“Ifemelu, can I just say how happy I am that you’re not an academic? Have you heard his friends talk? Nothing is just what it is. Everything has to mean something else. It’s ridiculous…A good education isn’t the same thing as making the whole damn world something to be explained! Even Shan makes fun of you guys…canon formation and topography of the spatial and historical consciousness…” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Americanah)
Since I last updated this blog, I have become a person who “goes to the office.” Along with said office, which offers a stunning view of the Bay Bridge, I now have my very own work desk and computer, access to legal documents of all kinds and, most baffling of all (at least to somebody from academia who pretended for many years that teaching a class and grading papers takes only twenty hours a week), billable hours that I have to track carefully. Although so much of this feels foreign to me, the thing I’ve come to realize in the past two weeks is that the legal profession isn’t all that different from academia. It relies on its own form of close reading and linguistic analysis–of everything from testimonies to court rulings–in order to build a legal argument. It also, much like academia, has its own language, “legalese,” which I am slowly learning to speak. You would think that my love of legal dramas (The Good Wife, Law and Order, Ally McBeal) would have prepared me for this world, but the simple truth is that legal dramas keep it awfully simple (they also, quite frankly, spend way too much time in court; the law is nothing if not slow and a tad tedious). Characters on these shows may talk about depositions, but they leave out declarations, Points and Authority, Separate Statements of Undisputed Facts and First/Second/Third Set of Interrogatories…Also known, respectively, as depos, decs, P&A, SSUFs (sometimes SUFs) and rogs. Quite frankly, it’s enough to make one’s head spin.

That said, I have to admit that I think I like the law. It combines everything I love(d?) about academia (minus the teaching, although I suppose if I were actually to practice the law, performing would again be a part of my life) with the real-world applicability that I started to long for in my final years in grad school. It’s nice to be doing work that has an impact, and it’s also refreshing to be at a place where I feel like a real employee. Because of the small size of the firm, the projects we work on seem like team efforts; while the two lawyers are certainly making all of the major decisions, research responsibilities and documents are shared and discussed. This means that you not only learn a lot, but also get to feel like you’re really contributing. Although before I started I didn’t know what to expect and was nervous about the job, I can honestly say that, even after two weeks of spending Saturday at the office, I feel lucky. Everything about it feels like a good fit.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I can say that I’ve completely adjusted to the new schedule (I’m not naturally a morning person, which means rolling out of bed at 6:30 a.m. will probably continue to be a little painful), but I’m not doing too badly. While I find BART to be a crowded battlefield of people seeking seats and/or space to stand, I enjoy the commute because it allows me not only to read, but also to see what other people are reading (this can sometimes be as much fun as reading itself; in case you’re curious about what “Bay Areans” are reading, I’ve been impressed to see The Grapes of Wrath, Don Quixote and some David Foster Wallace in the hands of the paperback reading crowds). I’ve also discovered that, after a day of sitting in front of the computer and intensely reading, I’m much more active in the evenings. Ideally, this would translate into going to a gym or back to yoga, but for now all it means is that I’m less likely to waste time on the computer and much more likely to play around in the kitchen–I’ve been spending a lot of time with Vegetable Literacy again (the eggplant recipes are real winners) and making different desserts, from Greek rice pudding (rizogalo) with saffron to mango chipotle crumbles– do some house chores or take the dog for a walk. Time seems to be awfully limited these days; depending on when I go to bed, I have only 4-5 waking hours at home. As grueling as the new schedule is, I have to admit that I like having a job that I find engaging, as well as one that takes me out of the house. To me, it simply allows for a better balance; there’s something comforting about being busy.
And when I say inconsequential I mean things like what kind of cake I might bake for a friend’s birthday. A few days before the new job started, this was the very thing on my mind. Up until the day of this friend’s birthday, I wasn’t even sure I would be baking anything since I had been a little under the weather that week and, when all is said and done, he’s not really what I would call a dessert person. But when I called him with birthday greetings and asked if there was anything I could bring to the party, he suddenly seemed unsure of what to say. I prodded him, asking if there would be a cake–in my mind, a person can’t turn 30 without cake of some kind– and if I could maybe bring one. He responded by asking me if he could be honest. While these are never reassuring words (panic-inducing is more like it), I assured him that I could take survive his honesty. It turned out that both he and his partner were thinking that I would have offered to bring a cake when I RSVPed, but since I hadn’t, they were uncertain of their plan. Quite frankly, that was all I needed to hear; cake it would be. Although I know this friend has a soft spot for Amanda Hesser’s Almond Cake, I had a bowl filled with red plums sitting on my kitchen table and a strong memory of the barely sweet German Yeasted Plum Cake (Pflaumenkuchen) that Luisa Weiss described in My Berlin Kitchen.
When the book first came out in the fall of 2012, I quickly read it from cover to cover and became obsessed with the thought of visiting Berlin (this will finally happen one day, I hope). Like a lot of other bloggers who had just read Luisa’s book, I had fallen under the promising spell of yeasted German baked goods. But whereas I opted to make and write about the Poppy Seed Whirligig Buns, most bloggers, from Sassy Radish to Sweet Amandine, went straight to their kitchens to recreate this particular yeasted plum cake. Now that I’ve made it, I can see why, too. The dough is yeasty and speckled with bright bits of lemon zest and, after it rises and is pressed into the pan, maintains its pillowy plumpness. The plums are gently pushed into the dough and are sprinkled with sugar and spices (Luisa’s recipe calls for cinnamon only, but I like the addition of nutmeg and think that candied ginger could also go a long way here). What emerges from the oven is a golden tart-like cake whose top is covered by the softened plums and swimming in their juices. In all honesty, it’s a cake that reminds me of toast, but the absolute best kind of toast: a chewy and crisp base of bread with a flavorful and textured jam mixing with tiny pools of melted butter. It was a big hit at my friend’s birthday party (even he said that he actually liked the cake) and I made it again this past Saturday and took it with me to the office for our Saturday SSUFs session. There, too, it received a lot of compliments. Given how addicted I am to its texture and flavor, I think there will probably be a few more rounds of pflaumenkuchen gracing my kitchen table before the summer is over and the plums disappear. 
Pflaumenkuchen (German Yeasted Plum Cake)
Adapted slightly from My Berlin Kitchen
Yields 8-10 slices  
For the dough
Unsalted butter for the pan
1 1/2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus an additional tablespoon or two for kneading
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk, slightly warmed
3 tablespoons granulated sugar 
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon
For the fruit:
1 pound (or slightly less) red plums or Italian prune plums, pitted and sliced thinly
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled 
-Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan and set aside. 
-In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together the yeast and half the milk. Stir with a fork and then let sit for 5 minutes or until the yeast has dissolved. 
-In the meantime, place the flour in a medium bowl and create a well in the center. Once the yeast has dissolved, pour it into the well and stir a little, incorporating some of the flour into the liquid.  Then cover the bowl with a towel and let sit for 15 minutes or until foamy. 
-Stir in the remaining milk, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, egg yolk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, salt and lemon zest. Once shaggy, dump the mixture out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for a few minutes, adding extra flour if the dough is too sticky. Be careful not to add too much, though; the dough should be smooth, soft and slightly tacky. 
-Form the dough into a ball and put it in the buttered springform pan. Cover with a dishtowel and put the bowl in a warm place (I used the oven) for an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
-Remove the dough from the oven and heat the oven to 350 F. 
-As the oven is heating, gently deflate the dough with your fingertips, pushing it out to fit the pan and giving it roughly 1-inch-high sides. Make sure that the dough has been pushed out as evenly as possible.
-Starting at the edge, push the plum slices into the dough at a 45-degree angle, making concentric circles and putting in as many plum pieces as possible. Sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar (brown and granulated) over the plums and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter. Let sit for 20 minutes. 
-Put the pan in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the plums are juicy and bubbling. 
-Remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool. After about 20-30 minutes, release the sides of the springform pan and continue cooling the cake. 
-Serve with unsweetened whipped cream, Greek yogurt or creme fraiche.

10 thoughts on “The New Normal

  1. That cake is gorgeous!
    Great to hear the job is such a good fit. “there's something comforting about being busy”–I definitely agree. I hope my job search goes as well!

  2. glad to know you're quite liking your new job and am still finding time to pursue your hobby! don't think I've ever had a plum cake but it looks and sounds absolutely delicious. also didn't know you were on instagram and have just added you. 🙂

    as a side note, I stumbled upon this little story and thought of you and your blog the moment I saw a title, though I must admit I haven't read it yet: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/11/30/midnight-in-dostoevsky

  3. The cake looks amazing — I wondered about it ever since I saw it on Instagram, and now that I'm reading your description, I know I would love it even more than I thought. (And I am with you on the spices — I would have added nutmeg, too!)
    And I am so glad you're feeling at home at your job and enjoying it for the most part! It sounds like a great place with interesting work; I'm really happy for you, dear Katy!

  4. Thank you, Cory! I promise that it tasted just as good as it looked! 🙂

    And, yes, it's a relief that the job is a good fit; somehow, being busy makes me more productive. Although I can be quite tired when I get home, I surprise myself with how much I still manage to accomplish (a good podcast and/or tv show as background noise doesn't hurt!). I wish you the best of luck with the job search; I have no idea what you're looking for, but, given that you studied literature, I say try a law firm!

  5. JR, hello! Thanks for the comment and for the link; I'm pretty sure I was subscribing to the New Yorker back in November 2009, so maybe I've read this, but maybe not. I will check it out, in any case!

    And you should definitely try the plum cake; I'm not sure if plums are currently in season where you are (why wouldn't they be, really?), but I'm sure you'll be back in Berkeley during the peak prune plum season. 🙂 We'll have to get dinner or something; it would be nice to see you outside of the demography attic!

    And thanks for the ad; am excited to see your food adventures!

  6. Thank you, Luisa! And the toast thing didn't hit me until my third slice, but there is something comforting about it–just in the way that toast is. Making this cake has definitely made me look forward to your German baking book…!

  7. Hi Moriah! I did think of you when I was making this cake, thinking of all the different paths a yeasted cake could take. I do want to experiment with both the base and the fruit topping; I think plums work really well because they're juicy, but peaches could work just as well, I think. I'm just not sure the cake would be as pretty…Strawberries, too. I'm not sure they'd be all that traditional, but sometimes tradition needs to go out the window. 🙂

    And thank you for the comment about the job; it's still good, but grueling. I have my first Saturday off today (hooray!), but will be at the office tomorrow. i just want a full weekend again, but I'm sure I'll have one soon. It's the period before filing and, as we all know, filing anything can be a bit crazy. 🙂 I hope things are well in Dwinelle; Instagram tells me you've been baking up a storm of delicious things! 🙂

  8. Ha, indeed! But this lady could say the same thing, given what a great “uncle” you've been to Elektra this week. I'll bake you another if you'd like…or an almond cake. Whatever your dog-walking heart should prefer. 🙂

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