What does a free haircut, blog makeover, and Rosemary and Lemon Olive Oil Cake have to do with each other? Well, apart from odd associations that may arise from other people's cacophony of interests, what these three dearies have in common for me is that they summarize my last three days. Shocking, I know.
After dinner Wednesday night I schlepped myself over to my brother and sister-in-law's apartment. Brandon is a web-designer by day and a web-designer by night. He also happens to have fun computer toys like Photoshop, so my plan was to utilize his know-how and get a couple hours of free, professional, tech-support. Unfortunately for both of us, I don't work well at night, I had no idea what I wanted for my blog, and we had to work with the constraints of Blogger's parameters. So Brandon didn't exactly get to design anything. He didn't get to work his fabulous techy magic. All he got do was putz around on Blogger while I looked on and gave opinions.
A couple slip-ups later and we had changed things I didn't originally think needed changing and had not changed the things I thought did. We ran out of time, and I went home appropriately exhausted, with the smell of computer gas on my skin and my eyes so dry my lids stuck when I blinked. Maybe, I thought, maybe it isn't that bad. Maybe I'm just tired and need to chill out and drink water.
The next morning my sister called, early. Mara never calls early. Why was she calling? Because the blog looked awful. Or, because it was hard to read it. The print was too small, the background too cool, the font too stark, too bold, too hard. Leave it to Mara for an honest reaction. If she thinks maybe she shouldn't tell the truth--that it is too rude (you're fat; you're ugly; you're intellectually impaired) or too secret (your husband has planned a trip for two to Paris) or too unimportant (you look exactly like so and so)--she does this itchy liar's dance, and her mouth hangs open a bit too wide, as if she hopes the air around her thoughts will escape and by some miracle of physical telepathy convey the unspoken. She cannot lie. In fact, the moment I am on the phone or in the room with her, I know she has something to say.
The point is, she critiqued while I sobbed and took notes. And it was awful, because I actually was not well rested and had already decided I really did not like what Brandon and I had done, but I couldn't decide what was wrong with it all. Mara, on the other hand, was her precise self. And while she is unconstrained in her criticism, she is also equally empowering. She instilled in me enough confidence (or was that annoyance) to not wait for my brother's technical help, but rather, to just do it myself. To my shock and amazement, I listened. I buckled my technologically-impaired behind to the chair, and I chipped away.
I Googled. I searched. I tested and tinkered and took my sweet time. I swore heartily through the first hour or so until Kevin was concerned enough to try and help. He 'helped' me lose what clear beauty even Brandon and I had gained. My response was...colorful--and loud. After that, I went silent. I went deep. Maybe I just have to get pissed enough for my logical, rational side to take over because within minutes I had fixed things it took even Brandon a while to figure out. I didn't end up changing that much, but by the end of the day I had remedied the original, untouched flaws and had polished what raw additions I hadn't the brainpower to deal with the night before. Sigh of relief.
So what does that have to do with the free haircut? What about that Rosemary and Lemon Olive Oil Cake? Let's start with the phrase 'free haircut'. What is your response?
Mara got a free dye-job for her hair a couple weeks ago. I would consider myself a tactful person on the whole, but when I saw her, I laughed. Shame on me! It took two more not-so-free dying sessions to fix it. (I might add her hair looks lovely now.) So when I hear 'free haircut' I think, trouble. But when I got an email in the midst of the self-administered blog makeover asking for volunteers to get a free haircut, I responded immediately. I might not spend more than five seconds on my hair in the morning, but I love a good haircut. And I love my salon. So I volunteered.
The owner told me the haircut should take an hour or two. I was there for three. It hadn't occurred to me that the 'free haircut' might not be the best idea until I was there. But then, I did need a haircut, and I thought maybe, being pregnant and prone to weeping, I could convince them to fix any mishaps if there was a problem.
Just like the blog makeover, so much could have gone wrong, and did. The owner, who went around to all the assistants and helped make their cuts better, said that by the end of the three hours I had received no less than five haircuts for free. That's how many tries it took to get it right. It is a good thing she fixed it all. A bad haircut is nothing to trifle with. My first bad haircut ever was when I was fourteen and was serendipitously paired with horrible acne and a plunge into the depths of despair. Oh, the woes of adolescence (and pregnancy)! Thankfully I had time to wait for perfection, and for some reason, I didn't mind (too much) looking ridiculous in the meantime. Kind of like the blog.
Unlike the blog and the haircut, the cake was not a trial of the soul. I made it in celebration of these little changes that could so easily have given me my first nervous breakdown. This is that lemon cake I mentioned a couple times. It is not the kind of cake to get worked up over. Like a good celebration cake, it isn't really a celebration cake at all. It is a rest cake, a break cake, a chill-out-and-take-a-few-deep-cleansing- breaths cake. It is best eaten in silence with the window open (wrap yourself in wool if you must), like I did today, or with a close friend or family member who knows you well and asks for moist cakes, like I will with Mara tomorrow.
Here's to the bad behind me, and this cake in front of me. And you!
Rosemary Lemon CakeAdapted from my friend Bronwyn's mother-in-law's recipe.
There are two methods to this madness. Bronwyn likes using the food processor as she thinks it releases a deeper lemon flavor. I liked it, but found it too messy for my sensibilities. I use a stand mixer, and I have found that as long as I give the lemon and the rosemary enough time to blend with the sugar, the results are too similar to detect. Add the ingredients in the same order for either mixing method.
And a word on glazes and syrups: This cake would do just fine without the syrup and without the glaze, but I like both. I obviously did the powdered sugar dusting for the photographs, but the glaze is my favorite, especially when let to sit and solidify a bit.
1 3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons lemon zest, from about 2-3 lemons, chopped fine
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped fine
225 ml olive oil, or just shy 1 cup
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon rosemary
zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
whatever lemon juice you have leftover and an appropriately equivalent amount of
powdered sugar to the above guidelines
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch cake round with butter or oil and line the bottom with a greased round of parchment, or coat with all-purpose flour. Set aside.
Mix (or blend) the sugar, lemon zest, and rosemary for a few minutes. The sugar should look a little wet; this is good. While you wait for the sugar mixture, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
Pour olive oil into the sugar mix and blend well. Beat in eggs and lemon juice and beat until expanded a bit. Mix in yogurt. Add flour mixture and blend until just smooth. Do not over mix.
Bake for about 1 hour, or until the sides start to shrink back, the center springs back when pressed, and a skewer poked in the center comes out clean. I start checking the cake around the 45 minute mark and check again ever five minutes. When done, let the cake sit in the pan 15 minutes, then turn out on a wire rack, brush with a tablespoon or two of the syrup, and cool.
When the cake is baking or has just come out of the oven, make the syrup. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar dissolves. Turn off heat, cover, and let steep about 15 minutes. Strain and discard zest and leaves. Use leftovers to puddle under individual pieces, if you like.
When the cake is completely cool, dust the cake with powdered sugar or make the glaze and spoon it on, if desired. You may or may not want to use it all. Enjoy!