Zen and the Art of Savory Cakes


I’ve had a stressful week. I won’t go into full details here, but suffice to say it involves being an absentee landlord dealing with money disputes and general high drama. At the same time, I have started a new summer job waiting tables in a fine dining restaurant. While I’m enjoying my new physical role, I haven’t quite broken in my feet to doing laps around a dining room 8 hours a night. It’s not the same as working in a cushy publishing office. My feet and I are tired.

This morning I woke up wanting to start the day with some fun, so dragged the husband to a breakfast diner for a greasy sampler of two eggs over medium, two slices of bacon, two breakfast sausages, and two buttermilk pancakes. We washed everything down with several cups of coffee before receiving the latest communication in our unhappy tenant drama. Then the pancakes engaged in a chemical reaction with the caffeine and stress in my system to form a ball of cement and nerves.


Fun over, we rushed home to send a flurry of emails and invoices, only to find that for the third day in a row our internet is down. This is bad, people. The Hubby and I are fully integrated into the electronic world, so any glitch in the system is like having one leg out of commission. He needs a connection for work, and I need a connection for…just…just because I do. So we piled in the car and hurtled ourselves down to McDonald’s for a little free wifi.

We couldn’t just sit there of course, so ordered two more cups of coffee to be polite. And then I hunkered down to write some very official and grown up emails. I made my case. I read it and re-read it. I took a deep breath and hit ‘send’, and then I watched as my Outlook hung on the outgoing message, and completely froze up.


‘Go drop off your library books and it will be done by the time you get back,’ Hubs said after watching me pull at my hair and gnash my teeth for a few minutes. So I dashed off in a jittery buzz to address that little issue which I had been hoping would go away on its own, to the tune of—ahem—more money than I should be wasting on overdue library fines.

I rushed back to the McOffice to find…my email still hung. I took a deep breath and tried not to have a meltdown, even though I was having a meltdown. Then we discovered that the power outlet under our seat didn’t work when the whole laptop suddenly shut itself off. No power at McDonalds, no internet at home. We jumped in the car and dug out our little generator that we used when the car was our home, plugged it into the cigarette lighter, then moved the car as close to the closest handicapped spot we could find in order to pick up the signal.

Finally, it sent.


Instead of sitting around dreading the response, Honey suggested I go home and take a run to get my mind off it all. I threw on my shoes and headed for the sea wall. My mind emptied, and the pancake rock in my stomach started breaking up.

I passed three little girls on the beach, constructing some kind of sand- and rock-building. One of them was clearly in charge, commanding her minions to meet her specifications in their craftsmanship. Beyond the beach, a family sat sprawled on the retaining wall in folding chairs, skin oiled and frying, the mother’s pink flip flops dangerously close to tumbling over the edge of the cement and into the high tide below.


As I rounded the corner past the sea and into the marsh, a group of orioles darted out of the tall grass, their orange markings flashing in the sun, and I smiled to myself that they were nesting in my marsh grasses, the very ones that my mother picked for my wedding last year.

And then one of those funny mental chains formed, the linked thoughts that take you from orioles in the grass to refugees in Dadaab in a way that afterwards you can’t really trace. Somehow I was running through the marsh in the afternoon heat, imagining the unimaginable experience of walking for days through desert to find food and water, only to find at the end of the journey that I would wait 12 more days to receive aid, so under-equipped were the camps I had finally reached.


There are such horrors in the world. While I’m considering what to cook next, thousands of people are just trying to find shelter, food, and water. I know this is a trite sentiment, but it is also true. I can worry about paying my bills, or how much I (don’t) have in my retirement account, or feel resentful that I’m not able to spend freely, but the fact is I’m a wealthy, educated, privileged woman with a roof over her head, running water, and food in the fridge.

I turned back onto my street and sprinted the final stretch home, my heart flying. What a beautiful, rich life I lead. How lucky am I to consider home ownership a burden, or to feel deprived at the loss of my internet connection for a few days? I am ashamed and grateful for the stresses I experience.


I reached home, tired and calm. I found a leftover kitchen experiment which is becoming a new staple on hot days when I don’t feel much like cooking, or eating big meals, or thinking too hard about what I’m going to eat next: the savory cake.

The basic recipe was inspired by this article by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in The Guardian a couple of months ago. I’ve been using the polenta mixture as a basis for using up leftover veggies and odd ends of cheese. My spin is to mix up the batter, then add a handful each of grated veggie, crumbled cheese, and fresh herbs. If I’ve got a little piece of sausage, a few slices of bacon, or just one portion of meat from last night’s dinner, I chop that up and throw it in too.

Serve it with a simple tomato and basil salad, and you’ve got a fresh, light supper. How lucky are we to have these things on our table?


Summer Squash, Sausage, and Feta Savory Cake

optional leftovers:

  • 1 summer squash, grated
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 handful chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup crumbled and cooked breakfast sausage


basic batter:

  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup uncooked polenta
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1t baking soda
  • 4 T melted butter
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • salt and pepper to taste


Mix all the dry ingredients together in a big bowl, and whisk together the eggs, milk, and melted butter separately. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir to combine, then dump the batter into a greased and lined bread loaf tin.

Bake at 375 F/ 190 C for 30-40 minutes or until golden on top and cooked through the center (use a knife or skewer to check that the center is done. The knife will come out clean if it is.) If the top is browning too quickly, cover with foil until the cake has cooked through.

Run a knife around the edge of the tin to loosen the cake, and turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Slice and serve.


Kelley said...

Love this. So interesting. I think it's be a great addition to our online Seasonal Potluck. One of this month's featured ingredients is zucchini! http://wp.me/p1vvGp-aH

Nicole @ It's Feeding Time at the Zoo said...

I really love a savoury cake. So delicious and excellent as a side for soups and stews

Stephfret said...

Kelley- Thanks for the tip, I'll check it out!

Nicole- I agree, this would be great with a bowl of soup on a cold night. Or maybe a bowl of gazpacho now...

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