Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake

Actually, I’ve never been a huge fan of cake. I have always preferred gooier desserts. Give me pie or bread pudding or trifle over a piece of cake any day. Unless it’s a particularly gooey piece of cake – maybe it has lots of filling between the layers. Then I’d be happy to indulge.

But recently I’ve had two experiences with cake, one literal and one literary, which are forcing me to reconsider my dessert options. And my breakfast options, too, I’m afraid. And my middle-of-the-afternoon-how-to-fulfill-the-craving options. Late at night…

A friend of mine e-mailed me a recipe for 5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake this summer. It was one of those “I’ll send it to five people, then you send it to five people…” pass alongs that we usually take one look at and that’s the end of it. Oh, if only I had deleted it. Instead, I’ve had chocolate cake every day for the past week. It’s ironic because I’m pretty sure one of the selling points of 5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake is that you’re only making a small amount and therefore won’t have a whole cake to work your way through. You know how we hate to waste things. We’d rather get fat. But now, I’m never more than a few minutes away from hot, gooey chocolate dessert. It’s really gooey. It’s the chocolate chips that make it so. In the recipe I received, the chocolate chips were listed as optional, but they really are a must. The first time I made it I left them out because I didn’t have any. Chocolate chips don’t last long in our house, especially if the bag’s open. The final product was no big deal.

Oh, why didn’t I leave it at that?

I bought some on my next trip to the store. Semi-sweet. Came right home and tried the recipe again.

Oh my goodness.

Don’t do it.

I’m going to print the recipe here just so you’ll know what not to do.

5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake

4 Tablespoons flour

4 Tablespoons sugar

2 Tablespoons cocoa

1 egg

3 Tablespoons milk

3 Tablespoons oil

3 Tablespoons chocolate chips

a small splash of vanilla

1 large microwave safe mug

Add dry ingredients to mug and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and vanilla. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don’t be alarmed! Tip cake out onto a plate or eat out of the mug.

I will redeem myself a little by telling you that every time I’ve made it, I’ve shared it with one or sometimes two other people.

And I’ve hidden the chocolate chips in a place they’ll never find them.

I just polished off my second cake experience this summer – Jeanne Ray’s Eat Cake, a delightful novel about a woman who bakes cakes and feeds them to her family in order to alleviate stress. Her husband ends up losing his job and seems to be on the brink of a mid-life crisis, but she steps up her cake baking and saves the day. The book includes recipes for several cakes.

Fortunately they all take longer than five minutes to make.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bodily Remains

We were at a family gathering one day a number of years ago. One of our nephews, who shall remain nameless, had recently lost a tooth.

“Did you put it under your pillow for the Tooth Fairy?” I asked him.

“Nah,” he replied. “I keep my baby teeth and string ‘em on a necklace.”

Whoa! Visions of voodoo and restless natives. But hey – I appreciate creative thinking. And it might be worth forgoing the dollar each time in order to create a piece of personal history – an heirloom that future generations would be sure to fight over: Time to divvy up the worldly possessions. Whoever gets the grand piano must also take the baby tooth necklace. And wear it.

I got a lot of mileage out of it. Whenever the subject of the Tooth Fairy came up, I’d tell about my nephew and his add-a-tooth necklace. I’m a substitute teacher. This always went over really well with the elementary school crowd.

But then one day a couple of years later I asked Mark (Whoops! Sorry, Mark.) how his baby tooth necklace was coming along and he looked at me like I was crazy! He claimed to have no idea what I was talking about.

Had I dreamed the whole thing? What a let down. I’m hoping I at least managed to convince a few grade schoolers to take up the craft.

I’ve read enough old-time novels to know that people used to will their relatives (usually poor, distant relatives who could have used a lot more) a ring made from their hair. Their deceased hair. To remember them by. Makes my ring finger itch just thinking about it.

Recently one of my Facebook friends posted a link to the website of Psyche Cremation Jewelry. Obviously I’m interested in this kind of thing, so I immediately clicked on the link. I’ve never heard of anything like this before. The page was quite intriguing. “Memorialize your loved one in hand blown cremation jewelry.” I especially liked where they asked “What makes Psyche Cremation Jewelry unique?” Does anyone really need to ask this? The small business owner will take the cremated remains of your loved one, be they human or pet, and craft them into a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry. Picture in your mind a pendant, the design of which incorporates the letters in “Uncle Ed.”

“Oh, how sentimentally thoughtful,” a friend remarks to you. “A necklace to remind you of your Uncle Ed.”

“Actually,” you respond, “this necklace is my Uncle Ed.”

Years ago, my grandmother’s husband died. I think he had been both her second and fourth husbands. She had him (them) cremated. His ashes were placed in a receptacle of some kind and given back to her. Somewhere along the timeline of death and funeral arrangements, my aunt and uncle ended up in possession of the remains for a few days. Aunt Norma refused to be left home alone with Ruel’s remains so Uncle Larry put them in the trunk of his car. One evening he had to attend a leadership meeting at the church. It started to go a little long. After a while he excused himself.

“Sorry, I’ve got to go,” he said. “I’ve got my father-in-law out in the car.”

They all felt terrible that Ruel had been out in the car so long. They plied Uncle Larry with extra refreshments and insisted he leave right away.

Pretty handy, huh?

A few days ago, in the hopes of engaging me in a political discussion, my husband asked me if I thought it should be legal for people to use the art of taxidermy to preserve their dearly departed kin. A taxidermist actually lives in the house behind ours (and it’s only a little bit creepy). I told Kent that even though he might get a good deal on me from the neighbor, I didn’t recommend it. I’ve seen Mrs. Bates in her fruit cellar. She’s not a pretty sight.

Better to go with the jewelry.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Please Pass the Worcestershire Sauce" - A Guide to Pronunciation

Last Sunday, one of my neighbors called me up.

"I found this recipe I want to try, but I don't have a couple of the ingredients. Do you have any Worcestershire sauce?"

Only she actually said "Wor-ses...Wor-ches...Wor-ses-cher-shy-er sauce."

"Worcestershire sauce?" I flawlessly responded. "Sure. Come on over and get it."

I've been listening to people trip over this word for nearly thirty years - as long as I've lived in the West. In Massachusetts, where I grew up, there is a city called Worcester, named after a place in England. Because we New Englanders grew up knowing how to pronounce this place-name, it's been a lot easier for us. We've always been able to just roll it off our tongues.

And you can, too, after completing this brief tutorial. It's time for everyone to learn how to pronounce the name of this common condiment.

The biggest mistake people make occurs in their division of the word into syllables, a natural technique we use when sounding out words. With this word, you have to think about it a little differently. It seems natural to divide it up like this: Wor-ces-ter-shire. But instead, you need to divide it like this: Worce-ster-shire.

Let's begin with the first syllable: Worce. The first thing you need to do in pronouncing this syllable is to drop the letter r. (Again, we New Englanders have had a leg up. We drop all kinds of r's. We also add them to the ends of words where they don't belong.)  Go ahead and try it. It should come out something like this: woos. (oo as in look) Try it again. Woos. There! Very good.

Next syllable. Pretty straight forward: ster. Just like it looks. Actually, in New England, we would drop off the r and say "stah." This won't be necessary.

Now try stringing the two syllables together: woos-ster. You'll notice that when you do, you have two s sounds in a row. Combine them into one. Wooster. It does not rhyme with rooster. Remember, oo as in look. Try it again. Wooster. Very good!

Final syllable: shire. We are not hobbits. We don't live in the Shire. Let's pronounce it like this: sheer. Good!

Now, try it all together: woostersheer. Excellent! Add the sauce and you've got it.

Worcestershire sauce.

I feel so much better. Now, call me up and ask to borrow some. I've got a whole bottle in my pantry.