Sunday, January 27, 2008

Birthday Cakes and Alice Waters

Curly turned 6 this weekend. 6. It's not as if it's a great shock that children grow, but I still find it a little hard to get my head around how quickly it happens. I still have vivid memories of her as a baby; it can be hard to reconcile that with the determined, deranged little girl who goes singing "Ring of Fire" through the house.
Anyway, our family tradition allows (within reason) for the birthday child to choose their birthday dinner menu. Curly chose salmon, tiny fried potatoes and a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. For the grown-ups, there was also an arugula salad with paper thin slivers of mushroom and parmesan. Tiny fried potatoes (we should come up with a better name, but... that's what they are) are really quite amazing, but… no pictures. Of anything but the cake. The potatoes, in particular, are just too good to wait to eat. Lining up a good (or even a bad) picture is simply out of the question. Someday, they’ll get photo, and their own blog entry, but last night? They were all devoured before I even thought about a picture. And really, for birthdays and the like, I’m not generally thinking about photos for blog entries. I’m busy with family chatter, and enjoying the evening. And, uh, also, given an rather unfortunate (and bad smelling. Burning hair smells baaad) childhood incident when I played with a box of matches, I might give more mental energy than most people to not setting my hair on fire when I am lighting candles.

I used Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Cooking for both the frosting and the cake (the above picture, by the way, is of flour in a plastic container. I mention it because my husband asked). I, like many people (anyone?), have an ambivalent relationship with Ms. Waters (who, of course, has no idea who I am). I enjoy her cookbooks. I admire her (hard not to), and respect her work, and the way she walks her talk. But I really, really struggle not to roll my eyes as she rhapsodizes about packing interesting school lunches, or making homemade broth using the meat and bones of pasture-raised, organic animals that have pranced happily in the meadows for the bulk of their pampered, sun-dappled lives before having their tasty parts simmer in your pot. I want her to do those things. That she believes so strongly has done so much, and she's set so many people thinking, or changing in small ways and bla-diddy-bla bla. I admire her. Period. But when I read her notes about, say, packing school lunches, I roll my eyes and think: “You have got to be kidding me, lady.” But… I still want her to advocate things that I haven’t the slightest intention of doing. Still, it makes for enjoyable reading, and who knows? Maybe some morning, I'll find myself in a before-school Martha mood and I will throw together the roast chicken from the night before in an interesting chipotle mayo with some vegetables in a container, lovingly pack some flour tortillas and thus allow the children to assemble their soft tacos at school (they won't get soggy that way). With a little pineapple, mango papaya fruit salad in another container... oh, go on. We all know it's never going to happen unless the pipsqueaks do it themselves. I love them, but they don't eat lunch at school. They talk at lunch, and they eat lunch when they get home from school. What gets packed at 8am needs to last until 3pm, because that's when it finally goes down their wee gullets.Soooo, the cake. It was simple, even for a bake-o-phobe like myself. It’s called a 1-2-3-4 cake, named for the ratios (4 eggs, 3 cups flour, etc., etc.), and it was lovely. Moist and golden, with a light, pleasant flavor. And really, it’s hard to go wrong with super-duper chocolate-y frosting (I doubled the amount she recommended. It just didn’t look deep and dark enough). It’s actually my second time doing this cake, and it’s been lovely both times. Curly was ecstatic, I managed not to set my hair on fire (birthday parties are better when nobody accidentally immolates their hair), and generally, a good time was had all around.

I have to admit to secretly eyeing the clock, hoping for the very slim chance that I could get Curly to bed early enough to make it to my hockey game. No dice. Bummer, but… I’d rather kiss a girl goodnight on her birthday and miss hockey.


Iheartfashion said...

This looks fantastic! And timely for me, as my own youngest is turning 6 this weekend and I have yet to decide on a cake recipe. Thanks!

Meg said...

The leftovers made for a good breakfast (and for the kids, an after-school snack), too. Not that I would, uh, endorse cake and coffee for breakfast. Curly helped me bake it; when it's simple enough to do with a kindergartner, it's reasonably simple.