Blueberry buttermilk breakfast cake.

Blueberry buttermilk breakfast cakeThis cake has a story.

I believe I first spotted this glorious blueberry buttermilk breakfast cake on Pinterest (sigh, where else?) in 2011, which lead me this fantastic recipe posted on Alexandra’s Kitchen. The heady rush of anticipation I felt when pondering zesty lemon and gorgeously plump blueberries pretty much forced me to rush to the store to get ingredients. Plus, it was a breakfast cake. Ergo, healthy. (Am I right? Please tell me I’m not alone in this rationalization.)

Anyhow, I had to have it. Couldn’t wait!

So when I took the cake out of the oven, I was beyond excited. I was animated. I was ecstatic. Indeed, I was even dreaming of the day I’d open my own bakery and people would line up for the blueberry cake and I’d have to fend off hoards of fans – including Daniel Craig and Clive Owen, dressed in impeccable Tom Ford suits – because they were so devoted to the glory of this cake. The sugary crust looked divine. The heavenly combination of lemon zest and blueberry smelled like summer in cake form. Best of all, it was made from scratch and it was a work of art and I did it all on my own and it was going to be the best thing EVER. And then I took a bite.

I gagged. And just like that, my hopes shriveled like a pathetic, forgotten week-old balloon. All I could taste was salt…so much that it actually stung my tongue. It was absolutely revolting. Not even the underlying hint of lemon and the unbelievable moist texture could save it. It went directly in the bin. (Not even the hubby could stomach it, which is really saying something, considering he will eat all the expired contents of our fridge without flinching.)

Turns out, when this novice baker was reading the recipe, she saw teaspoon…and then proceeded to add a tablespoon of salt. Seriously. I rocked it like amateur hour.

This incident scarred me so deeply that I avoided this recipe for almost two years, even though I kept it in my recipe binder and it taunted me on a near-daily basis, serving as a handy reminder of my colossal failure. Damn thing made me laugh bitterly every time I flipped past it.

And here we are, January 2013. Last night, I was putting away my printout for crockpot bolognese sauce (via Skinnytaste – it’s AH-MAZING!) and the cake recipe caught my eye…and something clicked. I happened to have some buttermilk. I also had some lemons. Et voila, I just bought two pints of blueberries on sale during lunch.

It was meant to be.

I assembled the cake as if it were the most natural thing the world, which I’ve noticed happens now that I cook almost every day. I’m no longer stressed. I put my faith in my growing skill (and that of a good recipe) and just have fun. The more time I spend in the kitchen, the more comfortable I am – it’s so obvious that it’s almost not worth saying. But it’s true. It’s even become my zen downtime, like a meditation of sorts. I start chopping, measuring, sautéing, stirring, whatever…and I just enjoy the task. I don’t think about work. I don’t give a second thought to any other stressor in my life. I simply focus on creating something tasty.

I would be lying if I told you I didn’t pay extra attention to the salt, however. While I may be turning into buddha on a mountaintop, I’m certainly not stupid. Nor could I bear making the same mistake twice.

The cake really is extraordinary. The recipe is indeed a keeper; I’m glad I held on to it these past few years. I had to bake it a good 10-15 minutes longer than instructed, but other than that – perfection. And the buttermilk (I used a lowfat one from Trader Joe’s) really makes a difference. You can always make your own buttermilk, if needed, using lemon juice or vinegar.

Blueberry buttermilk breakfast cake.

So I guess this story is less about a cake than it is about me and how I’ve grown as a home cook. I am fascinated by how we keep learning, growing, adapting – regardless of how old we are. It’s one of those things that I remind myself on those days when I feel a little down. Look how far I’ve come. Look how much I’ve learned. And not just about cooking. Buddha on a mountaintop indeed!

neither a cook nor a baker….

It’s tough wanting to learn…and just not getting it. For example, the honey wheat sandwich bread I made yesterday. I followed the instructions exactly…and I love Beth at Budget Bytes for including step-by-step photos, too…and still ended up with a relatively dense loaf of bread.

Mind you, it tastes pretty good…and was pretty awesome in a bacon-havarti panini I made yesterday (yum!). But, obviously, it wasn’t right. Something was off.

I think it was one of three things: 1) I didn’t knead the dough long enough (or correctly, for that matter); 2) I used too much flour; or 3) the whole wheat flour I used wasn’t good enough quality.

This is where being a novice is so frustrating. Having never baked bread before…it becomes almost impossible to figure out what I did wrong. Because, let’s be honest, it could be just about anything. Your guesses are more than welcome!

I will try this again, though. I want the airy, fluffy, beautiful loaf that Beth baked. Just look at her loaf of bread…then look at mine. Sigh. (Just loooooove her site, by the way.) And at under $1.50 a loaf, I can certainly afford to try a few more times.

I’m a little discouraged, people. Just a little. But as Meg Ryan so memorably said in one of my go-to girlie movies, French Kiss, “I will triumph!”

….and so it begins.

I love reading food blogs, which, let’s be honest, is straight-up food porn. I’m not going to make brioche (mostly ’cause I don’t shop at Costco for butter and eggs), but you’d better believe that I drool over posts about the process of baking it. I fantasize about what it would be like to have that loaf of goodness in my kitchen, where Clive Owen and I would drink french-press coffee and slather fat brioche slices with homemade strawberry preserves and fresh butter and….you get the idea.

I read a lot. I dream a lot. But it’s rare that I actually cook what I read or dream about. I’m a novice in the kitchen and I’m not afraid to admit it. When I see more than four steps to a recipe, I balk. I get intimidated. And then, I ditch that recipe for one that looks easier.

Well, lately I’ve been trying to expand my horizons in the kitchen (a difficult feat if you ever saw my cramped little working space). I’ve had adventures. I’ve had some successes (a pasta salad that looked – and tasted – like a work of art). I’ve had a few failures (the bastard parchment paper that stuck to the bottoms of my soft pretzels). And I’ve had a lot of fun.

Mostly, though, I worry and second-guess because I’m new to this process. I’m always thinking, “Did I do that right?” or “Did I just screw up the whole darn recipe?” or “This does not look like the photos in the recipe.”

The food blogs I’ve read (and enjoyed) have all been written by someone who actually knows what the hell he/she is doing. Which is great for me, because I can be sure if I glean a recipe from that person, it’s a good one and I have a much better chance of success. But sometimes I feel out of my league. I feel like not only did I come late to the party, but I brought a cheap and crappy bottle of wine.

I want to find others like me, those people who are bravely stepping into their kitchens with a recipe print-out in hand, hoping for the best and learning a heck of a lot as they go. We may spill flour and oil and a whole bottle of expensive organic oregano (true story, that), but we learn. And we swear. And sometimes we burn things.

So that’s why I’m here. To share my adventures with some like-minded people. To learn from you. To laugh when we make mistakes…and to shout “VICTORY!” when we do something right.

I’m a little scared of putting everything out there. I worry that people will laugh at me, an educated woman who really doesn’t know that much about one of the basics in life. But I’m also hoping that I’ll discover some kindred spirits…and we’ll cook some great things together.

I’m ready.

Let’s do this.