Friday, March 4, 2016

Orange Olive Oil Polenta Cake

I'm trying to shake off the gloomy mood around here.  Reading back over my posts as of late, I feel like I've been in a kind of funk and it shows.  So I'm purposefully taking on a decidedly more positive tone today.  Let's see how it fits, shall we?

I reconnected with an old high school friend not too long ago.  She's been through some rough stuff in her life, including some very devastating losses.  But she's the most positive person and I'm always looking forward to reading the things she posts on Facebook and scrolling past the inspirational quotes she finds on Instagram.  Yup, she's one of THOSE people.  Perpetually happy and trying to make the world a better place, one inspirational quote at a time.  We all know someone like that, don't we?  On our worst days we roll our eyes and scroll quickly past.  On our best we think, "Yes!  That's exactly how I feel!". 

A few days ago my friend posted this little gem,

"'It's impossible,' said pride.
'It's risky,' said experience.
'It's pointless,' said reason.
'Give it a try,' whispered the heart."

It's the kind of thing that's layered on top of a photo of a mountain climber or amazing landscape that I usually don't even bother looking at.  But that day I did.  I suppose I was feeling optimistic and it struck a chord with me.  You see, I had done just the thing about a week earlier.  I had put myself out there to be scrutinized and (hopefully) accepted in a role that would take my work to another level.  It was a move very far outside my comfort zone and had required an almost "close your eyes and go for it without thinking too much" sort of move to make it happen.

The same day that quote rolled across my screen I got the email saying that although they had enjoyed working with me in the past, there was no room at the moment for me to contribute.  Included in the email was an offer for me to do a bit of behind the scenes work in lieu of the position I was hoping for.  Which is sweet and I'm happy to do anything that will get my foot in the door, but at it's heart it was still what I had dreaded most- rejection.  It's the greatest leap of faith in yourself and your abilities to risk rejection in that way.  My leap, it seems, fell just that short of making it to the other side.

The funny thing is, I'm okay with that.  It was risky, but not impossible or pointless.  I listened to the whispers of my heart and tried.  I think that's win.  Maybe not the win that I was hoping for, but better than giving in to fear and not having tried at all.  It's what I try to teach my kids and what I aimed to instill in my students when I was still in the classroom- getting something wrong or failing is not the worst thing that can happen.  In fact, those moments teach us the best lessons about ourselves and about how to improve for the next time.  Because there will be a next time, you can be sure of it.  So this time, my aim was off a bit.  Next time? Who knows?

Orange Olive Oil Polenta Cake
Makes one 9 x 5 inch loaf.  Adapted from smitten kitchen.
For the printable recipe, click here.

I love this sort of one bowl, quick and easy cake to have around for an afternoon snack or if a friend drops by.  Wrap a sheet of parchment and pretty ribbon around one and you've got a wonderful hostess gift.  The orange (I used sweet cara cara oranges, but blood oranges or valencias would be just as at home here) gives a bright, citrus-y sweetness, the olive oil a bit of depth and the polenta adds just a hint of crunch to the bite that I find irresistible.  The polenta or corn meal that you choose will change the texture depending on how finely ground it is.  The one that I used is a nice happy medium and it suits this cake just fine.  This is a chance to break out that good olive oil you've been saving- with as much as is in the cake you will taste the difference.

1 cup (200g) cane sugar 
3 oranges
1/3 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt 
3 large eggs 
2/3 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil 
1 cup all purpose flour 
3/4 cup ground polenta or corn meal 
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda 
1/2 tsp fine sea salt

Butter a 9x5 inch loaf pan and set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Place the sugar in a large bowl.  Zest one of the oranges over the bowl directly into the sugar (the orange flavor in this cake is subtle, if you'd like to make it more pronounced grate the zest of a second orange into the bowl).  Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips to release the oils.

Remove the peel and pith of one orange (supreme the orange) by cutting off the top and bottom to reveal the fruit inside.  Then, run your knife along the curve of the orange to remove the remaining skin and pith.  Holding the orange in your hand, cut away the wedges of orange between the membranes.  Drop the orange pieces into the bowl with the sugar and zest.  Break up the segments into 1/4 inch pieces with your fingers.

Juice the remaining two oranges into a small bowl or liquid measuring cup. You should have about 1/2 cup of juice.  Stir the buttermilk into the juice then pour it into the bowl with the sugar mixture.  Stir the mixture together with a whisk.  Add the eggs and olive oil to the bowl and whisk until fully combined. 

Carefully whisk in the flour, polenta, baking powder, baking soda and salt into the wet ingredients just until incorporated.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place in the oven. 

Bake for 50-55 minutes.  The cake will be golden and a knife or toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.  Cool the cake on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Run a palette or butter knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto the rack.  Cool completely (right side up).  Wrapped airtight the cake will keep for three days.

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