Looking at these pictures is a very bittersweet experience for me.
These are the last food photos I took in my house before I moved.
Back to my family. Back to my roots. Back to Wisconsin.
But to tell you about where I am now, you have to know about where I was then. And where I was was a grocery store parking lot. On a Sunday morning in May I was sent to the store to restock on yet another item we had run out of during a particularly brutal brunch service.
I couldn’t get out of the car. It was too hot. There were too many people. My heart hurt too much. I didn’t want to be there anymore. Not in that parking lot, not in that city, not in that state.
Chest heaving, eyes blurred by tears, I frantically texted my sister-in-law.
“I think I need to move home.”
I ignored the niggling feeling that I was stranding my coworkers, leaving them waiting and wanting. I waited, I wanted. She responded.
“What does your gut tell you?”
My gut was telling me to go home. I had left leeway in the text; wiggle room if she thought I was being dramatic or that I just needed to stick it out. But I knew. Deep down. My gut, my head, my heart were all saying the same thing. In unison. My everything had been trying to tell me for weeks, months. It was time to go home.
And that was it. I finally verbalized what I had been feeling for so long. It was liberating and lightening. All this time I had thought my broken heart had been the result of romance gone wrong, that all I needed was a little more time to adjust, to heal. Truly though, I don’t think my heart was ever going to heal so far from home. There was a brokenness there that wasn’t the result of love lost, but of a loss of self.
I tried. I really did. I tried for over three years in South Carolina. I got a job (an amazing one, actually, best I may ever have). I made friends (close friends, actually, some of the best I may ever have). I fell in love (God willing, not the best I will ever have).
But see, here’s the thing – if it had been right for me, if Greenville had been my place, my home, I don’t think I would have had to try quite so hard. It wouldn’t have been such a task to see the beauty around me, to feel at peace in my heart. Hell, to even function. But I couldn’t. I didn’t. I wasn't. It was such a task to try and be myself, to find myself. Honestly, the decision to move home was one of the most “Amanda” choices I had made in years. It was right. I knew it, deep down in my bones.
And the universe must have known too. Because once I vocalized my desire to return to Wisconsin life moved at warp speed. I accepted an offer (of full asking price) on my house the first day it was listed. I had a lead on a job and a place to stay upon my return. My family was able to mobilize and get me packed up and moved out of my house in less than three hours. No sooner had we loaded the last box than a torrential downpour started. Trapped in a trailer with my aunts, laughing and feeling light, my phone rang. The rain pounded on the roof of the trailer and reverberated in my ears as I took the call. It was my new boss. I had gotten the job.
As it turns out, the job wasn’t for me, never would be for me. Just like Greenville. I knew it from the very first day. It wasn't the right fit, I couldn't force it. And that’s ok, I’m ok. I’m following my heart, my happiness – however far they take me. I'm allowing myself to search, to seek, to find what it is I'm supposed to do. Because I'm where I'm supposed to be. I’m home. I’m here. I’m me. After all this time.
Berries and Cream Cake
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 whole eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. almond extract
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
Quick Berry Jam, recipe follows
Sweetened Whipped Cream, recipe follows
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and spray with nonstick baking spray, set aside.
Whisk together the first four ingredients in a medium bowl, set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully encorporated and scraping down sides of the bowl in between each addition. Stir in the extracts.
Working in alternating batches, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by ½ of the milk, ending with the dry ingredients. Finish mixing the batter by hand, scraping down the sides of the bowl to be sure everything is fully incorporated.
Divide batter among prepared pans and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and spring back when lightly touched. Remove to rack to cool.
While the cakes bake and cool, prepare the jam filling and whipped cream topping.
Quick Berry Jam
1 pound of your favorite or seasonal berry (I used local strawberries)
1 cup sugar
1 lemon, juiced
In a medium saucepan combine ingredients and cook over medium heat until fruit has reduced and thickened, about 30 minutes.
Sweetened Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine all ingredients and whip on high until stiff peaks form.
To assemble the cake:
Level off one of the cakes before topping it with half the whipped cream, then a generous amount of jam (you may have leftover, that’s ok, put it on toast in the morning and thank me later). Top with the remaining cake layer and remaining whipped cream. Serve immediately.