Friday, March 9, 2018

Snow Day

Our Nor-easter cake

In New York, it looks like we are getting 3 nor'easter storms in as many weeks. This time of year, as I start to yearn for spring, and am teased with a few above average spring-like days, I must remind myself that we are still in "moody-March." Even though I am over winter, winter is not over us.   Yesterday was our second nor'easter in March (the third is expected early next week). I was ready.  The refrigerator was stocked with multiple meal options, there was plenty of sidewalk salt just outside the back door and the shovel was in position for immediate use.  And, for this particular storm, I had stocked up on baking supplies. Because, when it's cold and the snow and sleet are braising the doors and windows, working around a toasty oven always warms the family.

One of my hearty Hellebore, with mayonnaise white flowers peaking out of the melting snow -- tempting us into thinking spring is here!  

I have been searching high and low for a dense, but moist cake recipe, the kind that I remember from my childhood and was popular in the 1970s (I was just a baby, of course!).  Back then, I think most home bakers used and referenced the Betty Crocker cookbook.  I fondly remember the cakes being a slightly different texture, thicker but still moist, probably because they relied on unhealthy ingredients such as Crisco shortening. Or, maybe today's flour is a bit less dense.  Or, maybe even, the standing mixer (ours was avocado green, below) didn't over mix? Whatever the case, I have been trying to replicate, somewhat unsuccessfully,  that seemingly long-gone, tender, yet dense, cake consistency.  It seems good cake, homemade or otherwise, is very hard to come by.

My childhood mixer.  I don't think it was as easy to over mix the batter back then with less powerful mixers like this one. 

So, for this week's nor-easter, we set out to re-enact my childhood favorite dessert! In the absence of the Betty Crocker cookbook, I turned to next best alternative -- The Dessert Bible. I highly recommend this cookbook and it's preceeding volume -- The Cook's Bible. Taken from the pages of the amazing Cook's Illustrated magazine, where classic dishes are meticulously tested, and retested, and the lucid outcomes are presented, these cookbooks answer the how and the why of perfected food and dessert. It's a little like science class in the kitchen and it's fabulous!

A cookbook that should be in every cook's kitchen.  Order it here:
From the Dessert Bible,  I chose the well-rounded English pound cake.  Pound cake is named, not for its weight, but for its use of 1 pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs.  But, for this week's cake, I chose a slightly more American version, the 1-2-3-4 cake, which is made from 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour and 4 eggs. When mixing batters, it's vital that the ingredients are room temperature so that they whip up properly, otherwise the cake will be too dense.  Butter should be slightly above room temperature. Butter that is too soft will not whip up well either.  For our cake, I neglected to take the eggs from the refrigerator early enough, so I warmed them in some warm water to get the temperature up.  It worked.

A little random, but I needed another image here.  So, here is an easy and delicious ricotta cheesecake.  Recipe can be found here:

The best part of the cake was the buttercream icing. Most buttercreams are thick, and while ours was definitely not light, it was a touch lighter than most, and perfect for this cake as we only used it in the center.  The outside of the cake was iced in a simple home-made whipped cream. If you are looking for an excellent buttercream recipe, I again recommend the Dessert Bible.  Be sure to have a candy thermometer, though, as it is a little tricky bringing the egg-sugar mixture to 160 degrees.

Frosting the cake.  While the kitchen doesn't look too bad in this photo, in actuality, it was a bloody mess!

The only problem with baking, aside from the need to be fairly precise, is that it is messy. The counters and sink become filled with batter dripping spoons, egg sodden measuring cups, and buttered spatulas. It can be sloppy, really sloppy.  For me, the worst is the flour dust that settles on everything in the kitchen after pouring it into the mixer.  Baking with children exaggerates this many fold.  So, perhaps the best tool you can come into kitchen with when baking is patience.  Be prepared for a mess and be ready to spend time cleaning. And this is why setting out to bake on a snow day is the perfect activity.  What else is there to do?

The homemade chicken pot pie that we ate before having cake.
 It was an rich, snowy night, filled with indulgent food!
Now, off to the gym...

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Morning Routine

In my family, I am the one responsible for getting everyone up in the morning. I am the family's human alarm clock, the morning buzzer, the motivator.  It's a job that I don't mind.  In fact, I prefer it. I like getting up first, when the house is quiet and dark, when the only immediate demand is to get a fresh pot of coffee brewed, and to see what crazy news I may have missed in the overnight hours. Rising early gives me the opportunity to jump start my own self before I need to energize everyone else.

Every school day morning, the routine is exactly the same. After I am fully caffeinated, which is usually just before 7:00am, I wake my daughter by endearingly singing:  "good morning sleepy doo!"  Or, sometimes I  really mix it up with a pitch perfect "good morning plumb cake!" It's sweet, and my daughter still gets a kick out of it.  I like to think that my morning jingle helps provide a pleasant, positive and jovial start to her day!

But, in this last week or so, I have noticed myself adding one more step to this simple morning routine. Before breaking into my normal "Good Morning..." sing-song custom, I find myself pausing for a moment to say a little prayer, of sorts, before she wakes. It goes a little like this: "please, God, as an adult, don't let her ever get involved in a relationship with an abusive partner."

It may seem a little strange to be thinking and praying about such a heavy topic. My daughter, after all, is still quite young and relationships are still far off into the future.  But, it's a worry that I have, nonetheless.  One that has been more electrified by current events. It's probably a worry that many of us are having of late, as we should.

"...don't let that happen, please..."

I know it's cliche, but one of the advantages that gay men enjoy is the extraordinarily close relationships they are able to build with straight women.  I cherish the relationships I have with women and consider myself lucky to have so many fascinating people in my life.  The women that I have had the pleasure of knowing and confiding in are all smart, educated and successful, and have truly enriched my life. I am very fortunate.  And aside from being intelligent and thoughtful and accomplished, there is one characteristic that many of these woman also seem to share.  They have, at some point in their lives, and to different extents, been assaulted by men.  I am not sure that most men realize that almost every woman shares some version of this experience, of being sexually assaulted. Men should be encouraged to think about that -- and about their mothers, their sisters, their spouses, girlfriends, and their daughters.

Most woman have experienced some form of violence from a man.
It's daunting!

And this is why I worry for our children!

Years ago, I received a late night call from a very, very close friend, who, through tears, recounted  the most unpleasant experience she will ever have with a man with whom she was dating.  It was disquieting and scary and I was speechless.  And, looking back,  I can only hope that I was able to give her the appropriate, compassionate and needed support. This was a long time ago and my friend is now a highly educated,  extremely successful businesswoman, successful mother and successful wife. And while I have not thought much about that haunting, late night conversation in many years, due to current events, I have thought a lot about it lately.  The stories we are seeing on the news are not one-offs, they are, to some extent, almost every woman's story.

My friend and I never spoke about that conversation again and I suspect that she hasn't shared it with many other people, possibly no one else.  She moved on, and, as I mentioned, is happy and successful.  I wonder, however, if that deplorable man, who permanently destroyed a part of my dear friend, and probably went on to assault other women, ever tried to run for public office, would she publicly denounce his supposed virtues?  I think she would, and I think she should.  Would she be called a liar? Judging from recent events, yes, she would be called a liar. But, she's not a liar.

Public life aside, I have been recently conducting a little unscientific survey of my friends, asking them what they would do if they ever discovered that a friend of theirs assaulted his spouse? The response is overwhelmingly clear --  exterminate  that odious person from their lives.  Period.  Its universal -- assault against woman (or anyone) is never acceptable.  People who engage in this activity deserve little, and anyone in the know that does not call it out is complicit. Universally, everyone in my little survey vehemently understands that violence is always inappropriate. It was the indisputable response.

So, here we are, trying to raise a well-adjusted daughter who, in today's increasingly offensive mysogynistic environment, will likely and sadly face some uncomfortable relationship encounters in her lifetime, if things stay as they are now.  Hopefully, as a precursory, I will be able to instill in her a sense of strength and strong self-worth.  It's something I work at every day.  Since our daughter was very young, I have tried to encourage open, honest, and thoughtful reflection on healthy relationships. I know that my own relationships have to be an example of that.  And I always try to accentuate the positive.  I try to make it very clear where I stand on disrespect, on abusive or inappropriate language (and that when it comes from high members of our government, they are not leaders, but bullies!) and of any form of violence. And I always encourage her to stand up for friends and to look out for others that may seem uncomfortable. Every few weeks, I remind my daughter to be an 'upstander,' to do things like looking around the lunch room and making sure no one in her grade is sitting alone, and if they are, inviting him/her to join her at her table.  I am counting on these little things, these simple daily lessons, to add up.  But, I also know that violence can happen to anyone, regardless of how strong their makeup. So I will continue to worry!

And this is why I take that moment in the morning to say a little prayer...

...before I get my family up and into the world each day.