(This was written a month ago, when there actually were flurries twirling about.)
I shallowly apologize for my lack of presence here, but I think real life suffices as excuse. I do plainly admit that I have struggled to consolidate my experiences on digital paper over this past year, because it has been a flurry like the one currently dancing over this city with gleeful enthusiasm (to which I fail to relate).
I completed my degree two Decembers ago. I worked where I am currently working for the four months after that. I then spent the summer taking a self-paced French course and tripping over the North American West Coast four separate times; once to make my cousin’s wedding cake (and attend his wedding), once to attend WorshipU at Bethel, once to hit up all the hidden beaches and waterfalls in Oregon with two of my best friends from university, and one last time to visit my not-so-baby cousin and family. I spent a month in Taiwan, reconnecting with the land that formed my most potent memories and formless aspirations. I witnessed the prolonged death of traditions in the rural spine of the island, and the birth of new slang on the pumping streets of the cities. I learned to distinguish between the sounds of the ocean scurrying across dimpled yellow stone, rolling over peppered pebble beaches, and seeping into black sand.
I devoured the books I have stashed and impulse-bought during my time in school. I mourned the death of Anthony Bourdain – one of the few famous people who truly didn’t give a f*ck about what other people had to say and was therefore unobstructed in his viewpoint of the cultures he encountered and what they had to offer at the table – by reading his Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw (which, in my humble but stubborn opinion, was superior). I spent dewy mornings breathing poetry in the upstairs bedroom of my aunt’s house with the window open and the moist Fraser Valley air wrinkling up the pages over which I pored. My mother and I took hour-long evening walks to the gelato shop that defined my second childhood and where once again the late summer heat dissipated with each lick of limetta and pink grapefruit. I hiked the mountains I thought I had known but had never really entered. I picked unsightly apples from the Frankentree, made applesauce for days, and ate the potstuck leftovers with scoops of nameless vanilla ice cream dumped in. I ran in the very lanes where I had trained as a track athlete in highschool, and wondered where the spring in my legs had wandered. I hungered to relive the iconic sentiments which shaped each groove and curve of what I thought to be me, in preparation of their burial, or liberation, whichever. This is where words are inept. In that strange place of grieving there was ceremony in the mundane.
Where the mind wallows, physical removal prods. I boarded the last flight of what felt like an endless series I had taken within a span of six months and as I got off the freeway onto Bridgeport in Waterloo, I felt the dulling of that self-inflicted heaviness. Yet the productivity I had at the start of May was not somewhere, but lost to me, thus more accurately nowhere. The internet became a friend, one of those with whom you catch yourself wondering “why do I even bother” mid-conversation, but carry on nonetheless. Before I knew it, I was working full-time and all the grand ideas I had of things to accomplish were shoved to the untouchable room in the bottom-rear-right-ish corner of my mind were daylight is exotic.
Call it a dry-spell, an empty season, it doesn’t need a name. Nor does it need do be excused and explained away. I had no desire to cook, and as such was grateful for my unique gift (which I inherited from my father) of being able to eat the exact same thing day in day out for extended periods of time. (In highschool I had a baked yam and mixed salted nuts for lunch every day, and enjoyed it as much the day of my graduation as the first day in grade eight.) I hadn’t the time, and perhaps due to being partially under the influence of Marie Kondo, I found more joy purging the freezer of lamb roasts, miscellaneous late-season squash, leftover buttercream, and raw nuts than adding to it. I had more satisfaction clearing my pantry of salted duck eggs, old brittle pasta, and pouches of flours tucked nearly (but not neatly) out of sight. I may or may not have gotten high off finishing the last senile pomegranate my mother left me in the crisper and the last spoonful of zhug in the mason jar on the top shelf. Just like how a vacation feels more rewarding when it’s begotten for cheap, so a meal tastes better when it’s done with thrift. I think.
So if you thought I was eating like a queen by going to the farmer’s market to get the freshest and bestest? I laugh to inform you that did not happen. The -30 degree weather is not kind to my vocal cords, nor my skin, nor my personal enjoyment. If I had a spirit animal it would be an octopus who thinks it’s a hermit crab. So that gives you a bit of context into my ‘process’ – the most pretentious word I can use to describe the most unpretentious mess that is my creativity and condition.
This breakfasty tea cake was inspired by the Gjelina cookbook, but with a completely different flavour profile that’s much more floral and earthy than savoury. Be sure to use culinary lavender, and feel free to switch up the squash – I found red kuri rather lovely. And use good, seriously dark chocolate – 86% works nicely.
Kabocha Olive Oil Cake with Turmeric, Bitter Chocolate, and Lavender – makes 2 loaves
Ingredients for the cake
- 1 1/2 c kabocha squash puree*
- 1 c granulated sugar
- 1/2 c softened butter
- 1/2 c olive oil
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 1/2 c all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 c chopped dark chocolate
- 3 tbsp roasted pepitas
Ingredients for the glaze and garnish
- 1 1/4 c icing sugar
- 2 tbsp hot water
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Roasted pepitas
- Dried lavender
- Preheat the oven to 350°F with the top rack placed at the lower third of the oven. Line 8-inch loaf pans with parchment paper.
- In a stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, oil, turmeric, and salt. Once the mixture is light and pale, beat in the eggs one at a time until very creamy and smooth.
- Beat the squash puree gently into the egg mixture until fully incorporated.
- Sift together the cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a dry bowl.
- Add all of the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat on medium low until the mixture begins to clump together.
- Add the chocolate and pepitas and beat on high for 5 seconds to incorporate.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bang on the counter a couple times to get rid of any trapped pockets of air.
- Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out with moist crumbs.
- Cool to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, make the glaze by stirring the sugar and water together until smooth then slowly whisking in the olive oil in a steady stream.
- Remove the cooled cakes from their pans and pour the glaze over. Top with pepitas and lavender.
This cake gets better with time – let it sit overnight or preferably covered under a cake dome for a full day before slicing on day 3.
*To make the squash puree I prefer to steam cubed squash in a rice cooker or in a pan with some water until completely soft, then blitz it in a blender until smooth.