Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Looking both ways

The word January - the name we have for the first month of the Gregorian calendar, comes from a Roman god. Janus, a god with two faces, looked both towards the future and the past. Big headed, he must have stored all the spent days in memory - far sighted - he must see clearly what is to come. Sometimes his two heads featured twin-like faces, sometimes one looked old and the other younger, one bearded and the other downy with youth.  He was both historian and forward thinker - an appropriate figurehead for the year.

The Romans thought of him as a deity of passage, of beginnings and endings. The doors to his temple stood open during times of war and closed during peace. He is the god of gates and doors. He has a yin yang quality, a tail chasing quality.He rocks back and forth between what we were and will be.

Some Papuan tribes too believe that we move ahead by walking backwards. Being able to see only the present moment and the days past, we face history and not the future. Like an oarsman in a rowboat we sit with our backs to the future, we look to the past to meet the approaching days. 

The last days of the old year seem tidily swept away by the middle of January. It is possible to write 2014 without error and scrubbing out. I'm able to remember the weekdays again after the fug of holidays, Mondays seem like Mondays again. It's a good month to lay plans, to outline projects, to make lists - to look forward like Janus, the uncertainty of things to come hedged by  his knowledge of history.

I like lists, even if not much gets achieved they are a witness to intention. Some of my lists are chores, some of them notes - shorthand reference to the way the days fall in a particular month. Above all January means cherries and swimming to me so here's a sort of list and a recipe for cherry cake.

January 1 through 31

north winds
house flies, horse flies, blowies
lawns that are bone dry
first tomatoes
bare feet, blisters, stubbed toes
electric fans
tennis, badminton, board games, cricket
beach towels hung along verandahs
cake: Christmas cake, cherry cake, pavlova
kitchen ants, bullants, ants in pants, Ant and Bee
sleep outs
sea swims
sunburn, ant bites, all sorts of itches
cherries, blackberries, apricots and mulberries
icecream, icy poles, ice cubes, eskies
shorts and sandals
sweetcorn in standing rows

Sour Cherry Cake

The vinegar in this recipe piques the taste of the already sharp cherries and the geranium leaves infuse the plain cake batter with a rose fragrance. If you don't have rose scented geraniums you could leave out the vanilla pod and add a few drops of rose water to the batter.The cornmeal gives the cake crumb substance and is a good foil for the soft fruit.

250 grams soft butter
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
2 cups pitted morello cherries
1 1/4 cups self raising flour
1/4 cup medium ground cornmeal
pinch of sea salt ground between your finger tips
3/4 cup raw sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup milk
1 vanilla pod sticky seeds scraped into the milk
6 rose scented geranium leaves

Set the oven to preheat to 170 C 
Combine 100 grams butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and the vinegar in a bowl and then pour into a pan and heat over a medium flame until thick and bubbling. Add the morellos and stir to coat the fruit in syrup. Remove from the flame and cool.Butter and line a cake pan and lay the fresh clean geranium leaves face down over the bottom. Pour over the cherries in their syrup.
Mix flour, cornmeal, and salt in one bowl. In another beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. In a third beat the remaining butter until light and creamy and pale in colour. Pour sugar onto the whipped butter and beat for 2 - 3 minutes. Add the yolks one by one. At a low speed beat in flour and milk in which the vanilla seeds have steeped. With a light hand fold in egg whites. Pour the batter over the cherries and bake for 45 - 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean - this can depend a little on your oven's fidelity and size. If your oven runs hot turn it down to 165 C half way through baking.


  1. Oh Wise Woman, I hear you! I like the idea of walking backwards, too much anticipation can cause events to seem anticlimactic! The cherry cake looks divine, Janus would be stuffing his big head through his two mouths!
    BTW someone from NZ thanked me for directing him to your blog, he said the pictures are wonderful.

    1. Gosh you are fast Carole! Do you remember a Lehrer song from the 60's or 70's about moving forwards with our backs to the walls? Come to Melbourne so that I can feed you cherries and jam and stuff!

  2. Your list, photos and recipe are all poems and make me happy to live in such a sensory world, seen through your eyes!

  3. I have been in the same mindset. My latest favorite quote: "And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been." Rainer Marie Rilke