Monday, February 28, 2011

Have you noticed that white seems to be the new "it" theme in home decor? Many of the blogs I look to for inspiration, folks like Chez Larsson, Today I Love, and decor8, they all seem to be on a kick of painting walls and furniture and floors white, white, white. The bare look has a spartan beauty to it, an elegant simplicity that suggests infinite patience and total domination over clutter. Let's just say my own space will never, ever, ever be featured in any of those blogs. Except perhaps under the header “NOT.”

So instead I’d like to send a shout out to all those people who surround themselves with color and softness and textural chaos. On their furniture, their tables, their walls, their windows, wherever they damn well please. The more the merrier. I'm not talking an episode of Hoarders, just...not a size 2. Decorgenically speaking.

How about it? Is anyone with me?

Friday, February 25, 2011

I'm becoming one of those East Coast people who constantly talks about snow.

When I lived in San Francisco, part of my job involved meeting with PR people to get briefed on their latest, greatest new product. The idea was that I'd run back to my desk and write a cover story about them. It took me a good year to get up to speed on what they were saying - and that first year was filled with terror and dread that someone, anyone really, would notice I didn't know what I was doing.

Gradually I got up to speed and stopped fearing those meetings so much. I started making lists of buzzwords ("architect" and "rearchitect" were just beginning their forays into verbland) and trying to memorize entire sentences for some script I've yet to write. But I also remember being astonished at how pasty and colorless the people from the East Coast were. They'd always exclaim - like jailbirds reaching the free side of the river - just how awful it was back home. "We're expected to get 18 inches over the weekend," one would say. "I told my husband he'd better shovel out the car before I get back," another would say. They'd all nod knowingly and I'd join in, pretending I knew what they were talking about. I was living in a place that had two seasons, brown and green. Their complaints became my sign that the seasons had changed.

Well, 12 years into this, another foot of snow falls outside and I'm realizing that I've become one of those snow-complainers. I suspect East Coasters talk incessantly about snow because, unlike rain or fog that come and go by themselves, snow is like the neighbor with the 12 inoperable cars in his driveway. Snow arrives, unpacks, settles in, and it won't move unless you move it - and it's a heavy adversary. Snow turns roads into skating rinks. Cars slide. People fall down. Branches get heavy and snap, taking out wires that bring us important things like electricity and the interwebs.

Mind you it's beautiful. Nothing else transforms the landscape as completely as snow. It muffles sound and softens angles, it enchants children and thrills puppies and compacts perfectly into little balls that like to be thrown. And I'll certainly miss it in May when the black flies arrive.

But today, as yet another foot of snow makes itself at home outside, I am a pasty person yammering on and on about the snow. If anyone has an island hideaway in Fiji they aren't using, could I borrow the keys for a few weeks?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What's that you say? Indeed, I failed to mention the actual recipe about which I was waxing so poetic yesterday. Without further ado, meet the Busy Day Cake from The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. Sweet yet substantial, this simple cake requires just one bowl, can be worked up in an hour, and is proven to cure any malaise. Except, perhaps a malaise from eating too much cake.

I found out about this cake from someone else's poetic waxings--namely Molly at Orangette. Here's her adaptation of the recipe.

Have fun, and let me know when the cake's ready.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ode to Cake

Some people meditate. Others go for a walk, or a jog, or a swim. I lack such virtue. When life gets overwhelming, I head to the kitchen to make something. If you've been reading this blog for more than, say, an hour, you'll know this to be true. When time is short and my need for comfort particularly great, I bake a cake. Nothing fancy, just a simple recipe that always works and is guaranteed to bring my life back into order.

How comforting to cream together that stick of butter with a cup of sugar. Already I can feel the chaos subside. Each egg I crack in and patiently mix, each cup of flour with baking soda and salt, each slosh of vanilla, each dash of nutmeg pulls me back to the present. With my hands, I amalgamate these humble ingredients into a dense, smooth, flavorful bowl of potential.

I pour the batter in my favorite cast-iron baking pan, give the top of a swirl for good luck, and slide it into a hot oven.

There. Like burping a baby, all those difficult emails, unclear decisions, and stressful thoughts have been temporarily released from my mind. I've put something in motion that will come to fruition in a matter of minutes. Not months or years, but minutes.

I take my time putting away the ingredients, washing the bowl, wiping the counter. Soon the kitchen fills with that comforting fragrance of butter, sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla, and nutmeg. I peek through the oven window and smile at the transformation of that yellow goo into a fully risen cake that's starting to brown on top. Success.

How civilized to sit down with a cup of tea and a little piece of cake still warm from the oven. I feel like I'm visiting with my grandma or with one of those characters you read about in books, you know, the ones who always had cake and tea at the ready for visitors.

The rest gets divvied up among friends or stored in the freezer for another rainy day. For me, it's not so much about eating the cake as it is about creating it. Kind of like spinning a pound of Shetland fleece or turning a perfect heel, only it takes less than an hour and you get to eat the results.

I hate to admit that such a simple thing can lift my spirits and bring comfort and order into my life, but it does. I've been extremely preoccupied lately as I prepare for some big changes to what my day-to-day life looks like. They're all good changes, but changes nonetheless. Yesterday afternoon I finally went on strike and made myself another little cake. For anyone who doubts the awesome and mysterious powers of cake, take heed -- they are real.