Thursday, July 14, 2011

When the Cat's Away

Steve is not here. As a matter of fact, he is 7,000 miles away toiling in an office where blog-reading is expressly verboten (blocked, in fact). This means that he can't see our little cherubs on the family blog. And, more seriously for the family finances, he has no way of finding out what wickedness I've been up to here in his absence.

Yes, not only have I been sleeping in the middle of the bed and forgetting to check the mail, but...
(Note: If you have a heart condition and especially if you are extremely frugal, you may want to stop reading here and skip to the recipe.)
... I have also been forking over wads of cash to the perky college kids at the farmer's market. Once I spent, like, twelve dollars on one visit! And get this -- I had to borrow most of it from the friend I came with, because I had, like, NO cash in my wallet!!

My combined broke-ness and extravagance would most certainly provoke hyperventilatory sighs of exasperation from my careful husband, were he here. But he is not here. And we have a tacit agreement that while I endure the many hardships of his absence, I may spend money as needed to make myself feel better.

This makes me feel better.

There are many summertime pleasures that are free. Think sunshine, warm evening breezes, dandelions, fireflies' glow, cicadas' song, thunderstorms, and that sweaty sheen that reappears minutes after you shower. Farmer's market goodies, on the other hand, are not free. In fact, around here, I can get a better deal on produce at pricey Whole Foods than I can from the aforementioned perky, cutoff-clad youths.

But for me even the pleasantest grocery store cannot compete with the open-air market, where you shop from cardboard boxes, corn silk and smashed berries underfoot. The closest you get to climate control is the occasional dewy cooler full of goat cheese and fresh eggs. No airplanes or loading docks or automatic doors are involved in the process. It's just a farmer and a truck and a road that leads to a little corner near our home. Having listened to Terry Gross's interview with Barry Estabrook, author of the book Tomatoland, I am all the more eager to make sure my children and I know what pure food tastes like.

So I stand up for my right to indulge at the farmer's market. I proudly proclaim that I have a refrigerator full of berries. In fact, from this point onward, even after Steve returns and austerity regains its former place on the windshield of my conscious mind, I pledge to continue splurging on real, good food.

So what if the bank account's a little thirsty? I already know where the kids can work to pay the college bills... They're right perky, those two.


So who is the mysterious beauty featured above? Meet Ms. Cherry Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake, who came into my life from Epicurious via Smitten Kitchen. Now, let me say upfront that this is not a cake you whip up in five minutes and one bowl. The process includes some fussy steps like pitting cherries, briefly cooking the tangy-sweet topping, separating eggs, and whipping egg whites. Your kitchen may appear blood-spattered, and your sink will be full of dishes when you finish. But let me tell you...your work will be worth it! The combination of the tart balsamic-brown sugar-cherry topping with the sweet cornmeal cake is unusual and richly satisfying. I served it with a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side, but it really doesn't need anything.

You can find the recipe here. The only change I made to the procedure as written was to use a 10-inch cake pan in place of a 10-inch oven-proof skillet, only because I don't own one. I simply buttered the cake pan, lined the bottom with parchment paper, buttered the parchment, and then dumped the cherry mixture into the pan after cooking it. As Deb of Smitten Kitchen says, this is a cake you can't mess up. It's just that good. Enjoy!

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