dimanche 9 mai 2010

This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship - hazelnut cake

To be honest, the idea of a best friend troubles me a little but that's quite likely because I've never been one nor had one myself. When people I know talk about a best friend, I wonder what it is that makes the difference to the others around them, that special openness they must have together which I've never been able to achieve. I guess though I've always been a bit of a loner and growing up, I was cripplingly shy, although no-one today believes me. To get to school in the morning, I caught the bus which left from the bottom of the drive. It was the first stop and I took my place at the front with the few other passengers from my village. From my other posts, you probably realise that I wasn't the most popular girl in my class but the older kids would always stop and ask me if I was alright. I try to imagine how small and lost I must have looked back then. Always the last to be picked for the sports team, people found me strange and there was also the fear I had in the pit of my stomach whenever I needed to talk to others, a fear that made me spend ages going over every sentence in my mind first. So instead, I became the quiet one who sat in the corner. There were the nerds I hung out with, the class stars but somehow I felt they didn't really take me seriously.

Instead the books I read became my friends and I relied on my over-active imagination to fill the times alone. In my family, everyone else was much older; my father's children had already left home to study by the time I was born and my mother's lived with their father. Their visits were always a highlight for me and I felt a rush of excitement whenever the car appeared to drop them off. Lying in bed at night, I could hear them playing snooker downstairs and there were the non-stop cricket matches in the garden and the games together in the sunshine. Yet sometimes there was also jealousy; my youngest half-brother was the opposite of me. Even as a teenager, he was amazingly popular, charming, good looking, funny, the type of person who tans easily and makes friends without even trying. I wondered how we could be so different. In many ways though, I felt like an only child and sometimes regret not having the complicity of someone my own age growing up with whom I could share so many memories.

At university it became easier to make friends. You simply took a seat next to others in the large lecture hall and talked to them. Everyone was new, a little lost and not concerned about your appearence. Yet whenever I had to go into a room of strangers, the question rushing through my mind was whether people would like me or not. Like with my friend D. whom I once wrote about, friendship for me was about liking the same things, thinking the same way, someone who could finsih your sentences and intuitively knew what you were thinking before you even did yourself. I started giving those I liked books that meant a lot to me; Stendhal's Le rouge et le noir, Laclos' Les Liasons Dangereuses, L'étranger by Camus, novels by Paul Auster and Fitzgerald, as well as lending them my favourite films by Antonioni, Malle, Kieslowski, Bergman and Truffaut. If they could respond to them in the same way, surely that was sign we were meant to be great friends. Not surprisingly, my high expectations were often disappointed.

When I started teaching though, my beliefs crumbled away. The students I had weren't necessarily interested in literature or arthouse cinema, but I found a natural rapport with them. Even if we didn't have the same tastes, I realised it doesn't always matter.

I'm not the kind of person who minds spending time alone; there's the freedom to do what you like, whenever you want, you can immerse yourself in the velvety darkness of a cinema without worrying if the other person will think you're silly for crying, I need those moments to read, reflect and know who I am. Yet, baking and cooking are for me sociable things and I also know that I need to share that with those around me. I'm lucky to know them even if I may not be their best friend.

Last week, I had beans on toast for the first time in years. It brought back good memories of my childhood when I'd return from swimming club starving and often had this for tea.

Italian hazelnut cake

If you'd told me before I'd be this crazy about a hazelnut cake, I wouldn't have believed you. Between you and me, food with nuts gets on my nerves, all that crunching and then the bits stuck between your teeth. Yet toasted, ground in a food processer, they take on a delicate flavour in a cake which I found irresistable.

2oog hazelnuts, shelled
125g butter, unsalted
100g caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
150g plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and toast the hazelnuts on a lined baking sheet, being careful not to burn them
2. With a knife, carefully peel off as much of the outer layer as possible (it doesn't always work but personally, I didn't find the bits of sheel as all noticeable in the final cake). Tip them into a food processor and grind them with the sharpest blade as finely as possible.
3. Cream the butter, sugar and eggs yolks together until light and fluffy. Pour in the flour and baking powder, followed by the ground hazelnuts.
4. In a clean separate bowl, beat the egg whites until you have stiff peaks then gently fold them into the cake mixture. Pour the batter into a lined and greased Springform tin and bake at 170°C for about 30-40 mins.

26 commentaires:

  1. I am also guilty of having great expectations.. they affect my friends.. and myself. I know that I have a high standard and it's definitely something that needs to be adjusted when you start teaching..
    Anyways, great post, and incidentally I LOVE hazelnuts. Glad you got converted!

  2. Vanessa! There you are, was just wondering yesterday where you'd got to and wondering if my reader wasn't getting your feed properly or something.
    Lovely post and I'm glad you have come to realise you don't have to share the same tastes to be friends :)

  3. I am exactly like you (fist chapter)! Unfortunately, I've never known what it is to have a best friend and was always a loner, although I like people.

    Your pictures are lovely and so is that yummy cake!



  4. Beans on toast - english bruschetta. :)

    I can identify. In fact, we may have been separated at birth. Actually, I don't have a the patience for close friendships. It seems so dependent and clingy. A loss of individuality almost.

    The funny thing is...this blogging thing...you come across people (who live a world away) where you say to yourself "we would probably be the best of friends". How ironic and frustrating.

    In the end there's always cake. Wonderful post, as usual. :)

  5. Isn't life strange? I was the opposite of you when I was younger. Outgoing and I always had lots of friends. I had a best friend when I was a child and am still in contact with her. My friends at boarding school have drifted away with the exception of 2. And college? I never see or hear from any of them, oddly enough. And not one of these old friends live any where near me now.
    I live alone, but am very happy with my single life. I have (not best) friends, clubs and am as busy as I want to be. I have one child nearby, the others are scattered.
    You seem to me to be a happy woman; appreciative of things around you, talented and you express yourself beautifully. What more can you ask?Perhaps your life will reverse as mine did. You will gather friends around you as you get older.

    And yes, that cake looks divine.

    (Your posts always make me think!

  6. @Pia - It can be tough lowering expextations, especially when I get excited about books and films and want to share that. But then again, teaching has opened up another side of life to me which I appreciate. Oooh, didn't know you were a hazelnut fan; I'll have to bake with them again.
    @Sasa - Am I that predictable? ;-) Actually, most of the post was written yesterday but I had problems finishing it.
    @Rosa - I think we have quite a bit in common
    :-) Looking back, I can see I wasn't the only one like that, even if it seemed that way. The best friend thing makes me suspicious; I'm sure there are some people lucky to have them but plenty who don't and feel bad. It's a ridiculous kind of pressure really. Thanks for stopping by.
    @Tracy - Hey, I'd never thought of beans on toast as that before. It might not be the most elegant meal but I'm fond of it. I agree with you about very close friendships; I simply need my own space, hate commiting weeks in advance to things on a regular basis. Instead, I have people around me whom I consider good friends without having to meet them constantly. With blogging, you get closer to a person's inner thought that others don't normally get to see but without all of these obligations. Sometimes, I think my blogging friends know me better than my non-virtual ones.
    @Barbara - Thanks for the kind words - they always make me smile. I envy you that outgoing nature growing up but I think you can still feel alone even with a lot of people around you. I get the feeling you're happy with your life too. For me, happiness isn't about being with someone all the time, solitude or the house but what's right for you. I realise that part of me simply needs my own space. As for the future, who knows?

  7. Je me reconnais assez bien dans ce portrait que tu brosses si joliment ... J'étais terriblement timide ... mais ça a bien changé, ce qui me simplifie la vie. ;o) J'aime les gens, j'aime les découvrir, savoir comment ils vont, savoir comment ils vivent ... C'ets vrai que la cuisine est un excellent biais pour s'occuper de ceux que l'on aime. Bon, et puis j'aimerais bien que l'on me prépare quand je rentre le soir quelques beans on toasts ... Tu m'as donné faim ! ;o)))

  8. C'est un billet très beau ; j'ai eu plein d'amis chers au fil des années, dont certains ont été des "meilleurs amis", mais je ne suis pas capable, je crois, de maintenir les liens en dépit de l'éloignement, des choix de vie... Je suis trop "paresseuse" ou plutôt j'aime trop une certaine solitude que tu décris très bien. Il me semble aussi que cette idée d'un "meilleur ami" est liée à l'adolescence ; après, les relations sont différentes (et effectivement, on n'attend plus une relation "parfaite", on goûte peut-être plus les différences avec l'autre).

  9. This cake sounds delicious! I can imagine serving this with a tiny scoop of Nutella gelato right on top. What a yummy springtime treat. Thanks for the post!

  10. i am a bit on the other side, always with close friends, maybe too many...sometimes i feel that i need some time on my own, so i disconnect...everybdy is different, and i believe that each one has the friends they need, so it's OK wether you have one or five or no close friends.

    not very keen on beans on toast but the cake really looks sooo delicious! cheers!

  11. @Hélène - Je trouve que tu fais un travail si admirable et important et que tu aimes partager le plaisir que tu te ressens. La cuisine rapproche les gens simplement. Même si je la fais quand je suis seule, je préfère toujours apporter les gens des gâteaux :-) Quant aux beans on toast, il en a presque toujours dans mon placard pour le cas où, ainsi que la soupe aux tomates Heinz si je tombe malade. Pas très élégant je sais, mais bien réconfortant.
    @Rose - Merci ma chère Rose. Comme toi, j'ai perdu pas mal de gens de vue après avoir déménagé - c'est mal je sais mais je suis paresseuse et après tout ce temps, j'ai peur de ne pas retrouver les mêmes rapports qu'avant. L'idée d'une âme-soeur me plaît mais étant donné ma nature plutôt seule, c'est peu probable d'en trouver une.
    @Nicolette - Nutella gelato sounds good, I must try that sometime. Thanks for your comment!
    @Pity - I agree that what counts is having good friends, not how many. It's ridiculous these people on Facebook with more than 200 "friends". I just don't believe that's possible. True friendship takes hard work so I can understand your need to switch off sometimes. I often push myself to go out and meet people, rather than spend all weekend alone.
    So all this time in London hasn't made you a fan of beans on toast - I'm shocked ;-) The cake is really wonderful and now, one of my favourites.

  12. Well, look at all your penpals :) Pretty good for a shy girl, I think... I also love solitude, but have to confess I really miss my close friends in France. Expatriate dilemma...

  13. Thank you so much for your honesty in this post. Everyone can relate to the challenges that come with growing up. And that hazelnut cake looks so good.

  14. Wonderfully interesting post. Gorgeous photos you have a real talent for photography. Congrats.


  15. I'm the same way...never really have close friends..but I ma blessed to have wonderful brother ans sister they are my best friends...I'm a loner too, we moved here and it's funny I have been so busy I haven't even made time to meet people..oh well theres always time..great cake I can imagine how wonderful it must be..


  16. @Julie - I know, I can't believe how many people leave me nice comments and i'm flattered they take the time to read me. I'm much less shy than I used to be but still find it difficult to express myself well orally rather than on paper.
    @Des - Writing a post like that helps me get a lot of things clear in my head. It's always nice to hear others can relate to that because growing up, you sometimes don't feel accepted or understood and can't imagine other people have found that too.
    @Lazaro - Thanks so much! I try my best with the photos, although at the moment, the lack of sunshine makes it difficult to get interesting contrasts.
    @Sweetlife - I would love to be closer to my siblings but we only really see each other once a year. Since my arrival in Berlin, I've become more open about meeting new people, even if I still need solitude as well. The cake is great!

  17. I'm so moved by this post. I envy this capacity you have to be on your own. I have noticed through your blog how much you can be alone ; those many walks where you "take yourself out", those films that you watch on your own, and so on.
    I often tell myself I know too many people, I see them too often and I spend too much time thinking about them than about my own art or needs, for instance.
    Taking care of others is sometimes a sickness.
    When I manage to be alone, it's funny how much I can enjoy it. But I should throw my cell phone away. I should tell my friends not to call me until I do. Berlin is one big party sometimes. And overtalking destroys interior felicity. The less I talk, the more I write.
    Now I tend to leave the café when I get bored, now I dare saying : "sorry, but I cannot spend so much time drinking latte macchiato and laughing and chatting. I need to be with myself". People often resent me, but I don't care anymore...
    I think it's beautiful that you are, sometimes, a loner. I am trying hard to become one too!

  18. Although, just to finish my point, finding your "best friend", when it happens - and it has happened to me in 2008 - is like meeting your Charming Prince.

    It is a fabulous thing. My best friend is like my sister, I'm never ever bored with her. We can share anything, we work together, write and act together, read aloud books and watch 3 films in a row.

    I could die for her, really. Might be the only relationship I'm 100% sure of in my life. But I'm aware I've been very lucky!

    And being around your best friend is sometimes like being alone with your own heart.

  19. I think that we all want something missing from our lives. I've often envied your life with all those interesting people around you, even if I know I could never be that way. Being alone was a necessity for me and at times, it doesn't make my life easier. For instance, I have a tendency to think that meeting people too often is taking up my valuable time and I could be doing other things when really, it's necessary to make me come out of my interior world and see it's not purely based on my feelings. I have made progress though; 6 years ago, it would have been unthinkable for me to have so much contact with people, to socialise regularly and open up a bit. I know being alone is necessary for my creativity and self-awareness and I'm grateful that I'm not one of those people who could never spend 2 hours alone.
    It must be wonderful to have a best friend like that. I try not to wish for that kind of thing though, although if it happens it would be great. I've often imagined meeting someone who could complete me and understand who I am deep down but it's important to face your problems yourself and not depend on someone else to magically do that.

  20. Je te ressemble un peu du côté des amis et des noisettes, bon peut etre pas les haricot mais c'est pas grave!!

    :) Biz et bon we

  21. Vanessa
    This is such a refreshing post because it is so candid; I am glad to see you have outgrown your shyness; to me it can be such a hamper because it prevents one from seeing what other people have to offer, closes one to the world at large.
    that hazelnut cake sounds delicious and is beautifully photographed.

  22. @Sarah - On n'est pas obligé de tout partager tu sais ;-) Heureusement que tu fais aussi de super bons cookies et gâteaux.
    @Taste of Beirut - Thanks you so much. I'm still a little shy but agree with you how much it makes you centred on yourself and unable to appreciate things around you if you're really shy. Thanks too for the comments about the photos - I'm still getting used to SLRs so need more practice before it's perfect!

  23. You're right not to look for "the best friend", it happens if it has to happen. And it's like any relationship, one has to recognize it and take efforts. It can never be magical.

    Anyway, solitude is a nice thing and one has to cultivate it, that's what I think!

  24. Coucou Vanessa ! Merci pour ton dernier message ! Il s'est passé tellement de temps... et j'ai manqué tellement de choses sur ton blog. Je vois que tu n'as pas perdu la main toi au moins, c'est bien. Ce que tu racontes à propos des meilleurs amis me plaît beaucoup parce que c'est quelque chose qui a longtemps été énigmatique pour moi... En tout cas, c'est un vrai plaisir de revenir par ici. Il y a tant de belles choses à lire, à voir et à déguster des yeux. J'espère avoir un peu plus de temps dans les jours qui viennent pour en faire autant. Bises et à bientôt ! Julia

  25. @Magda - So let's hope we cna change our habits to become more like each other. Thanks too for your email, it really helped.
    @Julia - Je suis ravie d'avoir de tes nouvelles et merci pour ce commentaire si gentil. Tu sais, je trouve tes billets vraiment épatants et c'est mon rêve d'arriver à prendre des photos comme toi. J'espère que tu auras plus de temps bientôt pour toi. En ce moment, je n'arrive pas à cuisiner beaucoup car ma coloc installe une nouvelle cuisine depuis une semaine et c'est le chaos ici. Heureusement que j'avais fait ce gâteau la semaine dernière. Grosses bises et bon week-end!