Once again I had fallen into the trap of saying things to myself that I would not allow anyone (including and especially me) say to one of my children.
You know how it is. You make a mistake, or something goes wrong, or an experiment fails, and the words “stupid!” and “always!” are launched inside your head like misdirected torpedoes.
I wasn’t going to to do that any more.
But it is a habit that has to die. Really, this is beyond a “giving it up for Lent” thing. This is a thing that all of us, and perhaps especially women, have to work on. Yes, on some level, we all have to be our own severest critics (though surely there are people who seem to have volunteered, in all of our lives, for that position). But the law of kindness has to be in our heads before it can be on our tongues.
Rewinding the tape, re-evaluating my evaluation. Breathing, and not letting That Voice win the day.
One of the traditional Russian Easter dishes is “syrnaja pascha,” or “Pascha Cheese.” It is a cheesecake like dish which is molded in a special pyramid shaped mold and which is served on slices of kulich, a rich, eggy sweet bread.
You make the Pascha cheese with the farmer’s cheese whose recipe I posted here earlier.
Here is my favorite recipe for Pascha Cheese.
Matushka Irina’s Russian Pascha Recipe
5 lbs farmers cheese
7 sticks unsalted butter–softened
8 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
1 pint heavy cream
4 cups of sugar
zest of an orange
11/2 piece of vanilla bean scraped
Put the cheese through a sieve
Add all the ingredients and mix
Put in double boiler and with a wooden spoon mix until it looks like
thin farina. Cook until hot—DO NOT BOIL. It will be quite liquid.
Put the pot in the sink and surround with ice. Let cool and mix occasionally. It will firm up.
Wet cheesecloth (or cloth). Put it in your mold. Fill with pascha.
Cover the top of the mold with more cheesecloth.
Now, here opinion divides. The person who gave me the recipe doesn’t use a weight on hers; I put a can of beans on top of mine to hasten the draining process. I guess it’s your choice here. Leave this in the fridge until it firms up.
If you don’t have a pascha mold, a clay pot makes a decent substitute. Because it is, to some degree, cooked, this recipe stays fresh longer than other pascha recipes I’ve tried.
This is what it looks like when it’s in the refrigerator waiting to be opened and served:
And this is what the serving dish looks like after people have had some:
Purists mix this in the pan, but I use a mixing bowl, to keep the floor clean.
Stir together the dry ingredients:
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa powder (friends use more)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Add the moist ingredients:
2 teaspoons vinegar
2 tablespoons vanilla (friends use way more)
2 cups warm water
¾ cup vegetable oi
Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, soda and salt into mixing bowl. Make three holes; in one put vanilla, in one put vinegar, and in the last hole put
oil. Over this pour warm water and mix back and forth until all is mixed. Do not beat.
one nine by thirteen baking pan, or
two 8″ or 9″ round or square pans (eight inches will be taller, nine inches thinner) or
one bundt pan, or
make a dozen cupcakes.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Top with frosting or sprinkle with powdered sugar.
(To do this, put some powdered sugar in a small strainer and shake it gently over the cake.)
Variations on the Theme
Mint Chocolate Cake:
Frost with mint frosting.
Chocolate Chip Cake:
Omit cocoa and add up to one cup chocolate chips.
Chocolate Chocolate Chip cake:
Add up to one cup of chocolate chips.
Chocolate Cherry Cake:
In place of water, use all the juice from a jar of maraschino cherries plus enough water to make two cups. Chop the cherries (or don’t) and add them at the last minute.
Apple Sauce Cake:
Omit the coco powder.
Use applesauce instead of water.
Add 2 teaspoons (okay, tablespoons) cinnamon.
This year, Orthodox Easter, or Pascha, will fall on May 1. One of the dishes we traditionally make is called syrnaja pascha, “pascha cheese.” It is a cheese-cake like food that we mold into a pyramid and eat slathered onto a sweet bread called kulich.
One of the ingredients for pascha cheese is farmer’s cheese. Apparently there are two kinds of farmer’s cheese. One is a hard product that you can chop up and put in salad. It’s closely akin to paneer and does not lend itself well to blending or molding. The other is the kind that they sell in Russian stores. We could not find it in the part of Houston where we lived for eleven years, so the ladies at church taught me how to make my own.
Scald one gallon milk.
Remove from burner and add one quart buttermilk (from the nuns, I learned to pour things in the sign of the Cross. Since you’re not supposed to stir this, it makes even more sense here.)
Cover with a towel and place out of breezes for a day and a night and a day.
At the end of the second night, place it in the oven on “warm.”
In the morning you will see a mountain of curds in a sea of whey (unless it doesn’t work. Some years it doesn’t work, and California milk needs to be treated differently for reasons I do not understand).
Strain the curds into a very clean pillow case or tee shirt — cheese cloth has too wide a weave for this.
Refrigerate in a closed container until you are ready to use.
One gallon of milk plus one quart of buttermilk makes approximately two and a half pounds of Farmer’s Cheese.
Does it save money? Yes! Locally, in Fairfield County, Connecticut, Farmer’s cheese runs from $3.99 to $7.99 per pound. I can make ten pounds of cheese for about ten dollars.
If the man had played his cards right, I would have been making him a lenten chocolate cake today to share with our fourteen musically gifted and yet unpretentious children. But his loss is my gain. Since David Cassidy forgot to propose, I was available when my husband came into my life. So it worked out.
How bad a crush did I have on him? I learned the harmony to his songs, so I could step in for his back-up singers at the last minute.
I wrote not one but two love songs to him, both of which my younger brother later taught to my kids.
Through no choice of my own, he and I at one point had the same haircut. My mother’s hairdresser called it a “pixie cut” and said it would make me look like Shirley Jones. It made me look like David Cassidy. It was a female mullet.
We also had almost matching purple pantsuits with a vest. I think both of our mothers bought those for us.
I did not know that tacos existed until David Cassidy talked about going to the taco stand on “The Partridge Family.” I still didn’t know what this exotic food was for another ten years.
At his sold-out 1973 concert in Boston, I swear that he looked directly at me at one point when he sang. But so did everyone else there.
I am glad that he made it to be sixty-six today — so many child stars did not — and I hope he has a long, happy and musical life. Even if he did blow his chance to convert and propose.
I even had a godfather picked out for him.
 It is still Lent for Orthodox Christians, when we eat vegan. Lenten chocolate cake recipe to follow.