Orange Blossom Cornmeal Cake


On Sunday, Steve and I will travel to Cyprus for a week. We’ll spend some time with my family in Nicosia, travel a bit, and then all go to Paphos for Easter weekend. While I was growing up, Easter was a holiday I was ambivalent about. On the one hand, we had no school and the weather was almost always beautiful, with wildflowers blooming everywhere around our house. On the other hand, Easter week was so gloomy. There was the somber church service on Thursday night, when a big cross was carried around by the priest while chanting ominously “crucify him, crucify him” in ancient Greek. Then on Friday night, church service was equally dreary with a huge casket-like box in the middle of the church, representing Jesus’s tomb, completely covered in wildflowers and flowering herbs like rosemary. So, it was a gloomy service but a well perfumed one, adding to the dissonance of the occasion.

Things would change on Saturday night when there was the midnight service celebrating the resurrection. At precisely midnight, the church lights would turn down, everyone would go quiet, and the priest would emerge from the apse with a single lit candle, proceeding to light the candles of worshippers in front of him who would then light the candles of the people behind them, and so on, causing a wave of light to swiftly spread through the church and out into the courtyard, all while everyone was chanting the Byzantine resurrection hymn that they learned from the time they were in first grade (“Christ has risen from the dead, he has conquered death…”). But even this seemingly joyous night was fraught with some anxiety for me because the custom was (and still is) for men to light up giant bonfires outside the church and to explode homemade fireworks. Every year there were several men who lost fingers, entire hands, eyes, and they continue to do so today.

On this trip, we will be with my family on Saturday night in a little chapel outside the hotel we are staying in in Paphos, the westernmost city in Cyprus, on the Mediterranean. Bucking tradition, the service will begin at 11pm instead of midnight (because the priest has to be at his regular big church for the midnight service), which means that we will be able to go have the traditional Easter soup after the service and go to bed at a slightly more reasonable hour.

My family is not religious (my mom is the only one who really believes in God, but she has no affinity for the church and its priests). But there is something about Easter in Cyprus, specifically the Saturday midnight mass, that we all find beautiful. When you look past the religious symbols and iconography, ignore the mythical resurrection story, what you find is part of the soul of the people of the island. For those few moments when the holy light sweeps the darkened church that is filled with people’s voices chanting, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe. For tradition, for community, for family.

All of this to get me to share with you this recipe, which has nothing to do with Easter, but a lot to do with Cyprus. I fiddled around with a recipe I found on Food and Wine for a grapefruit cake one day and managed to turn it into something that we immediately loved. This isn’t a showstopper visually. It’s a simple, toothsome cake, but it is filled with flavors of early Mediterranean spring, combining orange blossoms and the oranges they turn into. It’s hearty but delicate. It demands your attention with every bite. So, enjoy it and happy Easter or happy Passover if you are celebrating next week.


Orange Blossom Cornmeal Cake – Adapted from Food and Wine


3/4 stick (85g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup medium-grind cornmeal
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1/3 cup and two teaspoons (85g) vegetable oil
finely grated zest of one orange
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon orange blossom water


Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 9-inch cake pan (or springform pan). Line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the cornmeal, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the melted butter, oil, orange zest, orange juice, and orange blossom water until they are combined. While whisking constantly, add the butter mixture to the flour mixture in a slow, steady stream. Whisk just until well blended. You can also use a spatula to finish mixing the batter. Don’t overmix.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 45-50 minutes, until golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Transfer the cake to a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a sharp paring knife around the edge of the cake, then invert it onto the rack (or remove the sides of the springform pan). Peel off the parchment paper. Carefully flip the cake right side up and let cool.

Before serving you can sprinkle powdered sugar on the cake but it’s really not needed.

Carrot Salad with Spicy Lemon Dressing


I went to Cyprus last week and spent it with my family. It happened to be both my sister’s birthday and mine, the first time I was there to celebrate my birthday with them since I left 26 years ago. Unlike here in the U.S., when it’s your birthday in Cyprus you are the one who treats people to drinks or dinner. So my sister and I took everyone out to their favorite restaurant, a Syrian restaurant, where the waiters all have stories of their families back home, or what is left of it. It’s hard to reconcile the delicious salads and dips they place in front of you with the place of death and destruction they come from.

It also happened to be Greek Orthodox Easter week while I was there. It’s a different kind of celebration in Cyprus, less commercial than in the U.S. (there’s no Easter bunny or bonnets to be found), more traditional and somewhat religious. At midnight on Saturday, people go to church to hear the “good news” and receive the “holy light” on their candles, to bring it back and bless their home. Groups of young men explode fireworks (every year some lose fingers, hands, or lives) and light up a huge bonfire behind the church “to burn Judas”, though no effigy is ever burned. On Friday, the day before, my parents got an alert from the home security company that outdoor furniture was being stolen from homes, to be used on Saturday night’s bonfires. As I said, somewhat religious.

My youngest niece decided that her favorite game was to fake-face paint each other, with dry brushes, describing each step so that we could visualize it. Now I’m painting your face green, since you are a frog. And now I’m drawing two big eyes with my brush. We played for hours until I collapsed. She could have gone for a few hours more. My oldest niece, a teenager, showed me the music she listens to and I recognized about 1% of it. She told me that she’d like me to be cooler. I said I’d try.

Carrot Salad with Spicy Lemon Dressing – Slightly adapted from The Bitten Word


1 tbsp harissa
1/6 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1 lb carrots, grated on large teardrop holes or coarsely shredded in a food processor
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
4 oz feta, crumbled


In a small bowl, whisk the harissa with the lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and whisk again.

In a large bowl, add the carrots and raisins, and pour the harissa dressing on top. Toss well.

Sprinkle parsley and feta on top and serve at room temperature.