"When I Rise Up" by Georgia Douglas Johnson + Strawberry Buckwheat Cake

Strawberry Buckwheat Cake | Eat This Poem #cake #strawberry #summer #baking

It's hot and I am alone, shoving arugula, eggplant, basil, cherry tomatoes, and romaine in my tote bag. I drop my wallet on the asphalt after reaching for a bunch of cilantro, and crunch down to pick it up before fumbling for a twenty dollar bill and offering my piles of produce to the vendor for weighing.

Anything else? she asks. I shake my head.

Does it look like I can carry anything else? I think.

I stuff the change in my back pocket and sling the bag over my shoulder. Next, a loaf of bread. I clutch it to my chest and want to stay, linger, and try the honey and granola and chai tea samples that beckon. But I'm still sweating, and my bag is heavy. I have to remind myself that I'm pregnant and should take it easy. 

Back to the car. On my way out I see a crate of strawberries, and decide I deserve a little something for my troubles. For the sweat running down my neck. I wish I had worn sandals instead of sneakers and tied my hair into a ponytail before leaving.

At home, fan running, no longer sweating, I weigh strawberries to pass the time, waiting for Andrew's flight to land. He's been in Stockholm for work, and I try not to think about how if I weren't pregnant, I would have met him there and we would have jetted off to Prague or Rome or somewhere else we've been wanting to go together. Another time. With our son in tow, most likely, which I do like the sound of, come to think of it.

Having a baby, or in my case so far, growing a baby, has made me want to travel more, actually. Just in a general sense. I have nothing booked, no research started, and don't plan to worry myself with the challenges of flying or driving with a little one.

I think only about the fact that I want him to see the world, to be a global citizen, to taste spices in Morocco or drink tea in London, to see the dense streets of urban cities like Kathmandu, the dust, the traffic, the people who do not look like him but who want the same things in life. To stand in front of things that have survived, the monuments and castles and temples that tell us stories. To breathe it all in. 

For now, I inhale the sweet scent of strawberries, and eat as many as I can fit in my mouth before my stomach, my crushed, compressed stomach, says enough, enough for now.

Strawberry Buckwheat Cake | Eat This Poem #cake #strawberry #summer #baking

This is how I want the day to end: Eating pizza on our couch with dough I had lovingly made the day before so the yeasty flavor would be stronger, enjoying strawberry cake with whipped cream, and looking at photos from his trip.

But the day unfolds another way.

A few minutes before Andrew's plane lands, I take Emma outside for a quick walk. As we trudge back up the stairs, I reach for the keys in my back pocket and my keychain falls apart.

Two keys fall on the ledge below and I grab them before they spill over underneath the stairs. I put my keychain back together, grateful I found all the keys.

Except I don't find them all.

I don't notice until we're halfway down the hall, but the key to our condo is missing. 

I tug Emma's leash to scurry back outside. She sits sweetly on the top step while I crouch down as best I can (for the second time today), trying to spot the silver metal key among bark, dirt, old candy wrappers, and such. I can't fathom it has flung so far away to have been buried and become invisible. Yet it is. There is no glint, no shimmer, no hope in this dreadful moment.

Strawberry Buckwheat Cake | Eat This Poem #cake #strawberry #summer #baking

Andrew lands. I text him the bad news while he's in the line at customs. At least I have Emma, my car keys, the building key, and my sunglasses. I pick him up from the airport and we drive home, where he finds long sticks we use to push away old pine cone branches, searching again. Andrew even crawls halfway underneath the stairs to get a closer look. Nothing.

We call a locksmith. We are quoted $75 and end up paying $225. (This company, although timely, will be receiving a bad review on Yelp in the near future for poor communication about its pricing structure.) 

It could be worse. I tell myself this over and over.

I am reminded of a poem sent to me earlier in the week by Poets.org. It's a short, simple poem, about standing back and looking down at yourself from a vantage point that offers true perspective. It doesn't talk about what those things are. The reader may fill them in. As you read, you'll find the poem to be a reminder that in certain difficult moments, of which our lives are filled with many, we can choose how to respond to any situation. 


When I Rise Up

by Georgia Douglas Johnson, 1880 - 1966

When I rise up above the earth,
And look down on the things that fetter me,
I beat my wings upon the air,
Or tranquil lie,
Surge after surge of potent strength
Like incense comes to me
When I rise up above the earth
And look down upon the things that fetter me.


Strawberry Buckwheat Cake | Eat This Poem #cake #strawberry #summer #baking

This particular day, there is plenty to fetter me. Our evening turns into a long, expensive lesson learned, but it could be worse. Much, much worse. 

I try to be grateful for the following:

1) We have the money (not that we want to spend it on new locks, but still).

2) This crisis occurs the day Andrew comes home, instead of on Tuesday, when he is at a conference halfway around the world.

3) We have to change the locks and get new keys, and politely argue with a locksmith about the price we are quoted on the phone and the price he is insisting it costs for an emergency visit on a Saturday afternoon.

But then the locksmith leaves and we make pizza and eat strawberry cake as the sun goes down, and we resolve that Sunday will be a new day.


STRAWBERRY BUCKWHEAT CAKE

Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Martha Stewart

I used a 10-inch springform pan, and I liked how a thinner batter cradled the heavy, jammy berries on top. Deb suggested using barley flour, but since I love strawberries on top of my buckwheat pancakes, I decided it would be a good addition to cake, too, and loved the slightly nutty result.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus extra for pan
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat oven to 350°F and butter a 10-inch springform pan. 

Whisk flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour into the buttered pan. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. Cool on rack before serving with a dusting of powdered sugar, or freshly whipped cream.

The Drink of August + Watermelon-Lime Agua Fresca

All photography by  Josh Telles

All photography by Josh Telles

There are better ways to begin a blog post featuring a watermelon recipe, but I feel I should be honest.

I've never liked watermelon. 

Then I made watermelon agua fresca, and I should be honest again and reveal that with the exception of two small glasses shared with my husband and a very talented photographer (more on him in a minute), I drank the entire pitcher myself in less than twenty-four hours. There was no remorse, no hesitation, and no regret, except when the pitcher was empty and I did in fact regret not making more immediately. 

But it's been a week and the issue has been rectified. I've made another pitcher for myself, and officially declare this beautiful pink liquid the drink of August.

Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)

Lately, it's the small things that get me. Literally small, like the stack of onesies I opened at my baby shower earlier this month. Or figuratively small, like a series of moments strung together in a day.

Sipping this drink, rolling down the car window and smelling salt water, having my feet rubbed, sending an email to a friend, the melodic sound my necklace makes as I let the long string collapse into the bowl that holds it each night, reading three pages of a book before falling asleep with my Kindle in my right hand. I'm trying to remember everything. 

So you can see why something like agua fresca, fruit and water, can be both plainly refreshing and mildly life-changing. Most days, it's the little things, like these four lines by Charles Simic. 


Watermelons

by Charles Simic

Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.


Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)

Our baby arrives in eight weeks, give or take. In between arranging the nursery, writing thank you notes from my baby shower, cleaning out closets, shredding old files, and folding baby clothes, I'm also trying to finish up several freelance writing projects before October, which brings me to the photographer I mentioned earlier.

I've worked with Josh Telles on Life & Thyme stories over the past year, and this time he came to my house to snap photos while I cooked two recipes for my most recent story featuring produce from Farm Fresh to You.

Read more here, plus find a bonus recipe for a refreshing summer salsa!

Josh graciously agreed to let me share some of the images with you, and I'm so glad he he did, because they're too beautiful not to send into the world. It also gives you a glimpse into my kitchen, and a small peek at the belly, too.


Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)

WATERMELON-LIME AGUA FRESCA

When the days are warm, a refreshing seasonal drink is always in order. This popular Mexican beverage gets something right: celebrating fruit at its peak of freshness. Use what’s in season, add a splash of citrus, and enjoy all summer long.

4 cups diced watermelon, rinds removed
3 cups water
2-3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon sugar

In a high speed blender, puree the watermelon with half the water (1 ½ cups), lime juice, and sugar until smooth. Strain into a large pitcher, then stir in the remaining water. Taste, and add more lime if desired (I added an extra squeeze!). Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving over a tall glass of ice, garnished with lime wedges and/or a few sprigs of mint.

Bells Begin Ringing

My favorite weeknight recipe of late.

My favorite weeknight recipe of late.

The day I turned in my second Life and Thyme magazine story, I reorganized all the mason jars in my pantry. Brown paper bags had been piling up with scoops of lentils, various grains of rice, and seeds, and to say there was disorder among them would be an understatement.

When I'm under a deadline it's hard to focus on anything else. I'd spent the previous two weeks writing approximately five drafts and simultaneously neglecting tasks like laundry, dusting, and said pantry. There was also the matter of my day job to contend with.

It was this past Sunday morning. Fresh off a dinner party the night before and with my husband reading through the story one last time, I pulled out the offenders. Pistachios, beluga lentils, oats, plus a few empty jars waiting to be filled. It felt good to finish one task and begin another.

That morning I also browsed quickly through my Twitter feed and discovered a timely quote.

I revise a great deal. I know when something is right because bells begin ringing and lights flash.
— E.B. White
Red pen marks for days.

Red pen marks for days.

I feel this way sometimes, too. You just know when the work is done. You know when it's close, when it needs one more read, when you would be best served by walking away for a few hours, and when it's finally, miraculously good enough.

The same surge of energy I feel at the beginning of a project is usually there at the end, except it's even more satisfying because you've survived the treacherous middle, the "jigsaw puzzle" phase as I like to call it.

Much writing is very much like putting a puzzle together on a rainy day. You open the box and sink a little bit when your eyes lock on 1,000 scattered pieces of a Monet painting. Then you plow forward and do the practical thing: collect all the pieces with an edge.

Our writing needs a framework, and the first draft is like the framed puzzle with nothing in the middle. We know where it's going, the edges are set, we can see the puzzle being completed, but there is still work to be done.

Next we categorize by color. All the blue sky pieces in one corner, the sunlit hills in another. Animals over to one side of the table, and anything questionable clustered on the other side. Then you start putting pieces together section by section, setting them inside the puzzle's frame with a triumphant smile. These are like paragraphs, threaded together and sorted one after the other until the truth is revealed.

You almost believe you will finish. One moment, you do. 

To complete a puzzle, or any writing project, is a momentous occasion. Whether it's a single blog post, a long magazine article, or an entire manuscript, it's worth celebrating once you hear the bells and see the lights flash.

I'll let you know when the magazine comes out this summer. I'm particularly proud of this one, because it's a story close to my heart that's been three years in the making featuring an inspiring new restaurant in Los Angeles. More on that soon! 

Snacks at Alma Restaurant

Snacks at Alma Restaurant


As you might imagine, my cooking for the past few weeks has relied on some tried and true dishes instead of testing new recipes, but I have managed to work a couple of new ones into the mix. 

The First Mess put together a healthy bowl from Sprouted Kitchen's new cookbook. It's the kind of meal that makes you feel really, really good. Healthy, energized, and powerful. During busy weeks, meals like this are essential. Cook a few grains on Sunday (like brown rice and quinoa), and make the dressing, then all you need to do is assemble. I'm in love. 

I've also been eating a lot of panzanella. It's another easy assembly-style dish. 

And a week doesn't go by when there isn't kale salad on the menu (similar to this one). Lately I've been making mine with a bright red wine vinegar and mustard dressing that can stand up to the sturdy leaves. Topped with toasted breadcrumbs and a very healthy dose of Parmesan cheese, it's absolutely perfect. 

The kale salad I can't live without.

The kale salad I can't live without.