learning to do nothing, and a recipe: blueberry and cherry buckle

I complained to someone the other day that my summers aren’t relaxing anymore. I reminisced about summers past, when the summertime hours seemed to stretch endlessly ahead of me, open to possibility and whim. It should be a given that the months of June, July, and August are filled with merriment, intermixed with intervals of rest and relaxation. Summer should be filled with picnics and barbeques, day trips to the beach, quiet hours spent with a book, and leisurely afternoons at the swimming pool.

My summer isn’t like that anymore.

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I finally understand the problem with my summer. The problem is…me.

I posted this on twitter recently, and I think it’s accurate. This is my problem in a nutshell.

This weekend we had no plans, and that’s how I wanted it. I wanted to spend time doing nothing in particular, two solid days of freedom – to relax, to read, to do nothing. In hindsight, this is quite comical. Because, you see, I don’t “do nothing.” I’ve never been good at – well, at least since not since high school – doing nothing.

Doing nothing is simply not in my repertoire.

So I filled my Saturday with baking and cooking and laundry…and worry that I wasn’t being productive enough. Sunday morning I awoke to a quiet house and many hours of unplanned day ahead. So what did I do? I filled those hours. I did some more baking (that blueberry and cherry buckle in these photographs, for example), we took the kids to a movie, I cleaned the floors and the kitchen, and I cooked some more. We had a long-overdue dinner with friends in the evening, I cleaned some more, and then the weekend was over.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I enjoyed every one of those activities, even the time I spent cleaning. After all, I made the choice to occupy my mind and my hands rather, than be idle. Not one of those things was forced on me.

But I’m beginning to realize that I have to retrain my mind. I must, for my own mental health – and for the sake of my family – make some time to do nothing. To relax, to daydream, to be still. To just be.

It is all about balance. I’m happy being busy, filling my hours with tasks and projects. Being occupied, being productive, satisfies some essential part of me. I need to work on that other part, though, the part where I can be satisfied with just being…and not always doing.

I have decided that I will not complain about my summer anymore, or how busy I am. I’m going to make a concerted effort – with just a handful of weeks remaining – to not plan out my every waking moment. This might mean not spending the entire weekend baking and cooking. Or it might mean that I’ll try yoga or meditation. Or, like this morning, perhaps I’ll wake up at 5 to have an hour to myself, to write and think.

Sunday afternoon, about an hour before our guests arrived for dinner, I sneaked a piece of this cake and sat on the front porch while my son played with play-doh on the front steps nearby. He pretended to be a baker, selling cookies and cupcakes for $89 each. I just sat there, ate my dessert before dinner, and listened to Oliver play.

I think it was a step in the right direction.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Cook Time: 50 minutes.

Blueberry and Cherry Buckle

A buckle is in the cobbler family of desserts, but to me, it's more like a fruit-filled coffee cake. You can use whatever berries or stone fruit you like, but the combination of cherries and blueberries works beautifully together.


For Topping:

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For Batter:

1-1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3 large eggs
2 cups blueberries
2 cups cherries, pitted and halved


Make Topping:

In a small bowl, combine butter, sugars, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Blend with a fork or your fingers until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make Batter:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; place oven rack in middle. Butter a 9 x 9 inch baking pan or 2-quart baking dish and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the vanilla and beat until incorporated.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add to the creamed butter and sugar, alternating with the eggs, and beat well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Fold in the blueberries and cherries.

Spread batter in the baking pan and sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the middle comes out clean and the topping is crisp.

Adapted from Gourmet, July 1991.

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9 Responses to “learning to do nothing, and a recipe: blueberry and cherry buckle”

  1. 1
    Vicki S. — July 16, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

    I needed this today! Thanks, MJ.

  2. 2
    amelia from z tasty life — July 16, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

    I am plagued with much your same issue. I too am not able, it seems, to do nothing… to “just be”. But a few forced events (being in the mountains without cell reception, for one, and away from home) this summer have showed me that it is indeed possible. And it is a beautiful, liberating thing. If only I knew how to make it last!
    P.s. The buckle is such a “retro” name and dessert… love the idea of it

  3. 3
    DessertForTwo — July 16, 2012 @ 5:49 pm

    I am the EXACT same way, MJ. If I have a few spare moments, I immediately recall a list of things I’ve been meaning to do and get to it. Or, if I absent-mindedly spend an hour doing nothing (usually watching tv), I feel guilty and turn into superwoman who must get things done! It’s not healthy for us.

  4. 4
    Katie — July 16, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

    This is so me it’s not even funny! I clicked over when I saw the title of the post because learning to do nothing is something I need serious help with. Let’s hope we both figure it out before Summer’s over 🙂
    Although, that buckle looks worth some time spent. I’d like that corner piece!

  5. 5
    Gail — July 17, 2012 @ 9:22 am

    Please send Oliver my way. I like the way he prices his goods.

    Learning to do nothing without any guilt is a fine art, much akin to clearing one’s mind of idle chatter while meditating. I believe it takes years of practice to attain that state of nirvana.

  6. 6

    Oh MJ – you took the words right out of my brain! And yes, like Gail, I like Oliver’s thinking on his pricing of baked goods!

  7. 7
    SMITH BITES — July 19, 2012 @ 10:34 am

    just ‘being’ is very, very hard for all of us who live in a society where we’ve convinced ourselves (me included) that unless we’re in some sort of constant movement, we’re a failure, we’re lazy, we’re fill-in-the-blank whatever. computers, cell phones, iPads, technology in general has contributed to this ‘must-be-busy, be-available-at-all-times’ mentality. and you’ve actually hit the nail on the head here – it takes ‘practice’ to re-learn how to just be. and you’re on the right track – you’ve recognized it. love the post, love your honesty, love you.

  8. 8
    Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — July 20, 2012 @ 7:14 am

    Love this post! And, considering I’m commenting bright and early in the morning after having already been awake for 2 hours and baked banana bread (among other things), I think I also need a few lessons in doing nothing. Of course, while it certainly wasn’t doing nothing, I do love the look of that blueberry and cherry buckle! Yum 🙂

  9. 9
    Betty Ann @Mango_Queen — July 31, 2012 @ 10:12 am

    This is a terrific recipe. I want a slice of this blueberry cherry buckle right now. Heading to the market fruit stands for some ingredients. Must bake this. Thanks for sharing!

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