Archive | May, 2014

Cake Club

28 May

How To Make A Rhubarb Cake With Ginger Crumble For Your Book Club

1. Go to the google doc asking book club members to sign up to bring a dish for the annual book club potluck dinner. It’s a nice event, worth bringing something real to—not, like, hummus and veg. But it’s on a Wednesday, which is crappy schedule day. There’s no way you’ll have time to make something real. So, guiltily, you hover over dessert. But, isn’t EVERYONE super busy on Wednesdays, and all the days? Who’s going to get stuck bringing the mains? You attempt to salvage your desserty lameness by grandly signing up to bring a Rhubarb Cake with Ginger Crumble that a friend who’s an excellent baker made one time. She thoughtfully shared the recipe, too, something you never remember to do when people ask. Sigh. Just, BE BETTER, self. Start by making a nice rhubarb cake for your book club. Hopefully it will still taste fine even if you make it the night before.

2. Buy the last 3 stalks of rhubarb in the entire store. Isn’t it still rhubarb season? What the hell? They are enormous, like slender tree branches. And you’ve never baked with rhubarb before—c’mon, it’s RED CELERY. Well, whatever. It’s in cake, it’s not going to suck. Cake is delicious.

3. The crumble recipe calls for candied ginger, but all they have is soft, chewy ginger candy. Close enough. Because cake. Toss it in the cart.

4. Decide to put the cake together while you are also doing the dinner dishes, talking to a cousin who dropped by, and over-seeing the two kids’ piano practice and showers. What could go wrong.

5. Sugar the hell out of the rhubarb after barely managing to hack it apart with a cleaver. Sugaring it is not called for in the recipe, but, yikes.

6. The recipe instructs you to freeze the crumble made with melted butter while you put the cake together. So, you do. But after putting it in the freezer and before making the cake batter you spend 15 minutes at the piano, comb and braid your daughter’s wet hair, chat to your uncle when he comes to pick up your cousin, and load the the dishwasher. Then you make your cake batter. Then you go to retrieve the crumble from the freezer, and it’s frozen solid.

7. Microwave the frozen crumble. But not too much! Damn.

8. Manage to “sprinkle” the half-frozen-glob, half melty-hot-sand crumble over the cake pan of batter. Admire the way it looks in your cute heart-shaped pan. Is the heart-shaped pan a 9 inch pan, per the recipe? Oh, probably. Prepare to put the cake in the oven in triumph.

9. Wait, what the fuck are those 2 eggs doing sitting there?

10. Frantically scrape crumble globs off of batter into a bowl. Yell to your son that you’ll “be right up, just a minute!” Dump batter from cake pan into a different bowl and whisk in two eggs as best you can. (Don’t over mix! Ha!) Dump bright yellow slimy batter back into cake pan and re-distribute sticky, wonky crumble mess on top. Aaaand into the oven it goes!

11. Read bedtime story to son while chuckling to yourself about all the near disasters this cake has been through. Consider if you will tell the book club the story, or just let them eat the cake in blissful ignorance. It’ll no doubt still taste fine. Cake is delicious.

12. Upon exiting son’s room, notice the house smells like it’s on fire. Shit.

13. Dash down to the kitchen to find that the cake is running over the cute heart-shaped pan, dripping on to the heating coil, and smoking out the whole kitchen. Guess that pan isn’t 9 inches! Good thing you have another oven!

14. Open the oven door and the kitchen door to air out the kitchen, and put the cake into the other oven with a cookie sheet underneath it this time. Cross your fingers, re-set the timer, and head up to say goodnight to your daughter.

15. Come down to find the timer going off, and realize upon checking the cake that you never turned the second oven on. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

16. Turn on the second oven and just leave the stupid cake in there instead of pre-heating and just re-set the timer for an approximate amount of time and just let the stupid cake do its stupid best in there. Do the cake-related dishes. Fume.

17. Pull the cake out when the timer goes off. It looks NOTHING like the cake your friend made—hers was pillowy and pale and crumby, yours looks flat, crispy, and deep brown. The crumble has flattened into the batter while it cooked, or maybe it all ran off into the top oven and there IS no crumble made with ginger candy instead of candied ginger anymore. The cake smells a little singed, but the small taste you break off is inconclusive. It’s sweet, certainly. It probably tastes horrible. Burned and dry and crispy and horrible.

18. Take the cake to book club.

Hey kids! Tune in next time to find out how the cake was received!!!!!


You had two glasses of wine and told the whole table the mini version of this tale of woe. AND you brought back-up store-bought pie because who would try the cake after all this ridiculousness? But your loyal book club friends DID try the cake, and they totally ignored the strange burnt flavor, and they didn’t even touch the store-bought pie. Because they are lovely ladies and nice friends. Who you hope are not currently suffering from severe indigestion.

Look at all the delicious food people brought! (Cake of shame not pictured, OBVIOUSLY.)

Look at all the delicious food people brought! (Cake of shame not pictured, OBVIOUSLY.) Photo courtesy the lovely Katie Barr.

I basically tried to poison these sweet people.

I basically tried to poison these sweet people. (One of whom is the lovely Katie Barr, who also took this photo.)

Find another post about baking adventures here if that’s your jam. Heh heh.


14 May

Although I find the term “gateway drug” faintly hilarious, smacking as it does of REEFER MADNESS-style clueless overreaction, I think the concept is sound. When I’m dreading a house’s worth of housework, I’ll ease into it by doing a few gateway dishes. Once the kitchen counter is clean, I can focus on sweeping the floor, then straightening the front hall, then heading upstairs for the bedrooms, etc. Same goes with writing work—I trick myself into it with some gateway tweets or a status update, just to get typing.

I didn’t recognize my 7 year old son’s passion for car magazines as his gateway to reading, but in retrospect, that’s exactly what it was. Our 10 year old daughter is a reader like I was, so her journey to fluency felt comfortably familiar. She transitioned from frustrated halting-sounder-outer of picture books to absorbed silent reader of chapter books seemingly overnight. I can remember walking into her room one morning to rouse her for kindergarten, only to find her dressed, sitting cross-legged on her made bed, and deep into a Rainbow Fairy paperback. (We may be similar readers, but she will one day kick my ass at cleaning the house.) I’ve never had to sell her on the benefits of reading. When she’s bored, nervous, or needs to wind down before sleep, she just naturally reaches for a book. Being of stubborn mindset, if she’d thought reading was good for her she might have refused to learn. She does it because she thinks it’s fun.

I’m just the same, even if my iPhone competes with my reading time more than it should. My number one choice of leisure activity is to read. Vacation plans, weekend downtime, and evenings at home revolve around a comfortable chair, a refreshing beverage, and a book. Sshhh, don’t talk to me, I’m at a good part.

My son has taken a different path. He’s the most extroverted of our family foursome, and he draws his energy and fun from interactions. He craves physical contact, and loves nothing better than an audience. On family vacations he pings and pongs between the other three of us, literally wagging his butt and nudging with his head like a puppy. Let’s go play! Wanna hear a joke? Play! Joke!!

So, I think for him reading has always seemed like a spoiler activity. It’s something other people focus on instead of him, something he’s crossly reprimanded for interrupting. He loves to be read TO—the cuddling, the chitchat about the plot, the collaborative choice of what to read together next. But he probably suspects that my dream is all four of us sitting together quietly absorbed in books, and not one of us wagging our tail and begging to play paddle ball, thus distracting from the climax of chapter 5.

One thing that has consistently–on occasion, usefully–kept him quiet for the last couple of years, however, is a glossy car magazine. Never mind that the print is tiny and the vocabulary beyond most grown-ups. He inhales them and commits their esoterica to memory, spouting back facts like a fire hose. I do spot check him occasionally, like when he tells me that a Ferrari goes 185 mph, or the new Prius gets 51 miles per gallon on the highway, and he has about an 80% accuracy rate. (He’s probably noticed that when he makes up facts, there’s hardly anyone able or willing to contradict him.) As far as I can tell, and based on his out-loud reading homework from school, he’s been able to decode the car magazines by brute force of will. Kevin Henke can trip the kid up, but Consumer Reports readily yields up its secrets.

However, just in the last few weeks, right here at the end of first grade, he’s turned the corner. It started when he went on a run of checking out “Jack and Annie” (or Magic Tree House) books from the school library instead of his normal picture variety. He’d amble off the bus, nose ostentatiously stuck in his big boy book, angling the cover so all the bus stop moms could see and admire it. “Oh yeah, just reading a CHAPTER BOOK here, no bigs.” But it wasn’t just for show—some of those Jack and Annie facts were sticking in his mind, too, as I found out when he wowed me with some impressive Egypt facts. Someone paid attention during Mummies and Pyramids! He’s now loving the A to Z Mysteries series, and even dipping into some of his sister’s old Rainbow Fairy books. And this morning, when I walked in to find him already dressed and perched on his made bed, totally absorbed in The Empty Envelope, he uttered pretty much the sweetest words this mama could hear: “Hang on, I’m coming. I just want to finish my book.”