Monday, January 03, 2011
Comfort Me With Apples
My little French life has gotten a bit rocky in recent months. Ever been hit with some not-so-lovely news that leaves you reeling? And then just when you think you’ve started to move through the fog of it, another something-or-other pops up and challenges your inner fortitude? Yeah. You know what I’m talking about. Well, it’s been like that recently.
My lovely little nest-in-the-Provençal skies has been put up for sale.
At a whoppin’ 6700€ per square meter. (As one French friend put it, “That’s ridiculous! This is not Paris. This is Aix!”) Which is kind of how I felt when I heard the price. But it gets better. And I’m not talking about the “it gets better” hopeful shot in the arm, makes-me-feel-reassured-that-there-are-compassionate-souls-walking-around-on-the-planet" kind of way.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
I was politely instructed to take a seat at the real estate office so they could break the news to me – news that I had already suspected. The blonde woman sitting across the desk from me in the golden light of a pre-autumn day flipped through some pages in a thick dossier as she informed me that the apartment was being put up for sale and that my lease would not be renewed when it ends in April.
(Breathe in. Breathe out.)
Furthermore, she would be showing it to prospective buyers between now and then and I was to let it be shown with the customary 24-hour notice.
This is not easy news for a Taurus soul. We are nesters. We are generous with our homes – but not to just anybody. Apparently now there were going to be lots of “just anybodies” traipsing through chez La Fourchette.
Then she told me the price.
I believe that was the moment when I stopped breathing.
The response I finally choked out was something like, “Re-e-e-e-ally? That seems awfully high given that there is quite a bit of work to be done in the place and some serious deterioration due to a structural problem with the stairs to the top terrace.”
“Ah,” she said, “but the buyers won’t know that!” She smiled as if she expected me to be pleased that we were now sharing this clever secret that no one else would be learning. Me? I just let out a long sigh because these are some of the things that make it very tough to “stay curious” in that whole “in this culture this behavior/custom/practice makes sense and it is my job as an expat to stay curious and figure out how this works for ‘them’ ” kind of way. But this time, I just bristled. The chatter started up in my little tête*: “In my country we have laws to protect innocent buyers from dishonest practices like this…” and yada yada yada it went on. Fortunately I took the high road here and simply smiled back because internally, I was in my bull-in-a-china-shop mode. My take-no-prisoners, scorched-earth mode. It’s not pretty.
Since then I’ve greeted a number of potential buyers as they’ve toured my little aerie. Most have been polite. Some have seemed empathic for the inconvenience. Only one was really rude wondering out loud if I might leave any of my furniture because she just thought it was done so well. “And I could move this over there…” she said as she mentally (and verbally) re-arranged my furniture. The apartment is adorable, all feathered as I have it, I must say. I have developed a certain je ne sais quoi here but that comment was just over the top. Her visit would be the last. It hasn’t shown since.
A number of options exist for La Fourchette. You’ll just have to stay tuned to see what unfolded next.
The good news is that all of this began tumbling down as apples came into season in the marché! See! It’s never all bad.
I’ll try to keep these things all in perspective and stay out of slumping into the corner in a fetal position slowly twisting a lock of hair around my forefinger and sucking my thumb.
I’ll probably manage that strategy with lots of apples.
Yes, I’ll comfort myself with apples. This apple cake to be exact. A lovely and simple dessert for a cold evening. The apples cook to a soft and pleasing texture and the not-too-sweet cake has a fine crumb. Dust it with a soft cloud of powdered sugar...
...or in a little pool of crème anglaise...
...and voilà! We’ll all be ready to face the world again.
Bonne année à tous et meilleurs voeux pour une année plein de bonnes choses!*
**Happy new year to all and the best wishes for a year full of good things.
Comfort Me With Apples Cake
Adapted from Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: Makes 8 servings
• 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• Pinch of salt
• 4 large apples (same or different types – it’s good both ways)
• 2 large eggs
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 3 tablespoons calvados
• 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
• Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
• Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.
• Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.
• In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk to blend well. Whisk in the calvados and vanilla.
• Whisk in half the flour. When it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it's coated with batter.
• Scrape the mix into the pan and poke at the apples to tuck them into their batter bed as evenly as possible.
• Once all are safely tucked in, the pan goes into the oven. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted deep into the center comes out clean. The cake may just being to pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.
• Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and place a serving plate over the top of the pan to invert the cake onto it in one quick sleight-of-hand type of move.
• Remove the parchment paper and allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. Give it a dusting of powdered sugar and – well…sit back and enjoy.
I’ve served this cake warm and at room temperature. Delicious both ways. I’ve also served it atop a little golden pool of crème anglaise for a little more elegant presentation. It would be equally as good with a barely sweetened whipped cream or scoop of ice cream. On the other hand, I’ve eaten it right out of my hand as I’ve run out the door
You may find that this cake doesn’t last long as every last crumb will go quickly. If you happen to have leftovers, I suggest you don’t cover it unless you pop it into the fridge. It’s really moist and may keep on the counter with a wax paper topper for any remaining time that it lasts in your kitchen.