Today has been a simple day filled with a lot of little bright moments and small pleasures. I woke up in the dark and blearily made my way to the 7 AM yoga class (*no applause please, oh...okay...go on then!*). When I emerged, sweaty and feeling that happy blend of mental calm and the rush of endorphins, the sky was a bright blue. It's windy and chilly out today, but if you find a patch of sunshine, you can almost taste spring in the air.
I took myself out to lunch, which is something I've been trying out to provide more structure to my days (I work from home which presents a whole slew of pros and cons, productivity-wise). I sat at a little table by the window in a sunny, bustling cafe on the second floor of a building overlooking Broadway. Taxis rushed by, the snow slowly melted into slush on the streets: all part of the pleasant buzz of the city. I read a novel, stopping every few paragraphs to glance up and people-watch as the cafe (a very popular one at lunch) filled up with all sorts of humans.
Two teenagers on a date giggled over brunch food: Belgian waffles for her and potato and egg hash for him. She wore a loose sweatshirt and pushed her long hair off her face constantly. He pretended to look everywhere but at her, until she looked down for a bite and he'd take in every detail of her face like she was the Rolling Stones and hot, cheesy pizza and his first sip of beer all rolled into one.
Five white-haired men shared a round table, eating tuna melts—the gooey Provolone cheese oozing in long strands as they picked up the open-faced sandwiches. I couldn't hear their conversation but they were cracking each other up and it made me feel so glad inside, like they had the sort of friendship that included a weekly Thursday lunch and Sunday golf game and where they kvetched about their wives in a good-natured way (Sheila keeps hiding my golf shirts and saying the dryer ruined them! Women! and Mel, you gotta start drinking kombucha. KomBUCHA I said! My nephew swears by it and he's got washboard abs, I saw them in Boca last spring break!).
A middle-aged couple two tables down held hands over a seared tuna salad and a bacon cheeseburger, sipping on mason jars of iced tea with lemon and speaking quietly every now and again.
In the corner, an impeccably dressed older woman in a trim burgundy turtleneck and herringbone blazer nibbled delicately at a mammoth egg salad sandwich. She manages to make it look ladylike which feels like a real life goal: to be 70 and look poised while eating egg salad.
I'm drinking a dry cappuccino and eating a plate of buttery scrambled eggs with spinach on rye toast. As soon as my plate comes, someone sits down at the two-top next to me, so close that we're nearly touching elbows. It's a woman a few years older than me, with a beautiful smile, wearing sweatpants and a RUN NYC t-shirt. Her hair is pulled back and she gently steers her four-year-old son into the seat across from her.
He quietly proceeds to open his folded paper napkin and slice it into pieces with his knife, calmly and with serious attention to his project at hand. He shows it to his mother and she beams at him, asking him in a friendly adult tone about how he decided to cut it just so and complimenting him on it. She's so sincere and encouraging and patient, and I lean over as their food arrives (pancakes for him and a Cobb salad for her) and remark that he is adorable.
She grins and thanks me. I ask him how old he is and he shyly tells me, reluctant to converse with a stranger. Over the meal, we start chatting more. I find out she has three children and they're at lunch for a treat because he had to go to the doctor that morning. She chats with me but never ignores him. Rather than scolding him when he douses his pancakes in the entire cup of syrup, she laughs and orders him more syrup. He's so earnest and happy, and he warms up to me as I ask more and more questions.
I find out his favorite food is pancakes followed by fruit gummies, tomatoes, and strawberries. We end up peering out the window, counting taxis together, as she waits for the check.
These little vignettes are more common in a city, which makes me appreciate living here, but they happen everywhere if you open yourself up to whatever comes your way.
I pay my check, buy some groceries, and walk the short block home feeling light and happy for such an unexpectedly social lunch (listen, four-year-olds are just as good company as adults, if not better!). I unwrap the second to last slice of this blueberry olive oil cake and eat it with my fingers before sitting down to work again.
This cake is even better the second or third day after you make it, if you can get it to last that long! The corn streusel may sound a bit odd to you, but trust me on it. It's absolutely delicious and it adds both texture and flavor to the loaf. It reminds me quite a bit of cornbread, and it's not too sweet at all. I use a bit of flaky salt in it so it's almost savory, but then I add raw turbinado sugar to give it some sweetness and crunch.
If you can't find freeze-dried corn, you could make a classic streusel and sub in cornmeal and almond flour for the normal oats and flour mixture. I haven't fussed around with that to get the exact ratio, but I will and I'll post it here because that would give the cake a more classic streusel topping, rather than this more craggy, crazy-looking one!
I add heaps of lemon zest to my cake batter—I love the brightness of it, but you can certainly dial it back or leave it out altogether or even substitute lime zest.
Blueberry Olive Oil Cake with Corn Streusel
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup good-quality olive oil
zest of 3 lemons
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
3/4 cup freeze-dried corn
1/4 cup almond flour
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
4 tablespoons raw turbinado sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9" × 5" metal loaf pan (or 8" x 4" will work) with parchment, or just grease the pan well.
Whisk together 2 1/4 cups of the all-purpose flour with the baking powder and salt.
In a separate large bowl, beat together the sugar, olive oil, egg, lemon zest, and vanilla extract until very smooth.
Add the dry ingredients and the milk in two additions, alternating between each, and mix until the batter just comes together.
Gently fold in the blueberries.
Pour into your prepared loaf pan.
In a food processor, pulse together the freeze-dried corn with the almond flour, remaining 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour, melted butter, flaky sea salt, and raw sugar. Spread the topping evenly over the top of the batter.
Bake for 50-60 minutes (depending on pan size). Start checking at 50 minutes--the cake is done when a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Do not overbake! The top will start to look really quite brown because of the corn but don't worry, it tastes good when it's "well-toasted".
Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before slicing or turning out of the pan onto a rack to finish cooling.