13 October, 2010

Posted By Popular Demand: Cake

It is my sister's birthday next week, so while she was visiting this weekend, in between the reveling and the beer-making, and the beer-drinking and the concert-going, I made her a cake.

A few of her favorite foods in life are mayonnaise, chocolate and apparently Bordeaux chocolates from See's Candies..that last one I actually didn't know about when I chose which cake to make her, but this cake sort of managed to hit all those sweet spots.

I remembered that I had read about a World War II era cake that used mayo instead of eggs and shortening because as two of you may recall, and a few more of you may have read.. there was rationing during the war...back when people actually had to sacrifice some of their personal luxury for the benefit of a greater good...but I digress.

Wikipedia tells us "Tires were the first item to be rationed in January 1942 after supplies of natural rubber were interrupted. Soon afterward, passenger automobiles, typewriters, sugar, gasoline, bicycles, footwear, fuel oil, coffee, stoves, meat, lard, shortening and oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled, and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal, jams, jellies, and fruit butter were rationed by November 1943."

And since necessity breeds ingenuity, the bakers, really, the women of that generation, found new ways to make their cakes..voila... the delicate deliciousness of this cake was born.

This recipe comes from America's Best Lost Recipes: 121 Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget in which I have found several great recipes, for obscure and once well-loved foods like Runsas, which are also called Bierock which my family loved.

World War II Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake (all italics are my own notes)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup water

(I doubled the amount of butter, brown sugar and milk, and used 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar to make my frosting, because we always like more frosting. I think if I had used the entire amount of powdered sugar it would have been too stiff.)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup confectioner's sugar

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch square baking pan. (Because you make this in a 9x9 pan you can actually use your counter top (toaster) oven to make this cake, thus avoiding heating up the entire kitchen!)

Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl.

Stir the mayonnaise, granulated sugar, and vanilla together in a large bowl until smooth. Add the water and stir until combined. Whisk in the flour mixture until incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan (you can actually let kids lick the spatula here without worry since the eggs in the mayonnaise have already been cooked! A great cake to make with little kids!) and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely in the pan, at least 45 minutes. (Many people leave this cake in the pan and frost it there. I flipped mine upside-down onto a serving platter before frosting it so it would look more birthday-ish and less Grandma VanZanten Poor-Man's Cake-ish..but let me tell you Grandma VanZanten's cake was AWESOME!)

For the frosting, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the brown sugar and bring to a boil. Boil until the mixture begins to thicken, about 2 minutes, then, off the heat, carefully stir in the milk.

Return to a boil, then remove from the heat to cool until just warm, about 30 minutes.

Stir in the confectioner's sugar and spread the icing evenly over the cake. The cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days. (if it lasts that long!)


12 October, 2010

Jump Start

earlier this morning...

Most of you would not be surprised to know that I have a lot to say. A LOT to say, but lately I think I have so much to say that I can’t get anything out, which is extremely frustrating because my mind is getting very full.

Well, apparently it just takes a little jump-start, because I am so upset right now I am shaking. And when I am this upset, I feel the need to write.

I was just in a store, and a little boy, not even three, walked right outside and onto the street. He opened the front door and walked out onto one of the busiest corners in our downtown. I caught what was happening just as I got to the register, and watched as the very sweet cashier, who is probably not older than 20, raced outside. I knew exactly what she was doing without even seeing what she was rushing after.  I guessed it was the little boy because I had already brought him back to his mother three times in the ten minutes I had been in the store.

Twice I turned him around and said "Go back to Momma.” while nudging him in the right direction, since I could see her from where I was. And the third time I actually took him by the hand and walked him back to her. She never looked up from what she was doing when I brought him back. Kids might wander a bit down the aisle you're on, but he was so sad and looking for her, "Momma, Maaaaaaamaaaaaa?", and so short he couldn't find her in the maze of boxes and displays.

When the cashier brought the little boy through the door I thanked her profusely. She smiled and I took the little boy by the hand and marched to the back of the store to his mother. She picked him up this time, but didn't say anything to me.

Life is hard. For a lot of people, life is very hard, so I am not going to judge the woman too harshly because Lord only knows what has happened thus far in her life, but based on her smooth appearance and lack of tear-stained cheeks, and her desire to look at Christmas ornaments, I am guessing not much tragedy had befallen her this morning. Her other child was at one of the display tables with a bag of candy from the store ripped open in front of her.

I told the mom that her son had gotten outside and that the young cashier had chased after him down the street. She just looked at him and said “Why did you go outside?” and that was it...I was so surprised by her lack of concern, that I started to think maybe I was making a bigger deal out of it than I should, so I just said, “I thought you’d want to know because he is strong enough now, to open up a heavy store door and get outside by himself. Maybe that’s a new skill?” She said nothing to me, so I turned around and walked back to the cashier.

I paid for my items and realized I was very upset. I was trying to figure out all of the emotion I was having. I thanked the cashier about 60 million more times... for paying attention, for doing more than her job, for making sure that woman didn’t have anything horrible happen to her today, for saving that boy’s life, because surely with the parking garage and the giant trucks, and the busy, busy light with a turn-right-on-the-green-arrow light, and the boy's lack of safety awareness, he would have been hurt in a matter of minutes. The young lady was so gracious, just saying that she didn’t think he should be out there on his own. She told me to have a good day, and gave me my bag. My hand was shaking.

I realized I was very angry. Sweaty palms, gonna lose it, shaking, sick to my stomach, angry.

Watching my son is a full-time job at home and in public. Spraining my wrist trying to keep ahold of his arm as I try to pay someone, wearing a backpack so I have more free hands, being fearful to go certain places because I’m not sure I will be able to keep track of him…resorting to his wheelchair because I am worried I will lose him….waiting years to take both of my children out together, waiting until Lucy was capable of following directions and walking without holding hands before I ventured to do things like lunch, or the grocery store, or the movies. Jake ripped my rotator cuff dropping to the ground when he was younger, and now we are working on walking nicely and holding hands...eventually walking next to me without holding hands. It is a goal at school. It's something we are trying very, very hard to master because it's very important that he stay with me, and we have the same expectation of our typical kid, because it's important that kids stay with their parents. Right?
and this lady just let her kid, her typical, able-to-talk, able-to-hear, knows-his-own name, walks-without-aide, child walk out of the store. He just walked out of the store, and it took someone bringing him back for her to notice he was missing.

I'm not one for saying "that's not fair." because no one promises us that life will be fair, or even, or equitable, or easy, but I found myself saying it anyway. 

It's not fair. It's not fair...I try so hard every single day not to be a burden to others, to make sure my children are not causing problems for any one else but me. Jake tries so hard to keep it together in stores. We leave restaurants when either kid is having a hard time, we leave stores and abandon carts when there is a meltdown. We do not lose our children in stores. Our family works hard every time we go out, the whole time, to do the right thing, and she, she just lets her kid all the way through an entire huge store and out the door....and doesn't even say thank you when he's found alive? 

I am re-reading this 7 hours later, and I still have all those feelings, but another one has crept in...that feeling I get when I realize I am not being grateful. I wish sometimes my personality would allow for just appreciating that the child was safely returned to his mother, and not feel like I have a moral imperative to change the world and the way people think, or get them to think when they are obviously not thinking.

01 October, 2010

Ten, Ten, Ten

When my brother Gerard was little, and learning to count, he and my dad would slowly count together. One to five would be drawn out and slow, six and seven even-paced, but right about eight, and certainly after nine, they would make a sudden race for ten, and together they would nearly shout "Ten! Ten! Ten!"

and that is just how I am feeling as this day rolls around, and my first child, the boy who made me a mother is ten. Ten. Ten!

It's cliche to say it all goes by too fast, and in our case I don't think it's always true. Some days, even a year can fly by, but other moments are so weighted with importance, or joy, they seem to be almost outside of space and time.

He went on his first road trip when he was three weeks old, to go to my cousin's wedding. He slept on a wing chair, wrapped up like a little burrito.

He is getting tall these days, taller than his dad was at that age I think, and though he has puppy feet, nearly too big for his body, his movements are smoother as he gains more control, and more awareness of his limbs. 

He ate an entire papaya and chicken quesadilla at the Mai Tai bar in Oahu when he was only ten months old. Later that year, the chef came out to see the baby who was eating the wasabi mashed potatoes at the Four Seasons in San Francisco.

He has a great sense of humor, and a laugh that is infectious. My favorite is when he giggles so hard that he has to take a big breath. He stands still to let his little sister tickle him, and will come over to the couch for a family tickle match.

The first time he held his own cup and took a drink, we were at an Indian food restaurant and he was more than two years old. 

He moves so quickly it's hard to believe doctors thought he'd never walk, and he loves to test adults by pretending to meander before he breaks into a full run towards any exit that has been left open.

He took his first steps across our living room while he was yelling something at us. We couldn't understand him and he was so frustrated he got distracted and walked seven steps. 

He likes to be outdoors. I think he would be happiest on 40 acres; a place with a grove of shimmering trees, and a small brook with pebbles lining its banks. His love of nature inspired our AdventureVan purchase, and his love of the AdventureVan inspired our cross country journey this summer. He is a road-trip, roadside diner, let's-just-pull-over-here-for-the-night type of kid; his flexibility amazes me.

He went to sleep-away camp for the first time the summer he was five. As we drove away and watched as he ran off smiling and laughing down a leaf strewn hill forcing his counselor to chase him. 

He's showing an interest in technology, gently touching the screens at home on devices, and using the mouse at school to get through stories he likes on the computer. I love the sibling dynamic as he tries to grab the iPad or iPod from his sister and laughs as she shrieks to keep her hold.

He got into the car by himself last week, no physical prompts at all, and when we went home he went in through the gate without holding hands, and without running away.

He is affectionate, and more and more often he leans in to show his desire to be near you. His wordless gestures teach me that my body language, my movements, the spirit I carry through my home is often more influential than my words.

He got out of bed when I passed by his room tonight. He gently touched my arm before he turned and ran back to his bed. He buried himself in the pillows laughing.

Happy Birthday sweet boy.
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