Baked Goods, Desserts, Recipes
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upside-down rhubarb olive oil cornmeal cake

Upside down rhubarb cake on plate

Two weeks ago, I turned 30.

Despite the stigma around aging, especially for women, I feel really, really good about being 30.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we measure time and how a year, in particular, is simultaneously extraordinarily long and yet, somehow, it passes wildly fast.

Slices of rhubarb & almond slices

Last year, in particular, was full of transitions and growth and new beginnings. And so, this year, I’m celebrating a lot of firsts/one year “anniversaries.”
One year of prioritizing myself, of really, actually getting to know myself & loving myself wholeheartedly.
One year of knowing and loving, adventuring, cooking, cuddling, talking (oh my gosh, so much talking), having the most fun I’ve ever had, and laughing, laughing, laughing with the greatest (life) partner (in crime).
One year of living alone, and feeling the least lonely of any year before.

A slice of upside rhubarb cake

This new decade, a brand new number to mark my age, seems a fitting metaphor for this new season of my life. You know I like to find metaphor in these moments, the parallels of where I am in time and space.

In March, it had been one full year since my last blog post. This year, after so many starts and stops, I finally have the space and the freedom to play. It reminded me how much I love writing recipes, playing in my kitchen, and taking pictures. (I am even learning to love washing all the dishes!) And while I’ve definitely struggled with feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome, I’ve also pushed myself to learn and study and play and practice without wallowing. I’ve tried to harness those normally negative feelings and use them to push myself upwards, instead of holding myself down.

Upside down rhubarb polenta olive oil cake on a plate
Comparison is the thief of all joy.
This is something my therapist told me, more than once, during sessions when I was struggling with feeling like I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t where I should be technically for the amount of time I’ve wanted to do this … but wanting isn’t enough. You have to do and practice and fail and start over and work and work and work. It took me a while to accept that even though I had been working on this, it was in fits & spurts, and most of it was locked up in my head & my heart because I hadn’t been able to fully commit myself until now. My therapist told me I just had to own where I’m at right now, starting anew.

So, I started.

Ingredients for the upside down rhubarb cake

Comparing yourself to someone else — an interpersonal (external) comparison — steals joy and replaces it with doubt and disparagement. But, there’s another kind of comparison that can bestow great joy, personal pride, satisfaction and accomplishment: an intrapersonal (internal) comparison.

Where and who I am in my life right now is vastly different from where and who I was a year ago, two years ago, three years ago. This year and these little scattered “one year” celebrations have given me plenty of opportunities to look back, to reflect and remember and to see, truly, how far I’ve come. The journey I embarked on a few years ago has been a rough one, but this last year was a turning point. Navigationally, spiritually, emotionally. Though the road wasn’t always smooth, the weather not always kind, I made pretty good time on this little stretch.

Laying slices of rhubarb in the bottom of the cake pan

A year is a long time. I’ve told many friends that I feel like I’ve crammed about a decade’s worth of living in the last few years. And now, at the start of this new decade, I’m ready to slow down a little bit, to savor and stretch out across my years.

I loved my rhubarb buckle cake, but wanted something that was less sweet. Something soft and light, elegant in its simplicity.

On the topic of time, the end of July might mean there’s no more rhubarb. (Surprisingly, I caught sight of a tiny table still piled with stalks at the farmers market in Seattle last weekend.) If you can’t find rhubarb, I think this cake would be equally delicious topped off with plump blueberries or blackberries (maybe scattered on top like a buckle cake, instead of on the bottom). I actually really want to try it with blackberries, because I think the flavors would be fantastic, but it’s just too damn hot to bake.

If you have air conditioning and dare to brave the heat, please bake this little cake.

Sliced upside down rhubarb cake

The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.
— Madeline L’Engle

Local List

  • Cornmeal
  • Egg
  • Honey
  • Rhubarb
  • Yogurt

Upside-Down Rhubarb Olive Oil Polenta Cake

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Notes: Use a good quality olive oil that has a sweeter or more floral flavor; I used a California arbequina EVOO. I used a local cornmeal that said it was fine ground but had a slightly coarse & irregular texture, similar to a stone-ground meal. This gave the cake a coarser crumb that I really I liked. Use a fine-ground cornmeal if you don’t want that texture.

Ingredients

115 grams rhubarb, sliced about ¼-inch thick
50 grams (¼ cup/2 ounces) extra virgin olive oil
50 grams (¼ cup/2 ounces) + 1 tablespoon wild flower honey
1 large egg, room temperature
45 grams (1.6 ounces) plain yogurt, room temperature
40 grams (40mL/1.5 ounces) plain unsweetened almond milk, room temperature
70 grams gluten-free all purpose flour
25 grams stone-ground cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
Small pinch kosher flake salt
½ teaspoon fresh lemon thyme leaves (optional)
1-2 tablespoons sliced almonds

Directions

Toss together the sliced rhubarb and 1 tablespoon of honey in a bowl, making sure the slices are all coated in the honey & not stuck together. Let macerate, stirring occasionally, for at least 15 minutes. (If you do this first, they should be good by the time you’ve measured out & assembled the rest of your ingredients.)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 6-inch cake pan.

Optional: Arrange some of the sliced almonds in a pattern on the bottom of the pan. I did this for funsies. The second time I tested this cake, though, some of them stuck to the pan. Greasing the pan helps. If you don’t want to do this, I definitely recommend sprinkling some sliced or slivered almonds on the cake before serving. I love the delicate crunch and flavor they add.

When the rhubarb has softened & started to release some juice, use your fingers to gently pick up the slices & lay them in a single layer on the bottom of the pan (on top of the almond slices, if you opted to do that). Don’t just pour the whole mess into the bottom of the pan, because of that extra liquid.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and thyme leaves (if using).

In a larger bowl, whisk together the olive oil and honey until the honey is dissolved. Whisk in the egg, yogurt and almond milk. Fold in the flour mix.

Pour the batter on top of the rhubarb slices and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for 35 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden brown and a cake tester comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to the end. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10-15 minutes, then run a butter or pairing knife gently around the edge of the cake to make sure the sides have pulled away from the pan. Place a small plate on top of the pan and carefully invert the cake. Gently tap a few times on the bottom of the pan to release the cake. Once the cake is out of the pan, carefully transfer it from the plate to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before slicing and serving.

Sprinkle with almonds and dust with powdered sugar. Serve on its own or with whipped cream or ice cream.

Rhubarb cake on a plate with knife & forksHBD to me. Cheers to a new year & a new decade.

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