On a recent weekend, my friend Lisa turned 22, and she and I decided there would be no better way to celebrate than to host a dinner party for some friends. It seems these days that in any given week I hear of at least three to five dinner parties on campus, and this news always makes me happy. There's something really joyful and loving about communal cooking that makes even the most mediocre of meals taste delicious.
Of course, armed with a few friends who are, like me, food enthusiasts, I was sure dinner would be a hit. Lisa made a spinach and ricotta lasagna, Allie made a crunchy and tangy salad and a to-die-for white bean dip, and my friends Dan and Edie made garlic bread and a wonderful veggie barley soup. I think Edie might have made it for the week, but she was gracious enough to share a few bites with those of us eager for a taste.
I decided to make dessert. The week before, I had tried picky cook's recipe for blood orange yogurt cake (her adaptation of Ina Garten's grapefruit yogurt cake) for an event in my residential college. I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out, but I figured that if most of the ingredients looked tasty themselves, mixing them together could only result in something good. Because I was cooking for a bunch of other seniors, some of whom know I am involved on campus with the Yale Sustainable Food Project, I felt both the need and the desire to make something that was in season, healthy, and delicious. It proved to be quite a challenge to find a recipe that I was excited to make that took those ideas into account.
You might have noticed that in Connecticut, blood oranges are hardly "in season." In fact, according to the seasonal wheel that one of my friends emailed me over winter break, care of GOOD Magazine, the only things that are really in season during the winter here are apples and potatoes. Up at the Yale Farm, the winter greens are just coming along in their protective houses. Together, these facts reminded me how difficult it is to eat locally and in season, especially when you live in a part of the country where pleasant weather all year-round is not a strong point.
Many advocates will readily admit that eating locally and sustainably 100 percent of the time is difficult. While there are some who are able to—due to some combination of the availability of produce and their own determination—ultimately the point of promoting a more sustainable table seems to be to improve the health of our nation's food system and the American relationship to food and farming, and even small steps toward these goals really do affect the larger picture. And while many might write me off as rationalizing my decision to not make a dessert with apples or potatoes (apple-cinnamon potato kugel?), I will be the first person to admit this is exactly what I'm doing. Setting aside my better judgment about food, which happens a lot when you are a college student, I chose to make a recipe I had never tried.
All things considered, in a far-fetched way I was cooking locally, since the blood oranges came straight from my dining hall. Now that I have made this cake, of course, I have discovered that it is in fact very versatile and can be adapted to include almost any kind of fruit that you'd want. I will definitely be making it with whatever fruit is actually in season next time.
The recipe for the yogurt cake was already quite basic, but I adapted it to be even simpler and arguably healthier; I skipped the vegetable oil in the recipe, replaced the sugar with honey (that the dining hall really does get from a local CT source), and cut the recipe by an egg in order to keep the mixture from getting too runny as a result of swapping out the sugar. My guess is you could also use agave syrup. Remember that honey is about twice as sweet as sugar, so you need only half the amount of honey to sweeten the batter to the same degree.
The cake is really moist, even without the addition of vegetable oil, perhaps because of the texture of the Greek yogurt. I suppose if you are a traditional sugar and butter person interested in trying something new, you might prefer to use full-fat Greek yogurt. I used fat-free yogurt and my friends and I thought the cake tasted great, but it's up to you.
I may not have started with the intention of baking sustainably, but because I tried to experiment, I came up with a trusty recipe so versatile that I now have a go-to dessert than can change with the seasons.