"For now she need not think of anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of - to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others... and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.” (Virginia Woolfe, To the Lighthouse)
In a fast track world, solitude is a rare gift. How much time do we truly spend alone, disconnected, detached from chatter and motion and demand?
Embracing alone-ness, coming face to face with one's self, resting in quiet and stillness. Hearing the birds' song, feeling a soft breeze brush skin as it passes by, sensing one's own breath. Aware of thoughts, aware of emotions, aware of needs and of desires. Confronting the darkness, running into lightness.
How many of us truly know ourselves? How many are familiar with that wedge-shaped core?
Have you ever sat, quietly, marveling over the intricacy of an orange? Have you pondered the marvelous complexity of your own shape, your own mind, your soul?
I am an only child. I grew up in rural Nelson County, Virginia. My most constant companion was my imagination. Then there were the birds, the trees, the blades of grass. Rustling, brown leaves and malleable earth. A collection of pets - dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, a gerbil.
Though I was often alone, I rarely felt lonely. These days, I am not often alone, but I frequently feel lonely.
There is something magical and healing in solitude. I have spent this weekend mostly by myself, with only the company of my dog and cat, the trees, and a few carefully chosen pieces of citrus. Though it took the better part of a day, I finally settled into the peace of solitude. I stopped reaching for my phone, obsessively checking email and social media. Curiously, I faced myself. I asked this newly 27-year-old, pregnant lady how she was, what she was thinking about, what she needed.
This, she told me.
My plan going into this baking session was to make donut holes filled with blood orange and Meyer lemon curd. Timidly, I dropped scant spoonfuls of batter into a mini muffin pan, a technique I've seen used throughout the blogosphere. I had a gut feeling that I was going to get mini muffins. Trust your gut, folks.
So, I turned to my donut pan. By filling each cup with batter, enough to fully cover the center, one can create little wells perfect for filling with lemon curd. Or jam. Or cream. Or chocolate cream. I'm just saying. Baked donut dilemma solved.
Not-too-sweet, these simple, melt-in-your-mouth cake-like donuts carry a whisper of vanilla and tantalizing undercurrent of olive oil. Fragrant Meyer lemon and bittersweet blood orange curd meets the earthy donuts in a magically tart and silky tryst.
Baked Olive Oil Donuts (makes 12-15 donuts)
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cane sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking pan.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a donut pan generously with olive oil and set aside.
2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together milk, yogurt, and vinegar or lemon juice. Allow to curdle for 5 minutes. Add egg, vanilla, and olive oil. Whisk thoroughly to combine.
3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Pour in wet mixture and stir gently until just combined.
4. Spoon batter into wells of prepared donut pan. Fill each so that the tops are covered.
5. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden. Touch lightly to check for doneness. If the donut bounces back, they're finished! Allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan.
Blood Orange and Meyer Lemon Curd (makes about 3 cups)
Zest of 2 blood oranges
Zest of 2 Meyer lemons
1 1/2 cups cane sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
1/4 cup blood orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest from the lemons and oranges. Be careful to avoid the pith.
2. In a food processor, pulse together the zest and the sugar until the zest is finely ground into the sugar.
3. Using a stand- or hand-mixer, cream butter and add the sugar and zest mixture. Beat until thoroughly combined. Add eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla extract, citrus juice, and salt.
4. Pour lemon mixture into a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, keeping it just below a simmer. The curd will take about 10 minutes to thicken.
5. Transfer to a heat-safe bowl and allow to cool before placing in the refrigerator.
*Note that this curd is a soft-set curd. If you would like a thicker curd, add an extra egg yolk or remove 2 of the egg whites.
**You'll have lots of curd leftover, so you can either cut down the recipe or pull out a jar or two. Spread on toast, scones and muffins. Dollop on bowls of plain yogurt. Layer with whipped cream and crumbled cookies for easy parfaits. Or, you know, share. :-)