Tag Archives: cake

Noodley legends

We like to ask for advice; there are columns in the paper, thousands of Web forums and chat rooms on every conceivable subject from pork rinds to rare, incurable diseases. Perhaps it’s part of the human condition to ask our neighbors about things we haven’t directly experienced. It creates community, sometimes, not just in a virtual Web browser window, but when we create support groups, go on themed vacations, join a club—we do a lot of advice giving and requesting, and then, if we get our first-hand moment ourselves, can appreciate how far away the advice of someone else’s experience was from our own.

And therein lies the rub. For one person’s touted recommendation is another person’s bout with mediocrity. Or there could be, in the case of a restaurant suggestion, a complete incompatibility between palates. It’s really a taste comparison; if we like the same 5 movies, maybe we’ll both hate the 6th. Your advice to go to so-and-so place for dinner might be anathema to me if I think that spiced crickets sounds disgusting but is your favorite appetizer. And then you might gently remind me that some of what I eat, such as corndogs, also can be just plain awful.* So one should have confidence in the taste buds of their friends.

What to make of the good friend with whom you’ve never actually compared culinary affections? It’s just a leap of faith that nobody would recommend a truly terrible venue and that there will probably be something on the menu that appeals. And that’s the pessimist’s approach. For those of us who are more risk-tolerant and/or optimistic, it’s a chance to venture into unknown territory and perhaps experience something new.

 

Legendary Noodle Restaurant

Legendary Noodle Restaurant

It was with this boldly go where we hadn’t gone before mentality that we ventured into the Legendary Noodle Restaurant in Vancouver, a favorite of our friend, Dex. She eats there often. We looked at fully four different kinds of noodle preparations. We started off sharing some steamed meat dumplings, which were fine if not a little pedestrian. Our food came quickly, which I’ve learned in the Northwest is a bit of an uncommon occurrence. Susanne had a noodle soup with beef, almost like a pho, and I had some noodles with beef, mung beans, and a light spice that was just hot enough to linger while not causing massive sinus activity. It was a little place, likeable in that hole-in-the-wall way. 

It was also conveniently located directly across the street from a patisserie. Unfortunately, we were too stuffed to put any more edibles into our stomachs. Fortunately, our friend’s housemate was having a gallery show that night, so the three of us walked around the corner to see her art. She was focused on painting animation-like pictures of Catholic schoolgirls. They looked very sulky. Some of them were against white, unpainted backgrounds. Some were sitting in trees. Many were set in dreary wooded locations. In a room in the back there was a silent auction with older pictures, namely giant robots in dreary wooded locations. I sensed a trend. 

After looking at the art for a while, we headed over to Sweet Revenge for tea and dessert. It was cramped, like visiting your Aunt Nellie who hasn’t thrown out the daily newspaper for 36 years and who has a penchant for collecting antique furniture. We found the remaining 4 square feet of space in the room and sat down at a low table that came up to our knees. I wondered aloud if this was the tea room for Liliputian royalty. 

Menus were carefully presented to us, lest the waiters knock something over. They were small men who looked like they had previously worked as circus contortionists, and they fitted their bodies around the furniture as they served the patrons, bending in strange ways like Keanu Reeves dodging bullets, but nary did they spill a drop of the drinks.

 

table of treats at Sweet Revenge

table of treats at Sweet Revenge

The cakes were very good, although one was a little on the dry side. A man at the next table (read, five inches away from me) asked which cake on our table was the favorite, so we pointed it out to him. There were six people at his table, Japanese tourists, and they were very excited to have cake recommendations from total strangers. How did he know I wasn’t a total smartass who had just told him to try the cake with the pickle juice in it? Such trust! It must have been because we were in Canada, and what Canadian would steer a tourist wrong like that? He’d never have had such faith in me if we were in Atlanta, I bet.

We finished our dessert and hugged our friend goodbye—but only for the moment, because we ran into her two days later in Vancouver’s Chinatown. I would have said small world, but well, I didn’t think it would have drawn the laugh. One must be selective about such things.

*For the record, I do not eat corn dogs.

Making flowers

While Susanne’s younger brother Kurtis was visiting us, his birthday rolled around. Given my penchant for enjoying producing confectionary creations, I asked what kind of cake he would like to celebrate the day. I was not ready for his response — an ice cream cake. While unexpected, I of course was not about to back away from a challenge. I thought about what I liked when it came to such things, and remembered many a frozen Carvel cake. Anyone from the Northeast of a certain age will recall the delights of Fudgie the Whale and Cookie Puss. Central to those cakes is the chocolate cookie layer, so I went about figuring out how to recreate it in my kitchen.

I cleaned out the filling from half a package of Oreos, crumbled up the cookies, mixed them in with vanilla and melted butter, and pressed it into the pan. I made homemade vanilla ice cream, Kurt’s expressed preference. I made whipped cream with a hint of vanilla, layering them and freezing them one layer after another into the pan. Then it came time, on the morning of his birthday, to decorate the top. I made some royal icing and colored it green and blue, two colors I know he likes. I wrote out his name and then attempted to make something from nature, an interest of his. I stood back and saw I had made a simple flower. Kind of girly. I needed to add something. I put down some more designs and stood back again and then realized my error. The cake looked like this:

 

ice cream cake

ice cream cake

Oh dear. This would have been perfect if Kurtis was an 11-year-old girl, but not a grown man. He seemed not to care, declaring it tasty and just the thing he’d wanted.

How to bake a cake (from a seated position)

 

birthday cake from the past

birthday cake from the past

1. Open first cookbook, entitled, “Baking,” and search for chocolate cake recipe.

 

2. Realize that there is not, in fact, any specific recipe for chocolate cake — there are, however, 15 recipes related to chocolate cake as a topographal category: flourless chocolate cake, chocolate mousse cake, sour cherry chocolate cake, hazelnut chocolate torte, chocolate and ice box cake . . . . Quit reading and try to remember what the original idea was again.

3. Read through four more cookbooks, not finding a cake recipe worth making. 

4. Pull out the Fine Cooking Chocolate magazine special and identify the recipe to attempt today. Sigh with relief until discovering there are 14,836 steps to creating said cake. Go for it anyway, since it’s the best bet.

5. Push self on office chair over to pantry and reach up to acquire 16-pound container of flour. Sift 3 cups into bowl and add other dry ingredients. 

6. Make wet chocolate mixture, spilling some on container of homemade pasta, and realizing that it is out of reach, choose to leave it there, because at least it smells nice.

7. Whip butter and sugar together in mixer, becoming quickly aware that there is something already in the bowl. Turn off mixer, look in bowl and see small pieces of homemade pasta. Curse out loud that now you need more room temperature butter.

8. Spill some of butter-sugar mixture on on boxer shorts, which are the fashion around the house these days. Admire how the boxer short ribbing nicely holds things like flour, sugar, and butter.

9. Re-mix, in clean bowl, more butter and sugar, and add flour and wet mixture to bowl. Slop wet mixture up onto the kitchen ceiling, 8 feet above and understand that from a seated position, getting it off the ceiling is next to impossible. Continue with cake baking.

10. Curse again as it is evidenced that there is no parchment or wax paper. Grease and flour all three cake pans, crossing fingers that the cakes will come out of them after baking.

11. Get cakes in oven and then crutch over to couch to rest while they fuse to the cake pans.

12. Hear alarm go off much earlier than reconstructed knee would like, and take cakes out to cool.

13. Carefully take out one cake, grumbling at the one spot that has glued itself to the pan. 

14. Repeat Step 13 twice more.

15. Grind up 6 ounces of chocolate in food processor and become dimly aware that it is not actually plugged into the wall. Take stock that said wall is at least one foot beyond reach from seated position in office chair. 

16. Melt 6 ounces of unground chocolate on stove top in double boiler, being able to see only 2 square inches of the pan surface. Stir constantly, assuming the rest of the pan surface looks like the part that is viewable, making assumptions based on sampling size and overall population.

17. Watch as stirring arm falls off body. Consider cost to benefit ratio of having surgery again, this time to replace arm.

18. Mix melted chocolate into other ingredients for frosting and whip with mixer.

19. Layer crumbly cake layers with frosting, teetering one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable cake stand on thigh. Watch as cake slides off cake stand onto floor.

20. Kidding. Finish crumb layer and put cake into fridge for quick cool down before the cake target comes home from work.

21. Remove cake from fridge and finish frosting. Crutch back to couch and thank reconstructed knee for cooperating.

22. Nap.

My life in the midst of bacteria

It appears that it is not illegal in the State of Washington to produce or purchase unhomogenized, unpasteurized milk. Of course, they also have medical marijuana up here, but that’s another story. This story is about yogurt, hence the bacteria.

I suppose if one is going to be situated in a small town — call it a city if you like, but really, if we’re talking fewer than six digits of people, we’re talking town. Anyway, if this small town is in the corner of a state bordered by people nostalic for the Wild West and people nostalgic for fascism, one needs to begin playing to one’s strengths, in this case, baking and cooking. Not that these are the only things that one does, but when one begins referring to oneself in the third person (and people don’t bring up Suede of Project Runway), baking and cooking are the easiest strengths to highlight. So bear with one. Erm, me.

Susanne and I were invited to a farm share dinner, which was nice because we used to do those occasionally in DC. We asked what we could contribute and were delighted to be told: DESSERT. So I thought about making cheesecake, as I have in years past, when I’ve made delights like these:

 

Caramel toffee cheesecake

Caramel toffee cheesecake

 

A caramel toffee cheesecake with the traditional graham cracker crust. There’s also the chocolate mousse cheesecake with an Oreo crust, and finally, the brownie and chocolate swirl cheesecake with a vanilla sponge cake crust.

None of these, however, did I make for the farm share dinner. I made this, a chocolate fudge cake with a masala chai-infused ganache.

Hopefully it went some distance toward making some friends! 

 

 

 

Chocolate cheesecake

Chocolate cheesecake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

chocolate fudge cake

chocolate fudge cake

Meanwhile, I made my first foray into growing bacteria in milk, or rather, I made some yogurt last week. Baking the cake was a motivator, so I poured 8 cups of raw milk into a nice large pot and made it not raw anymore by bringing it slowly to 180 degrees. I wound up with three batches setting overnight — a vanilla batch, a plain batch, and a small batch with local organic honey. It turned out really well! Now I need some recipes using yogurt because 8 cups of yogurt is a LOT of yogurt to get through in its two-week life span.

Maybe that’ll be my new career — yogurt maker for the stars. I just need some flavor ideas that are novel and hip, and I’m in business.

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