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.
We’re on day two of something called a “wintry mix” which I suspect if I lived in one of those places where one was forced to wear shorts and sunglasses in January, eating food plucked recently from the ground (pea tendrils, anyone?) I’d imagine constituted a fun day of mixed winter activities, like snowfall fights followed by ice skating and then, if you’re not too tuckered out, some hot cocoa before you head home. Alas, a “wintry mix” is the precise reason my only current goal in life is to flee to someplace tropic and sandy.
High on the list of dishes I’d like to be able to make without a second thought, a special trip to a special store and that I hope to still be cooking when we spend our days in his-and-hers creaking rocking chairs, lamenting that Jacob never calls us anymore, is a hearty white bean stew.
Old as it may be, I hadn’t heard of milk punch before a few weeks ago but can assure you, I’ve thought about nothing else since, not blizzards, not book deadlines and not how long it will take for all of the molars to show up so we can get back to sleeping again. Nope, nothing but milk punch. An avid fan of eggnog — also, John Denver & The Muppets Chrismas album, carolers, chestnuts roasting on open fires and all sorts of things that are probably not expected from girl who celebrates Hanukah — but wary of all of the raw eggs and too impatient to tuck it away for anywhere from three weeks to a year to mellow flavor, milk punch seemed right up my alley.
As if I needed any further evidence that I was meant to live in Paris, it is my firm belief (though based only in fantasy) that at any time of the year over there, I will have unfettered access to things made with chestnuts, one of my favorite foods that only get a lukewarm reception in this country. Sure, we roast them on “open fires” in December (in our smoking jackets, of course, while our dog brings us the evening paper) but the rest of the year, they’re relegated to nostalgia. Even in New York City, I rarely see such delights as chestnut paste, which I attempted to smuggle back into the country after our last trip, not realizing that airport security would consider it a liquid and force me to throw it away (I still get a little weepy when I remember this). And don’t even get me started on our woeful absence of marrons glace, or candied chestnuts. Okay, fine, get me started.
Like many New Yorkers, I have a healthy fear of the Upper West Side’s Fairway Market (the Harlem one isn’t so bad, but the Pulaski Skyway is technically closer to my apartment). Sure, they sell everything in the world, but from my rough estimation, the store contains everyone in the world at any given moment and it turns out, the quickest way to turn me into the kind of person with plumes of smoke pouring from my ears as I white-knuckle a shopping cart is to ram into the back of my ankles with yours. Ahem. So yes, I don’t shop there very often.
I think this should be your new favorite way to show off. If your dinner parties are anything like mine, dessert arrives with more of a whimper than a bang. Oh yes, that trifle looks lovely, that cheesecake is most certainly the bomb, most people are probably thinking, but I just crawled out of a vat of deeply braised short ribs and I’m gasping for air. Doctor, gimme an apple, stat! I forgot what fresh food looks like.