Lightly Turning to Thoughts of Cake

My feelings toward spring are the very definition of bittersweet.

On one hand, the season ushers in warmer weather, which quickly gives way to the soul-wilting heat, humidity, and bugs for which NC is famous. dogwoodOn the other hand, we get dogwood blossoms, and my April birthday, which brings with it obscenely frosted Dewey’s birthday cake.

And the warmer weather brings spring berries to make my strawberry cake.  The cake recipe comes from author Ruth Reichl, and the frosting’s from my mom.

Joyland Strawberry Layer Cakenicky's cakeCake:

2 sticks butter, softened

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs, room temp.

2 ¼ cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons real vanillacake batterPreheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch round tins.

Cream together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Mix into butter mixture.  When mixture just comes together, mix in sour cream and vanilla until batter is fully blended.cake in tinsCarefully spoon batter into prepared cake pans and bake for 25-35 minutes.  Start checking after about 22 minutes and remove from oven as soon as toothpick comes out clean, but moist.  Cool in pan 5 minutes and then turn out onto cooling rack to finish cooling completely.

Vanilla Simple Syrupsugar syrup

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat sugar and water in pan on stove until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Stir in vanilla and let cool.

Mom’s American Buttercreamstaw buttercream3 1-pound boxes powdered sugar

2 teaspoons salt

3 scant teaspoons cream of tartar

1 cup butter-flavor Crisco

3 egg whites

¾ cup of water (or less)

2 tablespoons vanilla

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

½ cup strawberry jamstraw mixerDump all ingredients except the jam into mixer. Beat ingredients at low until it starts to come together.  Put water in at this point, a bit at a time. Once it gets to creamy frosting and piping consistency, let it go on medium-high for 4 minutes. 

Remove two thirds of the frosting, cover, and set aside.  Add jam to remaining frosting in mixer and let it go on medium-high until it’s completely incorporated and smooth (2-3 minutes).

Assemblystrawberry1-pint fresh strawberries

1 cup white chocolate chips

Brush both cakes generously with simple syrup.

Cut tops off cake so they’re straight and level and put cut pieces into a food processor until they’re small crumbs and set aside.  Slice each cake in half, horizontally.  Pipe one ring around the outside top of three layers as a dam, then fill with strawberry buttercream, and smooth down.  Stack onto cake board or plate, topping with unfrosted layer then put into fridge until frosting firms up.pipingFrost with about half the remaining frosting.  Smooth it as much as you can.  Gently press the cake crumbs around the sides of the cake until it’s fully covered.   

Cut the stem off the strawberries and place, cut side down, onto paper towels.  Melt the white chocolate and dip the bottoms of the berries about 1/5 the way up.  Place on parchment-covered pan and let set and harden.straw cake finishedUsing a large star tip, put a border around the top and bottom of the cake.  Place stars around the top in a decorative manner and top each with chocolate-coated strawberries.  Cover and refrigerate at least six hours or overnight before service.

This cake is spring-y and beautiful and taken to Easter dinner will make you the talk of the day. easter goddessThanks for your time.

Birthday Sweet

Who knew death row inmates were so enamored with Pizza Hutt?

I googled “Last Meals” and got 5.3 million returns.

Whether it’s a condemned prisoner, a celebrity interview question, or a parlor game, one’s choice of last meal fascinates.  Unfortunately, the only way to literally preplan your final feast involves either suicide (Hitler and Eva Braun had pasta), or execution (Ted Bundy had steak, eggs over easy, and hash browns).There are lists of the actual last meals of celebrities—not planned deaths, but spontaneous.  Some are mundane to the point of sadness (JFK: boiled eggs and toast, Jimi Hendrix: tuna sandwich).  Some possibly hints at the “why” of the death (Elvis: four scoops of ice cream and half a dozen cookies, James Gandolfini: lots of liquor, two orders of fried shrimp and a full plate of fatty goose liver). And some are their personalities on a plate (Princess Diana: Dover sole, and an asparagus omelet, Julia Child: French onion soup).  And some are just head scratchers; I never would have pegged John Lennon as a Reuben fan.

I’d honestly assumed he was a vegetarian…not a fellow corned beef hound.

In the convict category, there’s a whole lot of pizza, KFC, soda and ice cream.  It sounds like a ten-year-old planned the menu; which makes sense, if you think about it.  These guys are looking at the end of their life.  They want to be as far away from ‘the now’ as possible.  So, they go to their childhood, before it all went wrong.  The backgrounds and palates of convicted killers don’t normally run to fine dining and fancy, expensive ingredients.But the whole subject is a real bummer.  Under normal circumstances, my personality and outlook could give Shirley Temple diabetes.  So, I think a better and happier question that sheds even more light on a person is their birthday dinner.  It’s usually a combination of childhood favorites and flavors and foods discovered along the way.When I have food chats with folks, almost everybody smiles and has a menu already in mind, as well as the dessert (overwhelmingly it’s chocolate cake).

#1-They don’t care about the menu for their birthday dinner.

But if someone tells you they don’t care, or it doesn’t matter as long as they are celebrating with family, just smile and carefully back away.  These anomalies have a screw loose and are mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

My birthday is Friday, and my dinner of choice just screams spring and, “Call 911!”.  If I ate it more than once a year, it would probably stop my heart before long.Crispy-fried boneless chicken breast smothered in extra lemony Hollandaise, potato salad studded with lots of crispy bacon, and fat fresh asparagus steamed and drizzled with butter.My dessert is a large corner piece of Dewey’s cake with extra frosting.  And you’re welcome to a piece, but don’t be coming around looking for another corner, ‘cause it ain’t happening, and the request itself would very likely end a friendship.


This is the 2018 Birthday cake.  The frosting/cake ratio is approximately 1:1–a very good year.

Even Petey knows to tread lightly around my birthday cake.  My love for my spouse is so deep that sometimes I even offer him a corner.  Petey’s love is so deep that he usually turns it down.I know this all sounds really bad, but if you ask anyone that knows me well, they will tell you that this behavior is a true deviation of my normal personality.  I am normally the soul of generosity.

I would gladly take you to the airport and/or help you move.  I would honestly give you one of my kidneys if you needed one.  If you’re hungry I’ll feed you.

But if you take the last piece of my birthday cake, we’ll soon be talking about your last meal.Thanks for your time.