Some things I’ve learned since Mia’s come on the scene:
1. The following things I can do with one hand: Eat cereal. Unwrap popsicles. Put on shoes and socks. The following things I cannot: Pull my hair back into a ponytail that stays. Floss.
2. Cucumbers dissolve. When left to their own devices in the crisper drawer for six weeks, they dissolve.
3. I’ve learned what moms are for. You might think that, having had a mom for a few decades now, I’d have figured it out a long time ago. But until mine showed up just minutes after Mia was born and, for the next two weeks, left no meal uncooked, no pile of laundry unwashed, I had no idea. Not really. I’ve never needed my mother more than I did those first couple of weeks home. And not just for the steady supply of perfect scrambled eggs and clean underwear. It’s hard for me to put into words the kind of care and compassion I needed, and how she so quietly, carefully made sure that I got it. Suffice it to say that without her, Eli and I would have been very different parents in those early days. About a week into her stay, I heard my mother say to Eli that she was worried about being in the way. “Laurie, you are the way,” Eli said. Amen. It’s no wonder I cried when she left.
4. Breastfeeding: Not as straightforward as one might think. And that, I promise you, is all I will say about that.
5. It is very important to have friends who cook. Friends who do cook, I should say, who show up at your door with trays of meatballs, all manner of soups, one quiche for supper, and one for the freezer, too.
6. When the tiny creature who has come to live with you is three weeks old, it’s time to bake an apple cake. The simplest one you can find, preferably. It should also be delicious. I recommend Teddie’s.
The recipe for Teddie’s Apple Cake first appeared in a New York Times article by Jean Hewitt in 1973. Amanda Hesser published it again in the Times in 2007, and again when it made the cut for The Essential New York Times Cookbook that came out last year. The recipe is, of course, Teddie’s. And while we don’t know anything about this Teddie, not even a last name, one thing is clear: whoever Teddie was, Teddie knew her (his?) cake.
There is nothing surprising about this cake. Apple meets cinnamon, meets walnut, meets sugar, eggs, and flour. An obvious combination, if ever there was one. Classic is classic for a reason, though. Teddie must have gotten that. The cake is made with oil, not butter, which caught my attention because I like the texture of most oil-based cakes: the way the crumbs cling to each other only lightly, as if trying not to touch at all, how when you mash your fork with the slightest pressure into the last bits on the plate, they stick. In some ways, it’s a delicate cake, but thanks to so much apple and a craggy upper crust, it feels hearty, too.
Teddie’s cake is an everyday cake, which is to say that it’s simple enough that you don’t need a special occasion to make it. It’s icing-less, and not too sweet and, in this case, so packed with fruit, it’s practically health food. But my favorite thing about everyday cakes is that, almost without fail, they are also anytime cakes. This one is, for sure. Eat it for dessert with loosely whipped cream, for breakfast, for second breakfast, or for those unnamed meals between pages written, or phone calls returned, when a quick stroll through the kitchen is only civilized. Yes, when it’s time to bake an apple cake, I recommend Teddie’s.
Teddie’s Apple Cake
Adapted from The New York Times, November 4, 2007 (Originally published, September 30, 1973)
The original recipe is for a large amount of batter that bakes in a 9-inch tube pan. I shied away from that for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t have a tube pan. But moreover, tube cakes are huge. I’m all for everyday cake, but if I’m going to eat a cake every day (and, as we’ve also established, anytime), I need to be able to slice off a wedge every now and then that’s significantly smaller than the state of Texas. Plus, there are only two of us here – two cake eaters, anyway – and this cake would be a terrible thing to waste. If you’d prefer to make the original whopper of a tube cake, double this recipe, use 3 eggs instead of two, and increase the bake time to 1 hour and 15 minutes. The recipe here is for one 9-inch round cake. Finally, the original recipe calls for 1 cup of raisins, but I omitted them because I thought that they might make the cake too sweet. If you decide to include raisins, add them when you add the walnuts.
1½ c. flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. baking soda
¾ c. vegetable oil
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs
½ tsp. vanilla
2 c. peeled, cored, and thickly sliced apples (I used a combination of Jonagold and Cortland.)
Heaped ½ c. walnuts, chopped
1 Tbsp. Demerara sugar (optional)
Oil and flour a 9-inch round cake pan and heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda in a medium bowl. After five minutes, add the eggs and then the vanilla to the oil and sugar, and continue beating until the mixture is creamy.
Add the dry ingredients into the sugar, egg, and oil mixture and stir by hand until just combined. Fold in the apple slices and walnuts. It will look like a lot of apple and not enough batter, but it all works out in the end.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, sprinkle with Demarara sugar if you'd like, and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out.