September 25, 2011

Toad and oats, he wrote.

Spotting a typo online is like spotting a zebra in the zoo; it's not particularly unexpected, nor is it challenging. Part of the reason, I think, is that the typos are so easily fixed, after which a page refresh makes everything appear as good as new. On the other hand, I get really, really excited whenever I spot a potential typo in a good old-fashioned book. For example:
The horse could not do without Manhattan. It drew him like a magnet, like a vacuum, like oats, or a mare, or an open, never-ending, tree-lined toad.
--Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin
The beautiful and risky thing about anything published in print is that any and all typos are permanent, at least for that particular edition of the book or magazine. My favorite typo of all time? Last year, a cookbook published in Australia mistakenly listed "freshly ground black people" instead of "freshly ground black pepper" as an ingredient in a recipe. Still makes me chuckle to this day. Spell check never stood a chance.

The good news is that a typo usually doesn't have the power to make or break good writing. I actually still really like that quotation, even if it was distracting to wonder, for a bit, what a tree-lined toad would look like. Must be some very tiny trees, or a very large toad. I liked the mystical quality of this particular horse being drawn to Manhattan in the same unquestionable way a horse is drawn to oats.

As a fellow oat lover, I can really identify. I make oatmeal as a nighttime snack about once a week. The following recipe is the version I make the most often, since it combines my love for oats and Asian pastries. Best bedtime snack ever.

Oatmeal for One, Asian-Style
1/2 cup quick-cook oats
3/4 to 1 cup boiling water
1 tbsp sweetened red bean paste
1 tsp black sesame powder
a sprinkle of salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and enjoy.

September 23, 2011

I love prairie food.

Fuchs brought up a sack of potatoes and a piece of cured pork from the cellar, and grandmother packed some loaves of Saturday's bread, a jar of butter, and several pumpkin pies in the straw of the wagon-box. We clambered up to the front seat and jolted off past the little pond and along the road that climbed to the big cornfield.
--My Antonia, Willa Cather

September 6, 2011

Chocolate Cake of the Sea

She looked drowsily round her. A nice vase of flowers stood on the dressing-table; there was the polished wardrobe and a china box by her bedside. She lifted the lid. Yes; four biscuits and a pale piece of chocolate — in case she should be hungry in the night. Celia had provided books too, The Diary of a Nobody, Ruff's Tour in Northumberland and an odd volume of Dante, in case she should wish to read in the night.
--The Years, Virginia Woolf 
A good host, in my book (as in Virginia's), is someone who provides guests with easy access to two very important things: ample reading material and bedtime snacks. Celia's biscuits and chocolate sound quite lovely indeed.

And yet, the best kind of bedtime snack, I think, is not chocolate, nor is it biscuits. It's not even chocolate biscuits, however delicious those may be. No, I think it is something closer to a nice square of chocolate cake, preferably warm from the oven or chilled in the refrigerator.

I will probably never stop searching for the perfect chocolate cake. It's a recurring obsession of mine, born of reading Roald Dahl's Matilda as a young child and wondering incessantly what kind of chocolate cake could be good enough to finish in one sitting. Yes, the kid was admittedly a fatty, but even a fatty couldn't have finished a cake of such grand proportions if it weren't extremely tasty.

Every time I bake a chocolate cake I tweak the recipe, hoping I'll get it up to Matilda caliber someday. I think I'm getting very close. In fact, I think I recently reached a new level of chocolate cake excellence. The last chocolate cake I made ended up being so addicting that I decided to put half of it in the fridge, because I was afraid I'd finish the whole cake that very night (I wanted some for the next day). Turns out the cake tasted even better when it was chilled. Something about the cold temperature made the contrasting sea salt and chocolate flavors stand out even more.

You know how sometimes, when you're faced with a massive, delicious dessert, you want to keep eating, but you're afraid it may be too sweet to handle all at once? If you're lucky, a magical thing will happen. You will take a sip of water and you'll feel refreshed and ready to eat more of that delicious treat. Well, the sea salt in this chocolate cake kind of acts like that sip of water. The extra boost of savory flavor from those rare chunks of sea salt help make it possible to eat more of this cake than you might have otherwise. If you are predisposed to love chocolate, and Miss Turnbull forced you to eat the whole thing, you probably wouldn't have any trouble completing the task. It might even make you a glutton for punishment. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Sea Salt Chocolate Cake
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup hot water
1 cup flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp instant coffee
1 extra-large egg
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8x8 square baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Combine the cocoa powder with the hot water and stir. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and then add in the egg, oil and vanilla. Fold slightly and then add in the cocoa/hot water mixture. Stir until smooth.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes. This cake tastes particularly irresistible the next day, after it's been chilled in the fridge. The problem is, it's hard not to want to eat the whole thing right away. Keep in mind, however, that delayed gratification has never been my strong suit, so maybe you'll fare better.