I don’t buy the theory that everything happens for a reason.

crumb cake slice cut out

After watching my father go from perfectly fine to totally incapacitated in the course of three weeks, after witnessing some of the best people I know be unable to conceive and carry a healthy baby, after being privy to the pretty hellish family backgrounds of some of my students, I’m extremely resistant to the line of thinking that asserts “there’s some good reason for this totally shitty thing that’s happening.”  In my world, shitty things just sometimes happen.

I do, however, believe that if something shitty should happen, you might as well find an angle on the situation from which you can learn something, be grateful for something, grow, and/or laugh.

So.  As you might imagine, I’m not very good at standing around and not doing things.  Not good at going to Costco with my best friend and letting her put everything in my cart and load everything into my car.  Not good at letting Jill do the cooking.  Not good at standing around at a Halloween party, unable to pour drinks.

I’m going to back to the doctor today, but I have to say the experience of the last few days has made me grateful and thoughtful.  I see now how accustomed I am to assessing my value via the things I can do: baking, helping, fixing, mailing packages, cleaning, grading, writing letters, blogging (which I’m doing anyway—shhhh!)

What I’ve been forced to realize is that, even if I never contributed another action in my life, I would still be loved.  I’d be valued and of importance.  I’d be useful simply for being myself.

And that’s a pretty big thing to get.

ever-so-slightly adapted from Gourmet, December 2008

If your hands are in even slightly better shape than mine, MAKE THIS CAKE.  The food processor & stand mixer do most of the work, and this cake tastes like fall, nostalgia, home, & butter all rolled into one.  Fresh cranberries are readily available these days, but if you must, you can substitute thawed, frozen ones.

Because I prefer my breakfast cakes a bit tart, I’ve dialed back the sugar by a quarter cup from the original recipe and added a bit of lemon zest.  Feel free to go for a sweeter version if you’d like.

cake ingredients: crumb cake slice 2

½ a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup cranberries
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
zest of one lemon

oven: 375°
pan: 9-inch round cake pan (I used a spring form)

Butter the pan & line the bottom of it with a round of parchment paper.  Butter the parchment, too.  Trust me.  It’s easier this way.

Use your food processor to make vanilla sugar: scrape the insides of the vanilla bean* into the bowl of the food processor along with the sugar.  Pulse to combine.

Remove vanilla sugar from bowl & reserve ¼ cup for the topping.  Pulse the cranberries with another ¼ cup of vanilla sugar until finely chopped.

To make the cake batter, whisk together the flour, baking powder, & salt.  Beat together the butter & remaining vanilla sugar (1 cup) until pale and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape down the bowl, then add the flour mixture & milk alternately.  Begin & end with the flour!

Stir in the lemon zest; be careful not to over-mix.

To assemble the cake, spread half of the batter in the pan (don’t worry if it looks a little thin).  Because the cranberries tend to give off a lot of water, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the food processor & spread them in a circle over the batter, leaving a slight border.

Top the cake layers with the remaining half of the batter (again, don’t worry if it looks thin!)  Top with the crumble—see below—and bake for 45-55 minutes.  The cake will pull away from the pan & become light brown.  If using a regular cake pan, cool at least 25 minutes before turning out the cake.  With a spring form pan, wait 15-20.

*Don’t throw away that vanilla bean half!  Save it for flavoring purposes, the simplest of which is to store it in a jam jar with some extra sugar, which you can then add to your coffee, tea, baked goods, etc.

crumble topping:

¼ cup vanilla sugar (see above)
1 T flour
1 T unsalted butter, softened

Blend the ingredients with your fingers & scatter over the top of the cake.

Cake will keep, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator for a week.



  1. One thing we lack in the kitchen is a food processor. We got one for the wedding but it didn’t work so well…a few others we’ve looked at seem really expensive or are just too big to fit in the storage spaces we have.

    Any recommendations for a good food processor that won’t take over my kitchen? How big does it really need to be for a light cook?

    Thanks and give those hands plenty of rest!!

    • bluejeangourmet

      Tricia–girl, you gotta get one! it’s so handy for certain things (make-your-own hummus, chopping nuts, this cranberry coffee cake recipe!) and mine wasn’t expensive at all. I got the most basic Cuisinart model several years ago and it’s served me well. Ran less than $100, came with a regular blade, dough blade, slicer, & shredder. The bowl is not as big as some other models, but it’s not so much trouble to do things in two batches. Get one get one!

      thanks to everyone for the kind thoughts & sympathy…getting better over here and scheduling an appointment with a neurologist early next week. your love and support and community mean so much xx

  2. YUM!! I’ve never tried cranberry coffee cake. That looks delicious!

  3. This post is just so right. As I read, I was nodding my head at the screen like a bobble head doll. (I came to some similar realizations over this last year.) Dear Nishta, do take care of yourself. xo.

  4. Yikes! Hang in there. Hope your dad is doing better as well.

    I don’t believe that anything happens for a reason. Shit just happens. What matters more is how you deal with. We’re in the midst of a pretty rough turn of events ourselves and we’ve decided that all we can do it shake our heads and laugh.

    Good luck!

  5. I remember seeing this recipe and wanting to make it–thank you for the reminder. Yours look delicious!

    For the record, I definitely don’t believe things happen for a reason. Good and bad things just happen, period. Hope things improve for you soon.

  6. Sounds like you’re dealing with life as best you can. Things always have a way of changing, so maybe you should focus on the future. In the meantime, thanks for the yummy recipe. Hang in there.

  7. For me, bad things always help me appreciate the good, even if it’s hard at the time. 🙂

    I usually don’t like cranberries, but…I think if it’s in a coffeecake, I would all but inhale it 😀

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