Thursday, July 23, 2009

Basic stuff

For a few hours after a lengthy plane trip (of the kind, say, between Europe and Australia), I always have a weird intermittent feeling that I'm still floating in the sky. I imagine that this is a common experience (like jet lag), but I've never known what it's called.

People who've had the privilege of traveling in a 2-horsepower Citroën automobile are likely to discover that their body memorizes the sensation of going around corners. I don't think I've been back in a deuche (slang abbreviation for "2 chevaux", 2-horsepower) for a quarter of a century, but my body can still feel the unsettling way this vehicle swoops down into corners. I say "swoops down" because the vehicle gives the impression on corners that the suspension is so slack that the chassis is going to grind into the macadam. It feels as if you're riding along in a hybrid contraption composed of a rocking deck chair on wheels, enclosed in an enlarged and slightly glorified sardine can.

Why am I evoking this amazing and unforgettable automobile? Well, I still laugh when I recall a shocked American couple in Paris, decades ago, describing the 2-horsepower Citroën as "basic car". I've always loved that quaint expression, which says all that needs to be said... just as the vehicle itself comprises all that is really required, with no frills attached, to get from A to B.

In fact, what I adore is the adjective "basic". It's a handy old-fashioned word... which became the name of a computer programming language with which we all had a love/hate relationship at one time or another. Nowadays, of course, just as nobody uses the Basic language, practically nobody uses the adjective "basic". In environmental contexts, people prefer more sophisticated words such as "ecological", "renewable", "sustainable", etc. For me, "basic" means all that, and more. It's an adjective that evokes, for me, the time-honored philosophical principle of Occam's razor, which stipulates, in a nutshell, that "simplicity is beautiful". If there are several hypothetical solutions to a problem, it's often a good idea to start out by preferring the simplest one.

That's my basic cake. I've been baking it regularly for years.

-- Mix 250 g of melted butter with 250 g of sugar.

-- Add 5 eggs and beat.

-- Mix in 250 g of flour. Add a packet of yeast and vanilla sugar.

-- Cut up a few apples and place them, along with sultanas, in a glass baking dish. Pour the cake mixture on top... and let your dog lick the emptied bowl.

-- Bake for 40 minutes at 200 degrees. Ease out the cooked cake (with a flexible trowel) and turn it upside-down.

In terms of culinary simplicity, I don't, of course, get anywhere near my dear mother, whose recipe for basic chook (chicken) was: Fill it with bread crumbs and dried herbs, then stick an onion in its bum and bake it until it smells good.

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