Here’s a thing I’ve been doing since the year began that’s made me very happy in the kitchen and it’s so simple, I completely expect you to roll your eyes at how un-revolutionary it is, but it goes like this: Find a recipe that sounds good to you and make it immediately. Don’t put it in the queue; don’t save it on that to-cook-one-day list, just dive in and dig in. So far, it’s been nothing but great; there was a giant egg bake, ugly cookies, green dinner pancakes, a giant cabbage casserole (recipe added!) we heaped on coarse mustard-slathered bread and a towering spaghetti frittata. And while all of these things have been delicious, what’s been the most fun about them is getting back to a kind of impulsivity that’s gotten pushed to the wayside in this hyper-scheduled so-called adult life. It’s also led to conversations I want more of in 2016, such as “well, if you’re around anyway, why don’t you stay for dinner and I’ll guinea pig a new recipe on you?”
I realize this might not look like much. It probably looks suspiciously like a salad, which means it’s probably going to be the last kid picked for your holiday cooking olympics. It doesn’t taste like ginger, linzer or crushed candy canes. It smacks of January Food, the stuff of resolutions and repentance, and there’s no time for that now. But I need to tell you about it anyway, urgently, because the preoccupation with this salad has hit me so intensely, so wholly, it’s basically the only thing I want to eat, and since I’m ostensibly the grownup here, this is exactly what I’m going to do.
This salad improves winter morale. It’s for times when all of the usual charms of winter — snow that’s fallen like a cashmere blanket over the city overnight, reducing all of the usual ruckuses (trucks, sirens, deliveries and your own child’s tantrums, which you may or may not have discovered last week you could hear from a full city block away) to the decibel of thick socks padding over hardwood floors — have waned on you; when the “snow” is, in fact, two inches of gray muck, when you are convinced that it will never be warm again and when you fear the next hunt around the apartment for where the snow mittens/hats/scarves/boots were last scattered will be the end of you. Whereas most cold winter comfort foods are soft, rich, carby and white, this is everything but: brightly hued, crunchy and piercingly fresh. It cuts across everything that’s lost its charm; it will be even brighter in your social media feed than the photos of those so-called friends who have abandoned you for sandy shores and island blue skies. This salad has your back.
When my husband had a bit of, uh, bonus awesome free time on his hands this summer, he got into the curious habit of running while not being chased*, which led to him taking part in his first 5K a few weeks ago. To celebrate, we had people over for a little New York brunch (that is, bagels and lox, no, not homemade, not when they’re this good) back at our apartment, and, still trying to dig out from under our overzealous apple-picking, I made apple cinnamon buns. I didn’t think they were a big deal; I mean, they were good, just your standard cinnamon bun with two apples, diced small, scattered over the filling but it turns out, you cannot causally mention homemade apple cinnamon buns on the internet without causing a RECIPE PLEASE ruckus. I should know this.
Is everyone on vacation without you? Are your social media feeds one big blur of the freckled faces of people you once thought you loved basking in the Caribbean sun, showing unintentional contempt for you, back here, shivering and damp? Do your so-called friends in warmer climes gush about pea tendrils and new artichokes while your local market has shriveled roots that last saw the unfrozen earth in October? Of last year? Maybe, just this one time, an exception should be made and a tidy, brief pity party would be acceptable. I have just the elixir.
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.