Books + Breakfast | Jane Austen, Female Friendship, + Persimmon Cake Donuts
Anyone who knows me well is probably aware of the fact that I am a huge self-proclaimed nerd for Jane Austen and basically any turn-of-the-century female fiction. A couple months ago, I discovered a rather dusty copy of Northanger Abbey among the back shelves of the secret library in Tangier (a story for another time) and was intrigued by its promise of classic Austen satire, romance, and ghost stories all rolled into one. It turns out that this was her first full, completed novel, written about a young woman who reads too many gothics and finds herself facing problems with her overly active imagination- rather relatable to my own self as a pre-teen.
While I thoroughly loved the entire book from cover to cover, the dialogue and friendship between Catherine, the heroine of the plot, and her fleeting best friend Isabella had me frequently stifling laughs and smiles when I read it in public. Isabella is the kind of young woman who spills her flighty heart out for anyone who is willing to listen. Most notably, she repeatedly refers to Catherine as “My dearest creature!” and declares boldly,
“I have no notion of loving people by halves.”
Of course, both of these sentiments are tainted due to the fact that she lacks any sense of sincerity, but even so the phrases popped out at me. What if people did exclaim things like this with utter truthfulness? What if women went around calling each other “my dearest creature” and loving each other by wholes? I realize this book is exposing the opposite kind of woman- one who is all falsehood and facades- but even so, it got me thinking about the strength of female friendship.
Except for a quartet of close childhood sister-friends, I used to be painfully awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin around other women. As a teenager- as many of us were- I was constantly nervous about being judged, critiqued and humiliated by all of the “cooler” students at my school. As a by-product, I declared that it was easier to be friends with boys, finding girls to be too “gossipy.” I made female friendships here and there, but several of them fell apart due to lack of sufficient compassion on either end and too much competition.
As I grew older, I started to find myself in situations that challenged my discomfort and made me see the value of cultivating real relationships with women. I met and was inspired by fellow solo-traveling women from all over the world on my back-packing trip, met like-minded friends in the bubble of small-town college life, had a number of female roommates with vastly different personalities from my own, and I attended an all-girls dance intensive in North Carolina one summer, a week that helped me overcome my tendency to suspect the worst in other women’s judgements. I even brought a group of 12 ladies together here in Tangier two years ago to create a performance about these issues I was working through in a piece called Femmes Regardent les Femmes- Women Watching Women.
It took all of these experiences and more to start to learn the importance of relating and connecting with other females and finding strength in one another, as opposed to mirroring our weaknesses. How to be with other women seems to me to be an ongoing learning process. How to understand each other, lend support and stay compassionate are all things we have to practice. Only in recent years have I started to put the words “nourishment” and “friendship” together in the same space. You have to nourish any kind of relationship for it to grow beyond loving by half.
These brief quotations that I was drawn to in Northanger Abbey, no matter how superficially they were said by the original character, are mantras that I would like to authentically embed in my own friendships. When we find women that we connect with on that soul-deep level, we should hold them dear and let them know that we do. From here on out, I am determined to keep Isabella’s declaration steadfast within me- “I have no notion of loving people by halves.” Whenever I love, I want to only love by wholes.
Speaking of wholes. Or holes? One of my favorite Christmas gifts from this past year was my first shiny donut pan and to break it in I enthusiastically made a batch of persimmon donuts, since persimmons have been at the peak of their season in Morocco this past month. The first try failed miserably. The poor donuts were mushy and dense, and although they didn’t taste terrible, I was severely disappointed. On the next attempt, I used a recipe for persimmon cake from the wonderful Pastry Affair blog, adapting it into donut form, swapping out some of the spices and voila, soft + crumbly delicious persimmon cake donuts were born. I did a simple powdered sugar topping for these, but they would also be amazing with a vanilla glaze. Whip up a batch while the last of the persimmons for this season ripen, grab a cup of coffee, a good book, and indulge yourself in some whole love.
Persimmon Cake Donuts
Makes 12 donuts, recipe adapted from Pastry Affair's Persimmon Cake
- 250g (1 cup) pureed ripe persimmons
- 225g (1 cup) granulated sugar
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) vegetable or other neutral oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 60 ml (1/4 cup) dairy or non-dairy milk (I used soy)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cardamom
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- pinch of salt
- 280g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
- powdered sugar, for topping
Preheat your oven to 350ºF (175ºC) and grease your donut pan(s). In a large bowl, whisk together the persimmon puree, sugar and oil until smooth. Add in each egg, then the vanilla and milk. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, spices, baking powder and salt. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined, making sure there are no lumps.
Using a small spoon, carefully drip the batter into the molds around the hole of the donut, filling each one about 3/4 of the way up and smoothing out the tops. Place in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when you test them. The tops should be risen and spongy to the touch. When they are done, let the donuts cool about 5 minutes before taking them out of the pan to cool a couple minutes more. Dust with powdered sugar, serve with your morning tea or coffee + enjoy.