The scratching at the door was most persistent at night, when the sun lowered itself behind the mountains. We would sit around the table, playing cards, while my mother cooked at the stove and we would hear it; it made you jump, to hear those nails against the wood of our door and caused a shiver to run up your arms. The scratching and clawing, the low growl.
My mother heard it, just as we did, but she didn’t take her hand off the wooden spoon and her voice was calm when she told me that it was just the neighbor’s cat. We all knew the truth, that the wolves come at night and find their way to our door.
“Now, of all times of our history, we should be using our minds as well as our hearts in order to survive… to live gracefully if we live at all.” MFK Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf
I spent the weekend in New York visiting my lovely friend Kate (20 years of friendship next month! Which is crazy pants). We were out all day on Saturday in the blistering heat, the intention of our morning to visit Idlewild, a travel bookstore in the Village. How to Cook a Wolf all but leapt into my hands. Earlier that morning, I’d seen MFK Fisher’s name in an ad on the subway. I noticed the convergence and bought the book (I like convergence- it’s the closest thing to magic). The book is ostensibly about rationing during the war but it’s really about surviving with grace. After being submerged, first in unrelenting, grim news and then in New York’s pounding heat, they are words I need.
In the first few pages, MFKF rages against food magazines and radio and movies and the decrying pressure for home cooks to prepare three full, balanced meals every day. Some people need more, some less, she argues. Fight against what you’re told- go for balance in the day, not at every meal.
Don’t wear yourself to nothing trying to do the right thing in all places, in all ways, everywhere, all the time- you will probably fail on all counts. If, for breakfast, you have blueberries, sinking, buckling, inside a cake, a small piece, and coffee, you’re doing fine. It’s fruit, it counts toward the balance of your day. Cut yourself a piece and some slack, direct your grace elsewhere.
Don’t forget your ability to build. Hopefully you hear those words when you feel powerless and swept up by the world’s troubles. You can always build- your own family, your friendships, a house, inside a kitchen, at work, in your heart. There is no end to the things you can build. Start with this cake- a dessert that’s lasted decades. Flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, butter, milk, summery blueberries.
Build in the kitchen first and work your way outward if that’s all you can do today. Build your little people into the people you need in the world. Build your friendships and make them stronger. Build up the grace in your heart so that you know what to do when it’s called upon.
FOR THE CAKE:
1/4 Cup butter, softened
3/4 Cup sugar
2 Cups all-purpose flour
2 Teaspoons baking powder
1/4 Teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup milk
2 Cups fresh blueberries
FOR THE TOPPING:
2/3 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup all-purpose flour
1/2 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 Cup cold butter, cubed
In a small bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in egg. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; add half to butter mixture and then the milk, then the rest of the flour, beating well after each addition. Fold in blueberries. Pour into greased 9-in. square baking pan.
Make topping: in a small bowl, combine sugar, flour and cinnamon; cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over blueberry mixture.
Bake at 375° for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.