I have this pile of recipes that I want to share here sitting next to me. And yet, despite my excitement over home-cured salmon or these blueberry bars, or this cake, somehow whenever I sit down to write, I find myself closing the computer, or clicking away. Something in that blank page makes me turn away, which, of course, is actually why I should be writing in the first place. I tell myself that it's only blueberry cake, silly! Who can't write about blueberry cake in summer? But blueberry cake is exactly what it isn't about.
Culture shock is usually something that hits me straight in the face, full on. Like when I returned from Syria and my mother was all excited about this new thing called YouTube, and I was shocked, in full disbelief, that you could actually put videos on the internet, and moreover that there was some market for people's cat videos. (oh, ho, ho, how wrong I was!)
But this time it is a bit different. Not culture shock per say, but more an uneasy adjustment to being in America. That makes it sound as if I'm moping around all the time, which couldn't be farther from the truth. I am loving, loving(!) this time in Chicago.
However, it is easy, when you live very very far from you family and friends, to pretend that you don't talk as often as you should because of the distance. That you don't Skype with your parents as often because they are far away. It is harder, then, to come back home and remember that you don't Skype with your parents as often because you don't have any.
I have been wondering also about how, so often we don't really say what we need to say to the people around us. "I'd really like us to spend more time together," or "how do we find a way to talk more." My extended family and I spend a lot of time sharing photos or funny anecdotes or short one-line emails. But how often do we ask each other, no how are you, really? How's your health? Are you getting enough calcium? Social media is great, but so often it turns into broadcast media, when what we need is a place to truly talk and listen.
My Jordanian teacher and I were joking that an Arab relative will ask you anything. How much did your dress cost? How's your marriage? How much money do you have in the bank? (Yep, I've been asked those questions.) And while it is both funny and totally nosy, there is something well-intentioned at the heart of these questions. A way to penetrate beneath the veneer of the, "oh I'm fine"-ness that all of us carry around.
Which brings us to cake. Cake can penetrate many veneers right? This one is quintessentially American in its form: blueberries! a sort of cross between a cobbler/grunt/slump! But it's also informed by those North African ingredients that have become a part of me: the fine semolina, the ginger, the honey. A cake that's a good starting point for a conversation.
Summer Blueberry Cake
I invented the form of this cake, though perhaps it falls somewhere in the grunt/slump variety of Americana desserts. Our berries were very sweet, if yours are on the tart side I'd suggest adding a few tablespoons of granulated sugar to compensate. Fine cornmeal can be substituted for the semolina to good effect.
3 cups blueberries
1/4 cup honey
4 large flat pieces candied ginger, chopped
8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 cup semolina flour (the finest grain of semolina)
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup milk
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a bowl, stir together honey, blueberries, and ginger. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, mix together the semolina flour, baking powder, salt.
4. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the vanilla. Stir in half the semolina mixture, then add in the milk, then add the remaining semolina mixture, stirring until no streaks remain.
5. Scatter 2/3 of the blueberry mixture into an 8x10 inch baking pan. (an enamel or glass/Pyrex baking pan works nicely) Scrape the semolina batter over top, it does not have to completely cover the berries. Scatter the remaining berries over top of the dough.
6. Bake the cake for 40-45 minutes, or until the blueberry juices are all bubbling around the edges. Remove, let cool slightly before serving.