Letter 12: Welcome to Our Respective Hot Summers

Hello! Nice to see you! We took a few weeks off, due to work and life craziness, but are now back on our bullshit.

Taylore’s Old Man Summer

I know this season was supposed to be our sexiest yet, and hey, it still will be. But with yet another move on the horizon, all I want to do lately is fucking relax. That’s why I’m tossing my original, sluttier summer mood board in favor of new art direction: I’ll be harnessing the energy of a wizened octogenarian who’s long retired and purely living for their own pleasure. Comfort reigns; leisure is king.

So with relaxation being my prime concern at the moment, I’ve decided to channel all my favorite oldies until the weather cools. I plan on splashing around at the Jersey Shore wearing too much sunscreen and a clutching a foot-long sandwich like Jack Nicholson, and people-watching on the sidewalk Corrado Soprano-style, nursing an espresso and nibbling cured meats like I’m at Satriale’s. I’ve already adjusted my closet accordingly: I recently donned white loafers and a full cream linen set to Brighton Beach to clink vodka shots with the elder Russians at Tatiana, and my socks have never been higher. My transformation from youthful chrysalis to geriatric butterfly is well underway, but until last week, one last detail was missing: a fougère fragrance. 

Even if you haven’t heard of the fougère olfactory family, you’ve likely had an unknowing introduction. The scents that fall under this old-school category are often known as ‘barbershop fragrances’ because the fresh, herbaceous notes fougères are known for are often found in men’s aftershave, shaving creams, and colognes. These scents are characterized by green notes like lavender, geranium, and moss, and usually include a woody base to ground it—the term itself translates to ‘fern-like’ in French—and they are definitively old man-adjacent. Remember when Hallie Parker smells her grandfather for the first time in The Parent Trap and she detects peppermint, along with the tobacco from his pipe? Almost surely a fougère. (Yes, I know a true elder would link to the original film, but Lindsay Lohan’s line reading lives in this brain rent-free.)

While fragrance is genderless, this bouquet was historically interpreted as masculine, which easily bled into the modern “We are manly men!” marketing oft seen in men’s grooming products. And while true fougères are certainly classic, they’re a far less common style for colognes nowadays. I’m willing to wager their recent decrease in popularity certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that nearly all early aughts 16 year old boys were soaking themselves in the unbalanced, too-strong formulas sold at Macy’s—remember Drakkar Noir?

But despite a lack of nuance in some of these more modern fougère-ish scents, I find them immensely comforting, because they remind me of the most relaxing days of my childhood. Growing up, my family would spend Fourth of July weekends at the Lamberville Station, on the border of New Jersey and Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The inn was full of old leather and fading portraits, and it still stands next to the Delaware River. In the mornings, I would bounce between my parent’s room and my grandparents’, waiting for them to get ready. Sitting at the window with a scone and tea from our continental breakfast, I’d watch my father lather on shaving cream and take quick peeks at the TV to see Lance Armstrong sip champagne on his bike and win yet another Tour de France. Satisfied my parents were on track, I’d run into the adjoining room, and be instantly greeted by a mist of fragrant steam from the shower. I’d find my grandfather ironing his polos in his undershirt or slapping on the same plastic-bottled cologne he’d used since it was released in 1964, using it as aftershave all over his chin, his wrinkled neck, and even the top of his head, his silver chain jingling with each move.

Last week, I was reminded how many memories are permeated by that green Fougere bouquet. Diptyque’s Mediterranean-inspired summer collection arrived at my apartment, and with it, the multi-purpose scent I’ve been wearing ever since. This iteration of the brand’s Vinagre de Toilette is herbal and lavender-forward, and it’s meant to be used all over the body. Now, each morning, I slap a palmful of the fragrant liquid on my wrists, collarbone, and neck, feeling like an Italian grandfather about to step into the sun and enjoy his day. It turns out that I’ve been training for old man summer all my life.

Christine’s Hot Cake Summer

Theoretically, I prefer baking in the winter. It’s cold. It’s grey. I’m depressed. The oven’s radiating heat in my cold apartment is restorative. A warm cookie is even more restorative.

That said, I end up baking far more in the summer. I’m awake, alive, and excited about the world when it’s warm and sunny in a way that I am not when it’s frigid and bleak. It could be 100 degrees outside and I’d be like, “Anyone interested in cake?” My heat tolerance is high, my tolerance for lack of pastry is low.

I found this olive oil cake recipe a few weeks ago, originally from coffee shop Abraço in NYC’s East Village. My boyfriend and I were finishing dinner, which he prepared, and I was kind of tired, but in the mood for dessert. I poked around for an easy cake recipe and stumbled upon this beauty. I’m not going to tell you how many times I’ve made it since then, for embarrassment reasons, but uh, several times. I’ve basically had this in my home since discovering it. The prep is quick and unfussy. It’s flavorful, not too sweet, and has an airy texture thanks to the olive oil. It feels wholesome enough to enjoy with coffee for breakfast, but still makes a delightful dessert. It’s low effort, high reward, and uber flexible.

If you want to try the recipe as written first, it’s linked here. My version below has been tweaked to be extra summery. I use lemon zest instead of orange zest. There’s a little less sugar. Whole wheat flour or an heirloom grain flour like Einkorn adds nuttiness. The original is baked in a loaf pan and served in thick slices. My loaf pan apparently rusted (whoops), so I’ve been baking mine in an 8-inch cake pan, which takes around the same amount of time.

The original recipe calls for a “mild flavored organic olive oil,” which I changed to “olive oil.” If you like an olive oil enough to have it in quantities that you could use it in this recipe, you’ll probably enjoy the flavor of it in your cake. The richness of the whole wheat in there also gives you more room to be flexible with the olive oil. The olive oil that I buy in bulk, like literally in 5L containers, is grassy and peppery, and I love that it pushes the cake more savory. Basically, just use olive oil that you already love. If you want to go out and buy olive oil just for this, I think Exau’s Turi would be fantastic.

And, this part is less of a big deal, but I hate it when recipes say that an ingredient should be organic when they just mean that it should be flavorful and farmed well. The organic certification is expensive for small farmers, and most of the food I love is farmed organically or better, but not certified as such. If you find something certified organic, great, but don’t pass up a producer just because they’re not organic.

The first time I made this cake, I drizzled a lemon glaze over it and it was stunning. Since then, I’ve enjoyed it au naturel and have enjoyed it just as much. A glaze recipe is included if you’re interested, but also feel free to skip it.

In writing this, I poked around to try to learn the history of olive oil cakes and learned nothing except that they may be more Spanish than Italian in origin. Nonetheless, I’m going to pretend like I’m vacationing in Cinque Terre while eating this and very much recommend that you do the same.

Summer in Italy Cake

Adapted from the Food52 Abraço Olive Oil Cake recipe

1 cup unbleached white flour

1/2 cup whole wheat or Einkorn flour

         Tip: Before you measure out the white and wheat flours, give each a quick whisk in its bag or container. It’s easier than sifting and will help keep the cake fluffy

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

2 large eggs

3/4 cup whole milk

1/2 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons microplaned lemon peel (If you, like me, are annoyed by the prospect of measuring a small pile of lemon zest, just microplane about 2/3 of a lemon and call it a day)

Optional lemon glaze

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Oil an 8-inch cake pan (I use ghee, but whatever you have is fine).  

  2. Whisk the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk eggs, milk, olive oil, and lemon peel in a medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk egg mixture into dry ingredients. Transfer to the cake pan.

  3. Bake until a tester inserted into center comes out clean, usually around 60 minutes. Cool in pan on rack 20 minutes. Invert pan to remove cake. Cool completely, top side up.

  4. If making the glaze, whisk together the lemon juice with the confectioners’ sugar until it’s smooth. If there are lumps, add a few drops of warm water to help smooth out. Drizzle over the cake.

Creamline’s Summer Reading List

Christine: I’m big on memoirs, and this summer is no exception.

Plenty: A Memoir of Food and Family by Hannah Howard

I first met Hannah Howard when we were both working at Murray’s Cheese. I’ve since gotten to know her by working with her when she was in an editor role, and in reading her newsletter and first memoir Feast. Her writing is thoughtful and evocative and I’m very excited for her new memoir, Plenty, about her time in food and her experiences becoming a mother.

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

Glennon Doyle calls this, “A memoir so clear, sharp, and smooth that the reader sees, in vivid focus, Ashley C. Ford’s complicated childhood, brilliant mind, and golden heart.” I need to schedule my reading of this one appropriately so I’m not destroyed on a workday.

Taylore: I find that lately, I need more balance when it comes to what I’m art consuming, or things start to feel too heavy. If I cry my way through one movie, I need laughter in the next—gone are the days of binging eight straight seasons of Criminal Minds and still feeling fit for public consumption. Last weekend, BF and I watched Anastasia to offset two seasons of The Sopranos. Uppers and downers, my friends.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Ok, a little on the nose, but I’ve been waiting on this one. Food, grief, and cultural identity drive this memoir by the musician also known as Japanese Breakfast, and I just know it’s going to bring the tears.

And as my upper, this novel that I hear checks all my favorite boxes: the afterlife, a library, and the futile mulling over of every questionable decision one has ever made. My friend Alex lent it to me and described it as “suicide, but feel-good!” but so I’m taking her word that this will bring me the fuzziness I’ll need after Crying in H Mart.