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these things are your becoming

Strawberry Cornmeal Loaf // Delightful Crumb

Of late, I’ve found that the best way to describe my working life is that I’m cobbling it together. I write and edit as a freelancer for a handful of nonprofits, assist a brilliant food-blogger-and-photographer-turned-friend once a week as she works on her first cookbook, have scored some food-related writing projects, bake several mornings a week at my neighborhood cafe and work an occasional shift there as a barista.

I must say first that I’m really grateful for all of these things; I never want to take them for granted. And I also know I’m not alone. Particularly in this economy, and certainly within the blogging community, there are a lot of people cobbling it together. I’m in pretty great company.

But this is challenging. I swear to you, notwithstanding the prettiness of my curated Instagram feed, my situation is not glamorous—though of course, I imagine yours isn’t either, despite what I might think. Some days are lovely, it’s true: I am assigned work that I’m good at, and my contribution feels meaningful and worthwhile. I bake something delicious at the cafe and get to watch someone enjoy it. But on other days, I panic about my career and my trajectory and my future, and I wonder about the desk job I left behind. Or all of my unrelated responsibilities present their demands at the same time, or I just can’t stop the whole intermingled mess of them from swirling around unceasingly in my head, and I feel like a crazy person.

Strawberry Cornmeal Loaf // Delightful CrumbStrawberry Cornmeal Loaf // Delightful Crumb

It was on one of those crazy-person days several weeks ago that I arrived at the last essay in Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. It is the one that carries the name of the book, and it was my favorite, which is saying something, because I loved them all. The reader asked Cheryl, then the anonymous advice columnist for The Rumpus, what guidance she wishes she could offer to her twenty-something self. Along with a lot of other brilliant and lovely things that I needed to hear, Cheryl wrote this:

Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. …

The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours spent writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.

A life, not a career. This, my becoming. The disparate pieces matter, as it happens, every last one of them. And I need to buck up and plunge forward and calm down.

Strawberry Cornmeal Loaf // Delightful Crumb

I can certainly say that without the experiences of the last months, I wouldn’t feel the freedom to develop my own recipes for baked goods. I’ve always felt able to improvise at dinnertime, and I tweaked cakes and breads like mad, but I was afraid to start with a blank sheet of paper to create. Until now.

And baking provides an excellent analogy for the lessons I’ve articulated above: Like a myriad of miscellaneous experiences and jobs and projects and pursuits, seemingly unrelated ingredients come together into a slop of batter in a bowl and enter the oven to emerge sweet and crumbling and lovely, full of jammy strawberries, complete and delicious and so much better for the process—the process of becoming—that came before.

Strawberry Cornmeal Loaf // Delightful CrumbStrawberry Cornmeal Loaf // Delightful CrumbStrawberry Cornmeal Loaf

Cut the strawberries into small pieces so that they are well distributed throughout the bread and provide plenty of wonderfully jammy pockets to stumble upon while eating. Along with the bread’s crumbly texture and crisp top, those jammy pockets were a high priority in developing this recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Makes: 1 loaf, about 10 slices

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for the pan

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour

3/4 cup cornmeal

3/4 cup natural cane sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

A few gratings fresh nutmeg, or to taste

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 heaped cup sliced strawberries (cut into fourths or eighths, depending on the size of the berries), plus a few for decorating

2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch tin, and line it with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and cornmeal. Add the cane sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg, and whisk again to combine.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.

Add the wet mixture to the dry, and with a spatula, stir just until combined. Add the strawberries, mixing gently to incorporate.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Decorate with a few slices of strawberries, and sprinkle evenly with the turbinado sugar.

Bake for about 1 hour, until the loaf is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before removing it to continue cooling. This loaf is best once cooled.

Strawberry Cornmeal Loaf // Delightful Crumb

11 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. well done, lady! can’t wait to try this stacyoriginalloaf once the midwest gets some strawberries! xoxo

  2. What a lovely piece of writing. You make me want to read that book!

    Also, I have far too much cornmeal right now, so I might just make this for a dinner party tomorrow! Thanks for sharing your inspiration.

  3. Oh! Thank you! I, too, needed those words. This is life. It’s beautiful, and hard, and funny. I look forward to baking this bread and thinking of you!

  4. Oh Stacy. You do not know how many times I have read that last chapter. Literally, my copy is falling apart. I have a biblical attachment to it. I am only two weeks out of “work work,” as it were, and I am in FULL BLOWN CRAZY TOWN. I almost joined the peace corps today. This is not a joke. You’re not alone.

  5. Friend! I love this quote SO much. I am going to plaster it all over my house. I have heard about this book at loved Wild. So you suggest it? Sounds like something I need. As for cobbling, I hear you. There is something that feels so unstable about the cobble, but I was talking to someone a few generations older than myself, explaining what “I do”, and he assured me that you never really stop cobbling. Maybe you become a mother, an executive, a wife to a sick husband…there are so many things to be and become, even if your income comes from one source, we are all cobbling in some sense. Wish you lived closer, anxious for a coffee date with you. Lovely writing, miss.

  6. Love this and love you!

  7. Oh I needed to read this today…the idea of a life and not a career is one that a struggle with (and the idea of a life that is not defined by a career). Important words, thank you for sharing.

  8. Sage advice. I could not agree more. I worry so much about not pursuing enough of a career and spending more and more time on blogging. But I enjoy every aspect of the process and all the learning involved, those cobbled bits are what matters. I will remember that quote next time I start fretting about my career and focus on the life instead!

  9. The freelancer in me thinks that advice is sound. The baker finds this recipe very sound! Just made this and it came out really well. I used frozen strawberries because they’re not quite in season here yet, also had to use whole wheat pastry flour in place of white whole wheat flour (I don’t know if it’s not available in Canada but I have never been able to find it). Added some lemon zest but other than that followed as is. Will definitely make again.
    Thanks for sharing this. Looking forward to trying out more of your recipes.

  10. I made this today with fresh strawberries that we picked a couple of days ago. Yummy! I had to freeze the rest of the loaf or I would still be munching on it. A keeper definitely!

  11. Two words: jammy pockets.

    Now I need strawberries. And reading this from the perspective of someone who has been through it all already and came out fine on the other end, I’m certain that you will, too. Life is a crazy carnival ride. Get on. Hang on. And enjoy it. You will not regret one moment of a life lived out loud.