Just FYI, The Road Is Lined With Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble

I have made Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble this morning for breakfast and am now listening to the rain and waiting for it to cool. It is the kind of rain that is the harbinger of a change in the weather, and I am ready for fall.

August always seems to be this way: a headlong rush and flurry of busy-ness that only begins to calm down as the mercury drops and the sun dips below the horizon a few minutes earlier every night. I don’t subscribe to the status-seeking cult of busy-ness (also known as the “busy trap”) that surrounds people in the U.S., and yet I have a distinctly difficult time actually relaxing. It is hard for me to sit and just be.

Even as I put a period at the end of that last sentence I was rising to get a slice of still-warm cake because I just couldn’t wait anymore.

I have also, in the time that it has taken to write this little bit, texted with a friend and checked my calendar to see if there is anything pressing this week.

What happened to me?

Growing up, bored and lonely on the side of a mountain in western Maryland, I used to while the days away reading, making art, walking in the woods, and writing. My brother and I were not especially close, and when we were it was often because I was receiving a punch for some unknown transgression (or perhaps because he was, himself, bored and lonely and without any particular outlet, and I happened to be handy). I learned early not to approach him unless I was so bored that it was worth the gamble of a blow or a game.

We didn’t have a TV until I was older, and even then it was a black-and-white set with rabbit ears wrapped in tinfoil perched on top, so reception (and even just plain old power) was sketchy at best. We had animals and chores and two parents who worked, so I was left to my own devices more often than not. There was nothing much to do and an endless amount of time to get it done.

After many years of busy doing, I find myself now in a position where I can take my time to do what it is that I am doing. I have mercenary writing that people pay me to do, and then I have my own (which pays nothing but is one of those things like breathing that is necessary and reflexive and vital, even when words don’t make it onto the page. But I digress.). I have yoga teaching and a new job as the assistant manager at my lovely studio, both of which do not take much time either.

So I find myself at loose ends, again, as the calendar and the weather indicate that it is, indeed, decorative gourd season, motherfuckers.

What to do? How to fill the days?

Technically, I have completed all of the duties of a productive member of society: I have (nearly) raised a child to adulthood (a good one, I think); I have started a school and taught over a thousand children; I have been married to a man I loved and lost; I have been lucky enough to love another man in a way that is breath-taking to me – we are building a life together that I could not imagine in the years following the death of my husband.

I have volunteered my time, donated my money, rescued animals, helped others. I have paid taxes.

But what is it about my need to feel like I am doing something? Who cares what I am doing? Who cares how fast it gets done?

Lots of folks, turns out. I have been the recipient of some judgy looks and comments, for sure, about my lack of “busy” on a daily basis. On many days my presence is not required anywhere. I can sit with two dogs at my feet and a cat lazily twining in and around my ankles until I am damn good and ready to do whatever it is that I feel like doing (or whatever it is I have put on my calendar; I am an inveterate procrastinator, but I have not missed a single deadline, and my written calendar is the reason why). This seems to be offensive to some. If I am not worn out by work I don’t enjoy and shopping with the madding crowd every Saturday morning, my life is something of a millennial’s, and perhaps I should grow up.

We are conditioned from birth to do, go, and be. We are to be productive members of society. We are to graduate from schooling (and childhood) and earn money to buy All Of The Things, and we are to have a career or something that we do for 40 hours a week. We are selfish if we choose to art or write or travel or bake or otherwise defy the American Dream (which has itself become a nightmare).

In my graduating class at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, there were two philosophy majors who matriculated with the whole class of several thousand. I still remember wondering what, exactly, that degree would translate into as far as employment goes. Even when I got my English degree, the first question was always if I was planning on teaching. What would I DO with my degree?

Side note before I continue my white-privileged exploration: I am well aware that the color of my skin has allowed me to even think about not doing, going, and being. It is a source of much trouble in my mind and in my writing that I get to write from a place that many people (women) of color will not be able to experience. It is also true that I am exploring ways to support people of color in my work and in theirs. 

Side note, part two: I would not be able to indulge in this type of under-employment were it not for a few life-changing events, specifically the death of my husband in 2013, which put the process of living into perspective, and the closure of my school, HoneyFern, shortly thereafter. 

But here I am now, scoffing at my own self a bit, just as if I was one of the philosophy majors who has no real prospects for gainful employment.

I am trying to make peace with the fact that I there is no earthly requirement (or heavenly one for that matter) that I be constantly and consistently on a path of someone else’s design.

Trouble is getting myself to relax into a path of my own design. Or to even find a path. Or know how to start thinking about design.

We are most of us morons when it comes to listening to our own selves and shutting out all of the noise. It is challenging to find out if what we are doing is actually something we want to be doing or if we have been so corrupted by the influence of the world around us that we are just utterly convinced it was our own idea in the first place.

I am trying to shut up and listen to that little voice, not the Anti-Cheerleader, that raging bitch who insists I am unworthy and ask how dare I, but the voice that is still capable of awe and pure joy. The one that is unconnected to anything but itself. When I can shut up everything – The Facebook, Instagram, the people who would still treat me as if I were a child, the expectations of the world, my own doubt and anxiety and worry – I find moments and glimpses of the road ahead of me. And it’s a peaceful, gravel-lined walk that is meandering and has lots of benches with cushions lining it (I like a soft place to land).

For now, though, seems like I am still in the place of learning to unclench. The anxiety and worry that has gripped me this summer still squeezes me like a fist. It’s rainy days, with peach cake, that maybe help that ease up just a bit.

Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble

This is a breakfast cake, like coffee cake, only with fresh fruit, so technically a serving of fruit. 

Ingredients

Dry:

2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

1/4 cup almond meal

Wet:

2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups fresh peach, peeled, pitted, and chopped small

Crumb topping:

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons melted butter

Optional: 1/2 cup pecans (or type of nuts like almonds or macadamia), chopped small

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a square glass baking dish (butter, oil, or cooking spray). You can also use mini bundt pans (see Recipe Notes).

In a large-ish bowl whisk together dry ingredients.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (I used a 2-cup measuring cup, adding the eggs last and beating them in).

In an even smaller bowl, whisk together crumb topping ingredients while you melt the butter.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add peaches and stir to combine.

Pour into glass baking dish.

Use a fork to add crumble ingredients to melted butter and mix to combine. It should be somewhat clumpy, which is what you want. Add pecans, if using. Spoon/pour/use your hands to distribute crumble on top of your cake.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out fairly clean or with maybe a crumb or two clinging to it.

Best cooled completely and then maybe warmed slightly. If using gluten-free flour especially, cool completely for the best texture.

Recipe Notes

If using mini bundt pans, press crumb topping gently into the top of the batter and reduce baking time to 20-25 minutes. This can also be baked in a large bundt pan, with the same guidelines and a longer baking time (watch carefully). Cool for ten minutes in bundt pan, and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

 

Strangeways, Here We Come

It has been since July 5th that I have posted anything, so I’m going to go ahead and call this a hiatus.

Regular posts will return September 1st, when the shitstorm of this summer will have hopefully calmed down enough so that my stomach isn’t constantly in knots, my heart isn’t racing, and my inability to focus on something for more than 60 seconds improves, however incrementally.

It’s only life, after all. Nothing serious. And nothing that will mean anything in 100 years anyway. Just the normal marching of time, sped up a little with the return of The Prodigal Daughter and the combination of two households.

Stay tuned; more to come in a couple of weeks.

Anxiety, The Beast That Roars

Anxiety is a stealthy, creeping beast.

I have lived with its low hum in the back of my skull for my whole life but only in the past decade have I actually named it and looked it in the eye. When it starts to affect your ability to leave the house, it’s time to square up.

My anxiety is not always like everyone else’s, although it does share some very similar characteristics.

I have trouble with large crowds, and although I do some of my best work under pressure, tight deadlines and too much to do can trigger an anxiety attack (sometimes days later). Loud noises and lots of activity (e.g. sporting events and live music) can also cause anxiety.

Anniversaries like the death of my husband (February 16, 2013) tend to have long anxiety attack lead times, but they are like a train that is right on schedule, every year.

I am also unfortunately very sensitive to the suffering of others, whether they are right next to me or across the globe, and too much pain and sadness can bring on anxiety for me. Since the election cycle began my brain has been on high alert, and shootings and bombings and racist violence all around the world has not helped.

The drill is always the same: it starts with not feeling quite right.  Off, a little, sometimes mentally, sometimes physically. Sometimes the world looks a little sharper, but sometimes it is blurry. I start to worry in my head about whatever it is I have to get done that day.

Then I will notice tinnitus in time with my heartbeat. It’s that ringing in the ears, only in time with my heartbeat, so it’s allinmyface about how fast my heart is beating. My breath gets short, sharp, and shallow, high up in my chest, right below my collarbones.

At this point, or very shortly after, if I can identify what is causing the anxiety and move away from it to a quiet place, or some big patch of nature like a forest, I can usually breathe my way out of it. This is after years of practice (and lots of failure).

If I cannot identify why I am anxious, I can’t move away from it, or if it is something that has been building for awhile, then the shit is about to hit the proverbial fan.

From here, I will get sweaty clammy hot cold. This is my body trying desperately to regulate itself as the pressure in my brain builds.

I get nauseous. I urgently need a bathroom. In short, evacuations are occurring at both ends of the airplane (TMI). For a long time, multiple times, until nothing is left.

Add to this party the fact that I faint before I puke. I recently found out that this occurs when the vagus nerve in your stomach gets overly excited and cuts blood flow off to the brain. Excessive emotions, nausea, or sudden upset can overstimulate this nerve, causing fainting. It is usually only a brief loss of consciousness, and it has been happening to me ever since I can remember. Since I am aware of it I am usually able to get on the floor so that all 5’10” of me doesn’t come crashing down  from standing (this has happened. In a public restroom. No good.). Sometimes I don’t make it and end up with my face on the floor and a bruise on my cheek.

At this point I have no choice but to chew up an anti-anxiety med (no swallowing in case I throw up) and wait. Generally in the dark, under covers, with lots of clothes on. I alternate shivering under the covers with running to the bathroom and trying desperately to get enough long, slow breaths in my body so I don’t hyperventilate. Every sense is hyper-aware so that I can smell whatever was cooking in the kitchen from hours before, and I can hear the wind blowing the metal flap of the fan from the kitchen, outside of the house and two floors down. The sheet feels like sandpaper on my exposed skin, and I can feel the layer of air between my skin and my clothes.

Each attack lasts about four hours if I manage to medicate myself (sometimes it takes two pills), and the next day I am exhausted and wrung out. I suffer from anxiety most at night, after I have held myself together all day long. I guess that’s good in that I can do what I need to do before I fall apart in the safety of my own home.

In spite of anxiety, I have done things. Not everything I have wanted to, but I have tried like hell to do what’s most important. I have started a school, built a house, raised a kid, survived the death of a spouse, moved us a thousand miles, and gone on multiple road trips when we needed. Most times I need to talk myself into things I know I will enjoy having done.

This Saturday, January 21st is the Women’s March on Washington, an historic event that is going to bring hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country to raise their voices together in support of everything that is right and good in this country. It is a direct response to the evil that is the president-elect and his suppression and ignorance.

My cousin and her friend are coming up from Miami to march with me. Khristian and his friend, two men who know where it’s at, are also coming. I have purchased Metro passes for the whole day, and we have a transportation plan of attack.

I am worried I won’t make it.

I am worried that I will not be able to control my anxiety, even with meds and supportive people who understand, enough to be crammed into a crowded Metro and then among groups of thousands of people.

I am worried that I am too vulnerable in my fear to block out the negatives that will surely arise from the day – the vitriol of Cheeto Jesus’s supporters is deadly and personal.

This worry, as you might imagine, isn’t helping.

As a food blog, this is a terrible post. But it’s real, which I always try to be.

If you can, on the 21st, show up and march. March for everyone who can’t, for whatever reason.

If I can, I will.

Si, se puede.

 

Happy New Year!

I only post resolutions and any of those types of things on my other blog, but I will say here that I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

Here’s to 365 days of doing the very best you can with whatever you’ve got.

To giving more than you take.

To seeking first to understand, and only then to be understood.

To being kind.

To practicing patience.

To truly caring for yourself.

To speaking up (and standing up) for those who cannot do so for themselves.

It’s only 365 days, but there are tons of possibilities. Do something amazing.

What Value, Art?

A makeshift memorial.

Right now I should be researching how to get my site indexed on Google, or a million other things that deal with researching recipes and driving traffic to my site, but I can’t really focus today.

It’s not the horrible nights of sleep I have gotten the past three nights or the dog poop and pee that welcomed me downstairs this morning (although to be honest neither of those things help and they both make me want to kick the dog WHICH IS JUST WRONG I know but still. #Asshole).

It’s not the complete lack of holiday cheer outside of my home, or the fact that every single person in the world seems to have forgotten how to drive (I have been nearly T-boned three times in the last two days from people running red lights).

It’s art.

I am deeply troubled by the fire at the Ghost Ship in Oakland. So many lives lost, so much creativity and spirit of Other-ness out there literally gone up in smoke.

And why?

It’s because we (America, in general), don’t value art.

We don’t value art beyond paintings to be hung over the sofa, tchotchkes for the mantle, and the occasional sculpture in the garden.

Moreover, we don’t value the creative life. We don’t value the people who have chosen to leave the daily grind in favor of living communally so that they can surround themselves with like-minded, creative people who really just want to make art and live a life that doesn’t conform to the norm.

We don’t value the outsiders, which can include anyone non-white, non-normative of gender or gender identity, or who just colors outside the lines in any other aspect of life.

They don’t want a new car every three years or a fancy house or the latest electronics or clothing with labels.

But here in America, that type of thinking doesn’t make money. So the same artists that suburban moms come into the city to ogle and feel cultured about cannot afford to live in the city that only has an actual real culture because of these artists.

Ya feel me?

When we talk about the loss of human life in the Ghost Ship and the recent eviction from The Bell Foundry here in Baltimore, we don’t talk about the fact that these artists cannot afford to live in the cities in which they make art. Some of them moved to the city to gain more acceptance than was available in their small towns; once here, the only affordable housing option is living cheek-to-jowl in unregulated warehouse spaces.

Now cities, fearing litigation, are cracking down, evicting artists with mere hours’ notice on fire code violations.

Don’t get me wrong: they should. No one should live or work in a space that is unsafe.

But these are basic human rights: food, safe housing, and clean water.

This should be available in every area of the country. Flint. Oakland. Baltimore. Appalachia.

Artists should not have to choose between a safe space to lay their head and practice their art or living in a small rural town with safe spaces but no access to acceptance or shows or support.

Why aren’t we talking about this?

Because America doesn’t give a shit about the creative life.

They don’t care about art that can’t be turned into a mug or a meme or a sweatshirt.

The people who practice art in these spaces are fighting to claim their right to exist in rapidly gentrifying cities that only welcome certain types of culture. If your art is transient or too wacky, it’s not really art.

If you are gay or trans or non-white or uneducated or poor, you don’t really belong in the neighborhoods filled with craft beer halls, restaurant incubators, and live/work community arrangements that favor only middle to upper-income residents who trend white, straight, and upwardly mobile.

Big secret: many of the workers in these places live in unregulated, unsafe spaces, too. Spaces that are increasingly rare and being bought up by investors who own property in a dozen cities across the country.

Pretty soon, helped along by corporate investors and communities that hang large-scale painting in elevators and coffee bars on the first floor of new high-rises, our acceptable artists will be so smoothed over and generic, our cities so same-same that we won’t even need identifying city names; we can simply say City 1 and City 2, just to differentiate where they are on the map. With Whole Foods, Lululemon, and megaplexes replacing small performance spaces and artist warehouses, the soul is rapidly draining from our country’s cities.

Oakland’s average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around $2,400. The Ghost Ship residents paid around $700.

Baltimore’s average rent is about $1,500 for a one-bedroom apartment in the city. A 2015 ad on Reddit listed a Bell Foundry “rafter room” (unfinished) for rent at just $285.

You can see how an artist who just wants to create might choose cheaper rent to stay off the wheel of commerce.

You can see how a landlord with a shitty building and a muddy conscience might feel okay renting to “outcasts” who wouldn’t make much of a stink to keep rents low.

You can see how most of the country just shrugs and moves on when these same buildings burn down, taking lives and life works with them.

This is unrelated to the food that this blog generally focuses on, but I find it deeply troubling. I have chosen to close a school that I started and in which I worked 80-hour weeks to make it successful. I have chosen not to get a 40-hour a week job and even have the most tenuous of assorted jobs that one could perhaps cobble together (personal chef, writer, and yoga teacher).

That we are so far gone down the rabbit hole of More and Better, that we are gentrifying the core of our cities and funneling the Middle and Upper Classes into pre-approved art museums and other cultural arenas, that we don’t give a rat’s ass if out-of-the-norm people who make out-of-the-norm art live in dangerous buildings, matters.

Food, safe housing, and clean water.

This matters.

These are basic human rights.

Let’s all start there.

Oakland’s mayor has just announced a nearly $2 million initiative for safe artist space. That’s one step.

A GoFundMe page has been set up for the evicted artists of the Bell Foundry.

There are many resources for families, loved ones, and artists affected by the fire at the Ghost Ship.