September 27, 2008

You Said It, John Keats!

In his poem "Ode to Autumn," John Keats described fall as the "Season of mists and mellow fruitfullness." Once again another seemingly immortal summer has weakened and dissolved into a chilly and vaporous autumn. The winds begin to roll in, forcing us to seek refuge in woolly sweaters. The songs of birds unravel with slight threads of anxiety we didn't notice when the air was warmer, thicker. Change, no longer an abstraction or a political slogan, is all around us.

We can see, hear, smell, feel, and most definitely taste this transformation from summer to fall. It's times like this when we remember that the earth's axis does, in fact, exist. We spin and tilt, spin and tilt, until--suddenly!--our environments metamorphose almost miraculously before our eyes.

This is the season of reflection, of maturation. Summer--the tube top-wearing, 20-something stripper--throws on a brown sweater and decides to teach a seminar on Women Philosophers of the Late Modern Period. This brown-sweatered Ivy Leaguer is Fall. If Fall were a woman, she would consider Dostoyesvsky "light reading." She would open curtains dramatically. Her sigh would be a rhetorical marvel; in it we would finally understand our own existence. She would says things like, "Internet? I would rather not participate in that experiment. What about passion? Where is passion in a pixel? Now, pass me the ground white pepper, darling."

Is she pretentious? Sure. But would we would love her anyway? Yes. We would always love her. Why? Because she's just so, well, cool (in an old money, New England sort of way). Plus, underneath all of that wool and lavender mist and hosiery, she's pretty damn sexy. She carries the experience of the world in the way she walks and talks and cocks her neck ever-so-slightly when listening to her super-cool friends say super-interesting things.

God, will I ever be as cool as Fall?! Probably not. I doubt terms like "super-cool" exist in Fall's vocabulary.

Maybe, however, I've gotten Fall totally wrong. Maybe she's not an Ivy League Professor in Massachusetts, but instead an organic farmer in Montana...or a lonesome cowgirl in Douglass, Arizona...or a Ukrainian egg painter. As Keats noted in his poem, Autumn is the season of mist; just when we think we have it figured out, it morphs into something new. We need drowsy eyes from which to view this season. With eyes too logical, or eyes too curious, we may become frustrated with the ephemeral nature of fall. (This is philosophy my brown-sweatered autumn woman would definitely dig. She's a fan of ambiguity.)

Here's a dessert sure to please those of you ready for the "mellow fruit[s]" of fall. It's full of everything this season is about: subtlety, calming spices, and sophistication.

Spiced Fig Upside-Down Cake (adapted from an online recipe you can find here)


2 tbs. melted butter
3 tbs. brown sugar
10 black mission figs, halved
1.5 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
pinch of salt
1/3 cup olive oil, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup rice milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 egg whites

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Coat bottom of pan with melted butter, and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar. Arrange fig halves over sugar, cut sides down. Set aside.
3. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (through salt), stirring with a whisk. Place 1/3 cup butter and 3/4 cup brown sugar in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until blended. Add molasses and egg yolks; beat well. Beat in milk and vanilla. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; stir with a whisk just until blended.
4. Place egg whites in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into batter; spoon over figs in prepared pan. Bake at 350 fot 55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Loosen cake from sides of pan using a narrow metal spatula. Place a plate upside down on top of cake; invert onto plate.


cormac norwich said...

I'm partial on figs, but you sealed the deal with molasses. For some reason, anything with molasses is my destiny.

I'm trying a pumpkin soup this week. Pray it is a success.

Hadley Gets Crafty said...

Oh, I love figs. I haven't had a good one in such a long time.

I've tagged you for a meme. No pressure if you find such things impossibly silly.