The New York Times ran an old recipe in its magazine Sunday, for something called Teddie’s Apple Cake, c. 1973. I looked at the picture and thought, Mmm, might have to try that one. I left the magazine open on the kitchen table, and when Alan stumbled in, exhausted from a day spent doing battle on the Field of Mars, he took one look at it and said, “I want that cake.”

“OK, I’ll make it,” I said. Later, he said again, “I really want that cake.” I took this as a mandate. So when he called in sick the following day, having been felled by a Force 5 head cold, I decided to make Teddie’s Apple Cake as part of his therapy.

Readers, I’ll cut to the chase: Teddie’s Apple Cake is one fine cake, and very therapeutic. Next time I make it, I’m going to follow the lead of the Wednesday Chef, who cut the sugar a bit and substituted dried fresh cranberries for raisins; my sole criticism is that it’s a tad too sweet, and the cranberries will be a nice contrast. My contribution: The recipe calls for an angel-food cake pan, but I’d guess you could substitute a bundt pan in a pinch. It’s a big, chunky cake, so it may not unmold from a bundt perfectly, but you could take that chance.

What I want to talk about today is the counter-narrative in the Sunday NYT story, seen here:

Boris Portnoy, the pastry chef at Campton Place in San Francisco, says that the cake’s texture reminds him of Black Magic Cake, a moist oil-based chocolate cake, the recipe for which could be found on the back of a Hershey’s Cocoa tin.

But like most chefs who try out the old recipes for this column, Portnoy was frustrated by its simplicity. ‘‘It’s just good and normal, but kind of one-dimensional,’’ he says. We agreed to disagree, and then he had his chance to make something multidimensional — and vastly better.

Portnoy came up with a number of modern desserts inspired by the flavors and ideas in Teddie’s apple cake — one involved walnuts, olives, an almond mousse and roasted quince; another black walnuts, dulce de leche and olive oil.

Friends, this is one reason people are afraid to cook these days. The hours and hours of cooking shows, the time spent watching the “Top Chef” contenders sweat out the arrangement of one sprig of watercress, an artful smear of sauce and a single scallop on a triangular white plate has terrified way too many people who are perfectly capable of claiming their place at the stove. Just look at the phrase in that first quoted paragraph: “frustrated by its simplicity.” Most people are delighted to discover something that looks complicated isn’t. And look at those alternative takes on the recipe — olives, roasted quince, dulce de leche, mmm yummy, just what I’m looking for in an apple cake. Olives. I ask you.

I’d be happy to eat Boris Portnoy’s pastry, and I’m sure it’s wonderful. But I think even Boris would admit that the best food is peasant food, and peasants don’t have time for almond mousse. Give me a nice lumpy stew over a perfectly pureed root vegetable melange with a little dab of creme fraiche any day.

(And how many people have watched Padma Lakshmi take a bite of some contestant’s creation on “Top Chef” and thought, “I bet she’s going to run offstage and puke it all up in five, four, three, two…”)

If you keep reading that story, you’ll learn that Boris rejected the olives in favor of something, er, simpler. At least flavor-wise. You still have to pick some thyme and do some gymnastics with egg whites. I might try that recipe. But I bet Teddie beats it hands-down.

I’ve been sent so many YouTube gems of late I was thinking of doing an all-video post, but instead we’ll make it all-video bloggage:

Who has time to put these things together? Crank that soulja boy, Barney.

Christianity is certainly, um, strange these days.

And finally, this is my godson, the next Ginger Baker.

Happy baking.

Posted at 10:22 am in Popculch |

22 responses to “Foodies.”

  1. brian stouder said on November 7, 2007 at 10:32 am

    That recipe does look good (and I’d have called this post Portnoy’s Complaint)

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  2. LA mary said on November 7, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Last Sunday at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market there were good squash and brussels sprouts everywhere so we ate like peasants last night. Roasted the squaush with some olive oil and salt and pepper, steamed the sprouts and served them with vinegar and butter, and grilled some pork chops. It was incredibly good. Nothing fancy.

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  3. nancy said on November 7, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Excellent headline idea, Brian — I think we have a second career waiting for you on the nearest copy desk. I’d have thought of it myself, if I wasn’t distracted by looking for another recent food photo, which featured a plate with a smear of what looked exactly like poop, only it was something like “tomato molasses.” (I’m mystified, too.) Couldn’t find it, though.

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  4. Jeff said on November 7, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Try spaghetti squash — the odd alchemy of roasting that halved yellow hunk of autumn actually got my vegetable averse lad to eat a full plate of faux-spaghetti and sauce with nary a complaint.

    As for the, uh, Christian video: Well, i am certainly glad we’ve moved past old fashioned stereotypes of pastor’s wives into . . . fun-house mirror images of stereotypes of pastor’s wives. My biggest objection to City Church’s odd pitch on YouTube is that it’s really the same old “two fer the price of one, she’s part of the staff” personality driven drivel that’s kneecapped so many churches. Pastor’s-wife-ism is the Protestant counterpart to priestly celibacy for Catholicism — a creation ex nihilo that has no real basis in scripture, and is all the more fervently defended as a bedrock facet of church life by some who have some real role issues in general.

    But hey, i’m the stay-at-home dad in this couple, while the Lovely Wife has the office with a good view and two secretaries. Which too many (not all) churches just can’t quite deal with.

    Speaking of roles, i had a very nice e-mail back from David Gerrold once about his book “The Martian Child,” which i used to crowbar daylight into the brain of someone who thought gays shouldn’t be allowed to adopt. He was delighted that his book had been used in that way around a child protective services issue.

    So i’m startled, and more than a bit sorry, to read that the John Cusack movie version, “Martian Child,” will have the adult protagonist be . . . single. That’s it. Anyhow, the book is still a masterpiece, true to realities i bump into most weeks, and one of the few book that have made me cry sincere tears in the last few years . . . but in a good way. If anyone knows folk who have issues with non-traditional adoptions of any sort, i can’t recommend this short book strongly enough, based on Gerrold’s own story with his adopted son.

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  5. nancy said on November 7, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Well, I know a little about the book and less about the movie, but my guess would be this: The filmmakers were going for a PG rating, because they wanted people to see it with their kids. And since Gerrold’s sexuality isn’t really part of the story, they likely opted to drop it entirely rather than risk a PG-13, which I’m sure any overt reference to homosexuality would probably earn.

    EDIT: Not a huge part of the story, that is. The story concentrates more on the kid, and Gerrold’s singlehood, right?

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  6. alex said on November 7, 2007 at 11:28 am

    Portnoy’s Complaint — how apt! In the book, the protagonist substitutes a beef tenderloin where a cantaloupe was traditionally used.

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  7. Dorothy said on November 7, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Mary for lunch yesterday I had some Curry Chicken Squash soup and it was delicious, but it was really just broth with a few little pieces of squash in it. I saw no evidence of chicken. Maybe I got the bottom of the pot. I burnt my tongue, it was so hot. But the flavor was really good.

    We make spaghetti squash all the time, and in fact my son made some when he had us over for dinner on Sunday. Mike likes to have that with spaghetti sauce on it, and I have the pasta. The vegetable is much better for him – little or no carbs – since he’s a type 2 diabetic. He’s got me eating vegetables more than I ever thought possible, and I enjoy almost all of them! (Kale was just so-so.) Parsnips are now my absolute all-time favorite vegetable.

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  8. Jeff said on November 7, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Dorothy — don’t neglect turnips! Mashed with sour cream . . . mmm.

    Nancy: Yep, though the fact that the case workers weren’t initially willing to let a gay, single man adopt this generally unadoptable boy, and the echoes of Gerrold’s sense of self and the boy’s coping strategy (“I’m from Mars”) come together beautifully in the book. The loss of that angle will take an awful lot of depth from the storyline. But I’ll surely give John Cusack a chance to convince me when the movie hits Licking County.

    It’ll work, i just hope it isn’t another Adam Sandler-esque “whaddaya mean you don’t have pancakes at 10:59?” sniffle-inducer. Anything that lets folk know how many kids we have, who are hard to adopt out to the folks who are doing most of the looking, is going to be a plus. Add in the “aging out of foster care at 18” kids, and there’s a story to be told to wider audience, but i think non-trad adoption is still inhibited in so many socio-cultural ways, so it needs all the advocacy it can get. Not only are there not enough Ward and June Cleavers out there, there aren’t even enough Ma and Pa Kettles. Any mature adult who makes it thru the basic, extensive screening process for adoptive parents is going to add benefits to a child’s life far beyond what revolving homes do to a kid’s sense of self, no matter how “nice” and “normal” the short-term placements are.

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  9. Nick said on November 7, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    I would usually pay $10 to watch Cusack read the phone book on screen, but I’m waiting until this one comes to basic cable. Movie Gerrold isn’t just single, he’s a widower – and Amanda Peet plays the sister of his dead wife. Ugh.

    I liked the church video for the quote: “Most of the time, if we would keep it real, people think that churches suck, and most of the time they’re right”. Thanks for testifying, Carl.

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  10. LA mary said on November 7, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Tonight we’re going to eat the rest of our Sunday purchases. Red cabbage with apples, tiny potatoes, and some roast chicken. Now I’m getting hungry and it’s nine twenty in the morning.

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  11. LA mary said on November 7, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Have noticed on Top Chef and those shows there is usually someone who uses foams? They look like cat barf to me.

    One ingredient I’ve tried that I heard of on those shows is smoked paprika, which is actually really nice in moderation.

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  12. beb said on November 7, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    I live for the day when some cook show judge bites into something and and immediately spits it while screaming “what is this shit?”

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  13. sue said on November 7, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    There are so many things to object to in the City Church video, but the worst… an hour-and-a-half long service? Are they nuts? And regarding the whole “come and score a hot wife” sales pitch: is there a two-drink minimum? (*snark*)

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  14. Beth said on November 7, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Beb, apparently you’ve never seen “Hell’s Kitchen.”

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  15. Luisa said on November 7, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Just wanted to pipe up and say “use fresh cranberries!” Not dried… the dried ones are too sweet, and the fresh ones give this sweet cake a nice, sour kick.

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  16. nancy said on November 7, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Thanks, Luisa, and I see you did mention fresh cranberries in your original post. Nice cake, though, eh?

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  17. John C said on November 7, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    My all-time favorite insane chef is Charlie Trotter. I remember watching him on TV in Chicago demonstrating a recipe for, if memory serves, an olive-oil-based dressing to marinate a piece of tuna for the grill. After 15 minutes of grinding and mincing and smashing, he added a pinch of what he had just laboriously produced and said, I kid you not: “Now set this aside in the fridge for three days.”
    This also makes me think of the late great Phil Hartman’s Anal-Retentive Chef, although the Anal-Retentive Handyman was better. (“And this is my drill cozy!”)

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  18. joodyb said on November 7, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    Johh C: I think Charley Trotter was the model for Phil Hartman’s xter. A friend and I went to the restaurant for our birthdays (my most expensive meal ever) – 7 mysterious, miniscule courses, each served on a giant geometric white plate. we sometimes had no idea what we were eating, and we are very friendly with food! we never saw CT, obviously. waiters replaced our napkins every 10 min. we giggled like first-graders. it was late on a weeknight, and after dinner one of the waiters sneaked us down to the tv kitchen to look around. it was giant; amply tricked-out with spacious dining area.
    I’d still rather have had dinner with Phil Hartman.

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  19. alex said on November 7, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    I spring a great literary allusion to masturbation and no one bites. Jeezus friggin’ Christ.

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  20. nancy said on November 7, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    That’s because you had your facts wrong. I think it was a piece of liver, not a beef tenderloin. (The Portnoys were too proletarian for tenderloin.) Although a funny catch. As I recall, the line was, “Now you know the worst thing I’ve done. I fucked my family’s dinner.”

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  21. alex said on November 7, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Aw, who’s supposed to remember what they read in college when they were six sheets to the wind and cramming with Cliff’s Notes?

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  22. Jeff said on November 8, 2007 at 7:44 am

    What, “drill cozy” isn’t good enough for you?

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