Beauty More Than Bread

Lifestyle
September 9, 2017

I’m trying to write to you about the blessings and benefits of seasonal ingredients. I want to write a simple story of a simple, everyday table that reflects the changing of the seasons. Stone fruits & root vegetables for fall, winter citrus & pomegranate; a spring of radishes, peas, strawberries, arugula; a summer of plums and pluots. I want evocative flowers & fruits. What I want to tell you, through these photos, is that the everyday is infused with poetry. And I want this moment, this post, to be grounded in the now—with timely ingredients and timelier thoughts.

But I am hesitant to write this, a recipe & playlist post, with all of the usual, pretty, attendant flowers.

Why? Because as I set the table with flowers, and squeeze fresh orange juice for cake glaze, I am turning over thoughts of hurricanes, disasters, and political unrest. I drift in and out of the garden, snipping hydrangea, my little dog following my every move. Things are more peaceful than I have any right for them to be. My own life feels settled and healed, but I know how precarious healing is. How a moment could unsettle all of this.

Life is not being subtle right now. The sense of collective unrest, of heartache… it’s exhausting and incomprehensible. Natural disasters and divisive politics will wake anyone up. But what about the subtler, more insidious suffering that attends these things? What about the diminishment of faith, of hope, that transcends party lines. What about the fact that everywhere, private dramas continue to play out. Somewhere, someone’s husband has just left her. Someone is going through a crisis of faith, and she doesn’t know if she will ever feel as close to God as she once did. Another someone is wondering if he can ever live free of depression and anxiety. Someone’s best friend, the one who experienced everything by her side, has ghosted her. And somewhere some boyfriend has just inflicted a wound that’s gonna take years to heal. Of this we can always be certain.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on.

But who cares about seasonal food and flowers? Who cares about eating fresh and finding local flower options? What a pampered problem. To write about these things seems incredibly tone deaf, insensitive even. Here, and now.

Maybe a simple, grounding post like this is the last thing we need. But then again, maybe we’ve never needed it more.

Maybe, in the midst of unrest, we would like to feel that beauty still exists. That we can still create a home that is a haven; a place of real rest. That we can return to faith, and be accepted, and periodically offer up untroubled prayers– even praises–  for this life. Wouldn’t that be a relief?

I find that beauty is stubborn. In the bleakest times, there are still moments of unutterable beauty. Moments where we feel as though we are in exactly the right place at the right time, even if we are only folding laundry, or finishing up a yoga practice. Beauty’s persistence could feel like an insult, in these suffering times, or it could feel like salvation.

Maybe, if we let just a little light in, just a little beauty, our tired hearts would take notice. Maybe we could all do with a Proustian moment. We could all stand to eat a cookie that transported us back to the happiest moments of childhood; in a rush, the spring meadows, beauty, and innocence return.

I don’t feel like creating beauty has to be an escapist or trivial thing. It can be a deliberate and intentional action, a refusal of the soul to give into despair. Beauty is the triumph of the human spirit over the thousand things that assail it. Creating beauty can be a way of declaring faith and clinging to hope. We are powerless before so many things. We are not powerless in the choice to invite, cultivate, and deliberately create moments of beauty, grace, and kindness.

I’m sure that some could look at my work and think that there is something inherently selfish about it—pretty flowers for the sake of pretty flowers. I’m not a medical doctor, or a biologist, and I’m not actively rescuing anyone from anything. But I know there is meaning to it all. And I do believe that beauty is revolutionary—that it has the power to enact healing. I know that in my own life, the most transformative moments happened at the hands of something beautiful. A moment that felt as intimate as prayer.

I sometimes receive letters from people I have worked with, and they are the great blessings of my life. The content of those letters is sacred, but there is a common theme among them: that the beauty I created mattered. That it belonged to some of the best experiences they had lived. That it touched something in them, some deeply resonant place, and they are the better for it. And who am I to argue in the presence of beauty’s power, which I feel is interchangeable with God’s grace?

If we all connected and created a more beautiful world… Can you imagine? Can you imagine what life would look like if we all devoted even an hour or half hour a day to beauty? Can you imagine the friendships that could flourish, the family life that could be ours to enjoy? Can you imagine the memories that we could give our children, our parents, and ourselves? I can imagine that even God would look with delight upon our efforts.

Sometimes, what your soul needs needs is warm bread, and music, and flowers. And that’s completely ok to admit. Below, my humble suggestions for an afternoon well spent, with Emmylou Harris, citrus cake, and whatever flowers you happen to wander upon or grow in your garden. It’s a totally seasonal experience, designed to ground you in this present moment.

I hope a sense of pure being fills your heart, and you are able to recognize the sacred fact of your being here, now.

The below recipe is authored by and lovingly reprinted from Call Me Cupcake blog by the beautifully talented Linda Lomelino. Her recipes are as thoughtfully crafted as her Scandi chic images, and this cake was no exception. With a citrus-infused batter folded with toasted black sesame seeds, this cake has a lightness to it, as well as something more evocative. If you can’t find blood oranges, any seasonal citrus will, I think, work (but then again I am not a baker). I added strawberries to my glaze to get a nice apricot color, as well as, you know, something more strawberry-esque in flavor. Enjoy with a friend, and preferably with flowers, and ideally with the playlist I’ve included for you below.

From Call me Cupcake:

Yields one loaf cake, serves 8-10

You can omit the sesame seeds if you want to, or try using poppy seeds instead! I’ve tried poppy seeds and it’s equally delicious. If using poppy seeds, there is no need to toast them. You can also bake this cake in a bundt pan, just make sure it’s big enough (approx. 6 1/2 cups).

INGREDIENTS

LOAF CAKE

  • 3 tbsp. black sesame seeds
  • 330 g (2 1/3 cups) all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 175 g (1 1/2 stick) softened butter
  • 330 g (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • finely grated zest of 2 blood oranges
  • 100 ml (1/3 cup & 1 1/2 tbsp) fresh blood orange juice (of approximately 2 oranges)
  • 75 ml (1/3 cup) milk

GLAZE

  • 120 g (3/4 cup + 2 tbsp.) powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 – 2 tbsp. fresh blood orange juice

INSTRUCTIONS

LOAF CAKE

  1. Preheat oven to 175°C (350F). Grease and flour a 6 1/2 cup/1 1/2 litre loaf pan (mine measures: inner depth 7 cm, bottom inner length 21 cm, bottom inner width 8,5 cm, top inner width 11,5 cm)
  2. Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a skillet.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  4. Beat butter and sugar until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
  5. Add the flour mixture, blood orange juice and milk in additions to the butter mixture and stir until batter is smooth. Add the orange zest and 2 1/2 tbsp of the toasted sesame seeds to the batter, leaving 1/2 tbsp seeds for topping.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake in the lower part of the oven for 70-85 minutes (start checking around 60 minutes, cover the top with foil if cake is getting too much color) or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

GLAZE

  1. Stir together powdered sugar and blood orange juice in a small bowl. Drizzle over cake and top with 1/2 tbsp toasted black sesame seeds.

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