Whole Grain Blueberry Apricot Olive Oil Cake | On Living With a Heart Broken Open

There's a quote that I love by the environmental activist/scholar of Buddhism Joanna Macy, which goes: 

"The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe."

The moment I heard this sentence spill from the lips of a former mentor of mine, it immediately struck a chord. Like it was a sort of justification for my modus operandi as a deeply feeling and relentlessly vulnerable person. At that time, I interpreted it as referring to close or intimate relationships, indicating that if we give fully, love courageously, and show up with a vast openness, we by extension have an expanded capacity to notice, be present with and receive the intricate isness of the universe. 

When the quote floated into my head today, as it does on occasion, I unexpectedly began to consider it in a new light. What if the grandeur of this statement didn't exclusively relegate it to grand situations? What would it look like if we approached our lives in each tiny moment of every passing day with a broken open heart?

I have a vivid memory of an exchange I had with my therapist in London many years ago, on a day that I was feeling particularly defeatist about...basically everything. Prompted by something that I had said that I can no longer recall, she asked me if I thought it didn't matter whether or not I smiled at bus drivers as I rode my way throughout the city. I huffed a dejected, "No, not really." She sat, visibly aghast, and proceeded to earnestly detail to me why these seemingly insignificant interactions really, truly matter.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago. As I stood in line at a small, local cafe, I noticed that the cashier was this guy who a friend and I had encountered in the same spot back in December. His expression was ceaselessly stern, unfaltering as he engaged with customer after customer; my friend and I found this to be, for better or worse, absolutely hilarious. Seeing him again, that same surly expression, I laughed to myself as I recalled our failed efforts to banter with him that day. Approaching the register all on my own this time, I couldn't help but utter something benignly jokey about his deadpan schtick. His initial response was vaguely defensive, perhaps simply based in surprise, as he rattled off justifications for his demeanor. But as our back-and-forth grew, a fissure was struck and he eventually caved into a good handful of smiles. 

There's nothing particularly remarkable about that story—having a genuine interaction with a stranger with whom you could have easily had a rote interaction instead. The remarkable bit is this: The following week, I returned to the cafe for a casual breakfast and card writing session (...because you can do that on a random Wednesday when you only work part-time). Halfway through my divinely comforting ghee drenched porridge, I felt a presence hovering nearby. "Hey"; I looked up and was surprised to find the guy from the register standing right in front of me. "You made me laugh last week," he said. "Uh...yeah, I did..." I mumbled, caught entirely off guard. "Thanks for that," he replied. He went on to say how easy it is to get caught up in the details and necessities of the job and consequently how important it is to be pulled out of that from time to time, to experience some levity and be reminded of his own and everyone else's humanness.

So yeah, apparently it does matter. And, needless to say, him coming up to thank me was definitely a highlight of my week.

A few days later, I attended a workshop about chakras, which are part of a fascinating energy system that I hesitate to oversimplify. For the purposes of this story, I'll quickly say that chakras are swirling energy centers in our bodies that filter physical and emotional energy. Each of the 7 main chakras reside in a specific anatomic location and are connected to particular qualities of being, i.e. creativity, material groundedness, communication, sense of purpose, sexual desire, and so on. They can be over-exerted, depleted or in balance at any given time. 

The heart chakra, which resides at the thymus gland (a bit below your collarbone), is the home of love and compassion. It works with emotions and is the connector between our physical and spiritual selves. In detailing the actions we can take to tend to our heart chakra, our workshop instructor encouraged us to volunteer, take ourselves on a date and...wait for it...connect to strangers. I couldn't help but smile.

So what if a broken open heart simply means moving through the world with presence, compassion, and vulnerability to the wonder that resides in the details? What if it means showing up in each moment with a willingness to connect, or a belief in the possibility that you might encounter some everyday magic? What if a broken open heart is the courage to acknowledge the humanity of another being through the simple act of eye contact and a smile? 

I don't have all the answers, but I think they're interesting questions to ask. It is so easy to move through our days with our attention turned inwards, caught up in our own dramas and stories and responsibilities, failing to be open and present to everything and everyone that simply is. But the fact of the matter is that we're all in this together, a seemingly disparate web of beings who, every damn day, collide. Maybe if we did so with broken open hearts, our collisions might be more rich, more playful, more surprising, more meaningful, more thoughtful and more beautifully human.

*Notes about the recipe: This cake has relatively few ingredients, is 100% whole grain and is ridiculously easy to make. It is adapted from this Rhubarb Almond Crumb Cake, which I made for a BBQ last weekend and wasn't totally happy with. I loved the consistency (white whole wheat flour is the WAY TO GO with whole grain baking), but it was overly almond-y and the rhubarb was too sour for my taste. Because I am a perfectionist and because I left that entire cake at the BBQ couldn't handle not having any leftovers for myself/my housemates, I remade it the next day with a few adjustments. Olive oil instead of butter because olive oil cakes feel fancy and are delicious. Apricots and blueberries because SUMMER FRUIT!...that isn't rhubarb. Half the amount of almond extract because balance. I wasn't even planning on sharing it on the blog (hence the lack of process photos/still lives of fruit), but it came out so damn well that I knew I had to. So here we are!

Whole Grain Blueberry Apricot Olive Oil Cake
Makes one 9" cake

Ingredients
2 eggs
1 cup raw cane sugar
1/2 tsp. pink or sea salt
1/4 tsp. almond extract
6 Tbsp. cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (the flavor will come through in the cake, so quality olive oil is encouraged!)
1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour (this is a variety of wheat that is lighter than traditional wheat. You can find it at Trader Joe's or in bulk sections of some health food stores)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup fresh blueberries
4 apricots, sliced into 1/8" thick wedges
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9" round baking pan and line the bottom with parchment. Set aside.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or with a vigorous arm), whip together the eggs, sugar, salt and almond extract on medium-high speed until light, fluffy and nearly doubled in volume, about 5 minutes.
3. Mix in olive oil.
4. On a low speed, mix in flour and baking powder until just combined.
5. If using a stand mixer, remove the bowl. Gently fold in blueberries by hand. 
6. Pour batter into prepared baking pan. It will be quite thick; use a spatula to even it out on top.
7. Starting in the middle of the cake, create a spiral with the apricot wedges. Sprinkle the sliced almonds around the perimeter of the cake.
8. Bake for 75-80 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.

Blueberry Ginger & Rye Hand Pies

About a year ago, while searching for things to listen to on my impending drive from the Bay down to LA, I happened upon a podcast called On Being. You guys...this podcast. It is the stuff of life. The bafflingly well read and ever thoughtful host, Krista Tippett, speaks with a variety of thinkers, including philosophers, artists, activists, religious figures, poets, scientists and social researchers, about the things that make us human, that shape our world. I've been slowly working my way through her new book, Becoming Wise, and was struck by a parable she shared that was originally from her recorded conversation with physician Rachel Naomi Remen. It has nothing to do with hand pies, but bear with me.

Remen, who recognized and integrated the power of personal story into her approach of cancer treatment with patients, recounted for Tippett a tale of one of the fundamental ethics of Judaism—to "repair the world". Her Orthodox rabbi grandfather told her this story as her fourth birthday present. She shared:

In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. In the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. The wholeness of the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It's a very important story for our times. This task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It's the restoration of the world.
And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. That story opens a sense of possibility. It's not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It's about healing the world that touches you, that's around you.

In my years and years of Jewish education, I had never heard this story before. It baffled me and it touched me deeply. The idea that we all of us are healers. And when everyone does small things to make the world as they experience it better, more just, more connected, more curious, more generous, more thoughtful and more human, the entire world is transformed.

So what does all this have to do with hand pies? Aside from the fact that they make the world a more delicious and thusly a better place? 

As much as we inhabitants of this Earth have a responsibility to one another and to the Earth itself, we also have a responsibility to our own selves. To acknowledge and tend to the light within each of us. We must treat ourselves—mind, body and spirit—with curiosity, tenderness, generosity, and care. This was not something I remember being taught as a child, but is something I now believe to be of utmost importance. No matter how badly we want to change other people, we are ultimately only capable of changing ourselves. But the beautiful silver lining in this is that there is so much power in being our best selves. By living in ways that are aligned with our personal truths—treating ourselves with compassion; communicating thoughtfully; listening courageously; being vulnerable; taking risks; holding ourselves tenderly when we fail; standing up for ourselves; playing vivaciously; whatever our personal truths may be—we create an energetic frequency and model of behavior that imprints itself onto the world. And in our wake, the world changes. Even if only the small circles that revolve around us. But in all of this, I wholeheartedly believe that change begins from within.

For over a year and a half of my life, I was afraid of butter. And sugar. And white flour. If I ordered a veggie burger at a restaurant and it didn't come with a whole wheat bun, my body would enter a state of panic. I ate heaps of plants and whole grains and dates after almost every meal to satisfy my sweet tooth. I lost so much weight that my friends and family started to worry. 

Almost a year into this passionate and incredibly inflexible love affair with healthy food, I began to apprentice in the kitchen of my favorite restaurant. Guess what? They loved butter. And sugar. And loads of vegetables and healthy things too. As a learning chef, I was required to taste everything. Which, of course, reminded me that I loved butter. And sugar. And then I couldn't stop eating it. In the years that followed, which were rife with personal, professional and financial disappointment and struggle, food (read: flour, butter and sugar...and chocolate) became my outlet, my method of comforting myself and showing myself how inept at life I was all at the same time. I gained back all the weight I had lost and more. I felt completely unworthy and completely out of control.

It's scary to write that here. But as both a lover of food and someone who is committed to helping people heal and love themselves (my version of tikkun olam), I feel that it is important to share my story. Because as I have looked within to establish my truths and learn how to embody them (which is an ongoing process), I have seen both my personal world and the world around me change. I eat kale salads and I spend a disproportionate amount of my meager income on baking supplies. I spent an afternoon making these divine hand pies and I allowed myself to savor every bite I ate of them. And that, dear friends, is about self-love and balance and communion with friends and creating beauty and being human. 

Blueberry Ginger & Rye Handpies
makes 14 4" pies
Adapted from recipes by Yossy Arefi, Apt 2B Baking Co.

Ingredients
Crust
1 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups rye flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (preferably organic, pastured/grass fed, European style), chilled
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
8 Tbsp. ice water

Filling + Assembly
2 1/2 cups blueberries
1/2 cup unrefined cane sugar
2 Tbsp. cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp. ginger root, freshly grated
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1/2 lemon (unwaxed), zest only
pinch of salt
extra flour for rolling out dough
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp. turbinado sugar

Method
Crust
1. Combine apple cider vinegar and ice water. Set aside.
2. Mix the flours and salt into a bowl. Cut the chilled butter into 1/2" cubes and then add it to the flour. Using your fingers and the palm of your hand, crumble and smash the butter into flat discs, scooping up the flour from the bottom of the bowl and incorporating it as you go. Stop when most of the butter is about pea sized. It's okay if not all of the butter is incorporated. 
3. Sprinkle six tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the dough and work it through gently with your hands. Pick up a bit of dough and see if it sticks together when pressed. If it is still too dry, add more water a little at a time until the dough has reached this state. 
4. Gather all the dough together into a large ball and then gently press it into a rectangle about 1" thick. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, preferably overnight.

Filling
1. Combine sugar, flour, ginger, vanilla and lemon zest in a large bowl. Using your fingers, incorporate the small and grated bits into the sugar.
2. Add blueberries and gently toss to coat.

Assembly
1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. After the dough has set in the fridge for at least two hours, lightly flour a large surface to roll out the dough, keeping the flour nearby. 
3. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle until the dough is about 1/8" thick (aiming for a 12"x16" rectangle), flipping it over as you go and adding more flour if necessary to ensure it doesn't stick to the counter. If it rips, don't fret; just patch it back together. If the dough gets too large and unwieldy, you can cut it in half and place half of it back in the fridge to roll out separately after.
4. Trim the edges of the dough into straight lines so you have a perfect rectangle. Pat the trimmings into a disc, re-wrap and put back in the fridge. Cut the rectangular dough into 4" squares by cutting vertical lines 4" apart from each other starting from one side and then the same horizontally. If you kept the dough in one piece, you should have 12 squares.
5. Brush around the perimeter of each square with your egg wash. Place a small spoonful of the blueberries into the center of each square. 
6. Pick up one corner of each square and fold it to meet its diagonal opposite, creating a triangle. With a fork, press around the folded edges of the triangle. Place on baking sheet.
7. When a baking sheet is full, put it back in the fridge to allow the hand pies to firm up again, at least 15 minutes.
8. Repeat process with the scrap dough that you placed back in the fridge.
9. Preheat oven to 400F.
9. Once the hand pies are all assembled and re-chilled, brush their tops with the egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown.

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ONE MORE THING, friends! An ANNOUNCEMENT!

I am super excited to invite you to attend my first ever wellness workshop in Berkeley, CA on Saturday, August 13!

Join me and my dear friend/fellow wellness practitioner Leyna Brabant in exploring your relationship to food and developing tools for balance, attentiveness and vibrancy in your life. We will also be making healthy raw chocolate truffles, so there's that. 

Register here: http://calmmindhappyheart.wix.com/foodasfreedom
Have a friend or loved one who might benefit from diving in with us? You can share it with them on Facebook too.

I look forward to seeing you there!