with cake--and love
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We need all the comfort we can get these days. That’s why, despite the subtropical conditions we have endured for much of this summer, I’m still baking. Nothing beats the peace I feel when I’m kneading a batch of bread dough and most of me (and half the kitchen) is covered in flour.
I’m just a clumsy but passionate home cook, but I do have one recipe that people beg for, and that’s my mom’s milk chocolate cake. It’s an amazing cake, tall and proud, silky smooth and feathery light. I’m greeted with moans of joy whenever I show up with it.
When I asked my mother where she got the recipe, she said airily, “Oh, from a cousin on my father’s side.” However, later she mentioned that it was Tissie’s favorite cake, and her eyes filled with tears. Tissie, whose real name was Gladys, was her beloved older sister who passed away before I was born. Making this cake is my way of keeping my mom’s memory alive, and feeling connected to the aunt I never knew.
The cake is often requested for birthdays, and has sported a lot of different decorative themes (pirate, zoo, ponies) over the years. One notable version, made for my daughter-in-law’s 23rd, featured a large cartoon bat. Laura and my son Hunt had woken up during a visit to our summer cottage with a bat whipping around their bedroom ceiling. This was my attempt to inject a little humor into what was an unhappy few weeks for them. The cake definitely cheered them up during their rabies vaccination ordeal.
My cake works equally well for graduations, such as the Survivor-themed creation we made for my son’s college graduation. My husband did the decorating and created an amazing Survivor logo surrounded by the words “Outwit, Outdrink, Outspend.” It was a little hard to tell, but the bleary-eyed graduate and his friends seemed to appreciate it.
A super-sized version also decorated by my husband took home top honors in a cake contest celebrating our town’s bicentennial a few years ago. David copied the “Entering W. Newbury” road sign, and it was a dead ringer for the real thing. We won Best Overall Cake, and got a nice certificate, a blue ribbon and an apron. We also ate cake for weeks afterwards, but sometimes your have to suffer for your art
But in the interest of full disclosure I have to reveal a dark moment —the time I SOLD my mother’s cake recipe. It was a episode of madness during the early days of EBay, when it seemed possible to buy and sell anything. Why not a recipe? I called it Miracle Milk Chocolate Cake and I got $10 for it The shame still rankles. How could I? What was I thinking? Why did I only charge $10? These questions remain unanswerable, but I never did it again
I’m still not ready to share the recipe, still shaken by the EBay incident. But that’s okay, because this is MY recipe, the one that connects me to my family and friends, past and present. Many of you have your own touchstone recipe, passed down from your grandmother, cut from a magazine, or created by your own hands.
So, whatever that special recipe is—whether it’s a to-die-for mac and cheese, a truly awesome pot roast, or the best Jell-O salad the world has ever known—it’s time to hit the kitchen and make it. Nothing counters stress and uncertainty like cooking, especially when it’s a batch of your mother-in-law’s famous Snickerdoodles, made with love and shared with whoever it’s possible to share them with at the moment.
Forget the quarantine 15. We’re all (getting chubby) in this together.
This article was originally published in the Lowell Sun.
It's pizza's world,
we're just (thankfully) living in it
There's an old saying about pizza, that, like a certain adult activity, even when it's not that great it's still pretty good. I'm not actually certain if this is an old saying; I may have made it up. But I absolutely agree with myself about it.
Is there any food that is more important, more absolutely essential to humanity than pizza? I contend there is not. Long day at the office? Pizza is there for you. No time to make dinner because of kids' sports practices? Pizza is there for you. Just released from prison and nothing in the pantry? Again, pizza is there for you and will not let you down.
(Okay, that mackerel pizza Archie ordered in Scotland some years ago let us all down. Just don't get mackerel pizza and you'll be fine).
Pizza understands. It doesn't judge. It knows that you will reach out to it, time and again, on happy occasions and sad ones, after bad first dates and triumphant little league wins. It is content to wait, knowing that even if you swear off it, even if you say you're going to cut down, you will be back. Oh yes, you will be back.
Pizza has you right where it wants you. Resistance is futile.
The question of whether you should get pizza is merely rhetorical. The answer is always yes. But when it comes to ordering pizza, is there any debate more fraught, any questions more contentious, than which pizza should it be? What are you in the mood for?
Thin, tomatoey, very Italian? Greek style? Thick-crust? Because the question of what kind of pizza you are in the mood for is part of the sinuous allure--pizza knows that tastes vary and that each member of the household prefers a different kind. Like a creature that has evolved to suit its particular surroundings, pizza assumes different configurations to suit different palates and moods.
It's sneaky like that.
So what happens in our fam when it's time to order pizza? Which types get the nod? Here is a short and by no means exhaustive list of local places that we choose among for that most vital of foods:
West Newbury Pizza Company: Somewhat Greek style, this pizza will never let you down. It is reliable, trustworthy and delicious. Grade-A.
Anchor Stone Deck Pizza: Newburyport. Thin crust, many tomatoes. Not overly cheesy. Archie's favorite. Grade-A.
Pomodori: Newburyport, Ipswich. A new contender in the area and a fine choice. Nice ratio of cheese to tomato and tasty crunchy crust. Grade-A .
Surfside Sub: Gloucester. Home of the mega-slice. Lots of tomato and a charred crust. Bonus points, you can get a frappe to go with it. Grade- A.
Flatbread: Amesbury, Georgetown, Maui, etc. A perennial favorite. Very thin crust, fire-baked. Unusual topping combinations. Organic as heck. Grade- A.
Delaney's: Gloucester. An odd pizza with a thin, ultra-crispy crust and sharply flavored cheese. Delaney's is a tiny place with zero charm but their pizza is one of my favorites. Grade- A.
What, A's for all of them? Well, it's like that time a few years ago when I sampled local ice creams and every one of them got an A. Grade inflation is a given when you're rating pizza.
I told you resistance was futile.
This article was originally published in the Daily News of Newburyport