Senior center is safe from ‘weird’ recipes like black olive cake

The July 31 New Yorker food newsletter’s “Serious Italian food with a sense of humor” describes a slice of crumbly olive-oil cake whose dark marble swirl is made up, not of chocolate, but of pureed black olive. Under a dollop of whipped cream and blood-red cherries. The New Yorker writer notes, “It was salty, undeniably weird.”
The Charlotte Senior Center kitchen is filled with laughter but, rest assured, people volunteering there don’t go for “weird.” Pureed black olives in the middle of your next dessert offering just isn’t likely. But from pasta salad to pizza, there’s plenty of tasty food coming up in the rest of August.

The Monday Munch, Aug. 14, goes international. For starters there’s muhammara, which is Arabic for “reddened,” a dip made of walnuts, red bell peppers and molasses. This tasty blend is associated with Aleppo but is also found in Turkey and in Western Armenian cuisine.

Senior center diners will have naan with which to enjoy the dip flavors. In short, naan or n’n is Persian for “bread.” For the interesting etymology as this flatbread traveled through the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia, take a look in Wikipedia.

Wikipedia also has a fascinating entry on the walnut, part of that Monday Munch dip mix. There we learn that in the Byzantine era this edible was known as “the royal nut.”

Walnut trees come in many varieties, and the botanical name for the walnut tree genus is Juglans, which translates to “Jupiter’s nut.”

From 1878 to 1880, during the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, hundreds of trees were planted at the White House, beginning the tradition of each president planting a commemorative tree there. I didn’t find the walnut tree among the great variety of these presidential choices.

I don’t know who dug the hole for the memorial tree the Nixons planted commemorating the first Arbor Day, but you can see Pat Nixon filling in the hole.

For an even more unique photo, take a look at then-President Trump shoveling some actual dirt (as contrasted with the metaphorical kind) for the gift tree from French President Emmanual Macron here. This tree tale has a real twist, quite fitting for Trumpian politics.

Meanwhile, back with the walnuts. Although neither Wikipedia nor my 922-page “Oxford Companion to Food” sees fit to mention nut idioms, from “nutcase” to “in a nutshell,” the Charlotte Senior Center would like to remind you that those who would eat the harvest must crack the nut. Volunteers are needed. Please don’t say, “Nuts to that!” Come give it a try.

You can find lots of quotes on the web about the virtues and benefits of volunteering. I’d just add that after years of relishing my role as a Monday Munch cook, health prevented me from continuing. The hole this left provoked me into looking for other ways I could help out, and this column was born. You volunteer what you can.

August Monday Munches take us from Byzantine royal nuts to an American favorite: the brownie. As the story goes, it was invented in Chicago when in 1893 a prominent socialite whose husband owned the Palmer House Hotel asked a pastry chef for a dessert suitable for ladies attending the Chicago World’s Fair. There’s considerable dispute over who published the first recipe, but the brownie appeared in the Sears Roebuck catalog, billed as selling everything from hubcaps to homes, in 1898. Whoever invented it, everyone agrees that the brownie is as American as apple pie.

The Aug. 21 pizza, of course, brings us back to a disc of flat bread, surely a third cousin to that bread featured on Aug. 14. But here, of course, that bread won’t be used for dipping but as a source of toppings.

Adobe Stock image

Italians seem to worry a lot about whether or not a pizza is authentic. Members of the Associatione Vera Pizza Napoletana pledge to uphold statutes that define ingredients, making the dough and cooking the product. Part of the requirement of being authentic means cooking in a special wood-fired brick oven heated to ֠750 degrees.

The Charlotte Senior Center won’t be using a wood-fired oven, but fear not: They know how to deliver a very fine pizza.

Monday Munch
Aug. 14, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Pasta salad, muhammara (roasted red pepper and walnut dip), naan, green salad and homemade dessert.

Monday Munch
Aug. 21, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Pizza, side of salad and brownies with ice cream.

Needless to say, it’s not recommended for someone my age wanting to close with a song to look up “songs about nuts” on the Internet. Instead, thinking about the Charlotte Senior Center’s need for volunteers, here are the Beatles with “I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends”.

Speaking of which, we get books with a little help from our friends, namely the Friends of the Charlotte Senior Center and the Flying Pig, which have helped with new books for the Little Free Library for Kids at the Charlotte Grange, including graphic novels — and “The Benefits of Being an Octopus.” So of course we’ve got to include “Octopus’ Garden”.