many happy returns

You know, I can turn down a piece of cake.*

(I mean, in theory I can; it seems well within the universe of possibilities. I don’t recall that I ever have turned down cake, but that’s a different question.)

But my neighborhood grocery/delicatessen has hit upon a remarkably effective marketing scheme that renders me powerless to resist their cake. In the bakery case next to the carrot cake, the chocolate cake, the cheesecakes and brownies and other moderately tempting slices, they display a few pieces of cake frosted as Birthday Cake.

Oh. The humanity.

It’s plain old dark chocolate cake with vanilla-esque frosting, a thick slick coat of frosting as white as snow, as white as virtue, as white as shortening and corn syrup and confectioner’s sugar can make it. This fatty white canvas is bedecked with swags of Windex-blue scalloped edges and punctuated with leaves and fat frosting roses, sometimes yellow, sometimes pink.

It is Birthday Cake. I cannot resist it. I keep buying it. When I examine this logically, I admit to myself that my sweet tooth would be better satisfied with a candy bar or an orange or a cookie or or or.

But this has nothing to do with logic. It’s Birthday Cake. I want Birthday Cake.
They are geniuses.

wedding lessons

A few of the things I’ve learned in the wedding-planning process:
– The Fella’s handwriting looks beautiful on an envelope. Mine, not so much.
– When a friend asks if/where we’re registered, they’re asking for a reason and would like a more gracious response than “SHEESH! Registries, amirite?”
– While dress-shopping*, I must not utter the words wedding, married, or veil, which render the salesperson unable to refrain from showing me long white spangly dresses no matter how often I specify blue, knee-length, and casual.
*No, the dress didn’t work out. The hunt is on again!
– I will have roughly eleventy-jillion more opportunities between now and July to chirp the phrase “We’re not diamond people” in response to a searching look at my bare left hand. (Then I beam and show off my lovely blue quartz engagement pendant. It knocks me out that The Fella found something so perfect!)
– Cake-tastings sure are fun and easy when a) you already know what you want; b) your genius baker sister is making the cake as a gift; c), your genius baker sister comes over for lunch and makes great cake sketches as a preliminary to the tasting.
– Test-freezing the homemade appetizers is not just a good idea, but an absolute necessity, even if you’ve made them a dozen times before.
– I cannot stop pining after a bouncy castle, though the venue cannot accomodate it. We might have to honeymoon at a state fair.
– People get completely bugnuts crazy about weddings, and I don’t just mean the happy couple. Gosh. People certainly… have ideas… about what constitutes a wedding. (Like, say, a bouncy castle!)
– Bugnuts notwithstanding, we have had surprisingly few occasions so far to invite people to cram it with walnuts. I just remind myself that whatever the hell nutball thing they’re saying, they’re saying only because they love us and they want us to have a lovely wedding. And, of course, because they’re completely bugnuts crazy.

an inescapable conclusion

Yesterday, Gaoo had us over for our wedding cake tasting. The Fella and I sat in her pretty front room, the sun warming our backs. We paged through her albums of gorgeous cakes and batted around ideas the way kittens bat around colorful balls of yarn, all while we ate dainty slices of cake and tiny chocolate cups filled with frosting off a delicate floral porcelain plate.

(Gaoo’s an artist and a genius, incidentally. I already knew that in an abstract way, but I understood it viscerally last week when she glanced at my preliminary sketch and immediately added a whole new dimension that blew my mind.)

As I ran errands after the tasting, I discovered that a local housewares boutique sells the exact jars I wanted for our (non-floral, non-perishable) centerpieces. The owner, who knows me by sight, generously offered a ridiculously sweet deal on a dozen. (Buy local, kids!) Her offer changed “Hey, that’s a great idea! Now how can I do it cheaper?” to “Hey, that’s a great idea! Let’s do it!” So, more than four months before the wedding, we already have our very simple table decor lined up.

invitdryingAnd we finished the invitations!

The completion of these first few gewgaws and trinkets nudges me toward an inescapable conclusion: holy cats, we’re having a wedding. That must mean we’re getting married.


And Yippee!

A few more details remain, of course. For example, we haven’t settled on a first dance song. So far, we’ve eliminated:
Yakkety Sax
The Final Countdown
– The Futurama remix of Rocketship.
So, three songs down, eleventy billion to go.

wacky snacky cake

Remember wacky cake? For many, it’s a childhood recipe.

Why “wacky”? Because this cake flouts all the conventions of cakemaking chemistry. It contains no butter, no egg, no milk. It requires no creaming or whipping. You stir together flour, sugar, and cocoa right in the ungreased pan, then mix in oil, water, and vinegar. This suspiciously simple recipe bakes up into an improbably dark, moist cake. It’s no barn-burner, but it’s pleasant and easy, and on a few late snowy nights, wacky cake has satisfied my chocolate cravings when the cupboard was nearly bare.

It took a post by Homesick Texan to make wacky cake a weekly player in my home. Homesick Texan plays with the flavor, leaving out the cocoa and adding chopped apples and nuts.

Me, I can’t leave a recipe alone, so I’ve now made wacky-apple cake with dried cranberries, wacky pear cake with blueberries, and wacky-papple cake, which is wacky cake with apple and pear. I added extra flavor by replacing some of the water with leftover canned pear juice, increased the spices, and replaced the vanilla with kirsch. My favorite variation is documented below.

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A yellow cake for the blues

When you’re down, the affection of friends, family, and your sweetheart can do a great deal to improve your mood.
So can cake.
Especially a smiley face cake plunked into your path by the fates. Note the sale! tag. Clearly, this cake was meant for me and my blue mood. Pastry therapy, it’s called. And it worked a treat!


Flatbread of my delight, and a morning tartine: Friday night, I visited my parents and made dinner. Although I say it myself, yum! My pizza came out even better than usual: whole wheat crust with mushroom, onion, and Greek olives, and a salad of mixed baby greens dressed with balsamic vinaigrette and tossed with roasted vegetables: beets, carrots, and asparagus. Mmm, mmm, mmm!

My parents reciprocated by taking me to brunch the next morning, where my mother and I had the house version of eggs Florentine. They take a great many liberties with the classic recipe: the poached eggs are served atop grilled tomato slices and crispy rich rashers of bacon, on a bed of raw baby spinach and over English muffins, all liberally sauced with Hollandaise. Oh, my.

While M. and I had these delicious bastardizations, D. had blueberry pancakes and an audience. One of the very small girls sitting at the table next to ours watched with great interest as he meticulously buttered both sides of each pancake and gently manuevered them from the sprawling presentation favored by the kitchen into a tidy stack. By the time he was digging in, she had turned entirely around in her seat, her eyes and mouth three perfect OOOs.

Sweets: Tonight, I am making my version of Laurie Colwin’s version of Elizabeth Davis flourless chocolate cake, and M.F.K. Fisher’s mother’s gingerbread. A few years ago, my favorite brownie recipe inexplicably went belly-up: instead of a silky yet chewy pan of chocolatey bliss, it produced a greasy, sodden lump, time after time. Having testing many unsatisfactory brownie recipes, I now rely on flourless chocolate cake with ground almonds and brandy.

I will also make a batch of teeny tiny gingerbreads in my teeny tiny muffin tins. M.F.K. Fisher’s mother’s recipe, which you can find in How To Cook A Wolf, may seem needlessly complicated, but it’s worth dirtying all those bowls, as shortcuts mysteriously result in drier, heavier gingerbread. Done properly, this gingerbread is dark, moist, and springy, with a rich sweetness. I like a spicy bite, which I get by ruthlessly increasing the dried ginger from one teaspoon to one tablespoon.

WWW is MMM upside down: Thanks to the Bloggies, I learned about Chocolate and Zucchini, where the recipes promise to be as luscious as the writing and photography. Thank you, Clotilde! Elli, shall we post for Is My Blog Burning? It does make me wish I had a digital camera… and that I didn’t have two midterms on the day following the event. But a girl needs to eat… and to post… and, judging by recent entries, to post about eating.