Sunday, March 28, 2010

everyday (cake).

Let's start with the name of this cake -- Everyday Cake. Obviously, this refers to the simplicity of the cake and the fact that it is perfect for any old day; there is no need to wait for a special occasion (though I'm of the belief that one never need wait for a special occasion to do special-occasion-kinds-of things, like baking fancy cakes. So that part might be a little lost on me).

But, as per the usual, I started thinking about how this relates to life as well. Living (obviously, though the fact sometimes seems to surprise us) is an everyday affair. This is, of course, the whole finding balance, living day-to-day, being thankful theme of my life at present that I really don't need to wax poetic about here too much more. So I'll be brief. It's simply that I want my everyday life to be meaningful and beautiful and thoughtful and gracious and just; I want to live well even on boring days and sad days and any-old-day days.

And this cake is helpful in that endeavor, because it is an everyday cake, and I absolutely adore it.

The recipe comes from the trusted Molly Wizenberg, who was inspired by Edna Lewis and her Busy-Day Cake. I made the cake first this summer, and I've thought about it far more times than can be considered normal since then. Now, I'm not usually a cake-kind-of girl. Baked goods in general, yes please, but try as I might, I just cannot get that excited about cake. Especially at weddings and graduation parties where it is too sweet and buried under frosting of varied and ridiculous bright colors. But this is not that kind of cake. THIS cake is crumbly and simple and rustic, made with whole wheat flour and perfect for sunny afternoons and well... I'm sold.

This weekend was filled with the aforementioned meaningful normalcy, and with this cake. My parents came for a brief visit (a stop by to see my office, out to dinner at a great local place for much good food and conversation, back home for dessert and the viewing of pictures of their recent trip, making frittatas in the morning with my dear father to enjoy with bakery-fresh bread and jam as sun came through the window and we sipped our coffee, a walk through my neighborhood full of its lovely old houses and little flowers popping up) and a quiet afternoon with one of my dearest friends, Nicole (who is ever-so-helpful as I try to understand living). She and I made this cake. Then we ate it, with high approval. When I dropped her off at home, we shared some with her Little One, who approved as well. And there was church and a very long run and cabbage salad (again) and housecleaning and a happy movie or two. Everyday things. Good things.

Just like this cake.

Everyday Cake
(Very minimally) adapted from Molly Wizenberg

Though I haven't experimented a great deal, it seems that this cake is quite versatile. I think that the all-purpose flour could be nearly or completely replaced by more white whole wheat flour without any adverse effect. As for spices, Molly uses just a dash of nutmeg; we used both nutmeg and cinnamon. We also threw a handful of blueberries (frozen from last summer's harvest and contributed by Nicole, who clearly planned ahead for winter far better than I did this year) on top, along with a dusting of more of the spices. I'd imagine sliced almonds would work well also.

This cake is perfect for mid-morning or late afternoon; it would also be lovely breakfast treat or an actual post-dinner dessert. I think that a dollop of yogurt (normal or Greek), possibly sweetened with honey or maple syrup, goes nicely on top, as does any kind of fresh fruit, but the cake is also just wonderful plain. So follow your heart. And your stomach. And enjoy.

1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar (I used slightly less)
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (experiment with the proportions of the flours to your taste)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
A dash of nutmeg or cinnamon or both
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used nonfat)

Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter.

In a large bowl, blend the butter and sugar with a hand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat again.

In another bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: the flours, baking powder, salt and spice(s).

Add about 1/4 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and beat on low speed until just combined. Add 1/3 of the yogurt; beat again. Add the remaining flour mixture in three more doses, alternating with yogurt and beating each time to incorporate. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl and stir in any loose flour.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly across the top. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (The cake browns rather quickly on the top, so tent with aluminum foil after about 20 minutes. I did this after about 25, and you'll notice that the edges of my cake are somewhat dark, so I would certainly recommend this step.) Remove the cake from the oven. Cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan and continue to cool.

Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

springtime! in my office!

To further confirm what I already believed -- namely, that my parents are some of the most wonderful people. ever. -- they sent me flowers at work today, for no reason in particular save springtime (and maybe the knowledge that I wasn't having the best of weeks, which may or may not have involved, among other things, a mouse that did get caught in a trap but did not die). There is now a basket overflowing with purple and yellow and white and green in the corner of my desk. My flowers are beautiful, they smell of wonder and Easter and hope and finally there is something ALIVE in this office (other than me).

I was having trouble making my thankful list this morning. No longer.

Okay. So long as this loveliness doesn't distract me too much from the enormous manuscript to be edited, I will make it through this day.

(Thank you.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

springtime, hope, purple cabbage

It doesn't seem that long ago that I was writing of the shifting of summer into fall. And yet, as I reflect on that season of my life and think of all that has happened since, it suddenly seems as though years and worlds have gone by. We have indeed traveled from fall through winter and into spring, and now it is official.

Happy springtime, my friends.

I probably spent, oh, the entire second half of winter reminding myself and others that I like having four seasons and that we couldn't possibly appreciate the warmth and sunshine of spring and summer as much as we do if not for the cold and dark winter that comes before. And this is true. But I am very, very glad that spring is here.

"Here," of course, is a relative term, and spring in Michigan is a fluid concept. An illustration from this past week: on several weekday evenings, I shed the running tights, Under Armour and gloves to run in shorts and a t-shirt, enjoying balmy temperatures in the high sixties, sunshine and completely dry sidewalks. I walked with a friend to a nearby bar. I marveled at the leaves of tiny tulips emerging from the ground. My bike-enthusiast friends joyfully returned to their favorite means of transportation. And then. And then Saturday came, the first day of spring marked by snow coming steadily down all the day long, blanketing the ground and pelting my face with freezing flakes as I rounded Reeds Lake on the week's longest run (of course I planned that one for Saturday).

However, today brought more sunshine, and the snow melted. And I think we're all quite aware that the official commencement of spring has nothing to do with temperatures and precipitation anyway. I look forward to all this season will bring: the return of the blessed farmers' market, bikes, tulips, sweaters and light jackets, the turned-up cuffs of my jeans, long walks, brighter evenings, hope.

And in the end, I think that's really it: what I most love about the changing of the seasons is the hope that comes with the transition. It's like a promise. Things are shifting. Greater joy, greater fullness, more beauty are yet to come...

I am well aware that we may not have seen the last of the snow/cold, so until spring proclaims its sustained presence, I will welcome it in other ways. Along with the bikes and sweaters and such, springtime makes me think of brightly colored produce. And scones. (Really, I'm serious. It does.) Since my sister covered the scones already today, I will leave you with a recipe that involves the beautiful purple cabbage I have been rather obsessed with as of late, a winter vegetable whose brilliant color speaks of more than dark skies and the moldy snowdrifts of late winter.

To me, it speaks also of hope.

Purple Cabbage Salad with Lemon and Parmesan
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table

Meticulous baker and perfectionist I may be, but surprisingly, I don't follow any calculated formula for my version of this salad. I most often just throw it together in one bowl, taste and adjust to my liking and then pop it in some tupperware for part of a workday lunch. I generally go pretty light on the olive oil and heavier with the lemon, and I always season quite thoroughly with the salt and pepper. I also think it's quite excellent with a handful of garbanzos thrown in, but I do have a bit of a thing for garbanzo beans (and by this I mean that sometimes I eat them straight from the can), so I recognize that this might not be to your liking.

All that to say approximations and variation work quite well with this recipe. I've given Molly's measurements here, though, so as not to leave you completely in the dark. As always, Molly does not disappoint... this salad is bright and lovely, just like springtime and hope.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, or to taste, pressed
1/8 teaspoon (or so) salt
1 small head (about 1 1/2 pounds) purple cabbage
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or another hard cheese)
ground black pepper

Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

Prepare the cabbage by removing any bruised or wrinkled outer leaves and trimming the root end. Cut the cabbage into quarters, and then, one quarter at a time, slice the cabbage as thinly as possible (aim for 1/4 inch slivers).

In a serving bowl (or, to skip a step, your tupperware lunch container), toss the cabbage with a large spoonful or two of dressing (you will likely have some left over, but it will keep in the refrigerator and nicely top another salad or, along with a grated hard cheese such as Parmesan, a bowl of garbanzos. And please note: the latter is a brilliant and well-tested suggestion first of Molly, not of this clearly biased garbanzo-aficionado!). Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss gently. Season with pepper. Taste and adjust the various components as needed.

Serve, enjoy and be filled with sustenance and joy and hope and all manner of good things.

Yield: about 4 servings as a side; about 2 as lunch

Friday, March 19, 2010

14 things.

It has been quite awhile, hasn’t it? My apologies for the absence. I’ve been… living life. Working, doing a lot of cooking and running, spending time with people I love, slowly s-l-o-w-l-y learning how to balance things in this full-time-working-woman life. I’m learning quite a bit… they seem like boring lessons sometimes, but I think they’re important ones. Anyway. I wanted to take a few moments of my lunch break to finally end this too-long hiatus with the following reflections…

I’ve been in a bit of a slump these past few weeks, which has manifested itself in several different emotional states as I rollercoaster from week to week. Last night, I was sharing with a dear friend the following predicament, which has been one of numerous recurrent themes during the aforementioned slump: I feel completely unable to live fully in the present while also planning for the future. I just cannot seem to manage both at once. My friend replied by sharing that in these times, when the present seems not-that-exciting, she stops herself to remember all she has to be thankful for. It is just so easy to forget.

As I walked out into a gray-but-pleasant morning earlier today and crossed my front lawn, feeling not as excited as I wanted to be about beginning another day’s work, I urged myself into reflection on all of the beauty and goodness around me. It helped. Later this morning, an hour or so into work, I pulled out a piece of paper and started scribbling a list, quickly covering the small scrap with the marks of my pen, the marks of undeserved blessing and a response of thanksgiving.

I have a lot to be thankful for. So this is me, being thankful.

14 things of many:

the peace of morning.
warmer weather.
the blessed green grass peaking out.
my own little place with a window to the street (peering out while eating my oatmeal).
a wonderful coffee shop/bakery just up the road (just up the road! from where I live!).
a café au lait on a weary morning.
the luxury of being able to purchase unnecessary things like coffee, particularly on weary mornings.
a job. a roof. clean water. money to pay the bills.
the fake tree in my office (I may not have a window, but I do have plastic vegetation).
lovely, caring, wise people in my life. technology to communicate with them even when they are far away.
stability to rest in while dreaming about the future.
possibility, opportunity, hope.
another morning.
another day.

May you also be thankful today. Peace, friends.