Show me a candle and I’ll try and burn both ends of it. In case that phrase and concept is not familiar to you, I feel I should explain that it is not because I’m of a generation that has only grown up with artificial light and therefore is all “what is this waxy tube and how’s it going to help me? Me, of the me-generation?” No, what I mean is that I’ll stay up late but also get up very early in order to do what I need to do. It helps that I’m somehow both a night owl and a morning person. At Tim’s and my old flat of three and half years – which we adored, by the way – this would mean sitting bolt upright in bed when my alarm went off, and slowly becoming slouchier as I typed away on my laptop in bed. No lights but that from the laptop itself and the slowly rising sun.
But here, in our new house, where it’s just us, I can quietly pad out of bed (inevitably locating the one piece of bubble wrap in the house by standing on it, which happened yesterday) fold myself up on one of our couches in a straight-backed manner, turn on the kitchen light, maybe even make myself a cup of tea. This morning there’s delicious rain on the roof. I can’t curb my candle-burning tendencies, but it sure is a lot nicer to do it here. Possibly a literal candle would be nice touch, even. My mum did in fact get me an oil burner as a housewarming gift (with two scented oils, “wellbeing” and “I’m worried about you get some sleep already” if I remember rightly) so it’s not out of the question. Strangely enough receiving that gift took me back to my attempted spell-casting youth. Where for a long time my favourite activity was hanging out at the 100-199 nonfiction section of the library, getting out particular books, and then lighting specifically coloured candles to heat patchouli and ylang ylang oil in the hopes that it would make something happen. (Patchouli and ylang ylang were the only two oils I could afford as an unemployed twelve year old, so basically everything I tried had to use them. As a result, all that really did happen was I was going around smelling like curtains from the seventies that had been stored in a camphor chest.)
Things keep happening to make this still-new place even more of a home. This week, our our new table – well, it’s new to us, but apparently very well loved by the family we bought it off, shadows of whom remain in the grain of the wood. A water stain here, a gouged-out dent from a truculent miscreant there, some glitter embedded in the varnish over in one corner, (which feels like a good sign). All these are things that might’ve happened with me around anyway, so, much as a brand new table would be delightful, it’s nice to have this lived-in one, and to not feel like I have to be nervous around it. Indeed, there’s enough I’m too nervous about already.
A table like this needs a cake on it, I said, being the logical pragmatist that I am. In my mind. In my defense, Tim and four others were playing the boardgame of Game of Thrones on Sunday, and since that game chews through your energy at a surprising rate for a large piece of cardboard with several small plastic game tokens – at one point someone expressed their sincere wish for nerve-calming sedatives because the game was too much of a rollercoaster ride of thrills – providing some sustenance made sense. When it comes to Game of Thrones I’m simply a Watcher (the capital W makes it seem more sinister!) though I have also started reading them as well – much as I’m not sure I love the books, damned if I can put them down once I pick them up. The board game…not my thing. Maybe not enough Khaleesi being all amazing with dragons? On a screen? Who knows, but I’m happy to have a rock-solid cake-excuse (of course, there’s always the most rock-solid reason of all: I want cake.)
It’s high summer so plums are around in abundance and really cheap. If you’re somehow sick of just sitting there eating them while their sticky juice runs down your face in determined rivulets, this chocolate plum cake with sour cream icing is a good diversion – pretty exciting, but also calmingly straightforward to make. There is so little to it that you can have it in and out of the oven and ready to eat – if you leave it uniced – in about forty minutes. The sour cream icing was just something that I thought might be fun. It’s not quite the fluffy creation I envisaged but more of an alarmingly fast-moving icing that helpfully drips over the side of the cooled cake for you – still very, very delicious though.
Chocolate Plum Cake with Sour Cream Icing
If you leave the icing off, this cake is dairy-free. If you ice it…with sour cream icing…it’s really not.
1/2 cup (125 ml) plain oil like rice bran or sunflower
1 cup sugar
3 ripe plums
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream (maybe a little more)
Set your oven to 160 C/320 F. Line the base of a 20cm springform caketin with baking paper.
Mix together the oil, sugar, and eggs till quite thick. Dice the flesh of the plums into 1 or 2cm cubes (just guess) and stir them in. Finally, fold in the cocoa and flour, scrape it into the caketin and bake for 40 minutes (though check at 30 minutes – your oven may be gruntier than mine.)
Serve now, or allow to cool completely and then ice. To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl – or it will be obstinately lumpy – then slowly stir in enough sour cream, two tablespoons should do, to make a thick yet quite runny icing. Tip most of it over the cooled cake, letting it run over the edges. Decorate with finely sliced dark chocolate if you’re a food blogger who worries that your drippy cake will look weird in photos but also thinks that the extra chocolate will taste nice.
The juicy tartness of the plums with the dark backdrop of damp chocolate cake is really something in itself, but it’s made all the more lush by a blanket of sticky sour cream icing (seriously, look at that photo. This icing is going wherever gravity will take it.) Sour cream has enough buttery thickness and tang (so nearly wrote titular tang but that felt wrong, even for me) to see off the icing sugar’s aggressive sweetness, but to also complement the intensity of the plums and chocolate. It’s even better the next day, when the icing has had time to settle in and the cake absorbs some of the plum juice. You could make this with any stone fruit really, but rich plums and earthy cocoa together are specifically wondrous.
Speaking of things that go well on our new table, and because I have exactly one minute to get ready for work and can’t think of another way to wrap this up: we finally, after living in Wellington since January 2006, spatula-d together enough Fly Buys points to cash them in on something. That something was a waffle iron. WORTH IT.
Title via: Ummm, because I don’t swear on this blog I can’t actually repeat the title of the song that I’m quoting. But I can tell you it’s by Wu-Tang Clan and it’s reeeeeeally good.
Franz Ferdinand, Eleanor Put Your Boots On. Never stopped loving them.
Blind Willie McTell, Come Around To My House Mama. A song of face-fanningly casual sauciness, considering McTell recorded it in 1929. (I know they had bawdy songs and stuff back then, but still: it’s so casual!)
Next time: Probably another I Should Tell You interview. Good times!