Strawberry Streusel Cake

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This is, briefly and simply put, absolutely sublime. When I shared this loaf with my godparents, my mother and godsister, they all exclaimed it was incredible, especially doused in some heavy cream, after a lighthearted meal over denser conversation. And I do agree.

I’ll say it first before you get to the ingredients: This is a gluten-free cake. Yes, it is gluten-free, but. A but. I’ve recently become more aware of the effects of gluten not just in myself, but in others. I love my bread and might never stop eating it, however one too many a slice and I will feel it. The bloat, you get it. The carbohydrate may be the most demonised item in this current era of food-demonising, and it’s hard to determine what we could or should eat, if we end up eating anything at all. But this article puts things into nice perspective. That being said, the effects of refined flour cannot be denied and I too have to force myself to take it slow with the not-so-great stuff. There will always be room for dessert, just not every day of the week.

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Therefore, the side effects of a Saturday morning’s adventurous spirit include stepping outside of my little box of refined flour and sugar and trying things like almond flour. And how simple, plain and easy, it was. How joyous, to mix something as nondescript as almond flour with eggs and then boom, a perfectly intact cake is born.

The cake is moist without being gluey, with that perfect golden-brown all over after the single hour in the oven. I used strawberries here but feel free to use any berries you have on hand, and the same goes for the streusel topping which has mixed nuts, in which case you can use whatever nuts you like.

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Strawberry Streusel Cake (makes one 9×5-inch loaf)

Ingredients 

For the filling:

2 cups strawberries (fresh or frozen), stems cut off and diced

100g (0.5 cup) sugar

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

0.5 tsp cornstarch

 

For the streusel topping:

45g (0.5 cup) almond flour

handful of chopped nuts (I used a mix of almonds, cashews, brazil nuts and walnuts)

90g (little less than 0.5 cup) sugar

35g (0.15 cup) salted butter, melted

 

For the cake:

3 eggs

50g (0.25 cup) light brown sugar

60g (0.25 cup) caster sugar

150g (around 1.5 cups+ 2 tbsp) almond flour

0.5 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla extract

*Substitution notes:

VEGAN: Make 4 flax or chia ‘eggs’ in replacement of the 3 eggs, made by mixing 4 tbsp ground flaxseed or chia seeds with 8 tbsp water, and setting that aside to gel up for a bit. Substitute the butter with vegan butter.

KETO: Substitute the half cup of sugar with half cup xylitol or two-thirds cup erythritol

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). We start with the juicy berry filling: In a saucepan heated on medium heat, add the strawberries, cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice and cook until the mixture turns glistening and sticky.

Now for the cake. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugars, vanilla extract, baking powder and baking soda. Then add the almond flour and whisk. The mixture should look pretty wet, but don’t worry since this will set nicely in the oven once it is finished baking.

Make the streusel topping by whisking all the streusel ingredients together with a fork in a separate bowl. Grease a 9.5-inch loaf pan, then add half of the cake mixture. Add the mixed berry mixture evenly on top, and then add the rest of the cake mixture, and then finally the streusel topping. Bake in the oven for 1 hour exactly. Remove and let the cake cool in the pan before serving (with powdered sugar and doused in heavy cream, preferably).

14?

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So I browsed a lot of blogs and websites on what we term the Meaning of Life. Poor, pathetic Alex, lost in this constant state of confusion and lack of self-assertion, the unbearable heaviness and drowsiness of ennui, of the gross grey state, of absolute insecurity. Hey, let me live my life. It’s fascinating alright. The fact that we all have such different ideals and notions and attitudes. We are freaking magnificent. 

Here’s one I particularly enjoyed by famed science writer Stephen Jay Gould:

“We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves — from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.”

Guys, it’s 2014. I can say it out loud, though it’s a little hard. It’s hard for me to say things without fully coming to terms with its gargantuan impact. I have officially had this blog for (ok almost) a year now, and even though I still keep a diary for more personal recordings, for a more self-assured, sometimes hazardous and selfish reinforcing of a sense of self, I found that this online release has introduced me to so many amazing human beings, inspirations, really allowing me to delve further into my passions of food and science. 

I wrote down my resolutions in my diary, but then put down my pen. Continued the lazy browsing.

Four-teen. Two thousand and four-teen. Note the hyphen. The break for perfect pronounciation in normal conversation. It’s that nascent trembling again, that time when you’re supposed to make, what, a list? God I love making lists. I really do. It’s not banal, it’s not perfunctory. To me, a list is the epitome of organised thought, aside from some brilliant novel. As I said, something in me made me stop the recollection. In short, we should, no, need to, differentiate between recollection and appreciation. I’m currently reading a book about Proust and how in many of his novels and his own life (you can find it here), we may digest a tremendous amount of life lessons. Things like how to listen properly and how to take your time, the sort of self-help (goodness gracious what on earth) book I foresee myself purchasing when I’m 80 and grey and run out of excuses for a good life. But anyways, there are so many resources informing us on how to live, how to learn, how to see. How to pursue our passions and live in the most fulfilling way possible. Satisfying our inborn needs and letting our surroundings complete us somehow. Funny huh, how we strive for utmost perfection in our individual ways. In the book, I came across this particularly striking notion, the sort which actually relates to people on a mass scale.

You know how when you see something and just.. Like it? You just do. The shine on a pink apple, the drab but surreal and enlightening tones of a winter tree, maybe the sudden faint smell of tobacco and peppermint, for whatever odd reason that may be. That is because it provokes or stirs up an emotion in you, triggering a beautiful or old memory of some sort. Maybe you just like the aesthetic/visual/aural  appeal of that object. Whether you identify the psychological reason behind it or not, you like it. That is essentially a fraction of the explanation detailing what makes us who we are and well, the mistake we always tend to make. In our everyday lives, we cease to stop and look, and only really get hit by an object’s full impact when it’s separated from a particular context, when we look from the outside in. Sometimes the object is fully placed in its usual habitat, it’s just that this time our senses are so heightened that it is suddenly transformed into something so excruciatingly potent or beautiful. All the details of its beauty are caught out, which is why most of us get that sad nostalgia churning on the inside when we reach (again, again) the end of a year. We look at what we have done, what we have accomplished, what more we need to do to satisfy those inner needs or self-manifested benchmarks for worthiness and goodness. And then what happens? We want to put a label on the Meaning of Life so darn badly that we actually forget to live life. To appreciate. Live. I’m not going to resolve to ‘live life to the fullest’ or ‘be the best’- I’ve done that too many times and I bore myself with my pseudo-disciplinary methods. Oh, so bored. But I am going to be absolutely ridiculous this year. And what I mean by that is to really throw myself into the many factions of my life and all it has to offer, and handle things my way, be it intertwined with my weird study schedule, obsessive skincare routine or the way I make my coffee in the mornings. That may seem the same as living life to the fullest, but remember, I said ridiculous. Just as beauty to you is different than what it is to me, what I term ridiculous, or absurd, may be utterly different from your definition.

After all:

“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

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Happy New Year, you devils.

The Human Brain

I wanted to be a neurologist once, you know. Before the whole skincare obsession and dermatologist dream.

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A brain surgeon didn’t sound too bad either, until I went on a medical internship in 10th grade and decided that, dear lord, if it takes 7 hours of stamina standing by one table with a scalpel in one hand and a patient’s life in another, count me out. For goodness sake, you need to live! You need to go out there and buy a damn sandwich and enjoy your children and read a book. Surgeons pay the ultimate sacrifice, in my opinion. They really do. My dad is one and sometimes I worry he is transforming into a glass sculpture by the day, the toils of other people clinging onto his flesh and making it fragile to the touch, all the weight bearing down on his shoulders, so perhaps one day when I happen to be in a crappy mood and push his mental limits, he might fall apart. I’ll never fully understand what it takes. Medicine, ha.

That’s him down there, my dad. Yes, he’s a smoker, tragically, ironically. I remember being at the Colosseum, snapping, jaws lolling, with him and our photography guide. She told me never, NEVER to smoke like he did.

And with that, she popped out a box of tobacco and started rolling her own cigarettes.

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I came across an article by the NY Times yesterday on the human brain, and my awe for those 3 pounds of jelly and fat was reignited. It was basically about how bigger does not mean better; a bigger pink jelly blob does not equate to larger intellectual capacity, contrary to popular opinion. I’ve heard of this before, but never really looked at why. You can imagine how relieved I was, seeing I have a small head and all (I kid I kid, alright). Over the years, our ancestors’ brains expanded, tethers ripped apart, allowing our neurons to form new circuits, broadening our intellectual depth of field, our capacity to think and process. Our brain is made up of cortices, regions which control different senses (visual, aural etc), where neurons relay the appropriate signals. But you see, us as humans are pretty special. In other animals, during growth and maturity, different cortices expand and more neural connections are made, however  in humans, it is the association cortices which develop, or the cortices between the other main sensory cortices. Furthermore, the wiring is sort of like the Internet, with many branches and tributaries, giving us wild majestic creatures the ability to reflect and foresee and well, go crazy with the many train tracks of thought. Which would explain why I could practically kill myself at night, what with all the thoughts and horrors of the 21st century strangling my brain, keeping me from sleep, from the satisfied opening of my eyes in, what, 5 hours or so.

So it made me think about why people like my father would go to extremes, throw themselves into the deep end for the sake or health of another. An animal would have more rapid, predictable responses, but us as humans are rather selfish, don’t you think? We are better at lying, deceiving, murdering, taking. That being said, we are also insightful, intuitive beings. We are so ridiculously special. And some of us, in this life, aren’t all as selfish as what human nature allows.  Perhaps that is why.