Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chocolate Curls: When nothing but awesome will do.

Chocolate is the ultimate flavor.  Have I ever mentioned I love chocolate?  Maybe once or twice?  Yep.  I even like cocoa powder.  Mama will tell you, I'll get a smidge of cocoa powder on a teaspoon and let the small amount rest on my tongue, the flavors migrating to every taste bud individually to collectively create an entire mouthful of taste. 

Years ago, when the fellows were young I had external radiation treatments where the left maxillary sinus was, after-surgery treatment for the nasty disease called Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (woohoo!!! 9 years into remission).  Radiation treatment to the face that close to the ole' schnozzola entirely messes up your smelling which entirely messes up your tasting.  I spent a miserable couple of months, missing the taste of chocolate.  Forget the fatigue, migraines, and weakness from the surgery and treatments, my very soul craved to be whole again with the delightfully-earthy completely-satisfying oral sensation that chocolate is.

It only follows, since chocolate is my favorite, that the chocolate cakes made here are the absolute prettiest and best-est tasting ever. Oh, all the cakes are moist and flavorful, with made-from-scratch fillings and icings, but that chocolate one? Well.  It takes the cake, although the butter cake with lemon curd filling and cream cheese icing runs a pretty close second.  It's also the prettiest, with a layer of dark chocolate ganache and topped with as many milk chocolate curls as won't fall off.

I use milk chocolate chips for the curls.  Dark and semi-sweet chocolates don't have enough fat in them to curl very well.  They'll make tiny tight curlicues that are fine for miniature desserts but not nearly large enough to use on a proper sized cake.  You'd be shaving for forEV-ER (<--insert kid's narrative of The Beast from the movie The Sandlot here).   You can do the whole melting-chocolate-on-the-cookie-sheet for dark chocolate curls but it's a lot of work.

Chocolate is temperamental.   If it gets a drop of water in it the whole batch will seize, turning into a delicious tasting cornmeal-consistency blob of difficulty.  Your options are to try to work shortening or butter back into it and use it for something else or **ahem** disappear it right out of the measuring cup with a spoon.  To date, no one has ever seen seized chocolate in this kitchen.  Heaven forbid it gets too hot either, the muddy looking dull mess is only fit for dolloping on a scrap of cake to be offered to the first youngster to come through the kitchen. 

I like to use Nestle Milk Chocolate Chips for the curls.  For sheer consumption, Nestle is not even close to a favorite brand of milk chocolate, but it does make the prettiest curls.   I've tried every brand of chocolate chip available at WalMart and Piggly Wiggly.  Please don't suggest I try something that's not found locally.   I do the absolute possible best with what's available; if the chocolate isn't at one of those two places, it's not getting bought.  Nestle Milk Chocolate chips are put into the smallest loaf pan.

See those egg shells in the pan on the back burner? I'll use four or five dozen eggs during the course of baking any given weekend.  I rinse them and put them in the warm oven overnight and then give them a whirl in the food processor to use in the garden.  They're an incredible and effective slug killer that doesn't cost a thing.

The big SunFire oven holds at approximately 115 degrees Fahrenheit, a little warm for melting chocolate, but the pan of chips is only in there for 20 minutes.

OOOoooo... Y'all are seeing lots of stuff today.  See my very old-fashioned dripolaters?  They make the best coffee ever.  Forget the French press.  It's the Deep South - I like coffee strong and without an accent, thankyouverymuch.

Twenty minutes later, the chips come out, ready to be stirred smooth.

**giggle** That's my favorite fork, too.  I don't know where it came from, it just appeared before the fellows were born.

Pretty and smooth curls not speckled with holes from air bubbles trapped in the chocolate require a little bit of effort.  It takes a good bit of bumping the pan on a solid surface, the same as cake batter, to have the bubbles rise to the surface.

I put the warm smooth milk chocolate in the butter tray of the refrigerator to cool.  Are you feeling poorly and a little down with life at this point?  Go ahead.  Get a spoon and have a taste of warm milk chocolate.  Bless our female hearts, it IS good for what ails us!  I'm smiling just looking at it.

Pay no attention to the organic bug spray beside the milk.  A steeped concoction of garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, and I forget what other two things are in it, that odoriferous non-toxic-to-kids-and-dogs pesticide will sour in a days time if left on a shelf.  It's nasty!  If you go to the effort to make it, re-purpose a Sunny Delight jug and store it in the refrigerator.

Tadadaaaa!  A very large solid bar of milk chocolate (and a good smattering of dark chocolate ganache in the cup behind it).

This is the smallest loaf pan I have, approximately 3.5 by 7.5 inches, it holds enough chips to top the 10" square cake.  A 9 x 13 inch cake requires another half-bag of chips to adequately cover in curls.

A single solid slam on the counter will release the chocolate from the pan.  Leave it there for five minutes to warm just a bit.  If it's too cold, the chocolate will chip off and not curl.  Now grab a favorite vegetable peeler and begin shaving curls!

Milk chocolate, because of the high fat content, melts at a lower temperature than dark chocolate.  Body heat is more than sufficient to cause melting.  You'll want to continually flip the bar from one side of the chocolate to the other in the curl-shaving process.  And get a messy hand.  I always start out with wax paper around the chocolate and always end up without it.  It hinders and slows the progress.  I can deal with this chocolate-y hand.

I discovered it's difficult to take photos of one hand doing something with the other holding the camera!   There isn't a tripod here and even if there was, it'd take another month of Sundays discovering the settings on the camera to allow for the photos of both hands involved in the chocolate curling process.

The chocolate has been shaved from one side to the other down to the width where several very wide curls can finish decorating the cake.


 Here is one last messy hand photo and the remnant of the milk chocolate bar that disappeared.  Some things are just better than others - chocolate is one of those things. 

I'm of the opinion that the Forbidden Fruit in the Garden of Eden might have been chocolate covered, chocolate being the biggest temptation since time began.  It makes perfect sense to me.  Why else would Eve have allowed a walking, talking serpent to convince her something she had walked by since Day Six was worth eviction?  That's my spin on it.

Here it is, a chocolate overload cake:  rich chocolate cake, chocolate Bavarian cream filling, chocolate butter cream icing, dark chocolate ganache, and milk chocolate curls.

And one more, just for good measure:

There have been a whole slew of bad weather systems that have torn through the South the past two weeks.  Lives have been lost, homes destroyed, and folks displaced.  If you're a praying sort of person, keep us in your prayers.   We'll 'ppreciate it!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Grits Omelettes? Ohhhh yeah... It IS the Deep South...

If you aren't from this area and I'm not related to you, then you might not know that my primary source of income is as a home-based child care provider.  I've kept children in my home since 2001 after closing the day care.  I might still be in the day care business but the State of Mississippi was entirely too harsh on us folks that actually just wanted to take care of children.  The Health Department that regulates day cares in this state, was going to a 'closed hand' system of touching children, i.e., fingers together.  I don't know how they expected us to change a poopy diaper or put a barrette back into slithery hair (don't you wish your hair was still baby fine?) or apply a bandaid to a whole room of three year olds, but they did.  It was one headache after another and I had run out of ibuprofen.  We closed the daycare and five children came to stay with me during work hours in my home.

Last August the last big group of boys entered pre-kindergarten here, so it's just down to me and the gurl, MaLeah, a 7 year old being home-schooled using the ABeka curriculum on DVD, and Noah, cutest little 2 year old fellow born this side of the Mississippi, with exception of my two (and a whole slew of babies turning one this year in the area {but my two are the all-time most precious}).  I have the after-school fellows that get off the bus, near and dear to my heart, too.  Ian's mom was in my mother's kindergarten from the time she was 6 weeks old until she went to first grade.  Woodard's mom was the matron of honor in my wedding - we've known each other our entire lives.  She was wonderful enough to have Woodard for me when she was 40 years young and bring him to me to raise during the week.  The four of them comprise MayMay's Gang.  Amongst all the other things I'm called in life, MayMay is perhaps the sweetest.

But that gurl.  I'm glad to just have one to enjoy and send home at the end of her mom's work day.  MaLeah and I love grits.  And eggs.  Grits and eggs.  Scrambled or fried doesn't matter, just smashed, stirred, and eaten in the midst of creamy buttery black-peppery grits.  Tuesday morning I was going to fix/make/cook grits and eggs for our breakfast, having had some leftover grits in the refrigerator.  Mama lots of times will get the eggs 'bout half scrambled, slice cold grits, and put the slices of grits around in the pan to warm as the eggs continue to cook around them.  She'll give the whole pan of Southern goodness a flip and the grits will get a dolishus (MaLeah's phonetic spelling of delicious) crust on them.  You can't beat it with a stick.

I thought about making MaLeah's and Noah's and my breakfast like that -- about three minutes after the grits were already warmed in the microwave.  You just can't slice warm grits and if you can, you need to add some more water or milk and cook them a bit longer 'cause they're too thick! I had the six eggs already beaten and in the frying pan when the thought occurred to me to make a grits omelette, complete with cheese and real bacon bits too!

I catered a good-sized reception a couple of weeks ago where the hit of the food table was the praline bacon.  Yummmm.  Google it, now.  There was almost a full quart of that wonderful rendering of smoked-sliced-pork called bacon grease saved; stored as quickly as cooled in the refrigerator to be used the entire summer long cooking garden fresh vegetables.  I had used a big blop of bacon grease in the skillet Tuesday morning, saving the butter for later on in the week.  And six eggs:  large to extra-large free range organic fertilized farm eggs.  They're extra yellow and extra strong, much more so than those peely wally store bought eggs and provided guessed it...Mama.

I dropped the grits by teaspoonfuls all around the eggs.  I don't put anything like milk or water in my eggs.  It's one of those odd things:  who wants watered or milked down eggs?  They say it makes them fluffy and light?  Pffft.  I like my eggs unfluffy and unlight, please, rather like eggs and not like souffle.

When the eggs had cooked a bit more, sharp cheddar cheese (because it was in the refrigerator already grated and ready to be thrown in) and bacon bits were generously added to the pan.

The photo of the finished omelette in the pan was blurry -- must've been because MaLeah and I were excitedly pacing, waiting for it to cool enough to consume.  Well.  That and it kind of didn't flip real pretty because it was so large.  But next time when I make this?  And make no mistake there will be a next time.  I'll use the standard two or three eggs for individual omelettes and it will flip just beautifully.  And I'll come back and post a photo then.  But this is what it looked like right before the grits-and-eggs-eating MaLeah-saurus came along and wiped it out.

Make one.  You won't regret it.  And if it doesn't fold or flip? OH Bless your heart.  Just stir it all up and lay on a blessing of black pepper and enjoy it that way.  Dolishus!!!

There's not really a recipe.  Really.  You saw it as it was put together.
Grits - and if they're cold, they can be sliced thin and probably work a little better.  Cheese.
Bacon bits.

I didn't use any salt;  the grits, bacon bits, and cheese already having enough sodium added to adequately season the omelette.  There's an unwritten law of the egg somewhere that says you can't eat any fried or scrambled egg product without enough black pepper to see from a distance of twenty feet.  Black pepper + scrambled or fried eggs = Good.

Y'all get a glass of something cold and pile up on your neighbor's porch.  You can be my neighbor.  Come on...

Spell check keeps telling me I've spelled 'omelette' incorrectly.  It's suggesting I use 'omelet' instead.  Spell check needs a Southern Lexicon option.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Cake Pops That Never Were i.e., Betrayed by Thursday and Friday and OH! a Tornado

The electricity is off right now.  The cell phone, with only three bars of battery, tells me it's 9:23 p.m.  The flashing lights of the big power company trucks rolled by the street-side bedroom window a few moments ago.  I'm writing in longhand by candlelight, guessing at the lines.

Tomorrow our Women In the Church (WIC) is to host the Southern Region Meeting of Grace Presbytery WIC.  It's a full morning of snacking, singing, praying, devotions, fund-raising, accounting of church activities, more singing, more praying, and eating again.  The ladies of our small church have the reputation of being some of the finest cooks in the South.  The visitors will be expecting a fantastic spread.

It's a big to-do, hosting the Regional Meeting.  I've the responsibility of cooking the brisket; slow roasted, fork tender, and most juicy.  I'm making a fabulous dessert 'cause dessert is what I do best, riiiight?  I should have gone for something chocolate.

I was going to make the programs for the meeting Wednesday morning.  I didn't.  Microsoft Office/Word frustrates me to no end!  An hour of copy-paste-undo-edit of tortured existence was spent clackety-clacking on the keyboard of the archaic desk top computer.  I stared morosely at the screen, praying for enlightenment.  Noah came instead, requiring breakfast and other attentions. WOOT woot!  We've been potty training the last two weeks.  I say we:  recognizing his full-bladder body language is just as pertinent to potty training as his own awareness it's full.  It's a team effort.  I was glad to use Noah and the picture perfect weather as an excuse to procrastinate.  He ate, pottied, and we went outside.

This is where the week starts its downward spiral (pffffft!  If you knew the awful pun I'd just made you'd call me up and tell me Mama was right:  she does have four wonderful sons and then that gal).  I wanted to make an edible arrangement.  Nnnnno.  Not one of those pineapple-y, orange-y, melon-y things.  I did one of those only once and am content to let the good folks that enjoy doing that continue to enjoy them without any competition from me.  Ohhh no.  I was going to make these, cake balls (or bonbons) on a stick.  I was going to cut construction paper petals to push up the stick, like I had seen a paper crafter do with the marshmallows, get leather leaf from Wade, and have the cutest awesome-est tastiest dessert ever.  These visiting ladies would remember it and me and the cakery's territory would expand.  It's what I get for thinking big and proud.  I should have known better.

Yesterday it was time to make the cake pops.  I wanted a peanut butter flavor to them so I added a big blop of my favorite generic brand to the pink icing.  Yep.  Pink butter cream icing left over from last week, just the right amount to mix with the also-left-over cake trimmings that had been put in the freezer.  The peanut butter butter cream icing is a nondescript color that doesn't appear in nature but it's ever so tasty and can be piped!

 Do you ever know something isn't going to work but just have to try it anyways?  I don't know why I bothered with the big measuring cup, knowing a larger bowl was required.  That's the start of messing up dishes for the next six hours or so.

This stuff is good!  Every one is going to love them.  I thought I'd use the melon scoop so each cake pop would be exactly the same size.  I'd still be scooping if I continued to use it.  It was abandoned after a dozen scoops.  Four minutes into the project and that's kitchen item number two used briefly and now occupying space in the dirty-dish side of the sink. 

All rolled out and thoroughly chilled, it was time to afix the lollipop sticks to the cake balls -- except there aren't any more lollipop sticks.  Not a problem;  I've plenty of bamboo skewers.  I can envision the arrangement - SO stinking cute!  Two small measuring cups later (one for the almond bark, one for the chocolate) the cake balls with bamboo skewers rigidly upright are back in the refrigerator chilling again.

If I'd served them uncoated with the petals and everything I wonder if the visiting PresWIC ladies would have know they were supposed to be any other way?  I didn't think to think like that, proceeding through actions that only frustrated more and more with each hour. 

The cake pops weren't meant to be.  As I tried to dip them in the melted almond bark, the skewers would either come completely out or would punch through the top.  I carefully rewarmed the almond bark with a bit of shortening to thin it out and that didn't work either.  Worse!!  I got distracted with two squares of the stuff in the microwave and did my own Chickasawhay River design in scorched-bark-medium inspired by McCarty's Pottery.   Another dirty dish.

Putting the almond bark in the squeeze bottle to get it on the cake pops was a two-part bad idea.  The first part of bad was thinking I could melt the bark in the bottle and stir it smooth.  The second part was thinking I could somehow get it to the underside of the cake pop where the skewer was attached without the cake ball falling off.  I reiterate:  two-part bad idea.  Now there's the cutting board, a knife, and a squeeze bottle dirty.  And half of the almond bark mostly on the counter and the floor, but not on the cake balls.

I decided to abandon the idea of cake pops and just make awesome cake balls.  I had plenty of pretty and petite paper muffin cups.  I could dip them in icing, drizzle with the last of the almond bark, sprinkle a few with pecans and the ladies would still ooh and ahhh.

A handful of times, I've warmed icing to make a drizzling/dipping medium.  I had plenty of other pink icings in the refrigerator left over from last week.  It's a ladies' meeting and ladies like pink.  I could use some of that!  Exasperation does bad things to your thought processes, like not allowing logic or something.  I didn't think to see which icings were what and pulled out cream cheese icing.  "Oh," I hear your thoughts, "why would that make any difference?"  I wouldn't have though it would have either but  I was beyond irritated and unable to think.  All that fat in the peanut butter butter cream filling caused all that fat in the very warm cream cheese icing to just roll on off.  Rechilling didn't help.   I was NOT dipping the cake balls in pink icing.

Trying to get to some point of accomplishment for the entire morning gone heading into the afternoon, I melted  the chocolate bark and dipped half the cake balls without incident, even managing to get on the sprinkles of toasted pecans or peanuts.

Forget the oohs and ahhs, remembered good impressions, and expanded cakery territory.   I want this OVER with.  The last two squares of almond bark are attended more carefully in their melting process than England's new princess-to-be.  The ugly things are dipped, their warped-by-now shape shoddily camouflaged with pecans and/or peanuts that were not originally planned for them.  They're done.  Ugly mistakes are 'disappeared' around here, the horrid ugly ones consumed by the children, parents, myself and the dog - a scant two dozen of them going for the ladies' meeting.

Friday I worked the entire morning on the meeting's program, managing to figure out all that was necessary with the word processing program.  MS Help really isn't any help at all when you're Microsoft Office Challenged.  Some marvelous kids' blog was more helpful than all the techno-babble from any hundred sites viewed trying to make the template for the program.  You could tell from his language that he was a youngster or maybe he's a counselor for the word-processing-programs disadvantaged folks like me.  Bless his heart, I understood him perfectly. The program was assembled, printed and copied.  I dropped those off at the church and did some last minute decorating, making it home around 6:30 this evening. 

The tornado siren has been sounding every few minutes the entire afternoon.  I don't pay it a lot of attention.  The wind picked up.  The neighbor called.  We were on the phone when the tornado came tearing through this small community in the very Deep South of Mississippi.  I watched its dark form occupy the view for several seconds out the parlor window.  There will be no Grace PresWIC Regional Meeting here tomorrow.  The cake balls very suddenly and forcibly have been put in their inconsequential place in the Big Scheme of Things.  But that's another story...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Always the River, Mama, and Piggly Wiggly

There's always the River, Mama, and Piggly Wiggly.  No Greene County story is complete without one, two or all three of those mentioned.  Porches, front and back, and neighbors often make an appearance in each retelling but those first three - well, one of them is going to be here every story.

I can almost remember Piggly Wiggly's grand opening in this small community, key word being 'almost.'  I remember the building not being there and then it was, with Bill's Dollar Store at one end managed by Ms. Mildred and Piggly Wiggly at the other end.  Before the Pig (as we affectionately call it) was built, there were three or four small mom-and-pop operations:  real groceries stores, with a single cash register and bag boys to load the groceries in the car.  That used to be the premium summer job for the boys, the other high-demand summer employment being one of working for the County road crew, clearing ditches with a Kaiser blade and running from snakes.

In Mr. Luther Dearman's grocery store, the frozen section consisted of two humongous bigger-than-our-own-back-then-chest-type freezers.  The lids reached a critical mass point of solid ice right before defrosting and often required Mr. Luther's assistance to open.   At Mr. Maurice Turner's store Mama could shop for all seven of us and the farm critters all in the same building.  Mr. Maurice handled livestock and chicken feeds.  Mama tells me Mr. Luther handled it, too, but I don't remember the sweet feed smell in his store.  In the spring Mr. Maurice would have fertilizer and seeds too.  The corn seed had a pink tint to it, some sort of protective poison that worked marvelously well at keeping too many children from ingesting it.  Bitter as quinine, it was spit out almost as quickly as the dare to eat a kernel was whispered by the best tomboy friend another tomboy trouble-maker could ever have.  I need to call Sharon and see how she's doing; get caught up with her and filled in on the developmental exploits of her newest grandbaby.

Across the street from him was O & M Grocery.  O and M stood/stands for Oliver and Myrtis.  Mr. Oliver has a twin, Mr. Frank, married to Mrs. Betty.   The only way I can tell them apart is to see who's closer to Mrs. Myrtis - that'd be Oliver.  O & M was more than a grocery store.  It was a fabric store too, and Mrs. Myrtis and her sisters did their incredible seamstress and tailoring work to one side of the store there. At one point Mr. Ford had a grocery store, his son that's a pharmacist was the butcher.  It's an amusing thought, knowing the local legitimate pill pusher used to cut an amazing shoulder roast.

Mr. Luther was my favorite of them all.  He was an incredible dear man (PFFFFT!!!  Get it?  Dear man?  Dearman?? {I slay me sometimes}); one of those gentle souls that I've forgotten exactly what he looked like and the timbre of his voice but I've never forgotten his spirit.  Never.  One time when I was six years old (aaaawww, gimme a break, I remember what I was wearing that day and my first grade school picture was made in that dress so I was SIX, okay?), Mama had told me to stay in the car while she ran inside his store to pick up a few things.  Just  a few things.  Stay in the car; she'd be right back.  Stay in the car.  Well I don't know what possessed me to get out of the scuppernong-colored Chevrolet and go in. Those were the days of zero strangers in the community and on the streets so I wasn't scared.  It wasn't hot.   Not cold, either.  I got out of the car and went in the store. 

Mama heard me talking to Mr. Luther and spanked me all the way back to the car.  I took my punishment like the pro I was at taking punishment, mischief having always placed me in a position of needing it.  Mama went back in the store.  A few moments later Mr. Luther came out with a Hershey's bar with almonds for me.  To eat.  Without sharing.  That must have been the moment I became a chocoholic.  I remember the taste of the smooth milk chocolate, the velvetiness of it coating every taste bud.   Each roasted almond was carefully eaten around until only a single molecule of chocolate held it to the bar, to be individually consumed without complication of flavor.  Mama made a fuss over Mr. Luther making a fuss over me but it was worth it.  It'd be sick in a most carnal sort of way to say it about what I will and will not do today, but back then, I'd take a spanking for chocolate any day.

Now the only proper grocery store in town is Piggly Wiggly, in the new store built during the years that I wasn't here.  It has all the personality of any steel construction, the management always professionally polite, the checkers biding their time 'til the end of shift, and the stockboys peeking around the ends of aisles to see what hot babe just walked in.  It's okay as far as grocery stores go.  Mr. Richard makes sure it's exceptionally clean and they did open up right after Katrina came through, handing out flashlights and escorting folks through the store for cash or check purchases of whatever was on the shelves. 

There are no display windows or that sorghum-y sweet smell of horse-and-mule feed coming from the back of the store.  There are no bag boys to carry groceries out to cars, no hanging around the meat counter to see if you could get the tail of the bologna chub being sliced and no digging through the freezers (and almost standing on your head to get to the bottom) looking for the pot pies on sale that have the crust on the bottom, either.  Sadly, there's no store owner/butcher/cashier to tell a child she didn't do a great wrong by being sociable. 

But there's always the River, Mama, and Piggly Wiggly...

Chocolate really is probably my favorite flavor in the entire world.  And I like dark chocolate.  I don't think there's a more complete thing you can taste that compares to dark chocolate.  I have a few chocoholic cake clients and it looks like my best work is in chocolate - probably because I like it so well.  I hope to get y'all up a tutorial this weekend on how to do these chocolate curls but don't hold your breath - it might be late Saturday...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Back to Reality, Kara's Cake Strawberry Filling Recipe and Not a Whole Lot More in Particular

It's been kind of a busy week in Greene County of Southeast Mississippi.  In the restricted reality in which I exist, the children I keep as a home-based child care provider were coming back from the week's hiatus called Spring Break.  They had to be patiently and gently prodded into observing manners, particularly being patient and not prodding each other, also getting back to a small amount of self-sufficiency lacking in their homes.  And critical thinking skills.  There's nothing like a week with parents, grandparents, and older siblings to turn a well-mannered young Southern Lady or Gentleman back into a youngster that asks "You know what?" five times in a single sentence, chews with mouth open (YIKES!  Is there anything worse than hearing someone's food go around and round in their mouth as they're chewing while sitting at the table with you???) and with elbows propped on the table.  They've forgotten basic social skills such as waiting their turn to talk or play.  It was expected.  The cold front coming through wasn't though and I found myself scurrying to make giant paper hats from newspaper to cover the tomato plants that are almost tall enough to be staked.  Yep.  And in true Deep South form, the grass needed mowing two days later.

Thursday was spent working on cakes.  The cakes I make are almost all layer cakes.  I make a few pound cakes, cheese cakes, cupcakes, pies and a bit of candy, too - but the real income enhancers are mostly layer cakes, with or without homemade specialty fillings and icings.  They're heavy;  a single sheet of cardboard won't hold even a small one and so I cut my own from industrial cardboard salvaged, i.e. snatched, from the dumpster at the furniture store on Main Street.  I cover it pretty and appropriately for whatever the cake is for. 

This week I had four rather large cakes to get out.  One of them was for Darla's step-daughter, Kara.  Darla is quickly approaching forty-something.  We go way back.  She's the baby in her family too, so she understands very well the mistaken opinion folks have of thinking you're spoiled simply because you're the baby.  When she was in my mother's kindergarten, her own mom had to be at work well before the school and kindergarten day started.  She was dropped off at our house, still asleep more often than not.  Mama would put her in bed with me and we'd finish our sleeps together.  We'd lollygag about getting out of bed and stress Mama's last good nerve at trying to get me to school and her and Darla to the kindergarten on time.

Over the years, there were several youngsters that piled up in the bed with me in the early hours of the morning when their own mamas had to get to work.  When you take children in your care, the way Mama did and I do now, they become your own for the day and get treated just like yours - actually better, because you're done with them at the end of 10 or 12 hours and get a bit of rest when they go home.  I don't know if it bothered Mama or not, taking in a child that early, perhaps I should ask her.  I don't think it did, though.  She still loves those also-aging ladies as well as she did when they were in her care.

Anyways.  Darla's Kara and my oldest son graduated high school together and I feel like I know her pretty well.  Her favorite cake is a butter cake with strawberry filling and cream cheese icing.  This is all about the strawberry filling.  I'm sharing my recipe with you.  See?  I'm not spoiled at all!  AND, before going any further - this is the way I do it, okay?  Once you make it, it becomes your recipe.  Cook it the way you like;  amend the ingredients.  It's no skin off my back and I'll be absolutely tickled you thought enough of it to try it anyways.  Hmmmm... Maybe I am a little spoiled?

This is what you'll need:

And an 8 cup measuring cup for the microwave.  Or you can cook it on the stove.  But who likes standing there stirring and waiting for something to boil and thicken?  Nuke the stuff!

Put the dry ingredients in a food processor and give it a little whiz to get the granulated sugar, potato starch, and strawberry jello all mixed together.

 I used to use corn starch and it is easily substituted here by adding another tablespoon (or is it two?).  I've a grand niece with severe food allergies that I'm slowly but surely adapting lots of recipes to become Caroline-friendly.  This is one of them.

You can do this with a whisk.  I like the food processor, though, because I like a smmmmooth (<-- two syllable word there) strawberry filling.  Add the strawberries to the dry stuff and process until **giggle** smooth.

There's the large measuring cup.  A couple of years ago Pampered Chef parties were all the rage in the area.  I purchased two of these.  They've been in constant use.  Pour the amalgamation of strawberries and sugar and potato starch and jello into the measuring cup and cook on high in the microwave for ten minutes.  Stir it and put it back in for two minute intervals several times or until it looks like this:

It's very thick.  Some recipes for cooked fruit fillings add flavorings and butter at this point.  It's up to you.

Cover with plastic wrap to keep from forming a nasty hard skin on top and let cool.  To assemble a cake, pipe a border of icing around the edges to keep the filling from oozing out the sides, add filling, and smooth out to edge.

It looks like an 'a' doesn't it?  Not a script A, either, just an 'a' for awesome.

 Repeat with rest of cake layers.

In my fervor to get the process documented I forgot to take the photo of the crumb coated cake.  To decorate a cake pretty, it needs a thin coating of icing slathered on all the exposed surfaces to set firmly and seal all the crumbs in place.  Or I do, at least.

Decorate as desired.


Those ingredients are:

1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (or roughly half a small box) strawberry jello
8 tablespoons potato starch
24 ounces sweetened sliced strawberries

Combine dry ingredients in food processor and pulse a few times to thoroughly mix.  Add strawberries and process until smooth.  Pour into microwave safe container and heat on high for 10 minutes.  Stir.  Return to microwave for 2 minutes, stir again, and repeat until thick.  Cover with plastic wrap and let cool.


So that's the big thing I've done for myself and the blogosphere this week:  actually write down a recipe I've eyeballed for several years and post it for posterity's sake.  

These were the other cakes done Thursday and early this Friday morning:

And one last thing:  I turned the air conditioner on.  I had said I was going to wait until I was miserably hot to turn it on, until all that miserable cold from January and February in the Deep South couldn't possibly be recollected.  But the cakes demanded less humidity.  The condensation on the crumb coat formed the moment they were brought out of the refrigerator and was a barrier to decorating.  I had to turn it on.  For the sake of the cakes.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Full Moon and Natchez and There and Back

It used to be that Mama driving with me in the car was always headed in the wrong direction.  She'll tell you quick I've been a critic of her driving skills almost since I learned to talk, constantly challenging her inner sense of positioning on the globe and her knowledge of the highway system.

Last month's super full moon reminded her again of the morning she had driven us across the state to Natchez for a visit with her next-to-the-oldest sister, Alma, and her family.  I had been asleep on the back seat of the car, being one of those folks blessed with the ability to eat, read, and/or sleep at any spot in a vehicle without a hint of motion sickness.  That morning the bright full moon was still on the horizon and we were headed towards it, the sun rising through the back window on my shoulders.  To a child, the moon and sun don't appear in the sky together without something being wrong.  I completely ignored the sun and knew we were headed the opposite way we needed to go!  Natchez was west of us, I astutely told her,  my own keen sense of direction already having developed an authoritative opinion in me.  "Yes, it is," Mama replied.  "But we're going EAST!" I wailed, "There's the sun, can't you see that sun, Mama?"  She reminds me it took the moon setting, completely disappearing from the sky, before I was convinced she might possibly know how to get to Aunt Alma's house.  Mama likes that story.  She tells it as often as there's a full moon.

A couple of years ago I rented a car and drove to Natchez, joining my cousins for the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.  The wind was gusty the entire weekend, causing the races to be canceled one after another.  That didn't matter a whole bunch.  We were having a mini-family reunion with more cousins from farther east of Mobile Bay, all of us together having a grand time regardless of the lack of hot air balloons in the sky.  Ginger and I went to the big flea market across the river in Vidalia where I found a beautiful green with white hobnail Vaseline glass pitcher in pristine condition - for $10.00!!!  Leon Russell played the concert Saturday night, an incredible performer and performance with his long white hair as free flowing as the river not two hundred yards from him.

If you've never been to a Mississippi River town you need to take a road trip due east or west to the nearest one.  I stood at the bluff upriver from Natchez Under the Hill and watched the wide river roll, the Father of Waters from which urban legends spring;  the story of men being swallowed whole by giant catfish as large as Volkswagons that lie on the the bottom of the river, waiting for unsuspecting divers to swim into their mouths is ever passed around the South like the Gospel.  The river is fairly wide at Natchez and I can't imagine riding across it in a boat, much less swim it, those waiting catfish keeping me far away from the water.  I heard the sound of a calliope being played in the distance and wondered if my ears and the river were playing tricks on me.  There is no riverboat at Natchez.

That cool October Sunday morning of the Balloon Race weekend, I watched the sun rise waiting on cousins to awaken as the oldest town on the river slowly stirred.  I felt hypnotized by the volume of never-ceasing water as the shafts of sunlight struck the trees on the west bank of the river in Louisiana and descended them to illuminate the river.  The horn from a tugboat pushing barges reminded me the chicory coffee was getting cold in the styrofoam cup, its loud blast breaking the child-like wonder felt at having seen something for the first time ever.  It was a timeless moment recorded in memory.  I wanted to stay but couldn't; needing to get back across the state in time for church.

Maybe it's because I was lost in thoughtful revery at witnessing our closest star rise above the horizon on the Mississippi River but I smooth made a superfluous turn at McComb and ended up on Interstate 55, almost to Louisiana before realizing it.  Mama would giggle and hee-haw if she ever found out about it.  I can imagine her telling me I've never been able to get to Natchez and back.  Next time I'll rent a car with  GPS.  And make sure there's no full moon...

Friday, April 1, 2011

It Seems Like a Good Idea

I get overzealous and excited sometimes when I see other people doing something I think I might can do just as well.  I can't help it.  Growing up with a bunch of male siblings and knowing the only things I can't do that they can is mechanic (although I know what all the tools are and don't mind helping), hook up wiring for a fuse box, and run a chainsaw, I'm always looking at what other folks are up to.  Well.  There's that too, but you know what I mean. 

When livejournal came online some years ago I looked into it but it wasn't exactly right.   I kind of forgot about blogging.  Finding myself quite suddenly smack at the tail of - well - middle age (is 50 really the New 30?) with an empty nest and not enough hours in a day to accomplish the necessary things, what better time is there than now to begin the process?  As Pete said to Ulysses, "That don't make no sense."  It really doesn't, but there you have it.

I brought the lap top out on the front porch to enjoy what's left of the evening.  With a bit of dental work done earlier in the day there's not a lot of energy to tackle any real chore.  It's a pleasant afternoon.  The yahoo toolbar tells me it's 79 degrees.  The neighbor's son and a few of his friends are playing basketball one street over, the yappy dog across the street from them about to bark himself hoarse.  The wood-boring bumble bees are trying to take up residence in the front porch swing again.  The pink G.L. Tabor azalea nods heavy stems of blooms at the live oak tree which deposits a fresh carpeting of it's own dried blossoms on the groove and tongue lumber of the front porch with each suggestion of a breeze.  The soft scents of the sweet olive, wisteria, and phlox are carried around to the front here as I sit listening to the chimney sweeps begin their evening chatter and another neighbor clanking around in a back yard, getting ready to grill.  Somewhere up the street someone has run out of weedeater string and is not going to WalMart to get more.

I suppose it's a good day to start a blog.  It will be about Mama and Daddy and family and the River and life here in Greene County, past and present.  I won't be here every day.  If I said I would, I'd be lying to the both of us.  Most weekends you'll find a cake or two here to look at, maybe even drool over.  I'm not much of a professional anything but I've words and I bake cakes in the Deep South in the small rural town I was born in and where I raised my sons.  Join me every now and again;  stop by if you're in the area.  If you can't get me to the door, just holler.  I'll be around somewhere.