A Little Comfort: 20th Century Cafe’s Russian Honey Cake

It’s been a rough couple of months out there in the world. Sometimes the world of cooking classes and food blogging can feel a little frivolous in light of everything happening out there: hurricanes, violence, politics and most recently wildfires in our beloved Napa & Sonoma counties. But then again, when you think about it, there is a special kind of magic when people come together around food — sustenance for the body and the soul. So now’s the time, more than ever it seems, to invite a friend over for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, or to make that big pot of pasta sauce and share it with a neighbor, or invite family around for dinner… or get involved with feeding and nourishing your community.

[Simran and I have found some opportunities to share and help recently and it feels pretty good! If you want to get involved with helping Northbay fire first responders and evacuees, here’s a resource we can recommend: SF Fights Fire. ]

For me, a little personal moment of comfort came recently in the form of Russian honey cake, from the 20th Century Cafe in Hayes Valley in SF. It’s their signature dessert and one that’s been on my list to try for far too long. What’s so cool about 20th Century Cafe is that the dessert menu focuses on sweets from Eastern Europe so there are lots of new things to try. It’s such a lovely little spot for a special after school treat. The honey cake was, as advertised, divine and I managed to get a bite of the deliciously delicate layers of cake and cream before my hungry tablemates made it disappear.

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this cake! — surrounded by poppyseeds from one of their housemade bagels which we also sampled.

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enthusiastic cake eaters

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going going gone!

[Upon returning home and finding myself a little obsessed with this cake, I found this video of chef/owner Michelle Polzine making it.]

We had delightful time of chatting and sharing delicious cake together, then decided to further lift our spirits by taking a short walk and visiting our gorgeous San Francisco City Hall. We often admire the beautiful exterior of the building as we pass by, but I realized the kids had never been inside. It really is stunning and made even more lovely by all the “just married” couples taking photos on the balconies and grand staircase. Being in the presence of so many happy new beginnings has a way of recharging your sense of hope in the world.

We took a minute to sit on the steps, and all found ourselves with big smiles on our faces — tummies happy and happy to be together enjoying something beautiful. And when I thought about it on the way home I realized that those smiles where what we were needing most of all.

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Sweet Treat: Souvla’s Greek Frozen Yogurt with Baklava Crumbles

Souvla Frozen Yogurt

Souvla’s frozen Greek yogurt with baklava crumbles is fun twist on an ice cream sundae.

After a very foggy summer in SF, it’s finally feeling like summer and I also finally got around to trying the signature dessert at the new-ish Greek rotisserie lunch spot Souvla in Hayes Valley. This sweet treat is a winner all the way — from concept down to the Greek coffee shop paper cups they serve it in — velvety, tangy frozen yogurt (Greek yogurt of course) drizzled with a touch of honey syrup and baklava crumbles. So many things to like all in one cup! And yes…. Souvla’s rotisserie situation did look pretty amazing so next time you know I’ll be checking out the spit-fired meats, veggies and house-made spreads!

Don’t you think this would be a fun & easy dessert to re-create at home using store-bought baklava and fro-yo? Not to mention a good excuse to drag out the ice cream maker and experiment with homemade frozen yogurt. Unlike a classic ice cream which requires making a custard (pans, thermometers, multiple steps and a good amount of precision), making frozen yogurt is really as simple as combining 5 parts yogurt with 1 part sugar (the sugar adds sweetness and also keeps the yogurt soft and scoop-able rather than icy), a pinch of salt and add-ins (if you like). Make sure everything is well chilled then dump it all in the ice cream maker and let it churn away. Very doable and an excellent project for kids to try.

Here’s  a basic frozen yogurt recipe from Serious Eats and a slightly more involved one from America’s Test Kitchen (via the Splendid Table podcast).

Hayes Valley Gems: Seesaw & Mandarina

We are always on the lookout for fun after school activities that are easy to pull-off, include a snack and are over by around dinner and “bathy time”.  A visit to Hayes Valley is part of our repertoire and we recently hit a couple of previously undiscovered spots.

Seesaw is a cute little play space and cafe for parents, caregivers and kids that opened recently and we had a great time there.  Read: the kids played side by side with the toys and games and the other mom and I got to catch up with minimal interruption from the kids. We nibbled on baked goodies and drank Four Barrel coffee. I am looking forward to the addition of  more food items to their menu so we can eat light meals there.  Seesaw also offers a bunch of fun classes, story times and date night drops-offs, so do check them out.  The space is warm, cozy and inviting and manages to be both kid and parent-friendly (which is often tough to pull off).  Where was Seesaw when Ria was younger and I could not figure out where to go to meet other moms and kids or just to hang out with her?

It was a rare warm day in San Francisco, one that you can actually wear a sun-dress on and not regret it, so we crossed the street over to Mandarina for some paletas (Latin American ice-pops).  My friend Luisa recommended it a while back and I am glad we finally checked it out.  We shared a mango popsicle and it was a refreshing after-school treat.  They have some pretty interesting flavors (mango-chilli?) and the cafe is clean, open and welcoming. Hayes Valley just become a whole lot cooler!