Birthdays need cake. Special birthdays need special cake. This year my boyfriend’s mother celebrated what will henceforth be known as her Diamond Jubilee with an unforgettable surprise birthday party, complete with a surprise VW beetle convertible and tickets to the Kentucky Derby. The biggest surprise, however, was her daughter and granddaughter arriving home to Texas an entire month early from Oman. This strawberry shortcake, made at the request of one very surprised birthday lady, was two layers of strawberry summer decadence, a delicious and familiar end to a distinctly surprising and celebratory evening. Use this one to say Happy Birthday and Happy Summer.
Exciting things happen when you move out of college and into a real human apartment. If your real human apartment happens to be in a place like Texas where there is space for all of your items, one of the exciting things that happens to you is that you are suddenly reunited with all of your long lost kitchen equipment. In others words, your parents make you take all that stuff you left in their garage when you went college four years ago in a city with no storage space. Among the goodies awaiting me in my parents’ garage was none other than a food processor. A few years back my parents got themselves a new one, and being sensible people, decide to hang on to the old one. Now it’s mine! Holy Cuisinart! This can only mean one thing – pie crust!
After graduating from college, moving yourself and your stuff half-way across the country, and unpacking 40-ish boxes without tripping over your boyfriend’s cat, it is time for cake. It is most definitely time for cake. It seems that in some kind of moving and MCAT studying haze, I felt that now would be a good time to make a red velvet cake. I do not, in fact, like red velvet cake. For years the wild enthusiasm this cake appears to inspire in people both above and below the Mason Dixon line has totally baffled me. People have, while struggling not to swoon head first into the mountain of cream cheese frosting atop their red velvet cupcakes, waxed poetic to me about the subtle cocoa flavors, the rich, moist crumb. Horse hockey. Are you bananas? This stuff tastes like food coloring! What is WRONG with you people? If you, too, have spent a lifetime mystified by red velvet, I say to you I have solved the mystery. I have found the cake that people think that they are talking about when they get all excited about the subtle cocoa flavors and the rich, moist crumb, and, man, is it good.
Everybody has heroes. Some wear capes or unitards. Some stand up for what is good and right. Some are just everything you need them to be: warm, creative, funny. Wonderful. This hero wears a blazer and a smile. She is armed with laughter and baked goods. It was a treat to meet this hero, Joy the Baker, in person. Well worth a trek to Brooklyn in the rain and a four hour wait, because after all this time her food has never steered me wrong.
I dig pancakes. Even when they aren’t pumpkin flavored or shaped like Yoda’s head, they are a breakfast treat to get excited about. This is not simply because they often serve as a vehicle for two of my favorite items: butter and maple syrup, the real deal stuff, you know, from trees – it’s because pancakes are different. They don’t just make your kitchen smell like mornings or brinner. They make people smile. And if they’re sorta small, they make you feel like a kid again back when you ordered the Silver Five off the kids’ menu at IHOP. Besides, when they’re aren’t huge you can eat more of them, and more pancakes are always a good thing. Always.
Sometimes you need a simple cake. Sometimes you need a simple cake that looks impressive (So impressive, your adoring fans gobble it up before you can take a picture of the whole thing). Enter the upside-down cake. Specifically this upside down cake. I think you ought to make this cake. It’s simple, like I said, and stylish, too. Heck, tell people that it’s healthy. There’s a whole two pears in it. But wait – there’s more: how delightfully springy it is, the wonderful texture from the polenta, and the perfect subtle sweetness of those pears. Like I said, I think you ought to make this cake. It’ll get you right side up again.