Two weeks ago, I turned 40.
If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know that I had planned to be biking through Vietnam on that day, but we had to cancel the trip. Instead, Elie made sure I was spoiled. I went to a yoga class with Mom, got pampered at the spa, spent time in the hospital with Moe, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Hawksworth. It was a great day, and a joyful one.
Truth be told, I wanted to be biking through rice fields when I turned 40, because I thought it would distract me from that milestone. Historically, as my birthday approaches, I click through the running life list in my head, making note of the things I haven’t yet done, my shortcomings, the failures and disappointments, the mistakes I’ve made. Am I the person I want to be? Have I accomplished enough? Done enough? Am I enough?
Forty loomed large, because by 40, shouldn’t I feel like I’ve got it together? Shouldn’t I be well on my way to accomplishing those lists written in my high school journal, including being a Mom? It’s easy to should yourself to death.
My Dad once told me he felt the measure of success in life was not happiness, but contentment. Happiness is a fleeting feeling, but contentment is a state of being. I woke up on March 14th with a peace in my heart, a peace that replaced the yearning, the searching that always accompanies my birthday. As I lay in bed that morning with Elie still asleep beside me, I felt like I had been on a very long journey, and I finally found home.
At 40, I feel more comfortable with myself than ever before in my life. Elie excels at this. He is so comfortable in his own skin, and it’s one of his attributes I first fell in love with. I’m learning from him, to accept and appreciate my talents and let go of my own unrealistic expectations of who I should be. I am not witty, but I am kind. I don’t enjoy late nights clubbing, but I love to gather friends in our home. I am a terrible gardener, but a good cook. My to-do lists are too ambitious, but Elie will almost always come home to fresh flowers on the table and a homemade meal. I will never be Barbara Walters (my original plan), but I have a fulfilling career and can still make breakfast for Elie every morning. I bemoan the wrinkles starting to show on my face and the beginnings of gray hair, but I am thankful for a healthy body.
At 40, I thank God for the blessings of the crooked, rugged path that brought me here, where I have overwhelming appreciation for this life, for contentment and joy. I have a feeling the fourth decade is going to be the best yet.
Since every birthday needs a cake, I’m giving you a Roasted Cauliflower Cake, which is basically my perfect idea of cake—an eggy and bready and cheesy one (three of my favorite foods). It’s a cross between a frittata, a soufflé and a quick bread, and it’s inspired by the cauliflower cake recipe from Plenty More by Yotam Ottelenghi.
The original recipe called for boiling the cauliflower, but the nutritionist in me couldn’t bear the thought of losing all those vitamins, so I roasted it instead, which has the added benefit of adding more flavor to the cake. I also replaced the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour (one of my favorite tricks), which adds whole grains to the recipe and a deeper, nuttier flavor. I hope you enjoy it. xo
- 1 small cauliflower, cut into florets
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large shallot, sliced
- ½ teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 ½ cups coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
- 7 eggs
- ½ cup basil leaves, sliced
- 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
- Sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Toss the cauliflower florets in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with sea salt. Place the cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet, making sure that the florets are just in a single layer and not overlapping. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast for 20 – 25 minutes or until deeply golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
- Place a small pan over medium heat. Add another two tablespoons of olive oil, the sliced shallot, chopped rosemary and a pinch of sea salt. Cook the shallots for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and starting to caramelize. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
- To a medium bowl, add the whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, turmeric and red pepper flakes. Whisk well to combine. Add the Parmesan cheese and stir together.
- To a large bowl, add the eggs and whisk well. Stir in the reserved shallots with rosemary, and the basil leaves, whisking to combine. Add the flour mixture and stir gently, being sure not to overmix. Fold in the reserved roasted cauliflower florets.
- Butter the sides of a 9 ½ inch springform cake pan and then line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper and then toss the sesame seeds against the sides of the pan, so they stick to the sides. Pour the cauliflower mixture into the pan and then spread the top evenly.
- Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 40 – 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let it rest about 10 minutes before serving. Ottolenghi suggests serving the cake just warm or at room temperature, but Elie preferred it served hot.