I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. I think it’s because I’m not really inspired by the new year. It’s usually cold and dark outside and I’m busy soaking up my alone time after all the family time at Christmas. I don’t want to think about change in January. I want to think about comfort and blankets and books, with mugs of tea and hot chocolate by my side. I want to take couch cruises or snuggle with my favorite carnivore. For me, winter is a time to relax and contemplate, while spring or summer is the time to put resolutions into action. But this year, things are a little different.
Recall that I moved to Texas in October of 2009. Since then, I’ve been bobbing along, doing research in my new lab and only vaguely aware that by accepting this job in Texas, I have committed to staying here for several years. The days go by so fast, and I sleep like a rock at night. But the idea that Texas is now home, as in home is where the heart is—that idea has not squidged its way into my heart. I feel like I’m here on sabbatical, an extended stay while I do some fun work in a different place. It would not surprise me if a moving truck showed up tomorrow to take my stuff back to Chicago. I don’t feel like I belong here. I don’t know how long I will stay. And I don’t mind either of these things. Because I feel almost certain that I will leave College Station for another job within five years. Maybe I’ll be wrong, maybe I will stay longer, but either way, this place ain’t home yet.
It’s not that I dislike Texas. It has been very nice to me so far, which is to say that I’m enjoying my extended stay down here. Today was beautiful, balmy day of sunshine and warmth. I ran around town in a t-shirt and shorts, logging miles for my half-marathon training. Later, after lunch and a shower, I sat outside by the pool and read science papers in the sun, groggy with heat and exercise. It felt great. It felt like vacation. And maybe that explains why Texas doesn’t feel like home yet: it’s too easy down here.
Without winter to drain my energy and my will to live, I have a lot of time to spend doing other things. And if it’s the lack of winter that makes this place seem so odd (that, and the ginormous trucks that everyone drives), then clearly I need to do something that will tie me emotionally to this place, something that is not a vacation activity, like sunbathing. Something quiet and homey and comforting. Something like cake.
My New Year’s resolution this year is to bake more cakes. I’m more of a cookie-and-brownie woman, but these days I am finding myself drawn to cake recipes. There is just something special about even the humblest cakes. I like the plain, rustic ones best, the ones with minimal fussing and loads of flavor. I hear this is very French of me. Whatever it is, I’m going with it because making cakes makes me happy—the sifting of dry ingredients, the cracking of eggs, the pouring of oil, the licking of spoons. There is just so much tangible fun to be had when baking—I love it. And I hope that over time and with enough new recipes, I’ll discover my own cake repertoire, the collection of recipes that become my signatures. When that happens, I will think back to my first year or two in Texas, and how it was my oven and my mixing bowls that sweetly convinced me that a tiny university town in the middle of east Texas could be home, at least for a little while.
Blueberry Yogurt Cake
Adapted from Vegetarian Times
Make 1 round 9-inch cake, or about 8 nicely sized slices
The issue of Vegetarian Times from which this recipe comes arrived on a Thursday and by Saturday I was making this cake. That is blazing fast turnaround time in my kitchen, which illustrates how delighted I was by the idea of a blueberry yogurt cake. The original recipe calls for a lemony glaze that you brush on the cake, but after tasting the batter, I decided to hold off on the glaze. So as not to deprive you, dear reader, I will list it here but be forewarned that I have not tried it…yet.
I also made several ingredient substitutions, which I’ll list below. The ingredient listed first is what I used; in parentheses I list the original suggestion.
But what I really want to tell you is that this cake is wonderful. Moist with the flavor of a great yellow cake, this cake is speckled with blueberries inside its soft, large crumbs. A sprinkling of cornmeal gives it a touch of gritty texture, which I thought would be offputting but turns out to be a nice touch. You could certainly leave out the cornmeal if you wanted, but I think I’m going to keep it. It goes well with the blueberries—like an American touch in a European-style cake.
For the cake:
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup olive oil (or grape seed oil)—I used Mezzetta extra-virgin Italian olive oil, which has a mild, grassy taste
2 tbsp. fruit juice (or Cointreau liqueur)—I used Dole Orange Peach Mango juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature (mine were still a little chilly…)
7 ounces low-fat Greek yogurt (Fage comes in 7-oz. containers. The volume for this is 1 cup minus 3 tbsp.)
2/3 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (I used frozen—no thawing required)
For the glaze (optional):
3 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 tbsp. Cointreau liqueur or water
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan.
2) Measure out the flour and reserve 1 tbsp. of it in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
3) In a separate large bowl, use an electric mixer to mix together the sugar, olive oil, fruit juice, and vanilla until smooth. Beat in the eggs. Alternate adding the Greek yogurt and flour mixture to the sugar-oil mixture to make the cake batter.
4) Toss the blueberries with the tablespoon of reserved flour. Fold them into the cake batter. Pour the batter into the pan.
5) Bake for 45-50 minutes. Check doneness with a toothpick; it should come out clean save for a few small crumbs (and maybe a blueberry stain if you pierced one). The top will be golden and bouncy-firm. Cool for ten minutes on a rack, then run a knife around the edges and invert the pan to remove the cake.
6) To make the optional glaze, whisk together the ingredients in a small bowl. Poke holes in the top of the cake with a wooden skewer and brush the cake with glaze. Serve. I ate my first (unglazed) slice while it was still warm and thought it was lovely. It’s also good the next day eaten at room temperature.