Twelve months ago, I donated most of my belongings to Goodwill, shipped the things I was keeping, packed my KitchenAid Stand Mixer into the trunk of my Prius before I shipped that, too, and I moved in with my mom for a few months. Before those few months, I couch surfed. I stayed at friends’ places (some longer than others, and I dearly appreciate those who opened their homes to me). I stayed at family friends’ places. All of this before, at last, my mom and I could move into her brand new, freshly built condo in southern Florida. And in the span of that giant mess last spring and summer, I turned 26. Which means I promptly wanted to move out and, you know, not live at home.
So from there, I went to Atlanta, where I stayed for under two months. It wasn’t my place. I’m just going to leave it at this: Minneapolis was begging me to finally come
the fuck home. And finally, I listened. I road tripped my way back to my city. I returned worse for the wear, but in a new car, with boxes I found I could lift all by myself, with a whole life I had left behind just waiting for me to pick back up again and move forward. Turns out the things I had built in Minneapolis by myself for myself were truly real; living here, I had set the foundations to feel supported in the face of blindsided difficulty. Every day, I breathe in the love I have cultivated in this city with the friends I have made. It turned out to be the love that helped me recover from what may just be the most difficult thing I have faced in my life just yet. Moving my things into my own space, I asked for help carrying the load because I could.
Please know that I am skipping over a lot of things here because, for a gal who publicly talks a lot while sharing recipes, I actually appreciate privacy? But I will say that it has been really, really difficult. In ways that were unforeseen. In ways that make you see and appreciate the people in your life in a different light. In ways that might surprise, jilt, jolt, and-when you least expect it and maybe are most deserving of it-delight you. And it starts to feel a little bit like the Velveteen Rabbit described,
You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
This cake is for anyone who has been through hell and emerged feeling slightly more equanimous than before, with a little more willingness to be content either way; with a little less willingness to settle for anything unacceptable, uncomfortable, or unnecessary; with a lot more strength than you ever could have imagined. Please know that, if this applies to you, I am sending you love. And sugar. But more love than sugar, because I think that that may be where the real magic lies.
Made with vanilla-infused olive oil (gifted from a dear friend who I’m starting to think believed in me all along, who knew as I faced difficulty that I was fiercer and more full of fire than the things in front of me), the recipe is dense and decadent, rich and buttery, infused with the acidic, citrus spark of lemon. The cake itself may only be one layer, and it may only be swathed in a thin coating of lemon-infused glaze, BUT it just doesn’t need the other frills to be majestic. Perched regally atop my cake stand, it owned the space it didn’t even physically occupy, redirecting and commanding the attention of any and all who happened upon its citric royalty in the 48 hours of its rule. In such a short whirlwind of time, you meet and then you separate, and you are better than you were. Because: Cake.
One Year: NYT Mac and Cheese
Two Years: Spaghetti with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce
Three Years: Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Toffee, Marshmallows, and Smoked Sea Salt
Glazed Lemon Olive Oil Cake
Makes 1 9-inch round cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
juice and zest of one lemon
1/3 cup high quality olive oil (with fruity and/or sweet notes, like this one)
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
juice and zest of one lemon
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
splash of milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, beat together butter and both sugars at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in one egg at a time at medium speed, another 2 minutes. Turn mixer to low and beat in vanilla, olive oil, and lemon zest until combined. Beat in dry ingredients in halves, alternating with lemon juice, until just combined. Pour mixture into prepared pan, smoothing. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a tester comes out clean with moist crumbs attached. Let cool for five minutes in the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
Stir together confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Add milk in splashes until glaze is at desired consistency, spreadable, but with some density to it. Spread atop cooled cake. Cake can be served immediately, but will last up to two days covered in an airtight container.