Let There Be Cake!
Did you know the origin of the word cake comes from the Viking word kaka? I certainly didn’t until I looked it up. Nor was I aware of the tricky distinction between cake and bread. I mean, when the topic is broached it’s clear that classifying the two isn’t as clear cut as previously held. It seems immediately evident the difference – cake is sweet and bread is not – until we have some troubling examples presented. For instance, is banana bread a cake or a bread? By its name you would consider it a bread but it does share many cake properties. It’s sweeter than most and its culinary function is typically as a desert. You don’t see people making ham sandwiches between thick slices of banana bread. Though now that I’ve mentioned it, surely someone, somewhere is going to try it.
This ramble on one of the western world’s most common sweets is prompted by a rather vicious confrontation between my sister and myself. I had returned home for a long sojourn to the north, weary from the trials of the road, only to discover that my sister had been baking in my absence. She is want to do so as the kitchen is her playground and she was idle from lack of gainful employ for the week. Pressing need to do something inevitably leads to baking especially if it means she can avoid doing any cleaning. Thus, she created the current entity which sits to the right of me. I’m not particularly adept at describing food – sprung from my general disdain for the biological function of eating and, consequently, cooking – and as a general rule I avoid discourse on meals in general. My writing rarely deals with what people eat. Partly because I don’t know what people eat especially since I can hardly recall my own meals and mostly because I don’t care.
However, my reluctance to explore food and cuisine is a bit of a weakness. One great way to express culture is in the food that a people eat. Inevitably, diets reflect the world as most societies have produced their unique and characterful recipes based on the ingredients at hand. Only the modern world spends so much on money and resources to import exotic, foreign foods and these typically take a special place at the dinner table rather than feature as a weekly staple.
You can see the flavour that a well conceived meal can add in many a fantasy novel. How many writers have waxed for many pages about the qualities and selling features of their protagonist’s meals? I know Tolkien, the grandfather of the genre, was particularly keen in explaining the foods which his characters consumed. If my memory serves, he has five pages devoted to a rabbit stew. I know this because in my youth I bothered to count. But ignoring that specific example, I do not think it is a coincidence that both the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings begins with feasts. It is worn into our collective consciousness the joy and affinity the Hobbits as a race have towards their food. Which is remarkably curious as they are often seen as a parallel to English culture who, by the rest of the world’s standards, are remarkable in the kitchen only by how bland and awful their traditional cuisine is.
Seriously, outside of deep fried potatoes and fish, for what is Britain known? Haggis, which is delicious, is a Scottish meal. Pestering my sister, she offers up bangers and mash as another famous British dish. And if sausage and potatoes is suppose to be inspiring, then I feel justified in my apathy towards the topic.
Not that Tolkien is alone in his propensity to discuss meals. I don’t remember much of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, but if I’m not mistaken there are a few discussions over the merits of cheese and bread. A Game of Thrones always seems to be holding some sort of feast and George R.R. Martin seems to disclose his character’s eating habits as frequently as he indulges in them himself.
But here I go again, ignoring the task of discussing the food in front of me.
One issue I have with writing about food is I am grossly ill-equipped for the conversation. I don’t possess the proper knowledge to properly communicate these substances. What is there to say of this cake? It’s not particularly sweet which means it is palatable to my palate. It’s brown and made in a shall bunt pan. There are pieces of pecans spotting its bottom and a sprinkling of brown sugar along its exterior. It’s overall a round, brown affair that’s not particularly dense but neither would I consider it fluffy. It’s also a few days old so it lacks the “moist” quality often bandied about in tantalizing fashion when people describe sumptuous first bites. I suppose its interior is a far light hue than its crusty outer layer, formed of a light porous tan than the cooked brown skin. The task before me was nearly a foot long as well though I have reduced it to a crumbling few inches in girth at this junction.
There, I discussed my cake. Kait was disappointed that I didn’t like it so I wrote a whole damn post about the thing. Are you happy now?!