At last, I have a new recipe for you in the heavily neglected category of Russian food. How could this have happened, you ask? Are you not married to a Russian? Does your son not respond to the question “Would you like to go to the library?” with “Da!”? Are you not still in love with all of the Russian food you’ve encountered in your (holy wow) 8 1/2 years of courtship? And the answer is very simple: I needn’t cook Russian food because my mother-in-law does it so well.
Saturday night, New York City was the loudest I’d heard it in a long time. I should preface this by saying that I live in a noisy part of an already noisy neighborhood and under the best of circumstances — NYU students gone for the summer, long holiday weekend, rain — there’s always a Saturday night ruckus. But this was something else. This woke me up. I swear, I heard a trumpet, more sirens than feasibly possible, people cheering like the Yankees had won the World Series (did they? no wait, something about football?) and when I went to the window, I saw a Vespa go down the sidewalk and I couldn’t get back to sleep. For the eve of such a somber anniversary, there was hardly anyone bummed out after midnight. I like that about this place, even grudgingly, even at 1 am.
Last week, when it was ninety million degrees in New York City and all the sane people were cracking open fire hydrants, grilling on their roof decks and/or sticking their faces in their wheezing air conditioner units, I looked around my shoebox kitchen, with its half-counter and miniature oven, considered the sheer volume of items left on my to-do that I’d never get done and said, “Clearly, this is the day for me to make an 11-layer dobos torte.” Because my birthday was two days away and that seemed as good as any to sever what frayed tethers I had left to my sanity. [Plus, I already had cleaning help!]
It is not summer yet. In fact, it’s been raining for more than a week, and another week — the one in which I presume we’ll be introduced to our new mosquito overlords — is promised. In fact, it was so cold that I met a friend for lunch today and had to wear both a light wool sweater and a jacket. It’s almost like summer looked at New York City and said “pbbbblt!”
This is one of my family’s three cakes. The first one, a sour cream cinnamon chocolate chip coffee cake, came from my grandmother and her sisters, and my husband occasionally (but very quietly) threatens to skip family events if nobody is planning to make it. Nobody knows the origin of the second cake, my mom’s apple cake, but if you’ve gone to a housewarming party, well, ever and not brought it, well, I think you should have. And this is the third one. We make it on Passover but frankly, there’s nothing especially Passover-ish about it, aside from the absence of flour. There’s no ground matzo, theme of exodous or anything particularly religious about the way it is put together. In fact, while we’re being honest and stuff, there’s something particularly unholy about the way it’s put together in that growing up I used to call it the “sh*t” cake in honor of the word that kept slipping from my mother’s mouth as she tried to roll it without it cracking. It always cracked. I’m surprised my mother hasn’t killed me yet for sharing her yearly spasm of colorful language on my internet website, but I disappear after this post, well, you know…
You might want to start rolling your eyes right now, you know, to get a head start before you hear what I’m about to say next: You know that time I dashed off to Aruba for a lazy weekend? I couldn’t find a decent piña colada anywhere. I know! Can you imagine having to suffer like this while on vacation? I mean, life is hard enough when your resort has a water slide with no age limit that deposits one mere feet from the swim-up bar; where you can cat-nap under your cabana while reading a book — with pages — any time being awake is just too exhausting to bear and wake up to gaze at the turquoise water meeting the impossibly blue sky until all of your thoughts file neatly into order. Obviously a watered-down piña colada from a piña colada mix is taking things just one step too far.
I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect olive oil cake for some time now. I was hoping for one that would use olive oil alone for fat, and resist the temptation of butter, you know, better than I ever have. I was hoping for it to bake in a loaf pan, as rustic everyday cakes should, have a slight crunch at the edges, like a beloved one at a nearby coffee shop does. And above all else, I wanted it to be plain, simple, maybe a little zest for flavor but more less, about the olive oil which needs little in the way of a supporting cast.