil, 2 tbsp honey, 2 tbsp orange juice, orange zest and coconut oil. Whisk briefly to combine. In a separate mixing bowl, sieve the almond meal. Add baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla, salt and ground cardamom seeds. Stir to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and stir gently to just combine. Add the chopped pecans and stir just a few times. The mixture will be quite a thick batter, but should still be pourable unlike a dough.

Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 25-30 min on the middle shelf. On another tray, place the pepitas or remaining pecans and toast in the oven for the last 7-10 minutes. Remove cake from oven when a skewer passed into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Press toasted whole pecans into top of cake or sprinkle with pepitas. Press the nuts or pepitas lightly into the top of the cake.

To make the syrup

While the cake is cooking, place the remaining orange juice, 4 tbsp honey and the cardamom skins in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 30 min or until the syrup thickens. The syrup should be about half as thick as maple syrup.

When the cake is cooked, still in the tin, and still warm, use a fork to poke holes all over the top. Pour the syrup evenly over the cake. Remove and discard the cardamom skins. Gently move the tin around to spread the syrup evenly. Leave at room temperature for at least 20 minutes for the syrup to soak into the cake.

Serve with thick cream and a cup of tea.

Notes:

*Aquafaba is the liquid from a tin of chick peas or beans. You can also use the liquid that you would normally drain away after you cook chick peas or beans.

Advertisements

Tuscany in Transit

The man sat on a platform bench, directly in my line of sight as I peered out of the water-stained window of the train carriage.  His shirt hung completely open and the dazzling rays of the Tuscan sun reflected off the curves of his generous belly.  The equally reflective surface of his bald head was surrounded by a thick ring of dark, unkempt hair that spilled over the tops of his ears.  He held a brown glass bottle in one hand which he rested on his knee.  An unlit cigarette dangled from the fingers of his other hand.  It was lit as if on schedule by a passing man of about the same age who was, bafflingly, wearing a knitted beanie and sweater.  Large sunglasses were perched on the bare-chested man’s nose, heightening the sense that he should be the head of a crime ring in some Hollywood movie.  He held a grotesque fascination for me and before my train pulled away from Pistoia station, I fought the urge to take a picture, reminding myself that I was in his direct line of vision just as he was for me.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 1

The train I was on was headed for Lucca, a walled city about 140 km from Florence.  Almost three hours earlier, I had entered Santa Maria Novella Station after a brisk twenty minute walk along the sun-baked streets of Florence.  I had approached a small biglietteria, a stall selling tickets for the buses that stopped on either side of the city’s main station.  There, I met the very first impolite person I had come across in Florence, an insipid man who reminded me (in appearance but not in attitude) of my high school economics teacher.  He had set his mouth, sliced his hands through the air and in no uncertain terms told me “Lucca? NO!” promptly turning away as if I had just asked for his bank account details.

A more kindly man at another stall had told me that he too did not sell bus tickets to Lucca, but that if it was him, he would take the train.  I needed no more reasons to opt for the train, especially as I hadn’t been looking forward to the queasiness that I often experienced on drives along winding roads.

Through a combination of my suboptimal touristic Italian and my misreading of the train boards (who knew that they would have both departure and arrival information?), I failed to board one train and had to wait an hour for the next one.  It gave me the opportunity to explore Santa Maria Novella station.  The hub of the Florentine rail and bus networks, it’s imposing ceiling was what kept drawing my eyes upwards.  An intricate arrangement of criss-crossed steel beams supporting panes of grey tinted glass looms over scores of purposeful commutors and bewildered tourists. It’s cavernous underside houses a string of shops selling anything from cheap clothing, to mobile phones and gelato.  The shopping was not exactly a must-do in Florence, but an acceptable way to while away half an hour or so, if one happens to misread the train time signs.

All that speed-walking around a city and missing of perfectly good trains makes one hungry and so I picked up a pizzetta (mini pizza) at a nearby pasticceria.  The round of flaky puff pastry was smeared with pizza sauce and topped with good prosciutto, a puddle of mozzarella and sprinkling of herbs.  It was a simple but satisfying snack that proved to be worth the train mishap.  I picked up another for the journey and vowed to replicate the recipe in my own kitchen.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 2

Finally aboard the train, I settled into one of the comfortably cushioned seats and set my bottle of water on the tiny table.  In front of me was a young African woman who was engaged in a very loud and animated phone conversation, seemingly oblivious to the annoyed looks she was receiving from other passengers.  Across from me sat a middle-aged man in army pants, sporting a mohawk and impossibly dark sunglasses.  He left the train at a station midway to Lucca, with a chesty swagger that I couldn’t help but watch.  A young, slim woman, probably a gypsy, walked up and down the aisles using printed flyers to beg for money.  As always, I was mildly surprised that she wore jeans and a sweater rather than the flowing skirts and jangly bangles of storybook gypsies.

So it was that for the eighty minute ride to Lucca, I took in the undulating emerald green Tuscan hills, dotted with old farmhouses and historic towns.  At each station, I admired the bright scarlet poppies that grew like weeds along the tracks and around the stone buildings.  I peeped at the laundry drying out of windows and in balconies, guessing what kinds of people lived there and how many.  I observed the Italians that I saw on the many platforms that we passed.  Some were intriguing like the very proper little old lady dressed all in grey, others distasteful like the bald, abundantly bellied platform sitter at Pistoia.

I was surprised to find the train mostly filled with residents rather than tourists.  For me, the gentle rhythm of a train has always had a lulling effect, and it was a forced time-out in what had so far been an overly active holiday.  I sunk into my seat, chewed on my pizzetta and I people-watched.  The good, the bad and like that bare-chested gentleman, the downright unsavoury.

A recipe is probably more effort than a pizzetta needs.  You see, it’s as simple as an assembling of tasty, quality ingredients followed by some oven time.  When Spiral Foods sent me a few bottles of their Sugo (Italian Pasta Sauce), I started using this to smear onto the puff pastry and it worked a treat.  It truly is a fresh, homely tasting pasta sauce.  If you are vegetarian, swap the prosciutto for a few thin slices of flavourful tomatoes or red onions.

In other news, can you believe this is my 100th blog post?? I must admit I’m a little shocked that one with as limited an attention span as myself (ohhh…..look…..a butterfly!) would have lasted this long.  But here I am.  And here you are, reading each new post and supporting me with your presence, comments and encouragement.

Thank you!  Keep coming back, and enjoy the Pizzetta.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 3

Prociutto Pizzettas

Makes 8

Get:

4 sheets good quality frozen puff pastry, thawed
Olive oil
Melted butter for brushing
1/2 cup passata
1 tsp (3-5) fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped, plus a couple of leaves
Generous pinch salt
8 slices good quality prosciutto
150g buffallo mozzarella
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Make:

Preheat the oven to 200 C.

Quarter the pastry sheets.  Lay 8 pieces out onto oven trays and brush with melted butter.  Lay the remaining 8 sheets onto the brushed sheets, lining the corners up with the middle of the sides to form a star.

In a small bowl, mix the passata, basil and salt with a drizzle of olive oil, or use Spiral Foods Sugo straight up.  Taste and add a little more salt if desired, remembering that the prosciutto will be a little salty.  Spread the sauce over the middle of the pastry squares, leaving a 2 cm border clear all the way around each square.

Lay a slice of prosciutto onto each square and top with pinched off pieces of mozzarella, again leaving the border clear.

Scatter torn basil leaves over the top and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 15-18 minutes until the pastry is fully cooked and browned.

Tuscany in transit 3

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, however Sugo product samples were provided by Spiral Foods.

Why I Write

I write because when I do, I forget all else.  As my fingers bounce across the keys, as words tumble over each other to land in succession on the page, as letters become words become sentences become paragraphs, life becomes something that makes a little bit of sense.

why i write 2

To write makes my heart beat faster with the sheer invigoration of it.  It is my car racing, my bungee jumping, my watercolour.  It makes me more of what I am, the best version of myself.

There are days when ideas and concepts in my head that are jostling their way out of my little brain.  Characters….some real, some imagined and some real-imagined.  Each being born in the fog of science in my cranium, elbowing their way past treatment protocols, drug contraindications, suture properties, principles of wound healing.  Many of these men, women and yes, animals, never see the light.  Some underdeveloped and some not very interesting in the first place languish quietly before they can emerge into the world.  But a few remain, laying low, biding their time, building their strength until they can climb out onto my laptop.  Others form stories that blossom, give me hope, then whither like the end-of-day flowers at the railway station kiosk.  The ones that sell for half price to husbands who are home late again and couples who don’t like to turn up empty handed to dinner parties.  Perhaps one day a concept, an idea will take on a bigger life….one that makes it to my screen and eventually onto paper.

Why do I write? I write because that act of weaving words, of hitting keys to make people, places, animals and situations take shape is what allows me to call myself a writer.  I write because writing is like medicine for my soul.  Because what I have written may be all I ever leave behind, even if no-one ever reads it.  Writing allows me to start to un-jumble the mess that at times is life, to put it into simple words and complex sentences.  I write because sometimes the beauty and sorrow of life is so overwhelming that I need to reduce it to mere words to improve my grasp on it.  When I write, I at times escape reality and at other times embrace it.

I write for me.  I write to show you a piece of me.  To connect with you, even if it’s only through words on your screen.

I write because I am a writer.

Why do you write? And if you don’t, what is it that takes you to that happy place?

why i write 3

This is a blog hop and the lovely Kate of Raising Misters gave me the opportunity to participate.  Check out her post here.  The bloggers I am tagging are Amy from Milkteaxx, Zarine from Maybe in Madras and Tammi from Insatiable Munchies.  These ladies are very talented so do keep an eye out for their posts.

why i write 1

On the Importance of the Fur-Child

DSC_0640

Our family pooch Cookie is a nuggetty little Jack Russell Terrier crossed with God-knows-what.  He is undeniably socially inept when it comes to others of his kind.  His stumpy front legs turn outwards and he is afflicted by skin allergies to silly things like grass, that see him determinedly licking his paws at any given opportunity.

Cookie Fishing

He is deeply offended by the advances of other four-legged beings and has been known to hold a grudge beyond what is decent and reasonable.  He is intensely dedicated to playing fetch but is appalled at the fact that when on a beach, he is expected to swim (swim!) into the water in order to retrieve the ball.  Yes, if Cookie were a person, he’d be a Forrest Gump of sorts; a creature that is utterly endearing in his inability to ever reach the top of the food chain.

dogs beach

But just like many a fur-child around the world, ours brightens our household like no human could.   The flavour that pets add to our lives can only truly be understood by those that have shared their lives with one that is furred, feathered or scaled.

I’m not talking about the obvious heroes- the guide dogs, the search and rescue dogs or those incredible pooches who detect seizures in their epileptic owners before they even occur.  I’m referring to those everyday creatures, without special training or powers.  The ones who make a terrible racket every time the doorbell rings and ‘help’ you with your gardening on weekends.  Those that wake you up by stationing themselves purring on your chest every morning.  That one that is right this moment snoring on your ottoman, chasing butterflies in his sleep.

alex

A woman once shared with me that it was her four little fluff-balls who saved her from depression when she was battling breast cancer. That while it was her oncologist, her surgeon and her nurses who saved her body, it was her canine family that saved her sanity.

Another tale that I will never forget was a man’s very personal story, in which his Springer Spaniel was single-handedly (pawedly?) responsible for reuniting him with his estranged wife.  And let us not forget those creatures who keep our senior citizens company when no-one else will.

Cambodia Dog

Our pets add sparkle to our lives that we would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.  For many, they are all that wait for them when they come home each evening.  They make us laugh and remind us to look outside ourselves, even at times when that seems impossible.  For those of us without kids, they give us something to be responsible for other than ourselves.

At the very least, if they are anything like Cookie, our fur-children provide intensive cuddles, free entertainment and a reason to get outside and throw a ball again…..and again…..and again.

Happy Vet Nurses day Friday the 11th of October!
Cookie Chinaman