These last few months have felt like an interim to me, a period tucked between the last concrete set of experiences and something else yet to be revealed. I’ve called it by many names: in-between, transition, season, interlude. That’s certainly what it feels like, even now. But a couple of weeks ago, I realized something. It’s quite a bit more likely that this isn’t the in-between of anything. The crystal clear moments, it seems to me, are the rare ones. What I’m experiencing now? Perhaps this is life.
Throughout my childhood—and I know I’m not alone in this—the idea of the in-between was entirely absent. This continued into college, when the path still seemed relatively clear and simple, mostly because I didn’t yet know the wildness of the world, its myriad opportunities, roadblocks, surprises. No one mentioned that my sense of this path might change once I’d left behind the rhythm of an academic calendar, so after college, I kept trying to wrap definitions around the seasons of my life, doing my best to identify what each one was about and where it was taking me. Job applications, waiting, moving, a layoff: these were transitions, hinges between the better, sturdier, more important parts of my life, the ones that made sense. But maybe it’s not a structure I’m building, or even a path that I’m on. Maybe it’s a painting—and an abstract one at that.
Clarity is golden and comfortable but elusive. We live much more of our lives in the hazy space, where direction and purpose and the meaning behind events and experiences aren’t obvious at all.
I was listening to a Dear Sugar podcast today, part of a series in which Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond talk about singleness, finding “the one” and the idea of scarcity. The whole thing is worth a listen, relevant as it is to the current state of relationships. In this particular podcast, they spoke with Kate Bolick, author of Spinster. For a long time, Bolick explains, she looked at her life through the binary of single v. married, waiting to see which it would be. As she writes to open the book, “Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.” But then one day, when she was about thirty-five, she woke up and thought, What am I waiting for? She realized that her life, as it stood at that moment, was fantastic. She didn’t need to wait for a life partner for the story to begin. It was a great life already.
The principle applies here, too. This moment is pretty great, in its own weird way, and I’d hate to miss it. It’s taking me an awfully long time, but I’m gradually coming to terms with the fact that life doesn’t always—or rather, doesn’t usually—make sense in the logical, all-the-puzzle-pieces-fit way I once expected. The truth, I think, is that sometimes we just wait, doing our best to set aside anxiety around the question of what it is we are waiting for. We carry on. Celebrate what we have and know, right now. Enjoy it to the extent that we can. And, if we’re lucky, eat cake.
Kabocha, Olive Oil & Bittersweet Chocolate Loaf Cake
Adapted from Travis Lett’s Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California
On our trip to LA last spring, Gjusta Bakery, sister project to Gjelina and also owned by Travis Lett, was the one place we visited twice. If LA wasn’t so full of incredible things to eat, I could have gone every day, multiple times. It’s that good. This is a beautiful cookbook, full of the sort of vibrant dishes that put Gjelina and Gjusta Bakery on the map, from creative vegetable dishes to epic mushroom toast to this sturdy, flavorful cake.
The glaze puts this cake more in the tea time/dessert category for me, so you could leave it off if you want a less decadent breakfast treat. However, I think the decadence would be worth it, even at breakfast, because it’s a fantastic touch. The pepitas and cacao nibs lend great texture, and it’s gorgeous to boot. The original recipe calls for kabocha squash, but since I’m no longer finding that variety at my market, I used butternut, which was delicious. I am sure acorn squash or pumpkin would cooperate here as well. Draining the roasted squash is a great trick, and the deeper flavor and lovely crumb that result are worth the extra wait.
Serves 8 to 10
One 1-lb (455-g) piece kabocha or butternut squash, seeded
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling, plus 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (255 ml)
Butter, for the pan
1 1/2 cups (180 g) all-purpose flour (or use half all-purpose and half white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup (200 g) to 1 1/3 cups (265 g) natural cane sugar, depending on your preference for sweetness and your choice of squash
3 large eggs, lightly whisked
8 ounces (230 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons raw pepitas
FOR THE OLIVE OIL GLAZE
1 1/4 cups (150 g) confectioners’ sugar, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons hot water, plus more as needed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lightly crushed cacao nibs
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a baking sheet, drizzle the squash with olive oil, turn the piece cut-side down and cook until very soft and beginning to caramelize around the edges, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Scrape out the squash flesh and transfer to a food processor. Pulse until smooth.
Place a large piece of cheesecloth in a colander set over a bowl. Put the puréed squash in the cheesecloth and wrap tightly. Allow the squash to drain at least 4 hours, or up to overnight. Squeeze by twisting the cheesecloth to remove any excess water. Unwrap the drained squash and measure out 1 cup (225 g). You can do this up to a few days ahead of baking. Leftover squash can also be saved; keep it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, olive oil, squash purée and eggs. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the squash mixture. Whisk until just combined, taking care not to overmix. Stir in the chopped chocolate.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until browned on top and a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 75 to 90 minutes. If it is browning too quickly, tent with foil. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Then, run a knife around the edges and invert the cake from the pan. Let cool on the rack for another 20 minutes.
In a small, dry frying pan over medium heat, gently toast the pepitas until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Make the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with 2 tablespoons hot water until you have a thick glaze. Add more confectioners’ sugar or water as needed to create a smooth glaze with a thickness reminiscent of honey. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly.
Place a sheet of parchment paper beneath the cooling rack. Pour the glaze over the cake, allowing it to drip over the sides. Sprinkle with the cacao nibs and toasted pepitas and let the glaze set completely before serving, about 1 hour.
The cake will keep in an airtight container for several days. It also freezes well.