Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Almost eight years ago, at the age of twenty-nine-and-a-half, I swapped a love affair with cigarettes - sucked back with such delight, such seriousness - for a less-labored daily climb to my second-floor home. By the light of a flickering television, I knitted, furiously, a length of scarf not unlike Tom Baker’s Dr Who might sport, to wrap around and around and around. To hide within. As it lengthened, the stitches became calmer, looser, found a rhythm of their own. Six months later I emerged, smoke-free.

The Artist, rather fortuitously, turned up at roughly the same time. At thirty, an astonishingly gifted astrologer lunged for the polished chunk of rose quartz I wore around my neck, cooed and held it in his palm. I felt it almost burning as it fell back into place. ‘He must be dynamic, this fellow’, his tape recorded voice declares, ‘to have captured the eye of a Leonine woman’. He was. He is. I have listened to that recording of my younger self, chattering away merrily with the astrologer, many times since. In between the giggling, I hear forgotten hurts and a voice teetering, at times, dangerously close to tears. Des read me like a book. And I’m thrilled, each time, that he did.

I had plans - small ones - of a quivering jelly for this post, one to celebrate the ripening bounty of the neighbours orange tree and, in a smaller way, my 37th birthday. Champagne mixed with freshly squeezed orange juice, some sweetness to tame the sour, all set to soft, shimmering wobbliness with agar-agar. A scientific kitchen challenge. But failure is not be tolerated on one’s own birthday.

So we sensibly drank the champagne in front of the fire instead.

I’ll stow the idea away for Christmas, perhaps, for warmer weather and other celebratory nights. Simplicity wins out every time. Besides, I know, somehow, you’d much rather this Apple and Olive Oil cake, adapted from that marvellous, wonderful, beautiful Anna Del Conte. In fact, I think you should down tools and go and make it right now. Think of it as my birthday gift to you.

Anna Del Conte’s Apple and Olive Oil Cake
The thing that irritates me most about baking is the butter. I have little patience with it anyway, but waiting for butter to soften drives me nuts-o in winter. This moist, delicious cake uses olive oil not as substitute, but in preference to the stuff. I mean, how clever is that?

120g (4 oz) of sultanas
Freshly brewed tea
500g (1 lb) of apples – about 5 small ones
150ml (scant 2/3 cup) of olive oil
200g (7oz) sugar
2 organic eggs
175g (6 oz) of wholemeal (wholewheat) flour
175g (6 oz) of ‘strong’, Italian ‘00’ flour
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons of bi-carb soda
½ teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of sea salt

Soak the sultanas in enough tea to cover. Set aside to plump for 20 minutes. Peel and core the apples and cut each into small dice.

Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Grease and line a 20cm (8 in) springform cake tin.

Beat the oil and sugar together until well amalgamated. Break the eggs into a teacup and add them, bit by bit, beating all the time. You’ll end up with a creamy mixture. Set a sieve over the bowl and sift in the flour, cinnamon, bi-carb soda, baking powder and salt.

Mix to a stiff batter with a metal spoon – I cannot claim to understand the reasoning behind this, but do so as it is often suggested. You don’t want to go upsetting the baking gods. Drain the sultanas well. Fold through the mixture with the diced apple. This is a very stiff mixture and will be visibly studded with fruit.

Scrape into the prepared cake tin, smooth down the top and bake for at least 1 hour – mine took 1 hour and 20 minutes and needed to be topped with foil halfway through to prevent it from burning. Watch it closely and check for doneness with a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake. If it comes away cleanly, your cake is done.

I’m completely besotted.

Oh I do love a good birthday.


GS said...

May the next decade bring many more pleasures (and free cocktails too!)

Wendy said...

A very, very happy birthday to you, Lucy. Sounds like you've been on quite a journey these past seven years and I know you've ended up in a beautiful place.

This cake, I made it last year and adored it. An oddly silky texture, I thought. A perfect brithday cake.

shula said...

You're on.

I've been looking for something all day to cheer up my very sick and suddenly health conscious child.

I reckon this is just about doable.

shula said...

ps. those sultanas are crazy good. Where did you get them?

Anonymous said...

Happy, happy birthday, Lucy! Hope this year brings you great things.

The cake looks fabulous. And I totally agree--much better use for the champagne! (It should always be sipped straight, I think!) :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, a delicious use of olive oil. This has to be tasteful. Enjoy your birthday! I hope to fully give up smoking-- hopefully sooner than later. I still am tempted from time to time, and haven't found the willpower to stamp out the cravings.

Lisa Turner said...

Beautiful post Lucy. Just beautiful. A very happy birthday to you.

Maybe someday I will be able to kick my cigarette habit too.

grocer said...

happy birthday Lucy.

More beautiful piccies

Lucy said...

I can think of another special occasion, soon, AOF, when more free cocktails for us would be ideal!

Thank you, Wendy. It was a little rocky there for a while... silky. Yes. Exactly. Couldn't have put it better myself.

Shula - it is. And coming from me, that's really saying something. The sultanas came from The Coffee Company in Balaclava - called Iranian Green Raisins (I think). Utterly divine. Worth tracking down.

Thanks, Ricki. Darls, you are absolutely right. No need to sully a good champagne, I say!

It's so clever that I wish I'd thought of it myself, Cookinpanda! Those Italians...love them. Smoking's much harder to kick than people make out, I reckon. Fingers crossed for you, when you are ready!

Lisa, my friend, thank you. When you're ready, let me know. I've some good, less well-known ideas on how to quit!

Thank you Grocer, very much.

Ed Charles said...

Happy birthday! I tried to make Agar Agar Martini jellies for my Monster friend's birthday. I was told Agar Agar would set more predictably than gelatine. It set but the texture wasn't up to it whereas i'vemade plenty of wobblyslimy jellies with what I'ma fraid are the boiled up cows feet.

Callipygia said...

Besotted birthdays, there is no other way! A very happy birthday to you- May you continue to be captivated, enraptured, adored, and absolutely nourished! Wobbly champagne and apple cake? whoopie!

Cindy said...

Many happy returns, Lucy! It's been a pleasure getting to know the present version of you - probably healthier, and perhaps more comfortable in her own skin.

Anh said...

Lucy, this must be funny. your birthday and mine are so close (mine is next week)! I told you Leonine women do recognise each other :D :D.

Anyway, happy birthday dear Lucy! I wish you the very best!

Johanna GGG said...

happy birthday lucy - sounds like a fine celebration without the trials and tribulation of jelly :-) and your cake looks lovely - sultanas in tea sounds delicious

Frankster said...

Cake looks great! Think I'll try it. Oh and happy birthday!

Anonymous said...

Having just made pastry (a rarity in my house), I know exactly what you mean about butter.

Happy birthday dearie and your cake looks pretty spiffy.

sra said...

"But failure is not be tolerated on one’s own birthday." - Nice line :)
And lovely post. Happy belated birthday!

bee said...

have a great year ahead, dear lucy.

Anonymous said...

happy birthday, lovely one. what a great way to celebrate. (it is cold here now - London type weather. could i borrow the scarf?)

Kale for Sale said...

What a delicious birthday and celebration. And your recipe is timely even here where the apples are only now begining to find their crispy ways to the farmers' markets. May your year continue as beautifully as it has begun.

Lucy said...

Ed, I agree about the agar agar. Made a 'panna cotta' with it when studying nutrition and it set solid. Gelatine on the other hand is light and ethereal. Must get playing, I think...

Calli - that cake...it's so very delicious. Adorable indeed. Thank you, my friend.

Thank you Cindy - much, much happier in my own skin nowadays. And I forgot to say how much I loved meeting you both at the Meatless Meet. It's been a long time coming. You're both gorgeous!

Anh, happy day to you, too! Yes. There must be something instinctive in our cat-like qualities that helps us to recognise one another!

Thanks Johanna - Nora of Life's Smorgasboard reminded me of soaking dried fruit in tea in the comments section 'tother day. Makes them really juicy.

Towser, do! Simple and straightforward enough, yes, but even better if you can wait for the tasting the following day.

Kathryn, as a microwave-less abode, it just about does my head in waiting for the damn softening. Pastry? I wonder what you were making...

Thank you Sra! Yes, any other day is fine...but a birthday? No way!

Thank you, bee!

Happy to pass it on, Vegeyum! It has been cold this week...really icy in fact. Hope you've had goodly amounts of rain. I keep watching the weather charts and hoping...

Katrina - perfect timing. The apples around here are just starting to lose their crunch and yours, as you say, are just beginning. Thank you. It's already looking like this year will be a good one.

Mama Mia said...

ohhh that cake sounds wonderful! Glad you stopped smoking! :)

Suse said...

Happy birthday!

Antoinette said...

Happy belated birthday! That recipe looks sublime. I may even use that recipe for my (also 37th) birthday in a coupla months.

Another beautiful and beautifully crafted post.

Abitofafoodie said...

Happy Birthday to you! What a lovely, lovely birthday cake. I hope you enjoyed every morsel.

Jacqueline Meldrum said...

Happy, happy birthday Lucy :)

Nora B. said...

Oh Lucy,
I'm sorry for being late - Happy 37th Birthday!". I think it was a good move to drink the champagne in front of the fire, not that I doubt your culinary skills. Thanks for sharing the story of how you met the Artist and I sense that the bond is still very strong and passionate.

As for the cake, I am all for olive oil in sweet baked goods. My favourite so far is carrot cake made with EVO oil. And you say I have to make this apple cake? I certainly will.

You SHOULD be completely besotted!

xx Nora

Nora B. said...

p/s: glad that the tea soaking trick worked! :-)

neil said...

Happy birthday to you. Drinking champagne sounds exactly like the right thing to do.

Em said...

Happy belated birthday and thankyou for this recipe Lucy! It's delish :)