Most often an optimist, my moments of pessimism sometimes pay off. Last week, not even an hour after we talked about melting snow and bare earth, it snowed. I just knew that would happen.
That night, we shoveled the driveway.
Then, starting two days later, it snowed for three days straight. We cleared and shoveled often. We almost broke a shovel.
With the romantic fancy of my burgeoning hope for spring, I'd be blameless in muttering a sailor's curse or three as I tromped up and down and back and forth across our driveway and up the garden path. Maybe it is the madness of midwinter, but I have, shockingly, embraced the snow.
And shoveling. I really like the shoveling.
I volunteer to shovel. Trippingly pulling my boots on, and with the words only halfway out of my mouth, I'm out the door. I try to wait until after dinner, so everyone's fed and happy; when the darkness has settled in and all the streetlights are on.
In that quiet, the scene that greets me is especially beautiful. The languid wind of our street, the glow of porches lit in rows, a car rolling slowly past with its wheels crunching the snow the plows haven't cleared yet.
Tethered to our house with the task of shoveling, it's a snow globe existence; a world contained by how far I can see around the bend of the road.
There is a deep satisfaction in the feel of a blade cleaving through the weight of snowdrift, the metallic scratch of the shovel against the pavement. There is a thought of productivity and industry, a chest-puffing pride in getting a job done.
And yet, moving back and forth across the drive, the pattern of my footsteps is simultaneously meditative. The imagined dome of my small world condenses my thoughts and clears out the rubbish. I come back inside, cheeks flushed and arms tired, my mind full of a hundred new ideas.
I'm an odd duck, I know. But it makes me happy and I always sleep well after.
Yes, I really do like shoveling. Not something I'd ever thought I'd say.
And, while we're on the subject of likes, I really like cakes made with tangerines and almonds. It's a like I think you'll find easy to understand.
I made this cake as an interpretation of Nigella Lawson's Clementine Cake from her book How to Eat, which as it happens is an interpretation of Claudia Roden's orange and almond cake.
It's made without flour; at its most simple the recipe only requires fruit, nuts, eggs, sugar and baking powder. I've fussed up the cake because of the ingredients I had, and appreciated the effect of those additions. Neither version disappoints though, so either way you're set.
It reminds me of marmalade, with the pith and peel used to their fullest. It is modestly sweet with a sourness you feel on your teeth. That devastating bitterness humming underneath the waxy fat of the ground nuts.
The exterior bakes to a glossily sticky bronze, with a blond crumb underneath. The scent of almonds and citrus is remarkable, smelling as you'd imagine wintertime should.
To eat this is to swallow the March sun, a beam of brightness on a snowy day. Or, if you're like me, it's just what you want when you come in from an evening of shovelling.
TANGERINE ALMOND CAKE
Adapted from Nigella Lawson. I use skin-on, raw almonds for colour and texture. Blanched almonds or pre-ground meal can be used as well.
- 1 pound tangerines, around 4 medium, washed well
- 1-2 tablespoons orange flower water (optional)
- Butter for greasing a pan
- 9 ounces raw almonds, see note
- 6 eggs
- 8 ounces granulated sugar
- Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
Place the tangerines in a medium pot. Pour over the orange flower water if using, then fill the pot with cold water until the fruit is covered. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until the tangerines are quite tender, around 2 hours. Drain the fruit and set aside to cool.
Over a large bowl to catch the juice, split each tangerine in half horizontally, and pick out any seeds. Put the flesh, peel and pith to the bowl, and discard the seeds.
Preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly butter an 8-inch springform pan, then line with parchment paper on the bottom and sides (with a collar of paper extending a little past the rim of the pan).
In the bowl of a food processor with the blade attached, grind the almonds to a fairly even meal. Add the tangerines, and process to a thick purée. Bits of nut and tangerine skin will still be visible.
In the large bowl used for the juices earlier, beat the eggs until blended but not frothy. Stir in the sugar and vanilla bean seeds, then the baking powder and salt. Fold in the fruit mixture.
Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven until a cake tester inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean and the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan, around 1 hour. If the cake is browning too quickly towards the end of baking, tent with foil. Remove from the oven and cool, still in its tin, on a wire rack.
Makes one 8-inch cake that's even better after a day.