Last weekend I went to the Cherry Bombe Jubilee. I went there assuming that I’d feel out of my element, as I so often do in large social settings. Instead, all day, I ran into so many people whom I knew and loved, people I’d met over the years by way of the food world or dinner parties or blogging or extended friend circles or the internet. With the heartbreak of the Sonoma and Napa fires weighing heavily on everyone, there were so many hugs, and it felt that we all, collectively, let our guards down to come together and grieve our losses and celebrate the power of our community. We needed to connect in real life, and feel a sense of hope and purpose together, after such a brutal week, following such a brutal year.
This year, 2017, has been the loneliest year of my life. I moved to Portland following a breakup, and then instead of moving into town, I found a little cabin 20 minutes from town. As a self-employed person outside of my home state for the first time ever, I lost the deeply-rooted network of friends, family, and colleagues that had grown organically over years and years. The crushing weight of the election, coupled with the heavy grey darkness of my first winter so far north, spun it all into a perfect storm of deep seasonal depression. I had lost all of my anchors: being self-employed, I lacked a workplace community, a solid local network of friends, or a man in my life. No family up here either. In my quest to be frugal, I also amplified my isolation. It’s weird how isolation begets more of the same, how the more comfortable one is there, the easier it is to continue to cultivate.
Which is why, lately, I have been thinking so deeply on community. I didn’t realize how much I had left behind in California, and how much I needed to cultivate it where I am now. In the midst of our deep relationships with our devices, these devices that serve as a proxy for our friendships, relationships, community, and family, we seem to be doing less and less reaching out, in real life. When I see warnings about the rise in loneliness and isolation among teenagers, I take it to heart, because I see myself succumbing to it too. I see it happening to so many of us.
So what is community, then? It has everything to do with connecting with people in real life, away from our devices, and together with each other. We are pretty magical creatures when we are face to face, with all the nuance and expression and body language that emanates from us when we make eye contact, talk, sit beside each other, walk together. Community is what happens when we feel connected, heard, and seen; it is being accepted by the people that matter to us on a rich, juicy, core level. Community is in the little details too. For me, that might be nerding out on the weirdness of freelance life with a friend over coffee or messing up and then fixing a recipe together in the kitchen. I feel community with the folks who share my values: around food and food systems, around the value of wild places, around the expression of creativity, around language and writing, around connecting, inhabiting our bodies by moving in them daily, some kind of spiritual practice that gives a sense of purpose and meaning.
Having discovered the limits of my ability to be alone, my challenge now is to spend more actual, real time with humans. That means that I have to do more of the uncomfortable thing: reach out. It sounds so obvious, and so simple, but it gets lost in the mix of our busy lives. It has been so rewarding. Reaching out! As an introvert, I have never been good at it. It’s just a tiny step out of my comfort zone that has made a world of difference. That’s what this cake is about. Cake should be shared.
Apple Blackberry Sage Cake
Every year I make an apple cake. It’s been a little one-note in past years, so this year I put all of my favorite things in. It’s a little bolder than your everyday snacking cake, with a dynamic balance of sweet and savory notes. It is mostly based on the Apple Sage Walnut Cake from my cookbook, Vibrant Food, but instead of walnuts, I used pine nuts, and I added blackberries and reduced the amount of sugar. Following Aran’s lead, I added a third egg – it makes for such a light cake that rises voluminously, which I love. And inspired by Nigel Slater, who taught me first about the tradition of apples and blackberries together, this year I have finally made a cake that celebrates the two.
For the cake:
3/4 cup 1-to-1 gluten-free baking flour (or use your favorite gluten-free baking blend)
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup yogurt (I used coconut)
3/4 cup blackberries (or use blueberries; drain if frozen)
For the crumble:
3 tablespoons oats
3 tablespoons pine nuts (you can use any nut you like here: walnuts, almonds, pecans)
3 tablespoons cane sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 tart, firm apples, such as Pink Pearl, thinly sliced (with a mandolin)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the gluten-free, almond and oat flours, cane sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt and whisk with a fork until blended.
In a separate bowl, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, olive oil, and yogurt. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. Gently mix in the blackberries.
To prepare the topping, in a bowl, mix together the oats, pine nuts, cane sugar, sage, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Using your fingers, work in the butter until the mixture is well combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle half of the crumble topping evenly over the batter. Tuck the thin apple slices into the top, nestling them upright into the batter, and finish by sprinkling the rest of the crumble topping into the nooks and crannies.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes before serving.