My mind is in a perpetual state of rapid spinning lately. Many projects to tend to, classes to teach, children getting older, dishes to be done, and as always, changes for the family. I guess that is life – the constant striving for balance and struggle to stay afloat in the midst of the continual ebb and flow, but it feels as if lately everything is dotted with an exclamation point.
It doesn’t help, and let me be real honest with you all, that I feel as if my I am an open wound, susceptible to the slightest nudging or faintest prick. I go through seasons of self-doubt – oh believe me, those doubts are always there but there are days when they sit on a cozy little couch in the front of my mind whispering, or more likely, screaming at me. “You can’t say that!” “What are you doing?!” “Do you really think people want to read that? eat that? see that?” Even now as I try to write the things this internal editor screams. She (I don’t know why but she feels like a she) warns me not to be so raw, not to allow the uglies to be seen – the side of me that is riled with insecurity and desperately longs for approval.
In this state I find myself staring at a blank screen wanting so badly for the passion that is burning inside of me and the surge of creativity that is coinciding with this season of doubt to somehow form itself onto the screen into a perfect narrative tied up nicely with a satin bow. But instead I spend what brief time I have flitting about in Internet-land while I wait for the inner voice to quiet enough for me to actually get something accomplished.
My point in exposing this part of me is not that you would throw shouts of approval my way – although, I appreciate it and you people have been so incredibly encouraging in many dark times – but, more so as a bit of therapy for myself in which I invite all of you to sit on the chaise along side of me and also, to open up the discussion as to how you deal with these seasons in your own lives.
Now I realize that this isn’t the normal 300 word sugary sweet intro one might expect when discussing cake – did I mention there will be cake? But in my world food, emotions, community, and life are completely interwoven and as they say – you can’t have one without the other.
As I’ve had to navigate these seasons in the past I’ve learned a few simple changes can almost immediately set me straight once again. One might think then that I’ve got it figured out and we could simply move on to the cake but the reality is while I often know what I should be doing I don’t do it. Call me a toddler.
I have learned that there are times when I need to pull away from Twitter and Facebook. Social media is a wonderful, yet strange creature. I am so grateful for friendships that have developed and opportunities that have been born out of a regular dialogue through these sites but they do, often, paint an unrealistic picture of life. It’s far too easy for me to watch my Twitter stream and dream of the citron grass on the other side with it’s lush softness and lack of weeds. I’m sure one may look at my Twitter page and sometimes think, “Man, that Ashley. All she ever does is eat ice cream and eat great food.” While the ice cream part is true there are definitely frozen burrito days and take-out nights.
Looking to others thinking thoughts of “why isn’t that me?” “How come they get have all the fun?!” It’s ugly, it’s gross and it’s not reality. Really, I wouldn’t change my life for one moment and I feel exactly where I am meant to be but the temptation to be envious and long for something that is not meant for me is a complete distraction from what I should be doing and makes me sound like the child whom I am trying to instruct to stop whining, be grateful for what you have and focus on what you CAN do and what you are meant to do.
This weekend, in an effort to halt this season and become productive once again, I stayed off Twitter (except to post the occasional photo of my children coated in chocolate gelato), didn’t check my Facebook feed and I let the blog sit quiet. I read a book (a very good one in fact), I ate cake made by a friend, we went for a walk. We sat in the grass, watched movies, and friends – I took. a. nap. I literally just sighed as I typed that.
I’m not healed, nor will I ever be. This sensitivity and proclivity to doubt is part of what makes me, me. The flip side of this ugly coin is a person who is keenly aware of the emotions of those around her, who tries to encourage those close in my life in a way that I hope they will never have to experience these painful thoughts and self-doubt.
I am, now, feeling much better and I’m ready for more cake.
While we enjoy our cake together I’d really love to hear your thoughts. Have you felt this way too? If so, what are your ways of pulling yourself out? It’s quite an exercise in strength to allow yourself to be vulnerable but the rewards are so great and I really do want to foster a community of honesty so that we can learn and grow from one another.
Poppy Seed Cake
created using Ruhlman’s Ratio
4 eggs + 1 yolk
1 cup sugar (8 ounces)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ¾ cup (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup poppy seeds
2 sticks (8 ounces) butter, melted and cool
Pre-heat your oven to 350*. Spray and line with parchment paper three 8” rounds (or 2 9”).
In the bowl of a stand mixer add the eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla, and vinegar. Gentle warm over a large pot of simmering water whisking the eggs while resting the bowl over the pot. (If you are very brave and have a gas burner, do as I do and place the bowl right of the stove set to low. Continually move the bowl to avoid hot spots and whisk constantly. But please do be so careful). This step isn’t necessary but if you do skip it, at the very least use room temperature eggs as warm eggs invite more air in while whisking, creating a lighter cake in the end.
Whip the warm eggs on medium high until tripled in volume, about 3 – 5 minutes. The final whipped eggs should be a faint yellow, like butter.
In a medium bowl combine the flour, poppy seeds, and baking powder. Whisk to combine.
With the mixer on low, carefully add the dry ingredients. While there are still little pockets of flour, start adding the melted and cooled butter. Turn off the mixer and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing by hand. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure everything is incorporated. You are more likely to over-mix by using a machine which is why I prefer to finish off the cake by hand.
Divide the batter into your three prepared cake pans and bake until just golden around the edges and when you gently press the cake it will spring back. This will take about 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack to let them cool completely.
½ cup Mascarpone
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream the Mascarpone and butter together until blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Slowly add the salt and powdered sugar. Stir to combine. Add the lemon juice and vanilla.
1 pint strawberries
Wash the berries and reserve a few of the prettiest ones to sit atop the cake. With the rest of the berries remove the green and quarter them. If yours are like mine and need a little nudge of sweetness sprinkle with sugar – my preference is brown sugar.
Assembling the cake
On a cake stand place your first layer. On top of that add about ¼ of the frosting. It will be a very thin layer of frosting. Scatter half of the strawberries on top of that. Take your second cake layer and place the top onto the strawberries. Repeat the process of frosting and berries. Finish with the third layer, again with the top of the cake resting against the berries. Use the remaining frosting to cover the top and finish with the reserved small, pretty strawberries.