Let Us Eat Cake

Once in a great while, I laze about in bed on Saturday morning, only getting up when other people in the house start moaning about impending starvation. Last week I got up to discover that there really wasn't anything in the house ready-made to eat. To forestall any fainting spells on the part of my housemates, I sent Patrick to the store for some Entenmann's donuts. These were wolfed down in a heartbeat once they arrived home.
Next morning on the way to church, Christian confessed to wanting more of the donuts. I answered that we could make some homemade donuts in the afternoon; he replied that his craving was specific to the Entenmann's. I reminded him what happened when Edmund ate the White Witch's Turkish Delight, and quoted C.S. Lewis from memory: "Nothing spoils the taste of good ordinary food half so much as the memory of bad magic food.”
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not anti-sugar. I do believe, though, that homemade treats trump store-bought (i.e., 'bad magic') most days of the week for several reasons. First, they taste better to all but the most process-jaded palates. James asked me the other day why his friends at school like the cafeteria food and he doesn't. I told him it was probably because they didn't get to eat really good food very often. Poor things.
Second, my Puritan roots influence me to believe that we value more highly what we work to create. My children do stop to savor the food I make, probably because they witnessed (and helped) my labors.
Of course, they balk at some things they are served. Hope has taken a dislike to corn off the cob. James can't abide fried eggs. Tess only eats beets because they make the soup a pretty pink color (and because she's not allowed to leave the table until they are gone). With this many people in our household, at least one person per day is eating something that is not his or her favorite. But not eating it simply is not an option.
Third, I subscribe to the Eastern philosophy eloquently articulated by the Maha Chohan:
"If a woman could see the sparks of light going forth from her fingertips when she is cooking and the substance of light that goes into the food she handles, she would be amazed to see how much of herself she charges into the meals she prepares for her family and friends."
Food is more than macro- and micro-nutrients, more than sustenance. It is frequently a catalyst for bonding; a part of sacred ritual; a celebration of life.
Speaking of celebrations, and good magic food--a friend at church is getting married this Saturday. Her mother, who was going to make the cake, has unfortunately gotten sick, so I was asked to step in. I'm so excited! I haven't made a wedding cake since Roselyn's wedding in Manhattan almost ten years ago (photo above).
For cakes, nothing beats The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I've been using it for years with never-fail, mouthwatering results. I'll be making her three-tier Chocolate Butter Cake (this is the recipe I use for my Chocolate Lace Cake) and using her White Chocolate Mousseline Buttercream for the frosting. For the filling, I'll use the Magnolia Bakery's Caramel Coconut Pecan recipe. Linda wants just the minimum of piping on the cake, since her sister will be decorating it with flowers.
I was so glad to look at my calendar and see that I had nothing scheduled for Friday; the cake will take up the bulk of the day, and I will be able to proceed at a leisurely pace, unhurried by the stress of any other events. A wedding cake is and should be a labor of love, and I intend to enjoy every minute of it.


Shades of Bartholomew Cubbins

The knitting of hats is an even more addictive subgroup of knitting than knitting itself. Hats are so fast and easy, so pleasingly sculptural as they progress. The knitting of socks is nearly as addictive, save for the fact that one must (hopefully) knit two of a kind. Fortunately, my latest hat will be finding a home other than the shelf of our front closet.

Our nephew Michael is a new missionary in Chicago, and he is as fresh and green as a newly-cut Christmas tree. His emails and letters have been delightful thus far. The winds of Chicago are apparently as fierce as legend portrays; his poor exposed ears are suffering. I just finished a hat for him, knit out of a lovely Malabrigo color called 'Azul Bolita.' I'll send the hat off, along with some treats, via Fed Ex today.

And here is Daniel with an old pilot's helmet on. It weighs nearly as much as he does, but he was somehow able to hold his head up straight. Up in the air, Junior Birdman!


Food = Good*

Doh! That crafty Michael Pollan has done it again. I've been working on a long musing on how I believe that we as a society should get back to enjoying food for its own sake. Then I open up The New York Times last Sunday, and what's featured on the cover of the Magazine? Yes, another stunning and beautifully written article by my idol of journalism, saying everything I was going to say--only far more articulately.

You may remember that Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma made my Top Ten Books of 2006 list (and many other top lists as well). His research is great, but his writing is even better: funny, insightful, lyrical; never pompous, condescending, or jargon-heavy. I'd love to meet him someday, although I'm sure that I'd behave exactly the way I did when I met Brent Spiner backstage at the Broadway revival of 1776. Patrick chortles with glee every time he remembers it. No, I won't recount it again. Suffice it to say that the sentence "I'm a big fan of your work" is declaimed in worshipful tones whenever it appears that I need teasing.

Another great book on food that I read last year is Nina Planck's Real Food. I emailed Nina after I read it; she agreed to come up and speak at a house party chez nous. Now that the renovation is done and the holidays are over, I need to contact her again and get our schedules together.

Speaking of real food, Tess had her turn at CIA Night last Saturday. What a champ! She grated two whole blocks of cheese for her chosen recipe: Dang Quesadillas. I'm happy to report that no knuckles were sacrificed to the cause; the other kids were in awe of her grating skills. Everyone's geared up for February's sessions. Christian will be trying his hand at Chicken Enchiladas (the famous recipe that prompted a proposal from Patrick); James is trying to choose between Bouillabaisse and lobster (can we afford him?); and Hope and Tess are still deciding.
*Hope: Mom, why don't 'food' and 'good' rhyme?
Me: [Long lecture on the evolution of English phonology.]
Hope: Umm, thanks, Mom. Can I have a snack?


Make a [back]splash

When we designed our kitchen renovation, I knew I wanted something unique for the backsplashes, filling that crucial space between the soapstone counters and the cherry Mission-style cabinets. We researched a lot of different options, but nothing seemed quite right. Then Patrick had the brilliant idea of asking our friend Seth Fairweather to design something for us.

Seth is a glass blower, but we knew he had recently been dabbling with casting glass as well. I asked him to make some sketches for some glass panels with our tastes in mind. Seth knows how much I love the Arts & Crafts movement and the Pre-Raphaelites; he said the the verticality of our kitchen chairs (our seats are not upholstered) and cabinets reminded him of barrel vaults in a cathedral.

I was thrilled with Seth's sketches; they featured little medieval workers building a cathedral, with each panel broken up by pillars of the vaulting. We asked him to cast the panels, and he got right to work. Once our cabinets and countertops were installed, Seth came down from school to install the panels. The glass was devitrified, and when the little glass bullets melted in the molds, they retained a bit of their own shape, so the surface of the glass looks like a stone mosaic.

Seth and I had discussed whether or not to paint the glass; I finally decided that I would, so that the relief of the characters and architectural details would be more apparent. Above are before and after photos of the first panel. This panel is above the counter where I do my baking, and has the most elaborate details. I especially love the rose window. The rustic style evokes woodcuts and illuminations of the Middle Ages for me; I think it's a great contrast against the clean lines of the cabinets and woodwork.

One panel down; three more to go. The other panels will be less work, since I'll just use the cream wash on most of them to highlight the figures. I'll post again when they are done.


Mad Hatter

Daniel asked for a hat, which coincided nicely with my new resolve to knit down that stash in the attic. This stripy number is some Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran leftover from a yoked Fair Isle sweater I knit for myself a couple of years ago. I think I still have enough left for one more hat; I may make a spare to have in the hall closet, just in case.

Hope begged in on the photo shoot; I acquiesced, since her hat hadn't been published yet.
Question: Is Daniel this happy all the time? Answer: Yes, actually--pretty much.