“Blues is a natural fact, is something that a fellow lives. If you don’t live it you don’t have it. Young people have forgotten to cry the blues. Now they talk and get lawyers and things.” –Big Bill Broonzy
I’ve been thinking about Ganesha quite a bit lately, the pleasant, elephant-headed god from the Hindu canon. I’m a big fan of Ganesha’s—he is the Remover of Obstacles and the god of new creative ventures. And frankly, it makes me happy to look at him:
Ganesha is sometimes portrayed with a mouse at his feet, or sometimes he is actually riding on top of the mouse. Some scholars claim the mouse symbolizes the desires we must all overcome to receive moksha, or liberation from earthly suffering. The image that keeps occurring to me is of Ganesha riding atop an airplane. It doesn’t take a Freudian to see what’s going on here: unmet desire leads to suffering and my greatest unmet desire is to travel more, hence, the airplane.
Cut to: yesterday morning. I was enjoying some quiet time in the bookstore as a reward for going 10 days at home with my two kids without killing or maiming either of them. (I’m not the cupcake-baking-playdate-arranging variety mom. I bake, but not as a craft activity with my kids. I would sprint across molten hot lava to save either of them, but staying at home with them 24-7 is insane. Mothering is something I do best after 6-8 hours at work.) Of course, I’m in the cooking section and I notice a few new foodie volumes on the shelf, one of which is Ginger and Ganesh: Adventures in Indian Cooking Culture and Friendship by Nani Power. It turns out I’m not the only divorced mother of two with an English degree and an interest in food writing. Just when you think you stand out in the crowd…
I read the first few chapters, and although I think Powers is a kindred spirit, I decided to leave the book on the shelf and take with me the idea that Ganesh as a symbol keeps popping up in front of me for a reason. And perhaps I should pay attention.
The folks over at Swaha International, an orthodox Hindu organization, say that the “greed and covetous nature” of the mouse is such “that it steals much more than it can possibly consume – hoarding what it cannot eat – and often times, forgetting all about the hoarded food.” I’m not so sure I see the mouse as any greedier than others in the animal kingdom (a raven almost pecked my eyes out over a cheeseburger on Christmas Eve), but the point is one I take to heart. I often focus on my unmet desire to get out of Alaska to the extent that I don’t appreciate the fullness of the life I have here. This blog, in fact, is an exercise intended to help me stay focused on the here and now. I have a pretty rich life, and the truth is, I travel more than most. As a matter of fact, the Hot Boyfriend and I are packing right now to head for a long weekend in Anchorage.
Later, when I arrived home, I realized that perhaps an offering of sorts was in order. One that recognized my unmet desires and my willingness to look beyond lack, towards fulfillment. In one of his hands Ganesha often holds a modaka or a plate of sweets, which represents the rewards that life offers, and so I figured a desert was in order, and most likely would involve Alaskan blueberries as symbolic of my willingness to love this place as much as I can. And as for the mouse, Ganesha did not destroy desire, he offered it a place at his feet. So knew I’d have to include something gritty, maybe something from home. My desire for travel isn’t always about exploration, sometimes it’s about the fact that I miss my family so much, and the South, and the food, and the communion, that I physically ache. True to Southern form, one of the few things that makes me feel better is straight-up, broke-ass, drunker-than-a-skunk, life-can’t-git-much-worse blues. Not the slow whiny stuff, but the gritty, guitar driven stuff. So I decided that cornmeal and some kind of liquor might have to make an appearance. Ultimately, what I came up with is the following recipe. It’s not a sticky, gooey, cloying desert. It has body and flavor and grit. It’s best served with ice cream or sweet cream.
Upside Down Blues Cake
- 3/4 cup corn meal flour
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup blue corn meal
- 2 tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 1 stick butter
- 1/2 cup baker’s sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 cup milk
- 2 cups wild Alaskan blueberries (or fresh, or frozen)
- 1 cup Triple Sec liqueur
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
For the cake mix: combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar and then cut it into the dry ingredients. Mix the milk and egg yolks and then fold it into the rest of the mix. It should resemble a very loose cookie dough. For the sauce: boil the blueberries, orange juice, and triple sec until a thick syrup forms. Add the honey and set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Grease a bundt pan (other regular sized/shaped cake pans should work) and add the blueberry sauce first, then using a spoon (or your fingers) place the cake batter lightly into the sauce, being careful not to submerge the batter. It will look something like this:
Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. It will look something like this after baking:
Finally, cover the pan with a large cake plate, hold on tight and flip it over.
And if you’re lucky, Ganesha will love your offering and clear the obstacles from your life. Or, at the very least, your Hot Boyfriend will think it’s delicious and kiss you passionately in your kitchen, removing the obstacles of clothing that get in his way. And well, if that doesn’t happen, at least he will clean his plate.
- Language and Appetite: How to Write a Sexy Recipe (tartlittlepiggy.wordpress.com)
- Hindu Festivals (librarianbrain.wordpress.com)
- Court: Gods Can’t Trade Stocks (npr.org)
First off, what simply fabulous pictures! I am in love with that plate . . . I want to come to your house, eat all your dessert, and then steal your dishes. 🙂
There’s so much to say in response to this piece: I love the juxtaposition of Ganesha with the wild Alaskan blueberries. It’s funny– as a displaced Pacific Northwesterner in this particular diaspora of Spain, it was the blueberries that tugged at my heart. This blog entry, in particular, embodies the essence of the Judith Jones quote– the experience of being displaced, then recovering the home, and then sharing it. And of course the food gets remixed and revised in the new setting– in this case, the sweet gritt of the south with the tang and pip of Alaskan blueberries.
And desire, of course, is the pulse of great literature– and great desserts.
From one ex-pat to the other . . . Thank you.
Amazing pictures… and lovely plate you have. I am looking for some decorative patterns on the plates, and this one you have is unique.
Thanks. I actually bought it for just a few dollars at Fred Meyer’s here in Fairbanks. Go figure.
Yeah for upside-down cake! 😀