November 3, 2009
I don’t buy the theory that everything happens for a reason.
After watching my father go from perfectly fine to totally incapacitated in the course of three weeks, after witnessing some of the best people I know be unable to conceive and carry a healthy baby, after being privy to the pretty hellish family backgrounds of some of my students, I’m extremely resistant to the line of thinking that asserts “there’s some good reason for this totally shitty thing that’s happening.” In my world, shitty things just sometimes happen.
I do, however, believe that if something shitty should happen, you might as well find an angle on the situation from which you can learn something, be grateful for something, grow, and/or laugh.
So. As you might imagine, I’m not very good at standing around and not doing things. Not good at going to Costco with my best friend and letting her put everything in my cart and load everything into my car. Not good at letting Jill do the cooking. Not good at standing around at a Halloween party, unable to pour drinks.
I’m going to back to the doctor today, but I have to say the experience of the last few days has made me grateful and thoughtful. I see now how accustomed I am to assessing my value via the things I can do: baking, helping, fixing, mailing packages, cleaning, grading, writing letters, blogging (which I’m doing anyway—shhhh!)
What I’ve been forced to realize is that, even if I never contributed another action in my life, I would still be loved. I’d be valued and of importance. I’d be useful simply for being myself.
And that’s a pretty big thing to get.
CRANBERRY VANILLA COFFEECAKE
ever-so-slightly adapted from Gourmet, December 2008
If your hands are in even slightly better shape than mine, MAKE THIS CAKE. The food processor & stand mixer do most of the work, and this cake tastes like fall, nostalgia, home, & butter all rolled into one. Fresh cranberries are readily available these days, but if you must, you can substitute thawed, frozen ones.
Because I prefer my breakfast cakes a bit tart, I’ve dialed back the sugar by a quarter cup from the original recipe and added a bit of lemon zest. Feel free to go for a sweeter version if you’d like.
½ a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup cranberries
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
zest of one lemon
pan: 9-inch round cake pan (I used a spring form)
Butter the pan & line the bottom of it with a round of parchment paper. Butter the parchment, too. Trust me. It’s easier this way.
Use your food processor to make vanilla sugar: scrape the insides of the vanilla bean* into the bowl of the food processor along with the sugar. Pulse to combine.
Remove vanilla sugar from bowl & reserve ¼ cup for the topping. Pulse the cranberries with another ¼ cup of vanilla sugar until finely chopped.
To make the cake batter, whisk together the flour, baking powder, & salt. Beat together the butter & remaining vanilla sugar (1 cup) until pale and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl, then add the flour mixture & milk alternately. Begin & end with the flour!
Stir in the lemon zest; be careful not to over-mix.
To assemble the cake, spread half of the batter in the pan (don’t worry if it looks a little thin). Because the cranberries tend to give off a lot of water, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the food processor & spread them in a circle over the batter, leaving a slight border.
Top the cake layers with the remaining half of the batter (again, don’t worry if it looks thin!) Top with the crumble—see below—and bake for 45-55 minutes. The cake will pull away from the pan & become light brown. If using a regular cake pan, cool at least 25 minutes before turning out the cake. With a spring form pan, wait 15-20.
*Don’t throw away that vanilla bean half! Save it for flavoring purposes, the simplest of which is to store it in a jam jar with some extra sugar, which you can then add to your coffee, tea, baked goods, etc.
¼ cup vanilla sugar (see above)
1 T flour
1 T unsalted butter, softened
Blend the ingredients with your fingers & scatter over the top of the cake.
Cake will keep, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator for a week.