I have mentioned a couple times that I am pushing myself through National Novel Writing Month (granted, the election drama put me behind a bit), but I have not revealed what exactly I am writing about. Truth be told, I am not sure it falls under the category of “novel,” exactly, but more like a quilt of short stories, tied together by some over-arching theme that I am hoping will reveal itself eventually. For now, it is simply my stories. A record and reflection of my past 3 years living in Tangier, Morocco.
Honestly, I feel kind of weird about admitting it. Every time I sit down to write I ask myself, why I am doing this? Why am I, at only 24 years old, writing my own personal stories? Who is going to care? What kind of wisdom can I possibly convey?
Here, though, is a bit of wisdom that has dawned on me the past couple days. Please excuse the metaphor, but you do not have to know where you are going to get on the road. I am a believer in what I consider acts of micro-fate. Often we hear the word fate used when we talk about major life events- meeting the love of your life, finding a career in something you are passionate about, moving to a new city, etc. However, fate can, of course, play a hand in much smaller instances. Micro-fate is that small and mighty force that leads the little things in life on their own courses, unbeknown to us. This seems to happen especially during the creative process. For example, I have no idea where these stories that I’m telling for NaNoWriMo are going to go, but I am allowing it to be out of my hands and occasionally, these acts of micro-fate lead me to write something that surprises myself, clarifies a thought, or reveals an idea. You just never know and that is something I love about writing or any creative process, for that matter.
I don't know exactly where ideas come from, but when I'm working well ideas just appear. I've heard other people say similar things - so it's one of the ways I know there's help and guidance out there. It's just a matter of our figuring out how to receive the ideas or information that are waiting to be heard.
Even when you plan meticulously for something, it does not usually turn out how you imagined. Every single dance piece I have choreographed, I come in and tell the dancers with utter confidence “here is the theme and here is the story arc and this is what the dance is about.” By the time the dance has made it through the rehearsal process and onto a stage, if you ask what that performance was about, I will most likely tell you a completely different story from the one I began with.
Funny enough, I actually set out to write this very blog post about what it is like to live a life between two cultures, but somehow an act of micro-fate has turned it into talking about micro-fate. I was originally going to use that theme to lead into this amazing cake because it is the delicious fusion of two cultures coming together to make something awesome. Like my marriage. Which I also had wanted to write about. Instead, all of this came out, so here I am setting my own example.
This cake comes from the inspiration of brainstorming Moroccan-American fusion dishes for a Thanksgiving that can celebrate our first of this holiday as a married couple, merging the best of our two cultures, as well as toasting to my best friend (also from America) who was recently engaged to her own Moroccan boyfriend. The four of us are planning a small-scale, cozy, fusion-ish Thanksgiving evening.
Basbousa is not actually 100% Moroccan, since it is a traditional yogurt and semolina cake made widely around the Middle East and Northern Africa. However, it is very popular here and I got the base for this recipe from my lovely lousti (sister-in-law), so by mixing it with some American-apple-pie flair, it feels like an appropriate way to celebrate a cultural coming-together. Which is something we need more than ever these days.
This cake is warm + comforting, spongy + light, deepened by the hints of cardamom and orange blossom lingering in the syrup and decadent whipped cream. It comes together so easily, so there is really no reason not to make it.
Also, just for some inspiration, here is a great Thanksgiving story told by the wonderful Ann Patchett: Collecting Strays at the Thanksgiving Table
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Be grateful, be generous, spread some fierce love.
Apple Upside-Down Basbousa with Orange Blossom Cardamom Whipped Cream
Makes 8-12 servings
- 2 large apples, cored and thinly sliced
- 6 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla sugar or ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 container (75g) plain yogurt
- 90g (1/2 cup) brown sugar
- 110ml (1/2 cup) oil
- 500ml (2 cups + 2 tbsp) whole milk
- 500g (3 cups) semolina flour
- 3.5 tsp (10g) baking powder
- pinch of salt
- ¼ tsp ground cardamom
- 1 cup water
- 100g (½ cup) granulated sugar
- 2 tsp orange blossom water
- ½ tsp lemon zest
- 250ml (1 cup) full-fat whipping cream
- 65g (½ cup) powdered sugar
- ½ tsp orange blossom water
- 1/8 tsp (one large pinch) ground cardamom
Preheat your oven to 350ºF (175ºC), grease a 9" round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the pan and arrange the apple slices in whatever pretty pattern you like.
In a large bowl, whisk the 3 eggs until frothy, then mix in the vanilla, yogurt, brown sugar and oil. Pour in the milk and stir. In a separate smaller bowl, combine the semolina, baking powder, salt and cardamom, then add the dry ingredients into the wet, stirring until the mixture thickens a bit, although it will still be a fairly runny batter. Pour the batter over the apples in your prepared pan and stick in the oven for about 50 minutes-1 hour (depending on your oven times may vary), or until a knife comes out mostly clean from the center.
While the cake is baking, prepare your syrup by mixing all of the ingredients over high heat in a small saucepan, then once it reaches a boil turn the heat down to simmer until it has cooked down about halfway and begun to reach a more syrup-like consistency. Remove from heat.
Once the cake is finished baking, take it out of the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. While it is cooling, you can whip up your cream by whisking all of the ingredients in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer until peaks form. Carefully flip the cake over onto a plate, upside-down of course, and carefully pour the syrup into all of the apple crevices while it is still hot, so that it can absorb the flavor. Slice it up and serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream.