Many have asked how I keep myself busy and yes, I've been reading, binging-watching tv shows and keeping up with my favorite food blogs and websites. However, not as much as I’d initially have thought. The amount of mental energy that goes into thinking and worrying about my hand, the focus required for rehab exercises, the mental fog that comes from constant pain and its partner, pain meds, has left me surprisingly pretty unproductive.
And I’m ok with this. One upside of this new normal is that in a way, it has forced me to be more forgiving of and, in turn, kinder to myself. You would think that would be easy and maybe for some, it is. I’ve always demanded a lot from myself though, always pushed myself to my limits, and would subsequently beat myself up for when I failed to live up to my, at times, unrealistic expectations. Those high standards aren’t going anywhere, but I am learning to find balance, to loosen up on all my self-imposed “rules.”
Which brings me to tea time! This daily ritual of cozying up on the couch at the end of the day with a big mug of tea, something sweet and a good book or movie has come to embody for me the good old adage “#treatyoself.” In “Eat Your Sugar,” the lead-off article of Yotam Ottolenghi’s new sweet-focused New York Times column, the Israeli-born British chef confesses that he eats sweets everyday. However, it’s not the sugar that he finds so appealing, but “rather the comfort, surprise and delight that dessert, or any food, can bring, that ideal match of the right dish and the right moment.” What he calls “a little pop of joy” is what I too have come to look forward to—an indulgence solely for the sheer pleasure of it.
A few things I’m loving these days with my tea are stone-ground organic Taza chocolate, halva from Seed+Mill and any Jam According to Daniel that I brought with me from Charlottesville. You’ll find that many Russians love a few spoonfuls of jam or preserves with their tea, a tradition stemming from Soviet times when sugar was a luxury. My mom and aunts recounted how, to make up for this shortage, their father would either make or buy immense cans of preserves instead—apparently very cheap back then. If not eaten straight from the container or spread on toast, they would use this fruity spread to top and fill everything from pirogi (not to be confused with Polish pierogi) to sweet little pirozhki.
My personal favorite that came out of this practice was tyerti pirog, literally “Grated Cake.” Not unlike a classic crumb bar, the shortbread-type cake gets its name from the way you grate the top layer over the jam filling, leaving a pretty curly topping that turns golden brown once baked. It’s an easy and fast dessert, one that can be utilized, as it was back then, as a great way to make use of all the opened, half-filled jars of fruit spreads in your fridge. My Aunt Nadia makes a rich, delicious version with chopped walnuts and sliced almonds and I turned to her for the recipe. I am currently snacking on one right now and I assure you, tea or no tea, regardless of the time of day, this melt-in-your-mouth dessert does not disappoint!
Now my question for you: what’s your “little pop of joy” you enjoy each day??
Russian Crumb Cake— Tyerti Pirog
adapted slightly from my Aunt Nadia’s recipe
An easy, flexible dessert that not only feeds a crowd, but also serves as a great way to use up any jam or preserves you have in the fridge or pantry. We love to use apricot or peach jam, but also mix in a darker jam, such as red or blackcurrant, to give the pirog a pop of color and flavor. So don’t be afraid to blend flavors together—it’ll all taste delicious in the end! The amount of jam is flexible, too, and the same goes for the amount of nuts. Stored in an airtight container, these bars last up to 5 days.
3 eggs, room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
zest of one lemon
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. white vinegar or fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. table salt
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus 6 tbsp.
18oz. of your favorite preserves or jam(s)
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
½ cup sliced almonds (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting
- In the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl, rub the lemon zest into the sugar until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for about 5-8 minutes, until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, until they are fully incorporated.
- In a small bowl, stir together the baking soda and vinegar. Once it fizzes, pour over your batter and mix until well combined.
- On low speed, slowly add 3 ¼ cups of flour and salt. Blend until fully incorporated.
- Spoon ¾ of the batter into a glass or ceramic or glass 9x13” dish. Smooth out and even the dough. Add the remaining 6 tablespoons of flour to the ¼ dough and blend until fully incorporated. Freeze the remaining dough for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven on 350°F. Spread the jam or preserves over the dough. Distribute the chopped walnuts evenly on top. Grate the frozen piece of dough evenly over the walnuts.
- Bake for 35 minutes or until top is lightly browned (I would start checking at 25 minutes). Remove dish from the oven and distribute the sliced almonds evenly. Return to the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown. When cooled, dust with powdered sugar and cut into square bars.