Cultivate

With a sudden push of bright blue skies and the pungent scent of pear tree blossoms in the air, spring has officially arrived. I love watching seasons transition. There is something, maybe slightly cliché, about the promise of a new day, hope literally springing forth from the ground in the form of a tiny little resilient bloom that takes my breath away. In all this beauty and glory, there are moments to be constantly celebrating. An official first day of spring brings the taste of strawberries in season, being able to play outside in fresh grass, the knowledge that Easter is coming again, and sight of beautiful flowers decorating the earth.

But, if I’m honest, there are moments during this season that I pity the flowers. All they want to do is bloom, and yet sometimes a sudden rush of cold refuses to allow it. March can be a strange month, allowing for all this eternal promise of new things, and then deciding to surprise us with a little snow storm. Gray light transforms the sky and all we can focus on is the darkness that seems to envelop everything, returning us to winter once again. Yesterday, I watched flakes slowly drift past and exhaust visibly pouring into the air from cars. Children pulled up bright hoods over their ears in an attempt to stay warm, all while I watched from my indoor shelter, bringing hot coffee to my lips. Where are spring and hope and fresh blooms in these moments? I craved the sunshine, and I couldn’t help but shiver as my eyes met the sight of cold everywhere.

I mentioned in my most recent blog post that I am quickly approaching a personal season of transition and change. While it would be the easiest thing to tell you that I view this as a personal “spring” for myself, that would be a lie. Friends, I have moments where I feel like a flower in the middle of a sudden snow storm in March, choking and trying to seek out warmth in every possible way. There are moments when I focus on my limitations and inadequacies and anxiety about the future. It freezes my judgement and haunts me most when I am at my weakest point. At times, it’s as though I am just a passenger in a car I can’t control, with no destination in mind—trapped and filled with fear when all I want to do is be outside, on my own two feet, and know exactly which road to take.

Change is hard. Transition is difficult. My life has been crying out for a roadmap, some sort of GPS system to just show me the way. And I’ll admit, sometimes I pray to God to just give me a sign. If he could only tell me where I should go, what to do with my life, maybe that would make driving this car easier. My words usually formulate in the request of visible choices, some sort of flashing road sign, complete with bright orange cones, that says “YES, OVER HERE” and “THIS WAY, TAYLOR”. Instead of praying for peace and patience during this time, I have prayed that the answer will fall directly in front of my eyes. At the very heart of who I am, I feel ashamed of these thoughts. Mostly, because at the heart of who I am, I understand that God does not always work in obvious ways. And this limited, inadequate, anxious control freak that I try to keep hidden from the world has a very hard time understanding that notion.

Lately, I have been fixated on the word “cultivate”. I see it everywhere. Maybe it is the season of spring in my own life that has the notion catching my eye. The very definition from Merriam-Webster is the ability “to grow or raise under conditions you can control”. When I first was thinking about this post, I really loved the last part of that definition, the idea of control. But when I think of the greatest gardeners or farmers that I know and love, they have a deep, almost spiritual connection to God and the earth. They understand that things aren’t always in our control. There are years of bountiful production, when we all smile up to the sky and thank God for the rain. And then there are years of drought, when ponds dry up and dust flies up into the air for weeks. Sometimes, you just have to know with faith in your heart that things are going to happen and that there is a plan, a roadmap, that we may never have access to. It may take going through years of good rains or years of drought. But God is always there, and I’m ready to understand that notion and just let go.

Only by darkness can we see the light. Only by Christ’s death on the cross are we saved. Only by a moment of suffering are we promised a life of eternity. Only by surviving a winter can we witness the most beautiful blooms. After all, my favorite flowers are those that come from being resilient over time, ones that can still bloom despite a sudden, unexpected moment of snow.

This is my story. This is my song.

I will allow God to cultivate in me a spirit that is peaceful and patient. This is where I am in life. And I vow to use every precious moment, every second, and not waste it. How blessed am I to have a good and loving God with great plans for my body, heart, and soul! And I know He’s there. And I know He’s listening, and even though I don’t see his roadmap for me, I am deeply excited to let it unfold in due time.

While I know that my times recently have been filled with a few snow storms here and there, I have realized that nearly everyone struggles through these as well. If your heart is anxious, if you worry for your future, or if you face moments of doubt, my hope is that you can find a sense of calm. Recently, I have discovered the author Shauna Niequist. Never have I connected to an author on such a deeply spiritual level. Her words from her books Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines have truly inspired me to question myself and understand that my fears of change are completely normal. I highly recommend that you consider picking up one of her books which are filled with short essays and snapshots of everyday life, celebrating God in the sun and snowstorms. Her quote below is a loving reminder to focus on the time, be willing to let go, and seek out resilient blooms within our own selves.

“I believe that if we cultivate a true attention, a deep ability to see what has been there all along, we will find worlds within us and between us, dreams and stories and memories spilling over. The nuances and shades and secrets and intimations of love and friendship and marriage and parenting are action-packed and multicolored, if you know where to look.” – Shauna Niequist (Cold Tangerines, 17)

So, I am focusing on these moments. I am letting go. This is my story. This is my song. I will find blooms in the snow storms, and I hope you will, too.

Bloom

Cheers,

Taylor

Let them Eat Cake: Triple Layer Blueberry Lemon

Oh, how has April already flown by me? This past month has become an absolute whirlwind, and I have a few blog posts that are much overdue. Spring has finally started to peak its bright and beautiful face around Kansas! Green, lush grass is everywhere. Buds are starting to shoot off of the trees, making our gorgeous campus in Manhattan glow. It’s a struggle not to keep a smile on your face when there’s so much Spring around!

If there ever was a cake to equal the delight of Spring, this Triple Layer Blueberry Lemon Cake would be it. The luscious, bright taste of fresh blueberries that are finally in season are the “icing on the cake” for this recipe, while the lemon shines through nicely. I found the recipe for this cake while perusing Pinterest in hopes of finding the perfect cake to celebrate a few friends’ birthdays. This recipe is from Sally’s Baking Addiction which also gave a few quick tips on picking the right fruit, how to properly frost the cake, etc. It was so helpful! I decided to make a few adjustments to the recipe, and after hearing rave reviews at the joint birthday party, I decided to share it with all of you!

Cake Ingredients:

  • ½ cup of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • ¼ cup of plain Greek Yogurt
  • 1 and ¼ cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk
  • zest + juice of 3 medium lemons
  • 1 and ½ cups of fresh blueberries
  • 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

Cake Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Use shortening or a stick of butter to line 3 round 9×2 inch pans. Set aside.
  2. Using a mixer, beat the ½ cup of butter on high until creamy (approximately 1 minute). Beat in the Greek Yogurt. (Here I used the Greek yogurt as a healthier substitute to cut back on butter).
  3. Add granulated and brown sugars and beat on medium-high speed until creamed (approximately 2-3 minutes). Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until everything is combined (approximately 2 minutes). Set aside.
  4. In a separate, large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly fold in half the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Beat together on low speed for about 5 seconds to mix all the ingredients.
  5. Add milk, lemon zest, and lemon juice. (It is very important to use fresh lemon juice here for a better taste instead of store-bought. On another side note, to make your own buttermilk, use 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and fill the measuring cup up to 1 cup with 1% or 2 % higher milk. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes before adding to cake).
  6. Add in the other half of your dry mixture. (This keeps the batter from being way too thick). Remove from the mixer and stir lightly until everything is just combined. Toss the blueberries in 1 Tablespoon of flour and fold into the batter. Batter is extremely thick, which will keep the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of the cake. Do not overmix.
  7. Spoon batter evenly into 3 prepared cake pans. Bake the three layers for about 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before frosting.

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Frosting Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • ½ cup of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 and ½ cups of sugar
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Frosting Directions:

  1. Using a handheld or stand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until smooth and no lumps remain (approximately 3 full minutes.)
  2. Add sugar, 1 Tablespoon cream, vanilla extract, and salt while the mixer is running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more cream for a thinner consistency.
  3. To Frost cakes: Flip cake from first pan onto an even surface. If cake is too tall, use a large knife to cut off extra cake for a more flat, thin cake. Cover the top with cream cheese frosting. Top with 2nd layer, more frosting, then the third layer. Top with frosting and spread around the sides. The recipe doesn’t make a ton of frosting, just enough for a light frost. Top with blueberries or lemon garnish if desired. Refrigerate until use!

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Cheers!

Taylor