I was at a dinner recently when someone reported to the group that her spunky 82 year old aunt had just purchased a big spread out west with horses, plenty of land etc. “That’s great!” I said. “Kind of optimistic, no?” said someone else. Huh? Because this woman is already 82 she should just ignore the fact that she has great health and wealth and sit around in a gated retirement community waiting for the grim reaper? I don’t think so.
The discussion brought up a lot about living in the moment vs. living for the future. Granted her future may only last another ten years but she is carpe diem-ing which is a good thing and in my own small way I can relate. Back in the mid-90’s, when Starbucks was just starting to spill their caffeine across the island of Manhattan, I opened a birthday gift from a supposed friend to find a single, oversize coffee cup and saucer. Are you humming the theme from Friends?
Exactly. I was totally offended by the cup, despite my frozen “thanks!” smile. Why not just make it complete and include, say, a tiny can of Soup-for-One or a Lipton tea bag? Okay, on the one hand I was living alone and how many jumbo "Central Perk"-y cups does a singleton need? On the other hand, why make the assumption that my need for just one jumbo cup was a permanent condition? I mean it’s not like all I owned was one knife, fork, spoon, plate and glass. I actually had many of each. Was I being optimistic or realistic? Once in a while I was, in fact, joined by others at my place for a meal. Plus, who wants to keep doing the dishes?
I confront this present/future dilemma when I go food shopping. The larger the size the cheaper the item is per serving. That’s no problem on things you use every day but what about ketchup? I rarely need it but like to have it on hand, the smallest size at a normal supermarket is 14 ounces, and if I actually waited until I finished it to throw it out it would be long past its ‘best by’ date. Apparently, the one in my cabinet expired three years ago. Who knew? It’s the same thing with mayo. You never know when you might want a tuna sandwich. But clearly I don’t want them often enough because I just noticed the jar in my fridge, which I could have sworn I bought recently, was over and done with last November. And yes, I could be buying those cute, tiny sizes at the deli for four times the price but they scream efficiency-apartment-with-hotplate to me and that is just too depressing. I would rather be wasteful.
The other day I was out of olive oil, certainly a kitchen staple. Because my use of it is limited to salad dressing (and the odd sauté-ing or marinating of an odorless savory food item) it takes me awhile to make my way through the bottle. Is it being overly hopeful that I buy Fairway’s own 16 ounce size? Sure it could go rancid before I’m through with it or maybe I’ll be hit by a truck. Or, I might think of another use for it. Looking at the big, full greenish-yellow bottle it started to feel like it was burning a hole in my pocket. What to do with it?
I’ve had olive oil cakes before but never made my own. The ones I’ve tried always seem undercooked in the middle so I’ve shied away. I clipped this loaf cake recipe out of the Times a year ago and have always thought it seemed worth a try. My new bottle of olive oil would be put to good use. Plus, the blood oranges at the store looked great and the smell was enough to make me forget it hadn’t stopped pouring in three days. I felt like Don Corleone sitting in the sun at the end of The Godfather...except I didn’t keel over.
This cake is lovely and although you give up that specific butter-y taste, what you get in return is a slightly lighter pound cake vibe with a hint of the olive oil's fruitiness. Speaking of fruity, the blood orange provides a great acidic bite breaking through the richness of the cake and kind of infuses the whole thing with a very delicate spice. Was it optimistic for me to make a cake for no reason and no one to feed but myself? I don’t care. I’m making my way through it one happy slice at a time. Now, which one of my plates will I choose today?
Optimistic Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
From The New York Times, March 18, 2009
Butter for greasing pan
3 blood oranges
1 cup sugar
Buttermilk or plain yogurt
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Honey-blood orange compote, for serving, optional (see note).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Grate zest from 2 oranges and place in a bowl with sugar. Using your fingers, rub ingredients together until orange zest is evenly distributed in sugar.
Supreme an orange: Cut off bottom and top so fruit is exposed and orange can stand upright on a cutting board. Cut away peel and pith, following curve of fruit with your knife. Cut orange segments out of their connective membranes and let them fall into a bowl. Repeat with another orange.
Break up segments with your fingers to about 1/4-inch pieces.
Halve remaining orange and squeeze juice into a measuring cup. You will have about 1/4 cup or so. Add buttermilk or yogurt to juice until you have 2/3 cup liquid altogether. Pour mixture into bowl with sugar and whisk well. Whisk in eggs.
In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently whisk dry ingredients into wet ones. Switch to a spatula and fold in oil a little at a time. Fold in pieces of orange segments. Scrape batter into pan and smooth top.
Bake cake for about 55-65 minutes, or until it is golden and a knife inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold and cool to room temperature right-side up.
Serve with honey-blood orange compote if you feel like it.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.
Note: To make a honey-blood orange compote, supreme 3 more blood oranges according to directions in Step 2. Drizzle in 1 to 2 teaspoons honey. Let sit for 5 minutes, then stir gently.