Here we are, in the depths of winter. We've endured seemingly endless days of gray. We've seesawed between cold snaps and unseasonable warm spells--bearing witness to a changing climate. We've felt helpless in the face of senseless acts of violence, outraged by the racism that has reared it's ugly head, and frustrated with pervasive political impotence.
But there are rays of hope--young people speaking out against gun violence, #metoo moments and #blacklivesmatter, to name a few. And there are reasons not to fill with despair, namely, that it ruins our appetite for change.
At the beginning of WWII, Camus wrote "The Almond Trees," named for trees that would blossom suddenly one February night. He writes:
The task is endless, it's true. But we are here to pursue it. I do not have enough faith in reason to subscribe to a belief in progress, or to any philosophy of history. I do believe at least that a man's awareness of his destiny has never ceased to advance. We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know that we live in contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it. Our task as men is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks men take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.
Let us know our aims then, holding fast to the mind, even if force puts on a thoughtful or a comfortable face in order to seduce us. The first thing is not to despair. Let us not listen too much to those who proclaim that the world is at an end. Civilizations do not die so easily, and even if our world were to collapse, it would not have been the first. It is indeed true that we live in tragic times. But too many people confuse tragedy with despair. “Tragedy,” Lawrence said, “ought to be a great kick at misery.” This is a healthy and immediately applicable thought. There are many things today deserving such a kick.
I know. You're probably thinking this is a little heavy for a frivolous food blog. And, of course, it's true. But it's also true that food is political, whether we like it or not. How it's grown and processed, by whom and under what conditions, who has access to what, and who goes hungry.
It's said that food is the one thing that unites us all. It has the ability to bridge barriers, nurture community, and, in the words of cook and author Julia Turshen, to "feed the resistance."
I don't have any answers here, I can't promise any magical food cures. Instead, I have for you a simple recipe that I hope will brighten your day with a burst of citrus in the midst of winter and offer a small reminder that life, though sometimes nutty, can be sweet and shared with love.
Blood Orange Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit
3/4 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2-3 blood oranges (substitute any type of oranges)
3/4 cup all-purpose regular or gluten free flour
3 tablespoons cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons buttermilk
3 tablespoons water
Creme fraiche or whipped cream, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees C and place a rack in the center of the oven.
Heat 6 tablespoons of the sugar with 3 tablespoons water in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring the sugar to a boil and cook until a light golden caramel forms. Occasionally swirl the pan during the part of cooking, but be sure you don't stir it or the sugar will crystalize. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of the butter.
Remove the ends of the oranges. Slice very thinly, about 1/8-inch thick. Arrange the slices in concentric circles over the caramel, starting on the outside and working your way in.
Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat 3/4 cup of the sugar with the remaining 6 tablespoons butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the almond extract and eggs, one at a time. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk. Mix just until combined.
Drop the batter onto the orange slices and spread gently with an offset spatula.
Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan. Run a knife around the edge, then invert the cake onto a platter.