cake and chili
Saturday, January 22 2011
I planned to make Gretchen a spice cake birthday cake with caramel frosting and a plum filling. I'd successfully made the two cake layers last night, so this morning I turned my attention to the filling component. I cooked the hell out of two pounds of poor little plum slices in a pool of melted Earth Balance "butter" and sugar, and that was pretty easy. But when I made the frosting, I accidentally missed a part of the procedure, mixed in the powdered sugar too soon, and ended up with a lump very hard sugar-"butter." This proves salvageable, though. I heated it up in the microwave and then whipped in a bunch of Earth Balance. (Earth Balance is our preferred vegan butter substitute, and we usually just call it "butter.") Knowing how much butter and sugar was going into this cake had me feeling a little nauseated.
Once I'd averted the frosting disaster, the cake was easy to finish. And it looked pretty good, in a quirky homemade sort of way.
At some point I addressed a problem familiar from past Gretchen birthday parties: parking. In some years we'd been able to stick a few cars on the farm road, but the guy who uses that road ("the Duke of Luxembourg") would be using it this weekend. So I decided to just dig out a path onto our lawn and park the cars there. The great thing about the ground being so solidly frozen is that it is functionally identical to pavement (though the grade isn't always ideal). It took me about ten minutes of heavy shoveling through multiple layers of snow to create a slot for both of our cars adjacent to the enormous pile of Silver Maple I'd split up back in the November. I ran the Subaru into the most distant, steeply-sloped part of this slot and then dropped the Honda Civic in front of it. This left our driveway as empty as a drained swimming pool.
I used a flat-tipped ice chipper to put grooves in the various ice accumulations that have built up in the absence of a convincing thaw, though I covered the worst sheets of ice with carpet fragments. These were the measures necessary to prevent an ice-related lawsuit; I am vehemently opposed to the use of salt, which is something only someone who didn't care about the quality of their soil would use (ie, not someone who went to the trouble of building an outhouse in order to capture a lost part of the nutrient cycle).
Later this afternoon, I turned my attention to my other party cooking project, one more in keeping with my personal food preferences: an enormous pot of chili. I sautéed an onion with chopped mushrooms and began preparing the tempeh in the manner Gretchen had described yesterday. I cubed two whole packets, boiled them in water for ten minutes, and then sautéed them in soy sauce, producing a large number of morsels. From there it was all about opening cans and dumping out their contents: 60 ounces of black beans, 30 ounces of red beans, 30 ounces of white hominy, and 30 ounces of crushed tomato. I also added chili powder, oregano, a chopped up canned chipotle pepper with some sauce, adobo seasoning, and garlic powder. Gretchen had an early chili snack on a tortilla and said it was great, but that was when it still only contained fifteen ounces of hominy. She suggested it have more, so that was when I added a second can. (Nearly all of the canned products used had been produced by Goya Foods.)
At some point I changed the arrangement of cut-up stolen automotive magnet-ribbons so that they spelled "Lordy Lordy," in keeping with Gretchen's new age. I've been doing this every year since "Lerdy Lix."
Deborah came over at around 6:30 to help Gretchen and me set up the bar, put out the dips, and such chili fixin's as pickled jalapeño slices, vegan sour cream, and diced red onion. Deborah had made a couple dips and two different cornbreads. (Later Ray and Nancy would show up with an oddly ethnically-unplaceable ginger-flavored pasta salad.)
Partiers started arriving soon after the advertised beginning of the party: 8:00pm. It was an unseasonably cold night, and though I was cranking the woodstove at full throttle, the living room temperature never went much about 70. And the kitchen was never more than 60. We had a turnout of about 15 people, which was pretty much everyone who'd been invited and been in town. The exception was Penny and David. We'd thought that by having the party so late the implication was that it would be child-free, but some dialog around that led to some hard feelings, and only David came, and he only stayed about a half hour.
I gave a tour of my laboratory to Kirsti's brother and sister-in-law. Later when I mentioned that I had a urinal, they wanted to see it, so I took them for a second tour. The laboratory is a glorious combination of walk-in hoard and wunderkammer, full of blinkenlights and fractal visual spectacle. The factal visual spectacle that most captured their attention, though, was an array of USGS topo maps I'd wallpaper-pasted to the wall-ceiling in the teevee room.
At some point we all sang a creepily discordant rendition of "Happy Birthday" and I presented the cake for Gretchen to blow out (it had two candles, one reading "X," and the other reading "L.") It turned out that there were a lot of wheat-or-gluten-averse people in attendance tonight (including Deborah), but those who ate the cake said it was delicious. My main interest had been to see what the first cross-section looked like, and when that checked out, the news that it was a functional cake made me feel a little as if I'd landed a airplane. This was actually the second cake I'd ever baked; I'd also made a fairly complex cake for Gretchen's 37th birthday.
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