Our lives are currently characterized by sheer abundance. Of food. Cars. Money. People. Lovers. Friends. Restaurants. Malls. Music. Socks. Hangers. Books. Dutch ovens. Spatulas. Deodorants. Planners. Pillows. Rings.Choice.
If you pause for a sec and contemplate this, our minds are confronted daily with millions of options.
Studies have found that when our crazy complicated human brain is presented with more than seven miniscule choices, (which nowadays is nada…have you taken a look at Cheesecake Factory’s novel-like menu lately? How am I supposed to choose anything there within its ocean of options without going through a state of utter mind blindness and menu-choosing anxiety?) it basically goes…
numb. Give the mind two or three options, and the choice can be a cinch. But seven-plus and the mind basically morphs into a Jabba the hut then goo, devoid of any and all reasoning. (The brilliant Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich at Radiolab did a podcast about this.)
Within this choice exists different universes of action. From what you will do from the second you wake up, (whether you will lazily check your phone because you have to read that super pressing email from Amazon.com telling you about the latest stand-mixer attachment or whatever is the random thought of the day) or put on your sneakers and go for a run or be mildly hungry (wait, am I hungry?) and eat your breakfast (what will I eat?) and shower (which shampoo?) to get dressed (which yoga pants am I wearing today?). That’s just before 8am. But there is a cornucopia of things to be done in this world. And you need to make these choices fast and urgently until it becomes second nature. There has never been a time where making those choices are more on fire than right. this. second.
So what’s the most important choice you will make in your life whilst swimming in this ocean of mayhem? Of course all choices are somewhat significant, as that’s basically all that life is, a series of choices. Is it whether you will wear ankle socks or the dorkier ankle socks? Is it what you choose to eat? What you choose to study? Where to live? Is it your partner? Maybe. The partner’s important because that will dictate a lot of your life. Your mood. Your love. What you do and where you sleep and what your life will look like.
But. I don’t think it’s the partner. Because that’s something outside of you and let’s face it, nowadays, our partners are changing more often than ever.
I think it’s your internal world and what you choose to fill your days with, which is your job. The words that come out of your mouth as you basically hurl your identity out there when you answer the omnipotent question of our American culture…. “So, what do you do?”. But it’s not just stumbling upon this like buying your favorite brand of hummus, though, I wish it were that easy. It’s doing the arduous work to make your job what you were put on this earth to do. It’s finding what the divine chose for you to do, recognizing it, then thrusting forward to slam your art, whatever that may be, onto this world, leaving it changed forever. Because before you, this didn’t exist. And without you, it won’t exist. You must choose to give birth to the best that is within you.
Because our society has equated a job with the grind, a plowing away and a rat race of wanting to leave the place of your employment from the second your seemingly lead filled crusty eyelids crack open on Monday morning until you are drained exhausted and mentally spent until Friday’s sometimes necessary happy hour. Because you spend your days answering and being at the beck and call of someone that you might just want to punch in the face. And deep inside most of us exists a whisper that this shouldn’t be your life. A yearning that you were destined for more. That what you’re doing might not really matter at all in the large scope of things. Do you believe in it? Do you love it? More importantly, does it love you? Does it gnaw at you like internal termites like it did to me? It’s so unfortunate that we get caught in the day to day, in the hustle, in the utter exhaustion.
But then these days somehow turn to years, and they’re gone.
Because in our microscopic blip of time time on this earth, we have to squeeze hard to get the most juice. And a lot of that time is spent worrying, thinking, and doing our “jobs”. So why can’t we spend this massive chunk of time being happy, and subsequently doing something that makes us happy?
I believe an urgent shift needs to take place in this world. A shift of thinking to help people hone their passions and skills into….what they’re good at. Everyone possesses this. Even you. Yes, you. To choose to make a choice. To choose to realize you have a choice. To realize that you don’t have to spend the majority of your life doing things you don’t want to do. In the large pocket of life that you will spend most of your waking and living time, you have a choice. And this is the most important one.
What no one really tells you is that doing what you want to do takes balls to the wall guts and bravery. Because not everyone has the courage to do what they know in their hearts is right for them. Everyone thinks they have to follow along the same path, but that’s not true. (Remember reading Robert Frost in 7th grade?) Because it will whisper at you until it morphs into a scream. And it’s going to be hard. People will tell you you can’t do it, that you should play it safe, that you shouldn’t take a risk. But, haters they gonna hate. Tell them you’re busy trying to figure you’re shit out here. Or don’t tell them anything at all, who cares? It will take time.
So how can we make this choice as seamless as possible? By knowing what you’re good at. What are you good at? Think of what you love to do. Think of what you would want to do if no one was watching, besides dancing, of course. What you’d do on your Saturday mornings or alone on Friday nights or when you procrastinate. Don’t limit yourself here. Think of those times that you spend doing the things you love, those moments where time ceases to exist and melts away into oblivion. Where infinite time wouldn’t suffice to do what you want to do. When you’re in what I envision as the flow state. Where you’re zipped up with life like a zipper, attaching to it ever so gracefully, riding along like woohoo, like “ah, this…the life.” It feels like it’s where you belong. Pay attention. You’ll feel it, it’s there.
When the Spice Girls sing to you and you become one with the flow state, nothing can disturb you and you can do whatever needs to be done in that moment. You look at the clock and you’re like whoa four hours are gone?! I can guarantee you that that’s never happened in a job you abhorr, where you’re in a Dali-painting drip clock reality where time oozes like tar and the seconds seems like hours and the days seem like you’re stuck in sand. Because that something else, it’s gnawing and calling you. And it won’t stop.
That’s how you know. And when you’re in that knowingness of the flow that is only specific to you, you can do whatever it takes. Because even annoying and weird tasks are fun. Things like not going out so you can stay home and make a lemony yeasted challah-ish dough at 10pm on a Thursday night so it can be left alone to develop its yeasty flavor. Annoying already. Then, the fact that the sun is shining outside saying hey hallelujah it’s a wondeful day in January doesn’t faze you. No, you prefer to roll out that dough into thinness with a ruler and trim it into a perfect 11” x 15” rectangle. Then fill it with a chocolate paste and pecans and sugar roll it, cut it, and twist it together. To then do that whole process over again. Then wait another 90 minutes for that dough to rise. Then bake it. Then soak it in a sugar syrup. Geez.
But to you, this is fun. It’s your thing. It’s what you were meant to do. You’re in the flow. Because this choice, our life, is kind of like this chocolate krantz cake. It’s rolled and twisty and bready and yeasty and confusing and annoying at times. You’ll have to suck it up and roll it up and push and pull and tug and twist underneath and hide some things you might not want to see. You’ll have to stuff it with deliciousness and lock it up. You’ll have to wait. You’ll have to be patient. You’ll have to enjoy the process. Because once you put in that effort doing what you love, the hardest part is done because you’ll have made the choice. Because sometimes the choice isn’t your choice but something chosen already for you.
Once that metaphorical bread comes out of the oven, you’ll close your eyes and sigh, and you’ll find it filled your satisfaction quota already. The smell will climb into your nose and stay there. Then you’ll rip off a piece, taste it, and the rest of the pleasure will wash over you, confirming to you that because you were brave enough, it all turned out okay.
So when you are left with choice, I hope you choose to choose. To choose the right thing for you and you only. Not for your mother or your boyfriend or your best friend or for the majority. But for you. Because it exists. Again, think of what makes time go away and go from there. I hope you choose to think about this. I hope you go into deep thought and meditation and pay attention to what makes that clock disappear. What floats your boat. Or makes your krantz cake rise. I also hope you choose to make this krantz cake if it’s your thing, because like with the choice, it will all be worth it in the end, if you choose wisely.
Chocolate krantz cakes
Adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Note: keep in mind you will need to have sufficient time to make this cake. Start the night before.
Makes 2 loaf cakes
Makes 2 loaf cakes
4 ¼ cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons fast rising active dry yeast
grated zest of 1 small lemon
3 extra-large eggs
½ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
⅔ cup (about 1 ½ sticks) butter, at room temperature
Canola or sunflower oil, for greasing
For chocolate filling
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
⅓ cup best-quality cocoa powder
4 ½ ounces dark chocolate, melted
½ cup butter, melted
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
⅔ cup water
1 ¼ cup sugar
Make the dough
Place the flour, sugar, yeast, and lemon zest in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on low speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs and water and mix on low speed for a few seconds, then increase the speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes, until the dough comes together. Add the salt and then start adding the butter, a few cubes at a time, mixing until it is incorporated into the dough. Continue mixing for about 10 minutes on medium speed, until the dough is completely smooth, elastic, and shiny. During the mixing, you will need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times and throw a small amount of flour onto the sides so that all of the dough leaves them.
Place the dough in a large bowl brushed with canola or sunflower oil, cover with plastic wrap, and leave in the fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight.
Grease two 8” x 4” pans with some oil and line the bottom with wax or parchment paper. Divide the dough in half and keep one-half covered in the fridge.
Make the filling
In a large bowl, mix the confectioner’s sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate, and butter. You will get a spreadable paste.
Begin to assemble to cakes
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle measuring 11” x 15”. Trim the sides to make them even, then position the dough so that a long side is closest to you. Use an offset spatula to spread half the chocolate mixture over the rectangle, leaving a ¾-inch border all around. Sprinkle half the pecans on top of the chocolate, then sprinkle over half the superfine sugar.
Brush a little bit of water along the long end farthest away from you. Use both hands to roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting from the long side that is closest to you and ending at the other long end. Press to seal the dampened end onto the roulade and then use both hands to even out the roll into a perfect thick cigar. Rest the cigar on its seam.
Trim about ¾-inch off both ends of the roulade with a serrated knife. Now use the knife to gently cut the roll into half lengthwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam. You are essentially diving the log into two long even halves, with the layers of dough and filling visible along the length of both halves. With the cut sides facing up, gently press together one end of each half, and then lift the right half over the left half. Repeat this process, but this time lift the left half over the right, to create a simple, two stranded braid. Gently squeeze together the other ends so that you are left with the two halves, intertwined, showing the filling on top. Carefully lift the cake into a loaf pan. Cover the pan with a wet dish towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 ½ hours. The cake will rise by 10 to 20 percent. Repeat the whole process to make the second cake.
Bake the cakes
At least 30 minutes before baking, set the oven at 375 degrees F. Remove the tea towels, place the cakes on the middle rack of the oven, and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
While the cakes are in the oven, make the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat and leave to cool down. As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, brush all of the syrup all over them. Is it important to use up all of the syrup. Leave the cakes until they are just warm, them from the pans and let cool completely before serving.