Friday, March 16, 2012



Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change - this is the rhythm of living.
Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope.
And out of hope, progress.
- Bruce Barton

We have hesitated long enough. We have reasoned, argued, defined, dissected as much as is humanly possible, yet each time we have faltered. At each precipice we have paused and looked back at what lay behind us: solid, predictable, safe ground. We knew that we had no desire to stay on terra firma, not here, not now. But peering over the edge into the unknown or, worse, choosing a direction and plunging head first, only realizing much too late that we had made a mistake, seemed much to dangerous a chance to take. Or jumping into a decision with both feet only to figure out mid-flight that we should have waited just a tad longer, that we missed the real opportunity by giving in too quickly… sigh … But we have run out of words, no longer feel the pull of the argument. The time has finally come to make a determined compromise; time is now truly of the essence as precipitous, as terrifying as it feels. Realtors are being called, numbers totted up, lists made, apartments measured, plans analyzed. And bids mailed in.

We are fully aware that once one chooses to leave the highway and the expected norms of society, throws the predictable to the wind in exchange for paving one’s own path, searching for one’s own particular brand of happiness against everything that life has laid out for you, well, we are fully aware that there are risks involved. Three years ago, we sold our apartment and moved into a rental in order to be free, unfettered to one city, a job, able to pick up, pack up and leave if the urge struck. We could look for new jobs, exciting opportunities or even adventure anywhere on the planet, following our hearts’ desire. We settled down into a daily rhythm and the comfort of working on our own projects, side by side, meeting every so often in the kitchen over a comforting meal or in the livingroom in front of the news or a good film. Weeks then months rolled by, then one year and two, and as we arrive on the threshold of year number three and see our savings beginning to dwindle, we know that now is the time to make that decision, whether to stay in Nantes or leave.

There is nothing wrong with change if it is in the right direction.
- Winston Churchill

My own projects are better served by being in Europe rather than the States, allowing me to write about the life of an expat, my multi-cultural experience and my food-passionate existence as a foreigner and discoverer. JP is barreling towards the confirmation of his own project creation and this requires an extended residency in France, so why not Nantes? For now, our boys are here and it is a sleepy, comfortable town solidly planted amongst the gorgeous vines of Muscadet and the Loire wine valley, near enough to the sea and the gentle lapping of the Loire and Erdre Rivers to allow me year-round enjoyment of her luscious bounty of oysters, scallops, mussels and crab. Close enough to Paris, on the edge of Brittany, a stone’s throw from the rest of Europe. Alors, why continue to pay rent and use up our precious resources when we can be living once again in our own space, within our own four walls, our own home?

Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!
- Admiral Farragut at the Battle of Mobile Bay, 1864

And the race is on. Once Monsieur comes to a decision, all hell breaks loose and we are full steam ahead. His enthusiasm is only matched by his pragmatism; days are spent going through bank accounts with a fine-toothed comb, calculating renovation costs and resale value, discussing details with our in-house architect, printing out announcements, making phone calls, scratching notes in margins and recalculating every expense. A move like this becomes all consuming, our attention requiring forcefully being dragged away from walk-ups, facades, parquet, capital gain and taxes in order to be able to focus on our own work, those continuing projects. This new adventure has added excitement to our comfortable routine and we try and dissuade ourselves as well as each other from building castles in the air, châteaux en espagne, as the French say. We gather together, a wild frenzy of discussion, a flurry of activity, a tumult of hows and what ifs and but what about issue from this corner or that, from one worried son to the other, an intoxicating frisson of energy as we analyze the merits of this apartment visited or the possibilities of the other.

Everyone thinks of changing the world,
but no one thinks of changing himself.
- Leo Tolstoy

Yet, it never is as easy as that is it? He wants to make a bid on the first and I on the second. One son sides with him and the other with me, as far as he is capable of admitting an opinion at all. They want to set up camp in an on-going construction site and renovate, we want the comfort of a tidy, neat home. Discussion rages, pros and cons batted back and forth, doubts and dreams spattered against the walls. Terrified of making the wrong choice, just a tad scared of being pinned down, nervous to place a signature on a piece of paper, binding us to one spot for a length of time, no, decisions like this are fraught with risk, worry and doubt. We have always been terrified of being tied down, committed to something other than each other, our wings clipped, so to speak. We yearn for freedom and are choosing confinement; we hunger for adventure and are tying ourselves down to another we don’t know for how long here. Yet, there is excitement, something stimulating and inspiring about purchasing our own home, like planting a flag in the surface of the moon. We came, we conquered, we decorated!

Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal.
- Arthur Schopenhauer

And so, life goes on. I prepare for a trip to New York and a conference; I fill up pages with stories meant one day to be turned into a book or sent off to this magazine or that, my dark hole of writer’s block beginning to melt away. JP works, Simon draws, Clem builds and life goes on, swirling around us in an emotional, action-packed whirlwind of chaos and comfort. Spring has arrived on a swell of sunshine, washing over our happy life in soft, warm waves. The oranges and pears begin to fade from the market stalls, yet to be replaced by sweet berries or stone fruit. Simon clomps endlessly around the house, wandering from his bedroom half an hour before each mealtime and through our workspaces inquiring about lunch or dinner, rolling his eyes in disgust when we look up at him in innocent confusion. He has taken it upon his 21-year-old self to do all the grocery shopping and meal planning, that way guaranteed to find something to eat when he rifles through the refrigerator or is hungry for a lunch or dinner. I am sorry to say that he is not at all happy with our behavior these days, our lack of interest in whipping up delicious dishes or keeping him well supplied in coffee cake, chocolate chip cookies or layer cakes, but I do what I can. Clem is rarely home and when he does show up to join us for dinner complains endlessly that it is a never-ending chain of the same old same old. JP and I laugh and tease, occasionally surprising them with a hearty, fragrant lamb and vegetable couscous, a beef and potato Parmentier or a cheesy gratin. Clem hooks up his computer to the television set, pulls up an American police series and we settle down happily for the evening.

Since rediscovering the joys of my mother’s old community and Sisterhood cookbooks and after my successes with the Chocolate Chip Pecan Butter Horns and her own Chocolate Chip Nut Bread, I decided to delve into Abigail Serves, the community cookbook put together, under the watchful and formidable eye of my mother’s aunt, Great Aunt Mae in 1956. Abigail Serves is the collected recipes of The United Order of True Sisters of Albany, New York. Perusing the yellowed, faded pages of this self-published cookbook, I couldn’t help myself when I came across Heavenly Chocolate Cake; with such a name, who could resist? Before the days when adding a box of pudding mix to cake batter was all the rage, this recipe is based upon this very idea to create a dense, moist cake. A chocolate pudding-like cream or custard is prepared with sugar, milk, cocoa powder and an egg then added to the cake batter to create a luxuriously thick and creamy mixture. Once baked, the cake is a deep, dark chocolate, the sweetness perfectly balanced, the texture extra moist without being overly gooey and dense, which as we all know, Simon the persnickety hates. Light, fluffy yet moist and tender, full-flavored, the chocolate kissed by the barest hint of espresso as I decided to replace some of the water in the batter with prepared coffee. I frosted the cupcakes with my own, favorite simple chocolate buttercream recipe, again replacing the boiling water with prepared café au lait. Scrumptious. And everybody was happy and well satisfied.

With Aunt Mae in Miami Beach, circa 1962.

Please hop over to Huffington Post Food to read my latest article You Are What You Eat: A Food Blogger’s Dilemma. Should I even be asking the question? What do you think?

And speaking of From Plate to Page, due to an unexpected cancellation, there are now a couple of spaces open for our exciting Somerset workshop in May. If you are looking for an intimate, hands-on, practical workshop providing you with the tools, instruction and inspiration to define and hone your food writing, styling and photography skills and kick start your creativity all in a convivial, fun- and food-filled weekend then Plate to Page is for you! For details about the workshop, the four instructors (I teach food writing) and registration, please visit out our website! But hurry, spaces are limited to 12 and they are going fast! Questions? Visit our new FAQ page!

Makes 9-inch double layer cake or about 14 large chocolate cupcakes.

For the chocolate cream:

¾ cup (150 g) sugar
¾ cup (75 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup (185 ml) milk
1 large egg

For the batter:

2/3 cup (150 g) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups (250 g) sugar
3 large eggs
2 ¼ cup (255 g) sifted flour (sifted BEFORE measuring, not measured then sifted)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
2/3 cup (165 ml) cold water (can replace some of the water with prepared coffee)
1 tsp vanilla
1 ¾ tsp baking soda
¼ cup (62 ml) warm water

Prepare the Chocolate Custard:

Whisk the sugar, cocoa powder, milk and egg together in a medium saucepan until thick, creamy and very smooth. Place the saucepan over low heat and very gently bring to a low boil. Whisking constantly, continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer until it becomes a thick sauce or custard. (Once the mixture is heated, the sauce thins and then re-thickens as it cooks.) Remove from the heat, set aside and allow to cool. As I use Le Creuset, which continue to heat even after the pan is removed from the flame, I immediately scraped the custard into a heatproof Pyrex bowl to cool.

Prepare the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Either butter two 9-inch layer cake pans and line the bottom of each with parchment or oven paper or line cupcake tins with paper cup liners.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended and light. Beat in the eggs one at a time just until blended. Beat or stir in the chocolate custard in a few additions, blending thoroughly. Stir the sifted flour, baking powder and salt together; beat the flour mixture into the batter in three additions alternating with the cold water in two, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla.

Dissolve the baking soda in the warm water then stir quickly into the cake batter until very well blended. Pour into the prepared cake pans or ladle into the cupcake cups and bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes until puffed, the center is set and a tester inserted in the center comes out dry.

Allow to cool on racks – if baking the cake layers, allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes before running a sharp knife around each cake to loosen and turn out onto cooling racks. For the cupcakes, remove the cupcake cups from the tins and allow to cool completely on cooling racks.

Frost when cooled.


Double the ingredients if making a layer cake for spreading in between the layers, the top and sides of the cake. A single recipe will suffice for cupcakes.
6 oz (175 grams) powdered/confectioner’s sugar
4 Tbs (60 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
0.9 oz (25 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbs boiling water, hot prepared coffee
or café au lait

Using an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and the powdered sugar together. Add the cocoa powder and the boiling water or coffee and beat, scraping down the sides as necessary, until well blended and fluffy.

Chill in the refrigerator until firm enough so that, if making a layer cake, when spread and the layers are stacked, the frosting does not slide.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Those cupcakes look soooo good! A heavenly treat.

Great to hear that you have many project! Wow, I bet your book will be terrific. You have so much to write about and knows well have to put your thoughts down on paper.



Vijitha said...

Those cupcakes looks perfect! Sinfully delicious.

As always I enjoy your writing. Keep them coming and I really wish that I get a chance to meet you someday!

Meeta K. Wolff said...

Change is good - it keeps us moving forward and we never get stuck in a rut. Make sure JP calculates a spice room for all your Spice Sisters!

I am dying to sink my teeth into one of these Jamie. Moist, lush, dark and decadent all the things I like in cake!

Namitha said...

Great write up ! Enjoyed reading it and the recipe for great chocolate cupcakes !and mocha buttercream is quite addictive . Thanks Jamie :-)

Javelin Warrior said...

Jamie, you're brave to be settling into ownership again and congrats! I'm personally happy to be living in an apartment after 7 years in a owned place, but I know the time will come when I'll want to own again...

The cupcakes look delicious as usual =) Just popped over to read your article and love the message. And don't let haters get you down ;)

Lora said...

I hear ya. In the middle of trying to close on a house and so many hesitations and fears running through my head. The name of that cookbook is priceless and the cupcakes look divine.

WiseMóna said...

How exciting for you guys! I hope you will take photos and share your new home with us! Glad to see you are done with the decision making and now moving on with the rest of the work!

Rachel Stone said...

Oh my gosh, I love, LOVE your recent HuffPo piece. Will be riffing off it (giving you full credit, 'natch) this week on my own food-ish blog. Thanks for helping me not feel like a snob for insisting that the food we celebrate should be made by human hands from actual food!

So happy to find your blog. Peace.

Robin O said...

A new owned home is not an anchor to weigh you down from your adventures, but a refuge to return to for comfort and recovery.

How exciting! No clipped wings for you as your mind and spirit shine brightly wherever you are Jamie!

Wonderful cupcakes and the bit of coffee is just PERFECT. I am diving in with my eyes! Just shows what can be done with "real" food ;-) !

Kulsum@JourneyKitchen said...

change is as much as challenge as exciting! I'm pinning this right away - need to try!

Kulsum@JourneyKitchen said...

change is as much as challenge as exciting! I'm pinning this right away - need to try!

Sarah said...

Sometimes change is a good thing, hope you have an easy move. As for the chocolae cupcakes, oh my, those look positively sinful.

Sally - My Custard Pie said...

Good luck with this next exciting stage in your lives.

Lisa said...

I'm iffy on change. If it's something drastic, I'm actually more for it than something small, if that makes sense. Like a change on a site bugs me, but a possible move to a bigger place with loads of natural light excites me, even though I'm quite comfy and secure in my 'forest'. Congrats on so many new things happening in your life, especially the move.

Having said all that, I'm not much of a dark chocolate/mocha/coffee anything 'person', but you make me crave it. Why is that? Oh, yeah, because those cupcakes look too amazing to pass up! xo

Terra said...

Heavenly is right, I love how most these delicious cupcakes look!!! AND mocha buttercream? I am in love!!!! Hugs, Terra

Barbara said...

We've been renting for four years now and after three different areas have finally found where we want to be. Now it's a case of waiting for the right apartment to become available. I hope you find what you are looking for soon Jamie. Actually Nantes sounds like a great place to live. Convenient to so many wonderful parts of

Kate at Serendipity said...

Wonderful post, Jamie. And a wonderful Huffpost article as well.

Hugs to you and JP from cool and chilly Belgium. Actually, we're in sunny Florence right now, so hugs from there as well.

Ivy said...

Those cupcakes do look perfect. We've been planning to relocate since last year but unfortunately the economic situation in Greece is keeping us away. Good luck with all your plans and shall be looking forward for your book.

Sanjeeta kk said...

How true it is..There is nothing wrong with change if it is in the right direction! Love those chocolaty cup cakes..

thelittleloaf said...

Your chocolate creations always make me smile and these are no exception - they look heavenly!

Change can be scary, but also extremely exciting. Good luck with everything :-)

Cake Duchess said...

Rich and decadent cupcakes. I wouldn't want them any other way. Super fun photo from Miami in the 60's...just love it!!Super exciting news about finding a new maison:)

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

Good luck with your house hunting adventures! I hope you find that perfect place that suits you all.

Nancy Baggett said...

Lovely pics, lovely post! Keep up the good work.

Safe travels--see you soon.

Dewi said...

Very tempting! I am bookmarking this recipe. Thank you!

Milk and Honey said...

Everything I love in a cupcake... right here. I would love one (or two) with my morning coffee.

Betsy @ Desserts Required said...

Look at all the changes that have taken place and evolved over the past 2-1/2 years. One thing that I know has not changed is this cake. It is just too good to alter!


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