This July, I have had a little escape from routine and obligations.
The routine part is largely, because school has ended making the rush to get out the door a distant memory. Sunlight stretches so much longer which leads to later bedtimes with the hopes that the children will all sleep in the following morning. Otherwise, the heat makes for slow afternoons of reading, artwork and writing by my girls and I while my son naps. The relaxing of a routine comes naturally in the summer and spontaneous dinners al fresco or drop-ins at a friend’s cottage become the norm.
The obligation part has been more self-discipline and an inner need to change and grow. Travel aside, my escape has centred around reframing my mind and how I approach the day. As a stay-at-home mom and dedicated guardian of a strong but falling apart old house, I have little time for myself. It is a position that I chose and am honoured to do so. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have days where I think: “going back to work would be so much less stressful.” During free-time or more aptly “me-time” I have to decide whether to do physio or write, etc. Quite often I try to do "all the things" and end up just touching the surface of the things that need to be done. This leads to an endless cycle of setting up a work station (my kitchen table) and then clearing it without the satisfaction of completing anything. So, something had to change.
The major change I made this summer is that I wake up with the goal of accomplishing one task well and setting an intention for the day while sipping on some lukewarm green tea. The task itself is not allowed to be maintaining my e-mail inbox because this is a never-ending task that drains time (thank you to Beth Kirby at the Raw Milk Podcast for setting me straight on that one). During downtimes, when the children are focused on an art project, playing in the backyard or dress-up, I use that time to focus on my one task. Instead of cleaning the kitchen and throwing in a load of laundry prior to sitting down (or working out), I just begin the task. This is just a slight shift in the day, but it just makes all the difference. My mind feels calmer and the task itself seems doable and approachable. Best of all, it gets done.
The bursting at the seams to-do-list still exists but I don’t look at it with despair. Slow and steady I cross one thing off at a time. It is a strategy that allows me to savour those moments with my children. Otherwise known as, my whole reason for staying home.
Strawberries and summer go hand in hand. Local berries are always the best. Tiny, red throughout and bursting with flavour. I have many family birthdays and celebrations in early summer so this has become a go-to recipe of mine. The cake is straight-forward and fuss free. A luxurious strawberry jam is made in addition to adding freshly sliced strawberries to the layers of the cake. All of it is topped off with a light mascarpone icing.
Cakes are always an act of love so give yourself time to make this one. I recommend making the cake and jam the day before. Store the cake layers with parchment paper in between them and place in a cake carrier or wrap with plastic wrap (try to reduce single-use plastics whenever you can) and store in the refrigerator. While the cake is the prettiest on the day it is made, it will last for 3 days. It freezes well too.
Strawberry Filled Cake with Whipped Mascarpone Icing
Makes: 1 8-inch (20 cm) layer cake
Time: Prep time (30 minutes) + Baking time (40 minutes) + Cooling time (2 hours) + Assembly (35 minutes)
3 8-inch (20 cm) OR 2 9-inch (23 cm) cake pans
Medium sized nozzle and piping bag
Easy Vanilla Cake
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
3 1/4 cups (390 g) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder*
1 tsp fine sea salt
3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups (340 g) whole milk, room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cup (240g) strawberries, hulled
3 tbsp (45ml) water
3/4 cup (155g) sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
10 medium strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
Whipped Mascarpone Icing
2 1/2 cups (600ml) heavy whipping cream, cold
1 1/2 cups (173g) icing sugar, sifted to remove lumps
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups (452g) mascarpone cheese, keep in the refrigerator until ready to use
Easy Vanilla Cake
1. Grease and line 3 8-inch (or 2 9-inch) cake pans with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and ensure that the middle rack is available.
2. Whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt.
3. Add the butter and beat with a handheld mixer.
4. Combine the milk and vanilla extract. Add to the flour-butter mixture and combine. Mix on medium for 30 seconds. Scrap down the sides of the bowl.
5. Crack the eggs in to a small bowl. With the mixer running, add eggs one at a time mixing well after each addition. After the final egg is added, beat at medium-high for 30 seconds.
6. Pour the batter equally into the prepared pans. Bake for 23-28 minutes if using the 8-inch pans. If using 9-inch pans, bake for 30-34 minutes. A skewer inserted into the middle of the cake will come out clean and the cake will be golden brown along the edges.
7. Let cool for 5 minutes and then turn onto a wire cooling rack. The cakes should be completely cool before assembling the cake.
1. Add the berries to a small food processor and blend until smooth (the volume may not be enough for a blender to properly blend).
2. Sift the sugar and cornstarch into a medium saucepan. Stir in the blended strawberries and cook on medium heat until it thickens (5-10 minutes) stirring frequently.
3. Remove from the heat and scrape into a clean bowl. Place in the refrigerator to further cool and set.
Whipped Mascarpone Icing
1. Place a high-sided bowl and the beaters of a hand-held mixer in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
2. Remove the bowl and beaters from the refrigerator and set-up your workstation. Add the cream to the chilled bowl and beat on high until soft peaks form. Add the icing sugar and vanilla extract and beat to incorporate. Finally, add the mascarpone cheese and whip until stiff peaks form.
1. Level the tops of your cakes using a serrated knife. Set the first layer, top side down, on a plate.
2. Fill a piping bag with the icing. Pipe a high “dam” around the edge of the cake. Spoon in half of the strawberry filling. Layer with half of the sliced strawberries. Pipe more mascarpone icing on top of the strawberry layer.
3. Gently, place the second layer (top side up) on top and repeat step 2. At this point, all of the berry filling and sliced berries should be used up.
4. Place the third layer on top with the trimmed side facing down. Add the mascarpone icing to the top and sides. Place the cake in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to set. Add the remaining icing to fill in the gaps. Use the bench scraper to even out the sides while slowly running it along the side of the cake.
5. Finish with fresh flowers and/or more strawberries on top.
Serve at a summer party with sparkling drinks.