For George

Dad and I are going away tomorrow, to St Maarten to celebrate our Silver Wedding anniversary.  It is currently 26 deg C in St Maarten and I Cannot Wait!  As you know, this winter has broken records all over north America and quite frankly I’m tired of it.  We will spend one day lounging on the beach and then wake up warm and hopefully happy on the morning of our anniversary.  We are going out for a celebratory lunch, and then embarking on our sailing ship for a cruise.  In no particular order, we are visiting Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, St Kitts, and St Barths.  We are planning to spend a great deal of time pootling in the sea and to that end have packed industrial quantities of sun cream, large hats and books.  Aaaah!  I had thought of comparing these golden sandy beaches to those of my childhood, but you know what?  I’ll do that another time!

So here is a recipe that George has asked me for a couple of times.  It is a Nigella Lawson recipe and is from Domestic Goddess, I think.  She calls it Easy Almond Cake – George called it That Marzipan One That You Made in the Flower Shape.  Georgie, to use that cake pan, double the quantities of cake.  Make sure that you butter the flower pan gently – not too greasy – and then flour lightly.   If there are any lumps, remove gently with a pastry brush.

So here is Nigella’s Easy Almond Cake, cut and pasted from her website

Ingredients

  • 250 grams unsalted butter (softened)
  • 250 grams marzipan (softened)
  • 150 grams caster sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon almond essence
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 large eggs
  • 150 grams self-raising flour

Method

You will need a 25cm / 10 inch springform tube pan or patterned ring mould, buttered and floured.

  1. Preheat oven to 170ºC/gas mark 3/325ºF. Chop the butter and marzipan to make them easier to break down, and put them in the bowl of the food processor, fitted with the doublebladed knife, with the sugar. Process until combined and pretty well smooth. Add almond essence and vanilla extract, process again, then break the eggs one at a time through the funnel, processing again each time. Tip the flour down the funnel, processing yet again, and then pour the mixture into the prepared tin, scraping the sides and bottom with a rubber spatula.
  2. Bake for 50 minutes, but check from 40. Then, when the cake looks golden and cooked and a cake-tester or fine skewer (or a piece of spaghetti) comes out cleanish, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin before turning out. (This is when you will be feeling grateful if it’s the Springform you’re using.)
  3. The fact that you could easily get 12 slices out of this is another reason why it comes in useful when you’ve got people coming for dinner. That it keeps for a good week is another point in its favour; you don’t have to be fiddling around with all the courses just before lift-off. And if you don’t want to eat raspberries with it, like the rosemary cake it’s very good with apples. With this cake, I make a glorious pink apple puree. Either go for apples stewed in blood-orange juice (wonderful around February when the tarocchi are in) which gives a tenderly coral tint, adding a cinnamon stick or 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, or use red-skinned eating apples and don’t peel them before cooking them. In fact, there’s no need to core them either, just chop the apples roughly and put them in a pan with some butter, lemon juice, cinnamon or cloves and, if there’s some around, a slug of Calvados. Sieve the apples when they’re cooked to an utterly yielding pulp, or push them through a food mill. If you want to smarten up the cake-plus-puree deal, then provide a bowl of creme fraiche (with or without Calvados and a little golden icing sugar stirred in) with some toasted flaked almonds on top.
  4. I am not someone who enjoys peeling and depithing oranges at great length, but sliced tarocchi, or ordinary oranges, with a syrup made by reducing equal volumes of juice and sugar to an almost-caramel, would partner an orange-zested version of this almond ring (the zest in place of vanilla) exquisitely.

Enjoy!  I will send postcards!!

Thank You For The Music

One of my earliest memories is being in the kitchen in Otley with Grandma, radio on, and we were dancing to the Beatles.  The kitchen in Otley was very small but we were dancing, and I can hear Grandma singing along, usually half a beat behind, because she never seemed to know the lyrics, and at the end telling me that she just couldn’t help dancing when she heard that song.  Now if I could only remember which song she was talking about – Please Please Me, Love Me Do, I Wanna Hold Your Hand?  I don’t know.  Music has always been important to me, and the Beatles were the first band I was aware of.  The house in Otley had three bedrooms, two doubles and a single.  Neither Suzy nor Alastair wanted to share with me, but one of them always had to.  On one of the occasions when Suzy and I were sharing, the room was covered with pictures of the Beatles, and I helped her stick pictures onto a bright yellow rubbish bin, which was then covered with a clear plastic bag to protect the pictures.  Brainwashed at a very early age.

Grandma had an operation on her ear when I was about five – the same operation I would have 30 years later.  Genes can suck.  Suzy was charged with looking after me while Papa visited Grandma in hospital.  It can’t have been much fun for a teenager to have to take me out, but I can clearly see us going to the cinema in Otley to see the double feature of Help and Ferry Cross the Mersey.   And, at the risk of sounding like a pastiche of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch, when you get that, and fish and chips, and still have change from half-a-crown, and the memories ring clear 50 years on, you really did get value for money!

One great thing about being the youngest, and the youngest by a few years, is that I was introduced to music and bands that most of my classmates had never heard of.   Thanks to Suzy, I watched the second ever Top of the Pops,  Ready Steady Go, and Juke Box Jury.  I can clearly remember seeing a band’s silhouette on TOTP and knowing it was her heroes, because one of them had his guitar the wrong way round.   When I think back over my life, it is almost always in terms of the music I was listening to, and I really owe my big sister and brother a debt for the music they introduced me to.  The prize has to go to Alastair, however, who one day passed me two albums and said ‘Listen to these, I think you’ll like them’.  He’d lent me Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, and that was the first day of my still continuing love for David Bowie.  Forget David Cassidy, The Jackson Five, and whatever else my girlfriends were listening to, it was Bowie all the way for me.   I was rarely told off at school, but neither the DS teacher nor the chemistry teacher appreciated my singing whilst baking or carrying out an experiment (Jean Genie and Young Americans respectively if you were wondering) – amazing how well the introduction to Jean Genie helps you get a cake out of a tin….

There were many other rock or pop groups that I listened to thanks to my siblings – Mott the Hoople (before Mr Bowie made them famous), Elton John from his first album, Led Zeppelin, Mike Oldfield, Rick Wakeman.  I still know every note of most of these albums – blowed if I can remember the names of the albums or songs though.  Getting older really sucks.  Alongside my inner rock chick though was my violin.  My violin had belonged to Pop and I was given it when I was about 8.  The violin had, I believe, belonged to Pop’s great-uncle and then back even further.  Anyone who knows anything about violins is intrigued by it.  It is slightly smaller than average – a lady’s full-size was how it was described to me by Pop – and at some point its neck has been broken.  You can clearly see the pins in the neck.  The tone is wonderful, leading several people to believe that it is a more important violin than it really is.  I know that the violin is Scottish but sadly there is no indication as to maker anywhere.  When it was taken apart a few years ago and serviced, I hoped that I would know, but again the violin maker told me it was a beautiful instrument which he thought dated from the 1750s but no other clues.

Papa used to claim that our (Suzy, Alastair and my) music ruined the needles on his stereo (pronounced stee-reo by Papa), and he could never understand how I could love classical music and that pop stuff.   Papa never played an instrument and couldn’t read music.  His McKay grandfather had been a professional violinist, and had played in an orchestra.  His father, my Papa, had a beautiful bass voice and sang in local operatic societies, but somehow the musical gene skipped Papa.  He was very set in his ideas as to what constituted music.  The most modern thing I heard him enjoying was James Last American Patrol or Herb Alpert.  But oh my goodness he loved his (bag)pipe music.  When we gave Grandma and Papa the stereo for their silver wedding, Papa was thrilled to listen to the bands marching from speaker to speaker, even moving ‘his’ chair so that he was in the middle of the two speakers.

Grandma was more open to new music.  She was from a very musical background.  Gran’s father, Pa, ran an amateur salon orchestra of which he was the leader.  Pop was the leader of the second violins and Gran played the piano.  Actually she taught the piano too, played the organ at their church, and played the organ to accompany silent films.  In later years she judged how stiff her fingers were by how long it took her to play the Minute Waltz!  After being dared to kiss Pop under the mistletoe, they married (I’m sure it wasn’t this straightforward but that’s what I was told) and Gran gave up teaching, but continued playing.  When I learned the violin, she would accompany me on such classics as Chanson Triste, Salut d’Amour and our piece de resistance, Hearts and Flowers.  Never since have I managed to convey such pathos into one short piece.  Occasionally Gran would play a collection of music hall songs and we’d sing along to such gems as Just a Wee Doch ‘n Doris and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary – ah, good times.  Grandma liked to sing and to dance so lyrics and beat were very important to her.  As I said, she was generally half a beat behind on the words, but she was happy.  Frank Sinatra was one of her perennial favourites.  She went off the Beatles when they grew their hair and recorded Strawberry Fields – so sad, they used to be such nice boys.  Gran liked a good beat too, and once shocked Papa by announcing how much she liked Roll Over Beethoven, a travesty in Papa’s eyes!  Mind you, after receiving a letter from one of my cousins where it was clear that said cousin was now living with her boyfriend, Gran shocked Grandma by saying that she thought that if she were our age she’d probably live with her boyfriend too.

So none of the above has anything to do with today’s recipe which is a recent addition to my repertoire.  I pulled the recipe out of an Air New Zealand magazine last June.  I thought it looked interesting and it’s gluten-free.  I’ve made it a couple of times and I’ve been really pleased with the results.  So here is

Orange and Almond Cake

(Serves 8-12)

Ingredients

  • 3 whole oranges
  • 9 whole free-range eggs
  • 375 g caster sugar
  • 375 g ground almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Chopped almonds to sprinkle

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C and grease and line a 30 cm cake tin with baking paper.  Simmer the oranges in a large pot of water for two hours, changing the water three times.  Allow the oranges to cool, dry thoroughly, then cut them in half and remove the pips.  Using a food processor blend the oranges until smooth.

Add the eggs and sugar and blend for three minutes before adding the ground almonds and baking powder.  Blend for another two minutes.  Pour into the prepared cake tin, sprinkle with chopped almonds, and cook for one hour.

Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool in the tin before turning out onto a wire cake rack.  Store in an airtight container.  This cake freezes remarkably well.

Enjoy!