The Purple “Anything Cake”

Call it homesickness, or missing my friends. Blame it on not being able to find everything on my grocery list at one single grocery store (I mean, really, who doesn’t carry cans of crushed tomatoes?). Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen rain in several weeks. Maybe it’s everything rolled into one big stressful, exciting, overwhelming life change. The point remains:  I’ve been a little glum lately.

When a friend of mine moved to D.C. after taking a new job, she employed what I’ve come to call the Meghan Method:  she hit the ground running and proactively found people to hang out with and things to do. She literally was out running on her second or third day in town and found a bocce ball league, so she promptly signed up.

I admired her for her motivation and her gumption. I told myself that when I got to California, I would employ the Meghan Method:  I would find things to do, and I would make the people who do those things into my new friends.

But I’m not Meghan. And I have discovered that many of the things that I like to do are solo activities. Writing, yes, obviously. But cooking. Before, cooking seemed like a community-oriented thing. I cook things, I bring them to people, we eat together, community happens. But I don’t have anyone to bring food to.

I got upset over all of this. I scoured the Internet like a mad woman, looking for dance studios, literary community, yoga studios, Meetup groups. I have yet to come up with any real results. I’m a Meghan Method Failure.

Beautiful California Meyer lemons!
Beautiful California Meyer lemons!

But the positive side to those solo activities that I like is that, well, I like them. So this weekend, I knew I needed some time to putter in the kitchen. I needed to cook something fun – not dinner, nothing healthy, just fun. I found my first ever Meyer lemons at the farmers market in Ventura on Saturday, and I decided we needed lemon pound cake in our lives.

I found this lovely recipe for Lemon Yogurt Anything Cake on the smitten kitchen blog. Deb Perelman usually has the perfect answer to my cooking quandaries, and true to form, she had the perfect recipe for my lemons. The fun part about this cake is that it can be customized – switch citrus out, switch the blueberries out, try a different oil, a different glaze, whatever. That’s why it’s called an “anything cake.” Just like the song says, “anything goes.”

In the midst of my puttering, I ignored some directions about rinsing my frozen blueberries after they thawed. I mixed them with a tablespoon of flour to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the loaf, and then folded them in to the cake batter. You can probably guess what happened:  purple cake. A marbled, pastel purple cake. Like an Easter egg. People on the Whisks & Words Facebook page told me to take heart, that it was pretty, that it would still taste good. One sweet soul said it looked like Van Gogh’s Starry Night (I’m not saying she’s my favorite, but she did compare my cake to a Van Gogh painting, so…..).

Pre-baking. Purple cake.
Pre-baking. Purple cake.

I took a picture of my mistake, I shook my head, I cleaned my kitchen, and I waited. Purple cake. Such a silly mistake. Obviously I should have known to rinse them – there was juice all over the inside of the bowl I had been thawing them in.

In the end, the cake came out fine. It didn’t look purple at all. The yellow of the cake batter overtook the berry streaks, and it all came out golden brown, sweet, with a hint of lemon. The glaze adds a bit of zippy lemon twist on top of the loaf, a way to remind you that you’re eating citrus, that when all is said and done, a lemon is tart and snappy and makes you sit up straighter.

I’ve been thinking about that cake in the days since I baked it. The actual act of baking restored me a bit. There’s something in the rhythm of mixing ingredients, waiting for them to bake, washing dishes, that brings me back to a solid place where I feel more steady. But I’ve also been thinking about the name of it:  “anything cake.”

I’m tempted to think that with enough work, a systematic approach, and the power of an Internet search engine, I can fix loneliness or homesickness. I can prevent sadness. I can find someone to have coffee with me or to go get a pedicure on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s the college application approach:  if I make good grades and write a good essay and stand out among competitors, and send out enough applications, someone will accept me.

A cake that's just fine.
A cake that’s just fine.

But a systematic approach rarely works in matters of the human heart, in relationships, old and new. I have to give up the systematic approach. I have to embrace the “anything cake” approach:  use what I like, use what I have, leave the rest behind, and enjoy.

My life feels a bit like that purple cake. The ingredients are there, but it looks a little off. I know it’ll come out fine. I just need to give it time – I need to give my life a chance to happen, need to write and exercise and cook and practice embracing solitude. I need to leave the house and find my new coffee shop.

My life will come out like that cake:  I’ll remember that once upon a time, I freaked out because it looked purple. It looked wrong. But when I gave it a little time, it was just fine.

When I gave it a little time, I was just fine.

12 thoughts on “The Purple “Anything Cake”

  1. Julian of Norwich writes in her Revelations, “I may make all thing well, I can make all thing well, I will make all thing well, and I shall make all thing well; and thou shalt see thyself that all manner of thing shall be well.”

  2. For what it’s worth, I had a look at the swirly cake and thought “Wow, a swirly purple cake, how AWESOME is that?!?” One person’s mess is another person’s art, I suppose. I’m sure your purple-cake life will end up delicious.

    1. Thank you! It’s true – what looks like a cake-tastrophe to one person looks like an awesome, pretty dessert to someone else. It’s funny how hard on myself I can be.

  3. Oh moving is so hard and isolating. I couldn’t do the Meghan Method either, though I know community comes in time. All my moves have been traumatic for those first lonely months. That cake looks pretty dang delicious!

  4. Thinking of you and sending some East Coast love your way. Just think, you’re really close to all those amazing food blogger conferences and food&wine festivals I am always reading about.

  5. I’m a blueberry lover, and have made MANY a purple cake/muffin/quick bread, all of them delicious, none of them to be embarrassed about. and you’re right; totally NOT purple after it baked! I’ve made this SK cake before, and i love it, so i know yours was delicious.
    you’ll find things to do. and people to meet. and canned tomatoes at the grocery store (besides, grocery stores always take a few weeks to get to know; the tomatoes are probably lurking somewhere in there). you’ll get used to things.

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