So my parents were out of town for a couple of days last week. Perfect setting to invite a bunch of people, throw some crazy party that turns into a rave and gets shut down by the police. In my next life I'll make backyard raves a priority. Instead I spent the few days tossing a date around in my head: August 18th. May 18th snuck up on me really fast, but the weight of August 18th has just sunk in, like you know when you've had a dull pain in a muscle and then there's one movement and it totally goes? Well I just blew that figurative muscle. On August 18th my sister has to be in Aberdeen, for her masters. It's the start of her first semester. Weird as it may seem, we have never really been apart. She went on a solo trip to the Bahamas last year and I remember how lost I was - kind of floating, without an anchor, like a helium balloon that a careless kid had lost. One of those no end and no beginning feelings. The day was suddenly devoid of random laughter and the kind of chatter that keeps the wheels of a family unit oiled and running. You probably know that Layla and I are very close. But straight out, we fight a lot. Like, a lot. At least a couple of times a week, some weeks are better than others, some are just short fuse after short fuse, maybe because we're so close, we pick up on each other's feelings really quickly. If she's upset, I know it, and I get frustrated that she won't just tell me what the problem is and maybe I could help. Probably the same for her because neither of us are the type to have these big 'I'm so stressed' type breakdowns, or really to whinge and complain because do you want some cheese with that whine? is a stock response.
We both suddenly grew up a lot in the last few years, independence and responsibility wise. We have new cars, we have very floaty schedules with this whole university enterprise, so we took on a lot of the household stuff. Not saying that my parents don't do anything, I haven't yet taken up loading the washing machine but I mean we do things like take the dogs to the vet, keeping the fridge reasonably stocked and spend some time sweeping up dog hair. So maybe that's what has changed our relationship, and maybe that's why sometimes there's more friction. We're not just playing house anymore, we're living in a house where drains pack up when my parents aren't around and I have the number of the electricity network on my phone because storms do funny things to wiring. This is in no way to be interpreted as a complaint, in fact the freedom we have is great. It's more of an acknowledgement that things are changing and life goes in phases, a bit like a chrysalis. It's almost as if Layla and I are in a team (the A-team, of course) against various forces like city traffic, professors that don't respond to emails, parking shortages at university, rude receptionists and the like. We're together in this game of keeping alive a dog without a spleen who sits waiting by the door for Mum to come home, and another monkey whose default mode is hunger strike. The game also means that kale runs out at inconvenient times, scary dashboard messages about tyre pressure appear, players miscommunicate and mess up, but we're on the same side. And that's what matters.
So we reshuffle the new stack of cards we've been dealt. Hard to know how to play them sometimes, but I go back to a very simple phrase we've said since we were young - when friends were giving up on us, when we ended up alone on the first day in some new school. At least we have each other, on repeat. Same now. Days can be long, the traffic is murder, it rains a lot, we worry non-stop about Prune and Suzi. But never alone, there are two of us through all that.
Our little team, on a feeble lifeboat tossed about in tidal waves. With two helmsmen learning on the job, always seeking out dry land a calm lagoon where we can moor. After August, I'm losing my lookout and I'm going to learn how to navigate by myself. I mean, I can do it, physcially, there's not that much more around the house or anything that I'll have to do juggle, but it's just the spirit that will be gone. No one to ask whether or not it's going to rain, no fall back person to ask for a hand cleaning muddy paws... the hull of the boat will be there, there'll be a working engine, a spot in the harbour, but the sea can feel like a very empty place when you're down a crew member.
“The vast night. Now there’s nothing else but fragrance.” – Jorge Luis Borges
My dad gave me what I consider a huge compliment when this cake was baking. He said that it reminded him of his childhood, the smell of something baking, of coming home and finding his mum had baked a warm snack. Idk why that meant something to me but it did. Anyways. I remember I saw (aaaages ago) a photo of a rhubarb cardamom tart in an ikea magazine (that must've been when we lived in Belgium because there's no ikea around here) and the combination stuck with me. Credit to the Scandies and their impeccable taste because this cake turned out really well.
You'll see that I make you cook the rhubarb first which may seem fussy but stick with me on this one because the fruit becomes totally tart-sweet with the honey. It then melts into these little custardy pockets of goodness, so my apologies for the extra dirty dish but it's worth it. Other than the rhubarb pre-cooking the batter comes together very fast, no mixer and you have a rustic, humble cake. If you want to fancy it up a light dusting of powdered sugar would be nice, or perhaps serving it with some vanilla bean ice cream. Or yogurt and have cake for breakfast. As a side note, apparently it was mother's day in the States on Sunday, so another big shout out to all the amazing mamas out there, I don't know how you do it all.
PS. You'll notice that this post has a title... most of my old posts do now, too. In my post drafts (in email chains ha) I always gave them titles but then decided not to include them. I thought it would help search engine rankings but since google doesn't index the site at all (don't ask), nothing to win and nothing to lose :)
honeyed rhubarb + cardamom cake
makes a single layer 8 inch (20cm) cake // gluten + easily dairy free
1 cup (100g) almond meal
1/2 cup (50g) oat flour
1/2 cup (60g) brown rice flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1/3 cup (75g) coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/2 cup (100g) coconut sugar, light muscavado or cane sugar
1 cup (250ml) plain yogurt of choice, room temperature
450g (1 pound) rhubarb stalks
4 tablespoons (80g) honey
heaped teaspoon cardamom pods
Start by preparing your fruit. Chop the tough ends of each rhubarb stalk, then slice the stalks into chunks around 5cm (2 inches) long. If any stalks are super chubby, slice them in half lengthwise too. Set a pan over medium high heat, add the rhubarb, pour over the honey and stir to combine so everything is coated, then add the cardamom pods. Cook for 6-8 minutes, till the fruit is soft but not falling apart (the oven takes care of that). Set aside to cool in the pan.
Preheat your oven to 180'C, 350'F. Line an 8 inch springform pan with parchment paper*, then rub a little coconut oil on the sides and the parchment.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda/powder, salt and cardamom.
In another large bowl, whisk the sugar and oil together so the sugar isn't clumpy, then beat in both eggs and the yogurt till smooth and pale (the tahini comparison is relevant here). Add the vanilla and mix once more.
Drain the cooked rhubarb, reserving around 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid (if there is less don't worry). Toss the fruit in the flour mix, it may fall apart a bit but that's fine. This stops the fruit sinking to the bottom.
Pour the wet mix into the dry; add the two tablespoons of rhubarb syrup and gently mix with a wooden spoon till there are no more patches of flour.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan then bake for 50-55 minutes, till a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake shows it's done. If the top is browning too fast (this is a very moist cake so it's possible) you can tent it with foil and there shouldn't be a problem.
The cake will keep on the counter for 3ish days, better in the fridge for a few days after that, it's light so it may dry out.
One thing to note is that the moisture from the fruit means the cake sort of buckles once cut and then has a rather 'savaged' appearance. No harm for snacking but if you'd like to serve this cake to company, present it before really going at it with a knife. Everyone will be then be too busy eating to notice how the middle caved.
*this is related to the above. I usually don't fret about instructing people to grease/line pans because you all have your preferences, but because of the custard-y nature of the fruit, the batter sticks and the cake is quite fragile at first - not really one to stand up to inverting onto a rack. So parchment, coconut oil and a pan with removable sides make things a lot easier. As I said, it's somewhat rustic, so don't worry too much.