(oregon grape carnage)
When I was a very little girl I remember visiting the Des Planes relatives and sometimes we would let ourselves in, because they weren’t home from work yet. My mother would stomple around the house, sniffing and making remarks she wouldn’t dare make if my stepfather’s mother was there.
One day when we showed up there was a large sheet cake in a bakery box on the kitchen counter. I loved that Platonic ideal of a kitchen, with its DOUBLE OVENS, 60’s color scheme, and wrought iron railing overlooking the den. A sassy plaque on the wall read, “too little to save/too much to dump/that’s what makes the housewife plump.” I didn’t think about the irony of that plaque at the time, but my grandma was an executive at a cellular phone company. I wonder if she did?
I have my own in the kitchen stairwell that I keep hidden as a homage. Pete hates it. The price tag on back editorializes, “sexist plaque.”
Mother spotted the cake on grandma’s counter and went to inspect it.
“Lard frosting! I knew it! Gross!” she hissed.
“What’s lard?” I asked.
“It’s like Crisco, but made from pig fat. YUK.”
This answer from my mother spawned many other questions that even at nine I knew not to ask. If lard was like Crisco, but made with pigs, then what was Crisco made of? What part of a pig was lard from? Did it make cake taste like my mother’s desiccated, sawdusty pork chops? We ate bacon and steak trimmings. What was wrong with lard?? All I knew is that her mother always had a giant can of Crisco, “butter flavored,” on the counter next to the can of bacon grease when I lived with her, and it helped make things like fried chicken happen. I imagine it looked something like that.
In my three years of living with my mother, I noticed she had a tendency to slam a lot of the things I associated with my grandmother and Southern cuisine. Certain things were “poor people food” or just rated as disgusting and inedible. It seemed that lard was on the list.
The cake was so white and beautiful. I couldn’t believe my grandma, who cooked wonderful holiday meals for 25 people, would knowingly buy a cake with something disgusting on it.
I remember eating the cake later, but not what occasion it was for–possibly my grandpa’s birthday, since I think he was the only summer birthday and I remember it being sunny and pleasant. I tasted the frosting very carefully. It was good: fluffy, sweet, creamy. The ribbons and shells held up on the edges very well without being crunchy like royal icing.
At that point I was afraid of disappointing my mother about anything. She established her expectation early I’d be her clone, or an extension of her, without my own thoughts or preferences. I picked at the cake carefully, worried that if I enjoyed it too much she’d notice. I ate the cake and made a smeary mess of the frosting, but stealthily ate most of it.
I had plans. I knew I would grow up someday. I knew I would learn to cook, because that’s what women in my family all did. I was determined to be brave and check out this lard stuff for myself, even if it was in my own home with my phone off the hook and my shades drawn. It did rekindle an interest in the Southern-style food I ate when I was very small, like grits. I embraced lard when I did my Victorian year and really learned how to cook with it.
It’s been super helpful now in these post-dairy times. Are you ready? Where is my cross to climb upon? We are going another round with Gluten Free Cooking of the Damned.
I wanted to make a red, white, and blue dessert on the fourth like I used to. I got busy, and then three o’clock rolled around, and I realized I needed to put ribs in the oven to slow cook and braise. No time to make a cake! Damn. I told my family it would be a Fifth of July cake since I already had committed a couple flats of berries. Pete made emergency brownies for the fourth and they were delicious.
So I picked it back up yesterday–Martha’s Wavy Flag cake. Stupid name, but somehow appealing. A fun fact about this cake is that I can’t seem to find any evidence of it ever being made or documented by a real person online. I used to find a lot of people blogging her recipes, or rating them on her site. This one seems to have slipped through the cracks. I read recently that many links online that are liked or shared are never actually clicked. Was this a phantom cake? Was it untested like Beeton recipes? I doubted that, but still. We’ve reached the online recipe saturation point. There is now too much to cook, much like there is too much TV to watch.
I’ve made a discovery recently relating to baking. We’re going sheep cheese crazy over here because I found out we can eat it without reactions or upset stomachs. As I blogged about recently we visited a sheep farm and now buy their cheese at the farmers’ market twice a month. My discovery beyond that is that I can bake with sheep yogurt. All I have to do is “water” it down with almond milk (gross and blasphemy I know, but it makes it like buttermilk). Before I was just using coconut or almond milk. It is giving my baked goods a VERY tender and buttery crumb, rather than just crumbly.
I was excited to try out my yogurt scheme on this cake. It was still a little more delicate than a gluteny cake, but I know to move slowly now. The layers seemed easier to split–you cut two layers in half for four cake layers (three filling layers).
I made a fluffy lard buttercream for the middle layer. I do miss cow butter when I want to frost something, but this frosting was good in a smaller dose. You create a ring to hold in the berries and make a white stripe layer.
I made blueberry and raspberry “quick” jams by cooking fruit down with sugar, taking them off the heat, and sprinkling in arrowroot. Arrowroot works well if you don’t continue to heat it (the starch will relax and let go under continued heat). I like that in this way it’s close to cornstarch. Tapioca can take heat but too much quickly turns into snot, and is best mixed with something creamy, like in pudding, not a jam. I stirred fresh fruit into the quick jam I made and that was the fruit layers.
I filled in the edges as best I could with leftover frosting. This cake has a gangster lean.
I used my favorite “frosting” now, which is the quick meringue from the Joy of Cooking. I use it in lieu of buttercream frosting or as a top for ugly fruit flip cakes. I find it less sweet and very pretty.
In Other News
I get my stitch(es?) out today. There’s no knot! Are they just going to pull it out? ARGH! I’ll let you know. But seriously, look how normal my wrist looks. Two weeks!! That scar is going to blend right in with my ever-deepening wrist seam. I looked at post-op pictures for the open-palm style carpal tunnel, and, triple ARGH. People end up with frankenhands that look run over with all the bruising. It looks like a lot of people heal okay but that it takes longer for some. My hand is so great and stronger every day. I love it.
File Under: “Now it can be told”
A big deal to me, more so than layer cake, but I am devoting fewer inches to it. This summer while I’ve been working as an electrical apprentice, I was contacted by the local sheet metal/HVAC apprenticeship program. This program and career was my first choice, but I thought they passed on me. It turns out they only take people once a year. They invited me to interview, and I got a high ranking on their list. The apprenticeship was all ready to dispatch me, buuuut I had surgery scheduled. The apprentice wrangler was happy to wait and work with me. So now I am back on the list and waiting for a call.
Rather than go back to work for a week or two, I quit my job with the electrical company I was working for. So, I am not going to be an electrician after all and I am really okay with this. My next step is to have my apprenticeship “transferred” through the state with an official form that I signed last time I was at the union in Everett. I will make a dry list by way of explaining myself to you.
-Same pay (starts higher as an apprentice)
-Stronger union, better benefits
-More indoor work (depends, but generally speaking)
-Prefer the trade–working with metal/welding to electricity/pulling wire
-School is only 1 week, 4x a year vs weekly for 2-3 quarters
-Main office/school is closer
-Good CAD program
-Smaller point, but prefer using geometry to algebra
-Lots of women in the program/field and the program is actively recruiting them
-Automatic rotation every 6 months so you are well rounded
It will be somewhat harder to explain to people what I am doing now. “Electrician” is easy to understand, like teacher or accountant. But everyone knows what an HVAC system is. I am excited to learn welding and I have absolutely had my fill of a ton of school. I didn’t want the associate’s degree that the electricians were offering. I was dreading driving to Renton once a week for school and being deluged with homework. This is a much, much better fit. Now I have good experience on a job site and a fair amount of strength and endurance, and I am excited to get back to work.