Yesterday, I packed a change of clothes, the 16 year-old pup and we headed down to Charleston for the weekend. I almost said, "home to Charleston" but home has become this "in between" where my heart resides. Charleston will forever be home. This is where I fell in love. With him. With the South. With this incredibly puzzling time of history. With a city living at a sound of a very peculiar beat. Where unbelievable friendships formed and tested time, growth and loss.
Yet, there is not much of what people would consider a home remaining for us in Charleston. Our house there is now empty and Bill moved in with his parents for the time being. But we have a home. We have multiples. They are not made of wood or stone. They have been build with our hearts, our stories, our tears and worries, our joys and laughters. While I could become completely nostalgic and sad of times passed, I just take a moment to appreciate the fact that we have made a home of wherever we are together, regardless of wherever is.
Everytime I make the drive down to Charleston, my heart stops in its track at the first sign of marsh land and tall grass. There is a definite look to that part of the world. It lures you, grabs you and never lets go of you. I do miss sunsets and sunrises over the marsh. At the same time, I have fallen completely in love with the luscious foliage of Birmingham, the drives up and down the hills of the city, the genuine kindness of the people there. I was dragging feet getting out of the house yesterday morning to get down here. I felt home. I was going to the other home.
Home is truly where the heart is and I am incredibly lucky to be able to call both places home.
There is something that will always make me feel anchored to a new place and that is baking. The simple act of putting a cake in the oven and being rewarded with the scents of vanilla, pears and cake batter is enough to make anyone feel good anywhere. I could be in my grandparents' home and making an apple tart with my grandmother or with my mother next door making madeleines. I could be here or there and I would feel the same. Grounded.
If making a simple cake is any reflection of the life I lead, well, I made this cake at home in Alabama and took it home to Charleston to be shared this morning around the breakfast table at my in-laws. I am happy and comfortable in my own skin wherever I am. And right now this wherever is "in between". And I will always make a good simple cake to remind me of that (Recipe after the jump).
Ozark Pear Cake, very slightly adapted from Vintage Cakes:
Note: A simple and humble pear cake baked in a cast iron pan in this case. What I call an "honest" cake. No surprise it would come from a book titled "Vintage Cakes". The cover lured me in but the recipe made me stay there for a couple of weeks and read, chose and bake a lot from it. Love the book!
4 Forelle pears, peeled and cored
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour or Jeanne’s all purposegluten free flour mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces), plus one teaspoon sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup chopped pistachios
Caramel sauce (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350ºF and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter the inside of a 8 to 9-inch cast iron skillet.
Finely chop two of the pears and thinly slice the two other.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger and salt in a bowl.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and blend on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl if needed.
Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture all at once. Mix until just blended. The batter will be stiff. Turn the mixer off.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chopped pears, and stir just until blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared skillet and spread it in an even layer. Arrange the pear slices on top of the batter and sprinkle with the pistachios.
Bake until the cake is golden in color and the center springs back when lightly touched, about 40 minutes. Serve with caramel sauce if desired.