Sunday, October 2, 2011

my arms are open.

It is official: fall has arrived.

This is evidenced now not only by the calendar. The trees are changing colors, I pulled my boots out from the back of my closet, my landlords have turned the heat on, I bought brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes at the market, I ate two cinnamon-coated donuts and drank hot cider at a nearby cider mill this afternoon and I am fighting a nasty cold (which would totally justify the two donuts, if I felt justification were necessary, which I do not). Also, I have baked three harvest cakes. More on that later.

Those who spend any amount of time with me know that I love fall, but I love it with hesitancy these days. I find this season enchanting and beautiful, but it comes before winter, which, though also enchanting and beautiful, is cold. I used to love winter, too, but now the best I can say is that winter and I get along alright. You see, while I adore snow and festivity and Christmastime, I also get very, very cold. Additionally, I do not appreciate the darkness that descends for the sum total of the hours I'm out of the office. And there is no one to drive me over the slick and icy roads, cover the rising cost of heating a home or shovel my car out from snowdrifts, like there was in my childhood (thanks for that, Mom and Dad). The fresh produce disappears, and I am relegated to the track at the Y, banished (or at least greatly discouraged) by the snow and cold from regular runs on my city's streets.

I know that all of this worry is premature. But sometimes, I cannot help but be irrational. As soon as I sensed summer fading, I began behaving as though mid-February was coming, you know, tomorrow. It's almost winter, I whimpered as children bought fresh notebooks and apples crept into the market stalls.

However! I come to you today with good news: I have embraced fall, even knowing that the darkness and cold of winter will follow.

The shifting of the seasons is a beautiful, magical thing, as is the passing of time, and as is the movement of our lives from one situation into the next...and we cannot have that beauty without all of the intricacies, both good and bad, of each moment along the way. I know this; I have known this for a very long time. I just tend to forget.

And after all, this is what we must do, is it not? When we've finished griping and complaining and worrying, either we embrace our circumstances and the corners of the world we inhabit, challenges and quirks included...or we don't, and life happens anyway.

So I have stopped myself mid-worry, and I am opening my arms, choosing to embrace this season of the calendar year--and, yes, this season of my life. I have resolved to invest in a few more layers of clothing and to drink as many warm beverages as it takes. I am choosing to be happy.

Now, let's get to that cake, shall we? I was prompted by my dear friend Sarah, who is currently far away from me on the isles of Hawaii, to bake a cake she spotted on the internet (wish I could have shared this with you, my dear!). It is a cake for harvest time, filled with zucchini and carrot and apple, along with an array of other wholesome and delicious ingredients. As noted, I have made it three times now, with numerous tweaks and variations along the way to bring me to the following version. It's a friendly cake, open to such things, so experiment yourself if you so desire.

This cake is filling and hearty, just right for the glorious early autumn now upon us, when the cold begins to brush against your skin though the sun still shines brightly, when you need a scarf around your neck but can still wear a sweater in lieu of a coat. It is a knobby cake, with a very nice crumb and a rustic sweetness. A slice of this pairs perfectly with a mug of hot cider or coffee, and it is healthful (and delicious) enough for breakfast or the most delightful of mid-morning snacks. It is also wonderful with frosting, for dessert.

And so. My arms are open, and I am embracing this season.

But as with any difficult task, cake certainly doesn't hurt.
Harvest Cake
Adapted from Roost

3 cups white whole wheat flour (or 1 1/2 cup white and 1 1/2 cup wheat flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1/4 cup coconut or olive oil
1/4 cup honey (+1 tablespoon if you like, for a slightly sweeter, moister cake)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup carrot, grated
1 cup zucchini, grated
1 cup apple, grated
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped, optional (but very much recommended if you like nuts)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grease a 9 or 10-inch cake or springform pan. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the wet ingredients in a separate, smaller bowl. Add the wet mixture to the dry, and stir gently to incorporate. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center emerges clean. Frost if you wish (one of my favorite frosting recipes follows) and enjoy!

Yield: 8-10 slices

Not-Too-Sweet Buttercream Frosting
From Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

12 tablespoons (6 oz.) butter, softened
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
pinch salt
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons milk or cream, slightly more if needed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Using a fork or electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the sugar and salt, alternating with the milk and beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. If the buttercream is too thin, refrigerate it until it hardens enough to spread easily.