Kabocha Squash & Olive Oil Cake
Pretty much every draft of every post/prompt/entry/whatever I begin starts with, “I don’t know where to begin.” The beginning, first steps, really are such the hardest part. Even if you’re convinced of the necessity and goodness and hope of every step thereafter. Even if you can clearly visualize the beautiful end result. It’s so hard to begin.
I went home for the long weekend. I can't believe how the time has flown the past two weeks. Seems like forever ago. Home is the best. No makeup. No to-do list outside of back porch reading and lakeside coffee-drinking. A place where I can hit the store in a scrunchie and leggings wearing full-butted underwear and no one gives a damn. Instead of the long, hot, lazy days of summer what I caught were the first few crisp ones of Autumn. No complaints. Although my suitcase was filled with all of the wrong things. I miss seasons. Transitions, fresh starts, the proverbial turning over of a new leaf.
For much longer than I’d care to admit to either you or myself I’ve been living in a fog. A very mild depression mixed with discouragement and as if that weren’t enough, some serious self-loathing because of it. I’ve been afraid to close the door on some things for fear of the emptiness it might leave. Instead I’ve been choosing to carry the familiar weight that I know oh so well. This is a food blog, I know. But it's also a life blog so on occasion shit will get real. This is one of those occasions. But there's still a cake recipe down there for you. And an incredible one at that. I feel like it's a fair trade. So, back to what I was saying...
That weight I've been carrying is a mix of shame, and fear, and comparison. How I got there is another post for another time but what that weight has done is made me very selective about the parts of myself that I put forward, edited my words to the point of inauthenticity (even to myself), and edited my personality to where I feel disjointed and like I’m unable to articulate who I am and what my purpose is. At some point I veered off track.
For many months I’ve really only been showing up for 80 percent of my life. And that 80 percent is the get up, go to work, do your laundry, feed yourself, adult, mindless run-of-the-mill day stuff. The autopilot part. And from the outside it actually probably looks pretty good. It’s the other 20 percent that I can’t quite wrap my hands around that seems both the most important and the most elusive. At this particular point in time I am not married. I don’t have kids (understandably because I still am one.) I’m at a place in my career where not only do I love what I do, but I have extreme flexibility. Like crazy amounts. A huge indulgence that is an answer to prayer that I’m pretty sure I only ever prayed wishfully to myself because it seemed so outrageously impractical and irresponsible. It’s been answered nonetheless.
I have time, space, and something stirring inside of me that’s so close to the surface. And those things aren’t accidental. I know I’m supposed to be doing something, working toward something, moving toward something in this very precious time in a very purposeful way. But I can’t move because my self-worth has been cut off at the knees. And I am debilitatingly fearful of what other people think of me because of it. Fearful that the mistakes I’ll make along the way will speak louder than whatever I have to offer and people will write me off. Afraid that I'm a total wannabe and whatever I attempt is, for lack of a more intelligent word, stupid.
Rejection and comparison do weird things to your insides. Like most and such is life, I’ve experienced both. As isolated incidences they’re pretty awful but it’s what comes after that can really get you. In the creative world the things you put forth are subjected to a handful of well-paid opinions in the room every single day. Opinions of people whose primary professional responsibility is to judge. Over and over, one dish after another, presented for someone to approve or disapprove. You learn to not take it personally. Or too seriously. But pointed, personal rejection is different. I experienced something like that awhile back and it's been chipping away at my confidence, my joy, my hope, and my identity and without even realizing it, slowly spilling over into almost every other area of life. Shame is sneaky that way. Over time I subconsciously began to agree with that rejection and believe that mistakes I've made really are the most notable things about me. And that hope and restoration and forgiveness only went so far for me before there was a hard-lined, non-negotiable, tough-shit, stop. All things I didn’t believe before.
I feel like if we’re paying attention, prompts are everywhere. In books we read, in conversations we have, in one-liners in movies that give you pause. Bits of truth and inspiration from unexpected and otherwise shallow places that the Lord (or whatever or whomever you believe made you) will use to stir your soul just in case you’ve been avoiding him about it. I’m rarely in denial about what I feel. But time is precious and the lack of productivity in grieving anything frustrates me. What is tangibly productive about dwelling on sadness or disappointment or rejection? So you you say it, “I’m sad.” Okay. Great. Now what? You get on with your day and your life, right? Why not just get on with your life and skip the unproductive dwelling/grieving part? Well, the problem with that approach is that your soul can only carry so much. Plagued with all of those untended emotions, there comes a point when it can no longer support the outer facade that says, “Everything’s fine!” When you finally step off the roller coaster because you’re just sick as all get out of the whole thing, you lean over the side rail while your best friend holds your hair back and basically just lose it. Emotionally that is.
I’m much more tender and far more fragile than my day-to-day life requires me to be. Maybe you feel the same. City life is hard. Single life can be hard. Do I think I’m strong? Yes. Fiercely. And all for grace. Am I unbreakable? For sure not. And what I’ve found is that it’s really difficult to confidently and freely be yourself when you’re within sight of someone that has, whether with word or action, whether intentionally or unintentionally, told you that because of your mistakes, who you are isn’t good enough. That they’re actually ashamed of you too. All the self-empowerment quotes in the world won’t overcome that kind of black and white rejection. I wish I could say that all the wise counsel and words of affirmation from friends that are like family whose lives and faiths I respect and admire were able to speak louder in a lasting way. But this is a weak point. A very touch-and-go wound. So when it gets torn open and a fistful of salt gets smushed in there (and not even good salt. Like cheap-ass crappy salt), hell really has a heyday with it. Shame drop kicks me to anxiety, anxiety to fear, and fear lobs me right back over to shame like a game of hot potato. No matter how much encouragement or affirmation I received (and even if I agreed) the shame always crept back in I think because the truth about who I really am had been uprooted and was barely hanging on by a thread. Finally, slowly, the fog is lifting. Thankfully. Miraculously. Not sure why now. Maybe you were just really meant to have this cake recipe. If I don’t snap out of it how would you ever get your hands on it? That would be a real tragedy because it’s honestly probably one of the top ten things I’ve ever baked. And I’ve baked a lot of stuff. Who knows how long the process will take. Maybe it's never-ending. Not the baking, of course. This whole life/insecurity/rejection thing I'm talking about. But I care much less than ever before if honesty or long overdue changes make me look weak, or pathetic, or if they reveal in any way who I really am and/or where my heart’s really at. Actually, I kind of hope they do that. I’m so tired of pretending to be someone or something or in some place that I’m just not.
To be sure, I've made mistakes. Major ones. I’m sure you’ve done things you’re not proud of. Maybe not. Maybe you've lived a scot-free life never having hurt anyone or made decisions you wish you hadn't. Props to you. That's amazing. And I don't wish regret on you by any means but I think we might have a hard time relating to each other. I'm definitely disappointed in myself for messes I've made and unfortunately I'm also pretty sure I'm not done screwing up. But I’m not ashamed of who I am. Those are two very different things. And I’m certainly not ashamed of the stories of extraordinary grace that have been written out of those major messes. It’s like Lemonade for real over here. Beautiful lemonade made with those sweet Meyer lemons, pure sugar, maybe some sprigs of thyme for show, and crisp, sparkling water. Doesn't that sound refreshing? A little more refined? And at the very least far more interesting than the shallow powdered packet you just add water to? There's depth and surprise and sweetness. That's my lemonade. Shame, set off by rejection, has really been the one authoring my inner dialogue for much too long. The person I really think I am is funny and witty, optimistic, kind, contagiously joyful, fiercely loyal, (sometimes too) honest, and finds more wild and satisfying adventure in everyday life than most find chasing it around the world. I'm not particularly patient. Actually, I'm not at all patient. Probably why I'm my absolute worst, ugliest self behind the wheel. I’m shy in groups, socially awkward and only have the capacity to keep a handful of people close at any given point in my life because they get everything and then some. And when I’m not stomping all over it like I have been lately in a temper tantrum of self-protecting pride, I have the sweetest gift of childlike faith. If nothing else, I am entirely forgiven for the grand mess that is pretty much my life. All of it. Grace is not an excuse. It’s truth. It’ll be the daily work of a whole lifetime to live into that but I can’t wait to flesh out those thoughts. That truth. To re-write the story I tell myself about myself. To dwell on grace. And tell you all why I actually wouldn’t trade my story for anything.
Now, here’s that lovely cake recipe. Thanks for listening.
Kabocha Squash and Olive Oil Cake
This recipe is adapted (read: made gluten-free) from the Gjelina restaurant cookbook. It won't be the last one you see here. It's the new favorite and I've been cooking from it weekly. Make this and then get yourself a copy. A quick note on the chocolate: it's fine to use chips. Still chop them though. Otherwise it'll be tough to cleanly slice the cake once it's cool.
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half or into wedges, drizzle with olive oil, and roast for 25-35 minutes (depending on the size of your pieces) until easily pierced with a fork. Allow the squash to cool to room temperature and scrape the flesh from the peel. You'll need one packed cup for this recipe. This part can be done in advance.
2. When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9x5 inch loaf pan and line with parchment so that it overhangs the edge of the pan. Mine made an additional little 4x5 loaf (one for you, one for me :) so maybe have an extra prepared pan on standby just in case.
3. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, psyllium husk, baking soda and powder, and salt. In the bowl of a food processor (or whisked by hand) combine the roasted squash, olive oil, eggs, and sugar until well smooth, 10-15 seconds. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour in the squash mixture and whisk until well combined. Don't worry about over-mixing it. There's no gluten :) and the psyllium husk needs a good stir to activate. Fold in the chopped chocolate and transfer to the prepared pan(s) filling 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for 75-90 minutes (check the little guy at 30-40 minutes) or until golden brown on top. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes and then gently lift it out using it's parchment wings. Allow it to cool to room temperature before glazing.
4. To make the glaze, sift the powdered sugar (don't skip this or your icing will be lumpy) into a bowl. Use a fork to whisk in the hot water. Whisk in the olive oil. Pour over the cake and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.
1 small Kabocha squash (you'll need one cup, roasted and pureed)
1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour blend (recipe below)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground psyllium husk
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/3 cups organic cane sugar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds (for garnish)
For the glaze
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons hot water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the flour blend
2 1/4 cup brown rice flour
1 3/4 cup oat flour
1 3/4 cups potato starch
1 cup sorghum flour