I must say, October, you certainly charged in like a lion of an unprecedented sort. Just weeks ago I was eating birthday cake and enjoying my since-deceased leisure time. These days are as long as the limbs of 100-year-old trees, which is to say very long indeed. So when this past weekend popped up on my radar, rife with time for -- dare I even mutter the word? -- relaxation, I embraced it whole-heartedly. A schedule packed with work and social gallivanting is very fine, but sometimes a girl just needs a glass of wine, a warm bath and a good book.
This weekend offered a literal breath of fresh air as I abandoned the city and travelled north to my uncle's cottage for a glorious Canadian Thanksgiving. I mean, just take a look at the view I had as I walked into the living area that first morning, cup of high-voltage coffee in hand.
If you're offended by what I'm about to say next due to its utter fabulousness as a friend of mine was -- truly, for he has informed me we are no longer friends due to my goings on -- let me pre-empt this by saying I'll happily extend chocolate and wine as a peace offering. For three days (!), I sat on the beach with a book in hand, drinking wine and soaking up the last of the sun's brilliant rays. I helped roast a turkey to perfection in an old, apartment-sized oven, and ate myself stupid as one is wont to do during the holidays. There was a few games of Mexican Train, a wildly affectionate Golden Retriever,
pumpkin-carving (and therefore the ingestion of deliciously toasted pumpkin seeds), Motown and Jazz, Dionne Warwick murmuring softly from the boombox -- "ain't no mountain high enough, to keep me from you" as my uncle and I got started on the stuffing. Marshmallows were roasted over a "two-storey bombfire". We kayaked through still waters. There was bird-watching, a lot of sleep, and long, less-than-sober conversations -- though it's worth mentioning I left the politics at home this time. The pine trees have shed many of their needles, all of them landing amongst the lily pads in the lake. That's something to see in and of itself. I'm not much of a camper, but there's something about a weekend at the cottage that is so lovely -- particularly with a couple episodes of Modern Family thrown in for good measure.
I might owe many people wine and chocolate now.
It was so nice, in fact, that a woman in one of the neighbouring cottages strolled out in a bikini and dove straight into the lake. I'm still shivering at the thought of it.
Readers, I even made a cake for the occasion, though I'm embarassed to say it was gobbled up before I could snap a picture. I even brought leftovers home and ate them at work, forgetting all about you! I apologize. But you'll forgive me when I share this recipe with you. The texture is swoon-worthy, I think, and it makes a lovely accompaniment to a rich, big meal. Personally, I'm not such a fan of heavy desserts in the evening, the way they sit at the bottom of your stomach like devious sugary bricks. A veritable Goldilocks, I declare this cake not too too heavy, not too light -- it is just right.
Pumpkin is the epitome of autumn in my mind; the leaves can morph from green to vibrant reds and yellows and oranges, they can scatter themselves amongst the yellowing grass, cider donuts can be fried and eaten, apple picking season can spring itself upon us, hot cider can be consumed, but it just isn't truly autumn until I've eaten pumpkin.
I do often prefer its savory applications, though puréed pumpkin is oft-considered a dessert sort of thing with all of our pumpkin pies -- undoubtedly an emblem of good old-fashioned Americana. It's true that a good pumpkin dessert is generally irresistable, and will in time convert the most skeptical of Sweet Tooths. However, because I'm not much into sugary desserts, don't expect a sugar high and ensuing crash out of this recipe. You could easily eat this torte for breakfast. According to Laura Calder, it's inspired by the French tortes that litter the countryside. With such an enchanting back story, it quickly (and quietly) became the perfect way to cap off a Thanksgiving dinner among a more intimately acquainted Group of Seven.
I go weak in the knees for anything that sounds both rustic and foreign, so you can well imagine my delight when the torte came out much the same way -- a little homely, but sophisticated in its simplicity; good enough to mark the end of a holiday dinner, but not so over-the-top that it couldn't be enjoyed on any old day. And really, that's what Thanksgiving is really about, anyway: being thankful for the autumn harvest, communing together, enjoying a sunset -- the ultimate laissez-faire holiday if there ever was one.
Squash Cake (aka "Thanksgiving Torte")
Adapted from Laura Calder, French Taste
Yields 8-10 slices
2 cups puréed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup corn starch
1/4 cup fine-milled cornmeal
3 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup rum (preferably dark)
Zest of one large orange
Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Grease and line a springform pan. Combine yolks with sugar and beat until light and pale. Whisk in cornstarch and cornmeal until smooth, followed by the pumpkin, rum, pumpkin pie spice, and orange zest.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Bringing the egg whites to room temperature will render this task infinitely simpler.
Gently stir half the egg whites into the batter and fold in the remainder. Pour into the pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean -- this took a full hour in my gas oven. It will be very moist, but if it's still sticky to the touch, it hasn't finished baking. Serve slightly warm with sweetened whipped cream. Perfect as an afternoon accompaniment to a cup of coffee or tea, or as a lighter dessert. Consume within three days and avoid refrigeration if possible, which will render the cake soggy.