The Crafty Cook Nook was born more than five years ago when I was a newcomer to Colorado with only my partner tethering me to the state. I’d lived away from the coast before, but I’d always known those moves would be temporary, a means to a more educated end. I was not a landlocked person. I was meant for hikes by the ocean or long, windy winter ambles along the Gulf. The mountains are austere, sublime, a gift to experience. But they couldn’t be home. I had long ago given my heart to the sea.
As luck would have it, I fell for a tall, handsome, and damn funny mountain guy, and I’ve since learned that love can send you places you’d never imagined and teach you to care about those places that initially seemed more fit for passing through than for settling in. Shortly after our move to Denver, I started this blog, not only to learn how to cook and bake better and to document Colorado as I grew to know it better, but to hold myself accountable as a writer.
As the years passed, I did all the things many people do to create “home”. I married. We bought a house, and a little over a year ago, I labored an extraordinary being into the world, all the while maintaining a fairly consistent writing practice. Even during the first several months after Alice’s birth, I was able to care for her and work a day job while still squirreling away time for cooking and writing.
As soon as she became mobile last November, though, my decades-long commitment to the practice of writing–what I’ve come to see as a weird drive to string together words and sentences for no other reason than the promise of finally approximating some truth about what it means to be a human on this little rock hurtling through space–slid down on the priority list of daily must-dos. With a full-time job and a toddler who has more energy than seems humanly possible, I’ve had little time to revise my novel or work on a new science fiction project, let alone cook and maintain this blog.
I have not been easy on myself in those intervening months of erratic writing, often berating myself for failing my deepest conviction about a creative life. For me, being a successful writer cannot be about publishing or even about anyone reading my work. To that end, succeeding at this writing gig means only that I write and revise and struggle for meaning through the written word every day.
Last week I shared in a good conversation about blogging with a coworker, and she’s inspired me to get back at it, to make time to write, even if it’s only a few minutes a day. I’ve decided that for the next few years while my daughter is tumbling through toddlerhood, I’m letting myself off the hook when it comes to an intensive daily writing practice. Instead of listening to the imaginary and very annoying voice in my head reminding me that I’m a failure creatively because I’m not churning out a large word count, I’m focusing on my reality: sometimes doing what I can is all I can do, and that needs to be enough. Turns out that one of the benefits of having so little time to myself for writing has opened the floodgates on project ideas I can develop whenever I do get to sit down and write. I’m grateful the old noggin is still capable of churning out creative ideas after a couple of years of sleep deprivation.
Meanwhile, I think of the finite amount of time I have on Earth with my little girl and what an unexpected opening she has made in my life to love in a way I never imagined I was capable of loving. Every day is a story she tells just by the mere fact of her presence in the world. And maybe one day I’ll be able to write about this experience, too.
On Sunday, I rushed through making this not-too-complicated strawberry cake recipe featured below while my daughter clawed my pants for strawberry bits and entertained herself with the whirring motion of our salad spinner. I was stressing about not messing up and wondering what purpose making a cake served in the whole scheme of things, and then I happened to catch Alice intently observing the centripetal force of the spinner when she pressed the top. I doubt she was worrying about the past impacting the present influencing the future. She was just having a good time learning about basics physics.
A line of sunlight spilled across the floor where she sat and I thought of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, a book about many ideas but most directly about time. There are so many exquisite pull-out quotes in that novel, but the most fitting for that moment with Alice and for where my thoughts have pooled during the past year as I’ve struggled through change pivots on time and purpose and presence:
What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.
My search for some grand narrative that will help life’s circumstances make sense has never born fruit. But being open to the “little daily miracles, illuminations”, the “matches struck unexpectedly in the dark,” rarely disappoints.
Strawberry Snack Cake
Makes enough for a party of 6
– 1 1/2 lbs strawberries, hulled and halved
– 2 cups all purpose flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 1/2 tsp kosher salt
– 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
– 1 cup sugar
– 2 TBS vegetable oil
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– 2 large eggs, room temperature
– 1 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt, room temperature
– 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
– 2 TBS turbinado sugar
1. Butter an 8-inch x 12-inch ceramic dish. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. (I didn’t have the pan size suggested, so I used an 8-inch by 4-inch loaf pan and a 9-inch round cake pan with a 1.5-inch height.)
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together until thoroughly blended. Whisk milk and yogurt together. Set both aside.
3. Place butter into bowl of stand mixer, and beat on medium speed until very light, about 3 minutes. Add sugar and continue to beat on medium speed another 3 minutes till almost white in color. Scrape down as needed. Add vanilla extract and oil, and continue to beat on medium speed till well blended.
4. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add eggs one at a time and continue to mix just till well blended. Reduce mixer speed to lowest setting (“stir” on my mixer). Alternate milk mixture and flour mixture and stir until just well blended.
5. Pour the batter in the prepared pan and smooth the top. Place the strawberries on the top in a pretty pattern, cut side down. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
6. Bake for about an hour and 10 minutes, until the edges are golden brown, and a tester comes out free of cake batter. (Since I used two smaller pans, I cooked my cakes for 50 minutes.