As Christmas is drawing near, the weather here in South Florida seems to be getting warmer and warmer. Pretty depressing, if you ask me. I don’t know how about you guys, but I can’t sit still and pin all my hopes on the outside light shows and street parades to get me in the holiday spirit. To me, watching them is synonymous with breaking a sweat. Both literally and figuratively.

So, today Mom, Nicole, and I took the matter into our own hands and spent the morning stenciling snowflakes all over the windows and sprucing up the mango, avocado, and kumquat trees in our backyard with Two’s Company’s instant snow that I’d purchased at a Macy’s after Christmas sale the year before. Fluffing up the snow with an enclosed shovel according to the manufacturer’s instructions was as enjoyable as singing out to the skies a rather defiant-sounding “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” as we winterized our house inside out.  

                                                           HOW  TO  MAKE  SNOW                                                                                                  

Let It Snow!

Now when you look out my window, you might even think it snowed. All I need next is to turn down the A/C by a few degrees, and I’d be digging for my heavy-duty goose down comforter tonight. I knew it would come in handy!

Yes, you read it right: I purchased a few cans of instant snow mix at a local department store and whipped up a pile of flurries on the kitchen counter with my 5-year-old.

How’s that for Christmas magic?

powdered snow

I spooned some snow onto the palm of my hand and invited Nicole to explore it.

“Mama, it’s nooooot cold!” she cried out, retrieving her hand with a jerk, disappointment in her voice making me feel like a total failure.

I guess, not magical enough.

But Nicole’s disappointment quickly turned to excitement as she suggested shoving it into the freezer and sprinted away to fetch us gloves.

She still believes. Believes in Santa and cold snow. And I am back to believing. Through her. With her. And for her.

This instant snow stuff is pretty amazing. Not only is it ready in seconds but it very much looks and just about feels like real snow: white, fluffy, and moist. The best part for me? It’s reusable! Just let it completely dry out, put back into the can, and store until next time your little one wants to make a snowman on the kitchen counter or feels like jazzing up your table setting for a 4th of July picnic. No worries. This stuff doesn’t melt.

These are truly wondrous times we live in, aren’t they? What’s the next element they’ll beat into a can?

Reusable. Canned. Snow. I love it! Now I don’t have to relocate up north with about a dozen cans in my possession. By the time I’d used and reused them, I would be in my early sixties ready to retire back to Florida anyway. Why go through all the trouble of changing states, jobs, schools, etc.? Done deal. I am staying.

We spent the afternoon baking. Of course. Another foolproof way to get you humming “Oh Tannenbaum” since the holidays seem to revolve around baking. Or does baking revolve around the holidays? Regardless of which way the story goes, by default I feel this nagging urge to bake whenever there’s a looming occasion.

Russian cake

According to the Russian Orthodox name day calendar, today is my sister Kate’s name day, a.k.a St. Catherine’s Day as Saint Catherine is believed to be her patron saint or a guardian angel, if you will.

A deeply religious tradition, it originated in the list of holidays celebrated in commemoration of saints and martyrs of the church in the Middle Ages and is widely observed throughout Europe and Latin America up to this day.

In tsarist Russia name days were considered more important than birthdays, and celebrations usually began with attendance at the divine services marking that day and ended with a festive party amidst family and friends.

The eradication of religion brought on by the October revolution did away with this tradition for many decades; and we just now see it slowly making its way back into Russian Orthodox families.

birthday cake

This angel topper is actually a cherished old ornament that was given to me by a friend.

I guess today’s event is pretty significant for my sis in regard to her conversion into Russian Orthodoxy and her church wedding earlier this year.

“Let’s make “Katyusha”, Mom suggested the day before.

I thought it was a great idea to tap my sweet cherry preserves and bake a cake that bears my sister’s name—or rather its pet version Katyusha—as a way to pay tribute not only to her but also to her guardian angel. Two guardian angels are better than one, right?

festive cake

Opening the first jar was a moment of truth. Having never bottled cherries before I had my reasons to doubt the longevity of the preserves due to the variety of cherries I picked, the amount of sugar I reduced to half, and the canning technique I chanced to minimize the processing of the fruit.

The cherries were as good as the day I canned them. Sweet, juicy, and plum, they perfectly retained their familiar qualities. Elated, I felt like spreading not only the holiday cheer anymore but also my cherry goodness; and to that wonderful Pop! sound that only a well-sealed jar is capable to produce upon opening, I arranged two rows of cherries—in lieu of one—in the middle of each of the 15 “logs” called for in the recipe, depleting my cherry supplies to the last jar. All 10 filled-to-the-brim half-pint jars!  I hoped both Catherines would appreciate the splurge.

festive cake

Despite its complex-looking infrastructure, this cake is easy to make. The only trouble I had with it was taking it out of the house the next day to go my sister’s.

“I saw that cake that you made yesterday, honey. It looks good,” Kevin greeted me that morning.

“Oh, thaaaat. That’s for Kate, honey. Yesterday was her guardian angel’s day.”

“Oh yeah? St. Catherine’s Day? When is St. Kevin’s Day, I wonder?”

diamond walnuts

I had nothing to say to that. There’s no St. Kevin’s Day. Maybe I should come up with one. And while my husband may be no saint, he surely deserves some kind of special edible credit—one day a year at least—for scraping off with a spoon my hardly-ever-hardening fudge, for never getting his favorite stuffed pork chops because I don’t like pork, and for providing for himself whenever my side of the family and I retreat to chewing herring and herring derivative dishes for a good couple of days or longer.

dark chocolate

On the other hand, with everything that I cook and bake from scratch on a daily basis, shouldn’t every day feel like St. Kevin’s Day?

 

Cake “Katyusha”

Recipe Credit: Mom’s friends Galya and Larisa from Moldova

 

For the cake:

1. 2 sticks and 2 tablespoons (250 g) butter, softened

2. 1 cup (250 ml) sugar

3. 2 cups (500 ml) sour cream, at room temperature

4. 3 ½ cups (870 g) all-purpose flour

5. ¼ teaspoon salt

6. 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

7.  5-7 half-pint jars cherry preserves, drained

 

For the frosting:

1. 1 cup (250 ml) sugar

2. 2 ¾ cups (675 ml) sour cream, at room temperature

 

For the garnish:

1. 1 medium size bar (about 3 oz.) plain dark chocolate, finely grated

2. 1 cup walnuts, coarsely ground

3. fresh cut evergreen tree trimmings, optional

4. powdered sugar, optional

 

Directions:

1. Allow sour cream to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or 190 degrees Celsius and line 2 large, shallow baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium high until fluffy.

4. Stir in sour cream and beat for 2 minutes, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.

5. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, and stir until incorporated. Divide dough into 15 pieces, shape each into a ball, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

6. Remove one piece of dough from the refrigerator and shape it into an 8-inch-long rope. With a generously floured rolling pin, roll out dough on a generously floured work surface into a 3”x 8” (about 7 cm x 20 cm) rectangle.

7. Place a row of cherries (about 8 cherries) in center of rectangle lengthwise, leaving about a ½-inch margin to make a fold.

8. Fold the short ends first, then bring the long ones together and pinch to seal, forming a “log”. Transfer to a prepared baking sheet seam side down. Repeat 14 more times.

9. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until “log” tops are golden. Slide parchment paper with “logs” onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

10. Meanwhile, make sour cream frosting by beating together sugar and sour cream with an electric mixer for 3-5 minutes or until sugar has dissolved.

11. To assemble the cake, place five “logs” tightly together to form a single layer on a large serving platter or a cake stand; pour about ¾ cup sour cream frosting and distribute evenly with a pastry brush or a spoon. Sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons walnuts.

12. Arrange 4 more layers of 4, 3, 2, and 1 “logs” to form a stack. Remember to frost and sprinkle walnuts in between the layers.

13. Generously frost the top layer and the sides of the stack with remaining sour cream mixture, sprinkle with remaining walnuts and finely grated chocolate.

14. Refrigerate for at least 10 hours or up to 24 to allow enough time for the frosting to set.

15. Set the cake out at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

16. Place evergreen tree trimmings around the cake and sprinkle them with powdered sugar to look like snow.

 

Notes:

1. Warning: Two’s Company’s instant snow is for decorative purposes only. DO NOT EAT OR SWALLOW.

2. It’s very important to chill the dough in the refrigerator for the recommended time because it makes it more manageable. It also makes the finished product better because chilled dough needs to be worked less.

3. This cake is best when filled with sour cherry preserves.

4. Don’t be intimidated to experiment with the recipe by filling each “log” with twice the amount of cherries. You will be rewarded with a very moist cake. Just make sure to drain cherry preserves well and work fast to avoid tears in the dough due to excessive moisture.

5. This cake looks like a stack of fire logs, which could be a very warm thought for the holidays, or you can take it a bit further and transform it into a log cabin by inserting a cinnamon stick for a chimney and piping windowpanes, shutters, and a door with chocolate frosting.