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Archive for the ‘cakes’ Category

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My heart broke a little last year when I heard Hostess was declaring bankruptcy and ceasing operation. No more Twinkies, no Snoballs … no more Cupcakes with their characteristic squiggle line. What was a girl to do? These were the treats of grade school field trips, the only time my mother would buy them and slip one into my lunch sack as a special treat. I would jealously protect that bag on the bus, making sure those bratty boys didn’t sit on it and squash my treasure. At lunch, I’d almost always go for the cupcake first, pulling off the hard chewy icing for later. I’d suck out the crème filling before devouring the cake and finish with the treasured icing. It was how things were done. C’mon, I know I wasn’t the only one who did this.

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Early in our adult life, a former boyfriend and I couldn’t always afford to buy plane tickets home to Arizona for the holidays.  This made me a little sad, as Christmas is quite the thing in my family.  Being poor was depressing enough but missing our traditional holiday meals only compounded the situation.  No Christmas Eve oysters?  No pierogies?  No crazy cooking marathon with my mom or opening stockings on Christmas morning like when we were kids?  Exchanging gifts isn’t nearly as fun when you’re not there to see the recipients face.  Luckily we had some family nearby and many friends who were happy to invite us to their celebrations, and this helped.  One year, we were invited to the family home of a good friends girlfriend for what became a rather memorable Christmas.

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Why don’t people make cakes from scratch anymore? Not big fancy, special occasion type cakes but every day kind of cakes. They’re so much easier than their flashy counterparts and such a treat to have around the house. I’m talking about the kind haphazardly wrapped on the kitchen counter from which tiny wedges disappear throughout the day. The type that goes beautifully with your afternoon tea or suffices as breakfast-on-the-go in the car. A few posts ago I made an angel food cake and wished I had a coffee klatch to kvetch with over a piece of cake. I’ve never even been to a coffee klatch but I know this cake would have been perfect. Klatch-less, I ended up eating most of it myself. I couldn’t help it; the cake was delicious. It got me to thinking about other cakes like this, recipes some might consider old fashioned and many have forgotten.

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For some reason, I had a stockpile of limes and I’m not too sure where they all came from.  Some were leftover from a party, some from Memorial Day weekend and the rest … beats me.  Regardless of how they appeared, the reality was a large bowl in my fridge that needed to be dealt with.  Instantly I thought cake.  Cake and strawberries, since I had a lot of those too.

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Last fall, I took part in a fantastic weekend adventure and it all centered on meat.  Butchery to be specific, both pork and beef, with side forays into charcuterie, sausage making, bacon smoking, a lot of cooking, more eating and wonderful camaraderie.  It was part summer camp, part serious food skills and part female empowerment.  My French friend Kate (a bit of a misnomer as she’s actually an American living in France) concepted the idea of a Grrls Meat Camp where woman in the butchery field, culinary world and farming realms could gather, discuss their challenges and begin to build a support network in a field where woman are few and far between. Which is how 17 of us found our way to a little lodge at a YMCA camp in northern Illinois.

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There’s something so bright and refreshing about lemons.  I might even say bracing.  They make me happy.  The bright color and perky flavor is exactly what I need during this gloomy, grey and wet time.  If you live somewhere sunny then you probably don’t know what I’m talking about but think about this.  Last week I was wearing shorts and a light sweater.  Four days later it was cold and drenching wet.  Three days after that it snowed.  I’ll take any bit of brightness I can get and if that’s in the form of some grocery store citrus than so be it.

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I have a deep love for breakfast pastries.  Crazy love.  As a kid, special morning moments were always marked with a treat – Pillsbury pecan rolls to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, cookies for Christmas breakfast, pink donuts for Valentine’s Day.  Don’t even get me started on Paczki Day.  I could take or leave a muffin but a well-made croissant makes my toes tap.  In culinary school I learned to make Danishes the proper way, with layers and layers of careful butter lamination, and promptly gained 5 happy pounds.  A beautiful flaky scone or a perfect old-fashioned donut is cause for celebration.  I’ve been known to do some serious damage on a kringle of any kind, but given the choice, a good bakery-style buttery, crumbly coffeecake wins every time.

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It’s that time of the year again.  The time when Chicago dyes its river bright green and the drunks come out to play by the droves.  When everyone is suddenly Irish and people think a green tutu is acceptable day wear.  It’s the time I develop insatiable cravings for corned beef, pints of Guinness and pretty much anything soaked in whiskey.  Which is why I’ve been baking Whiskey Cakes like a maniac.

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Desserts that do remarkable and unexpected things never fail to delight.  When I was a kid, Jell-O was fascinating.  I’d continually poke the jiggley liquid in the metal pan.  It was magic:  one minute, a thick liquid; the next a weird firm bouncy substance.  If someone was sufficiently crafty enough to do different colored layers?  My mind was blown.  Much, much later, I made ChocoFlan; part chocolate cake, part flan.  It goes into the oven one way and somehow miraculously reverses positions during baking to end up as something else. As an adult, mind still blown.

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Why is cake considered a special occasion kind of thing?  Who made that call?  Celebration cakes should indeed be special; dolled up fancy things to commemorate a big event.  But why can’t we eat cake of some kind every day?  Cake makes you happy.  It’s CAKE!  It’s a great little snack, just perfect with coffee or a cup of tea.  What happened to the morning or afternoon tradition of a little cake and coffee?  I say it’s high time to bring that back.  Let’s reinstate the snack cake!

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