Sunday, 3 May 2020

#43: cake

The height of indulgence

The peculiar appeal of cake
I wonder if cakes were originally a way of preserving and packing high-calorie food like fat, sugar and dried fruit together to see us through the winter, and have since become an afternoon treat and sign of hospitality. In Jane Austen’s Emma the heroine’s father denies their guests Mrs Goddard and Miss Bates rich food because of his concern for the digestion, so she makes ‘the two ladies all the amends in her power, by helping them to large slices of cake and full glasses of wine, for whatever unwilling self-denial his care of their constitution might have obliged them to practise during the meal.’
Cake also goes naturally with museum and gallery trips, at once a delightful symbol of afternoon leisure and a calorific compensation for the peculiar tiredness induced by the stop-start museum wander.

Cakes without flour, sugar and butter?
I shouldn’t really eat traditional cake, since I’m trying to follow a paleo or caveman diet, which excludes flour, sugar and butter. The cakes I most miss are scones – the rough dense texture of the scone, the smooth blandness of the cream and a shot of sugary jam on top. Also Eccles cakes – clumped currents in an irregular crumbly puff pastry case. ‘O my buttons!’ As Tom Tulliver says in The Mill on the Floss on learning that there is apricot roll-up for tea.
So I was pleased to come across some paleo cake recipes on Elana’s Pantry. These use coconut or almond flour, and honey instead of sugar. My two favourites at the moment are carrot cake and chocolate cake. They have a slightly different consistency – not as crumbly – but are just as light and delicious.

quote from Emma by Jane Austen (Penguin, 1985), p.223

Saturday, 14 March 2020

#42: Silas Marner

© Simon Schuster

The weaver of Raveloe

I've been listening to Silas Marner, George Eliot's novel about a man, a weaver by trade, who after being unfairly cast out of a religious community comes to live in the town of Raveloe. There he finds stability but his life shrinks to two things – his work, and the money he makes from it.

His unceasing close work at the loom disfigures him so that he becomes short-sighted, with bulging eyes, and 'can see no more than insect', as one of the villagers says. His body shrinks and, says Eliot in Chapter 2, he is like an appendage or handle, an adjunct to his work, incomplete.

From time to time he takes his gold out from its hiding place under the floor to admire it, count it and touch it. And yet 'Master Marner' is not really a miser, as he is judged by some of his fellow villagers. He doesn't seem to think of the money in financial terms at all. Rather, in the absence of other objects, his human desires have become focused narrowly on these things. And this is a two-way process:

He had clung with all the force of his nature to his work and his money. And like all objects to which a man devotes himself, they had fashioned him into correspondence with themselves. (Chapter 5).
The 'objects' people devote themselves to can be aims, as well as a solid objects like Silas's gold. And the 'correspondences' they forge with us are corresponding shapes, like Silas's body, but also the process of corresponding with them.

Photo by Vibhuti Gupta on Unsplash


Looms and computers 

This passage also made me think of our looms – computers. It reminded me yet again of my long-term reservations about the demands that a sitting, sedentary life, makes on health. At a computer most parts of the body do not move, while some (the eyes, arms and hands) move unnaturally quickly – just like the weaver's.

Do all of us have such reservations about work, and the way it may 'fashion' us – affect our bodies, thoughts and feelings? Reading LinkedIn or other social media platforms, with their unceasing hyperbole about job fulfilment and success, you would not think so.

The cure for narrowed vision

Silas's cure comes in the shape of Eppie, a child who finds her way to his hearth and heart, also an 'object' but one 'compacted of changes and hopes' that:

forced his thoughts outward and carried them far away from the old eager pacing toward the same blank limit, carried them away to the new things that would come with the coming years, when Eppie would have learnt to understand how her father Silas cared for her, and made him look for images of that time in the ties and charities that bound together the families of his neighbours. (Chapter 14)
Silas's perspective changes here – he becomes 'her father Silas', viewing himself in a different role – a wider perspective in which he naturally sees himself from the outside in relation to someone else, his adopted daughter. And this also makes him look to the Raveloe community.

We may not have the luxury of stepping away from our looms but, Victorian-style, I would take some lessons from this writing. One is simply to look after my body. As a freelancer, I am responsible for my own health and safety – so I think it's time to gather together all my notes-to-self about taking breaks and sitting properly, and make a proper health and safety checklist. The other would be to try to keep a wider perspective, to try to find 'objects' to focus on which make claims on my affections and help me to connect with others.

Photo by Procreator UX Design Studio on Unsplash