Sunday, March 27, 2011

where I want to be.

Here in Michigan, we are currently in the strange in-between that brings us from winter into spring. One day, the sun shines brilliantly, and the next, there's, oh you know, an ice storm. Of course.

I sometimes feel like I'm in that strange space in my life as well. There's much that is good, but other things are...not good. In terms of what frustrates, tires and worries me most, I have tremendous hope for a time in the future when things will be different, but that's still far-off.

And really, this is a microcosm of the broader sense of life as already-and-not-yet. We experience some of the wonder and beauty of how things ought to be, how they someday will be, but we're not quite there. Rather, we are perpetually between seasons; life will always be hard and complicated and confusing...though some days more than others.

Last Monday, for example, I was feeling quite sad, and rather inexplicably so. My dearest one listened as I told him all of the small things that were contributing to my melancholy state. I'd been thinking about baking a cake, as that's generally a good cure for sadness, and, because he knows me well, he nudged me gently into the kitchen, and, because he is wonderful, he helped. Not too long after, with the cake in the oven and the scent of orange already wafting through the air, we sat back down, and I was surprised to find that I no longer felt quite so out of sorts.

Let me be honest: I'm fighting the urge to be rather sentimental right now. And I'm going to give in, if just a little bit. It turns out that it's true that sometimes one singular person can make that which is bad better. Having been in the happy-single camp for twenty-three-and-some solid years, this is kind of a revelation to me. I'm certainly not suggesting that a significant other is necessary; singleness is good and lovely, and community can bring all kinds of beauty and depth and companionship.

But for me, right now, when trouble or sadness comes, however small, I know where I want to be: with Ben. And if we happen to be sitting on the chocolate brown futon in my little apartment, the air filled with the aroma of a baking cake bright with the scent of orange...well, all the better.
Now. About this cake.

Oh, this cake, people, this cake! Along with the delightful flavor of orange, it has a delicate yet rustic crumb, is full of wholesome ingredients and requires only one bowl. One! And if you're wondering when would be an appropriate time to bake it, know that the citrus makes it perfect for winter, but it's also so fresh, like springtime. And as for the in-between times, those always necessitate cake.

So anytime, really.

Once you have baked this delightful cake, eat a piece late at night while sitting alone in the calm silence, and be reminded that life really is alright. Or share a piece with a friend or neighbor, who will certainly feel loved.

And if there is one particular fellow or lady who makes your bad days brighter, hold that hand tightly, share a slice (or two or three) and be very thankful. (Yes, I know. I didn't forget I said that.)

Olive Oil Orange Cornmeal Cake
Adapted slightly from Kristen at The Kitchen Sink, who adapted slightly from Martha Stewart.

The original recipe calls for blood oranges for the juice and zest, but on that Monday, I was not about to go out to pick up more ingredients, so we used what I had--plain old oranges--and the results were lovely. (The juice was from concentrate, to be honest, and I'm only slightly ashamed. It was easier, and that mattered. But don't worry, we ate the oranges we zested.)

1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for pan
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour, or all-purpose
1/2 cup coarse-ground cornmeal (I used the pretty red one that happened to be in my freezer)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Zest of 2 oranges

Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly oil an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper, and brush the paper with oil as well.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs and juice along with 1 cup of the sugar. When the mixture is smooth, add the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and orange zest. Whisk gently to combine.

Pour batter into the prepared pan, and sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar.

Bake until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a tester inserted in the center emerges clean, 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool the cake in its pan for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake, invert it gently onto a plate and remove the parchment paper. Turn the cake back, right-side up, onto a rack to cool completely.

Enjoy, with gusto.