Is it shallow and decadent behavior to mourn a piece of jewelry? How about two pieces of jewelry? I am in jewelry mourning tonight, dear friends. I could try to scratch the surface for deeper meanings, in a way that would make my mental health professional proud. I could observe that we are living in uncertain and perilous times. I could point to deep-seated election anxiety. I could contemplate the fact that I have three friends who are seriously ill, and two friends recovering from serious illness, and acknowledge how powerless I feel in the universe, how unable I am to help them. I could remember that for all this, I am sitting in a comfortable position in a comfortable life in a comfortable country in a comfortable period of history, and I should just button that lip and count those blessings. Or I could just say, well, that’s all true enough, but, see, I had these earrings...
The earrings, along with their matching necklace, were a memento of my Labor Day weekend trip to Snowballville, specifically the day that the lovely and talented Snowball drove me to Little Resort Town, CO, and we went to visit a glass studio. I had planned to buy myself just a nice little talisman like a marble, and I did. Then we spied the jewelry case, where I found them: a set of earrings, a matching necklace with a silver chain, each holding a perfect glass replica of a blackberry. These were almost perfect botanically correct glass blackberries. Each berry included a drupelet or two that was a shade lighter than the rest of the purple-black drupelets, just like you would find on a real blackberry. I took a deep breath, signed on the dotted line, and instantly put these beautiful pieces of art on. Since then, I have pretty much only taken them off to sleep or work out. They are so beautiful, showstoppers, conversation pieces, perfect bakerina jewelry. You look at the blackberry on the chain around my neck, and it looks ready to jump off the chain and into your waiting mouth, exploding into tannic-yet-sweet blackberry juice. Again, I am not engaging in sophomoric poesies: I have been told this by at least two people at the office.
You would think that for all this love, I would take a little more care, but apparently I have a strand of Damn Fool running through my DNA, and it will not be denied. Last night I went to a reception at my culinary alma mater, hosted by the Culinary Historians of New York, to celebrate the release of the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, edited by Andrew Smith, who taught the culinary history survey class I took at the New School in February. These receptions tend to be low-key affairs, not particularly blasty, but I had a blast anyway. I picked up my copy of the OEAFD; I talked to people I hadn’t talked to in years, including an old friend with whom I’d lost touch, and who offered to help me find an agent so that we can start shopping the egg book to publishers (eeeeek!); I ate bialies with whitefish spread, blackcurrant jelly on cream crackers, tiny slices of noodle kugel filled with vanilla and rum and sultanas, and a perfect Golden Russet apple; I drank a glass of extremely dry Farnum Hill cider, and then I drank another. In the elevator, on my way home, I realized that my big ridiculous nametag was still hanging around my neck. All I had to do was put my bags down and take off the nametag, carefully, two-handed. Of course I did not do this. Of course I tried to pull the frelling thing off one-handed, and of course I managed to pull both of my earrings out of my ears with the satin elastic cord on the nametag, and at the very moment I realized what I had done, I spied both earrings clattering to the hard tile floor of the lift and, literally, splitting apart.
The good news is that they did not actually shatter, and with the help of the woman riding the elevator with me, I was able to find all the pieces of the earrings and put them in the breast pocket of my jacket. The pieces are now sitting in an empty jewelry box on my bureau, waiting for a pair of tweezers, a tube of Krazy Glue and a patient and observant brain. The bad news, of course, is that there are no guarantees, and I may have to say goodbye to them permanently. At best, they will be fixable but flawed—no mistaking them for the real thing anymore.
Snowball insists that this is a sign that I need to come back to Colorado to buy more earrings. Leave it to a knitter to find the silk purse in the sow’s ear. In the meantime, I still have my necklace, and I’m treating it with the care and solicitousness that one treats an infant that has just recovered from pneumonia. I find myself touching it all day long, partly to reassure myself that it’s still there, but mostly because it feels good underneath my fingers.
This would be the point at which a more professional and, let’s face it, saner writer would offer you some lovely blackberry-based recipe, but since I am neither professional nor sane, I am posting what looks to be the non-bread, non-pie, non-jelly portion of this weekend’s baking and canning extravaganza. I have not yet tried this Lemon Almond Cake, but I can already tell it’s going to be a winner. The recipe comes from Cooking the Nouvelle Cuisine in America by Michele Urvater and David Liederman, originally published in 1979. I found this book at Cellar Stories in Providence last weekend and snapped it up for my mom, who is a) a steadfast Michele Urvater fan and b) vacationing in Paris this week. This is a genoise, a French sponge cake enriched with butter, further enriched with almond paste. If this doesn’t ease the ache of jewelry mourning, I don’t know what will. Of course, now that we can’t open a newspaper without being confronted by another depressing story about how obese we all are, one could make the case that this kind of comfort eating, eating to set a mood, eating for mood elevation, does none of us any favors. I will take your argument into consideration. Please pass me that 9-inch cake pan.
Lemon Almond Cake
8 tablespoons melted butter, plus 1 tablespoon softened for the pan
1 tablespoon flour for the pan
1/2 cup (4 ounces) almond paste
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon rind
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely ground blanched almonds
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons apricot preserves
1/4 cup almonds, sliced and toasted
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prepare a 9 1/2"-by 1 1/2” round cake pan by greasing it with 1 tablespoon flour around the inside. Roll the flour around the bottom and inside edges of the cake pan. Shake our any excess flour and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine the almond paste with 1 egg yolk. You might have to do this with your hands as the almond paste is hard to work with a fork or whisk.
4. Add the lemon juice and rind to the almond paste. Then whisk in the melted butter with a pinch of salt. Set aside.
5. Whisk the 4 eggs and the remaining yolk with the sugar in the top part of a double boiler set over simmering, not boiling, water. Beat the eggs with a hand mixer until they have doubled in volume, and turned an ivory color.
6. Remove from the heat. Fold one-quarter of the beaten eggs into the almond paste batter to lighten it, then fold in the rest.
7. Sprinkle the nuts over the batter and, using a sieve, sift the cornstarch in as well. Very quickly fold all these ingredients together until no cornstarch shows. Work so fast so that you do not deflate the eggs.
8. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester, when inserted into the center of the cake, comes out dry. If the cake browns too quickly, cover it loosely with a piece of foil.
9. While the cake is baking, strain the apricot preserves through a fine strainer to remove any large pieces of fruit.
10. Once baked allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. The unmold it and spread the strained apricot preserves around the sides of the cake. Pat the sliced almonds onto the apricot preserves which should hold them in place.