Friday, July 21, 2006

Scent of the Sun

In the midst of all that rant yesterday, I managed to make a chocolate fudge cake following Pierre Hermé's recipe (for recipe, see earlier post). I made this simple but decadent cake especially for an Aussie friend who is expected to deliver her first baby in the next few weeks, I thought she and her hubby might just like to sit back and relax with a treat before their lives are changed forever with the new arrival.

We met up for lunch at a charming little bistro in San Telmo named Abril. The three course set lunch was nice and very reasonable, the waitress was helpful and service was attentive. When we walked out after lunch, the cobbled street was reflecting a warm glow from the winter sun. This lovely afternoon with great company and good food served as a timely reminder why I am not ready to write off this city.

So today I shall venture into my kitchen, not to unwind but to truly enjoy the process of creation, the alchemy of simple ingredients. During the summer, I grew my own lavender and various other herbs. These fresh herbs went into roasts, home made ice creams and summer salads. Whatever left over I had, I used them to scent sugar and salt.

None of the plants has survived past autumn since the winter sun is lower and my patio doesn't get enough light and warmth to keep them alive. Luckily, I still have these jars of lavender and rosemary sugars and sage salt to transport me back to the sunnier months when Guillermo and I were busy renovating our apartment with our builders.

Our builders were a group of well-mannered young men, from Moreno, who worked very hard. Every afternoon, I offered them coffee and facturas (sweet pastries) and we all took a break together. They were amused to see me picking up a scraper or a paint brush. One day, they found me on my knees vanishing the skirting boards, their jaws were on the floor "Señora!"(Madame) Soon enough they started giving me helpful advice and introduced me to various products. I was able to later successfully revamp the entire wooden floor on my own since it wasn't part of their contracted work.

From time to time, one of the guys would come to fix the plumbing or do other handyman tasks we can't manage ourselves. They would comment on the gradual transformation of the apartment with appreciation, like a proud parent. They may not be educated or de clase media which seems to be an obsession with many porteños but they are real people with warmth, conscience and manners; all the great qualities many of the higher class, better educated inhabitants of this city lack. They are good old fashion people with good old fashion values.

In the culinary world where innovations and trends can sometimes overwhelm, I return time and again to older, less fashionable recipes which have stood the test of time. They may not wow anyone anymore but they still taste good. A Madeira cake is a case in point. It is also perfect for using up my stash of lavender sugar.

200g softened butter
150g lavender sugar, more for sprinkling on top
2 tsp dried edible lavender, optional
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
200g self raising flour

Preheat oven to 170C. Line a medium sized loaf tin with parchment.

Cream butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add lemon zest, lavender flowers and eggs, one at a time and alternating with a tablespoonful of flour to prevent curdling. Finally add the lemon juice.

Spoon into the loaf tin and sprinkle more lavender sugar on top. Bake for 1 hour or until the cake tester comes out clean.

Abril, Balcarce 722 tel: 4342 8000

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