It’s a piece of cake.

birthday cake
This cake was a long story in the making.

My friend, Wendy, was turning 50! I’d made my reservations to visit for the big celebration. And then, she asked if I’d make her a cake when I came out.

Well, yes!

First question I asked was what kind of cake she wanted. The answer? Almond cake with vanilla buttercream icing.

As delicious as it sounds, I had never made that particular kind of cake before. So I started researching recipes. I learned about how to make icing really white. I searched and searched for a fun cake topper idea. And I started baking.

The first couple cakes were not successful. At all. And when I finally found the right recipe, somehow one layer cooked well and the other was grossly undercooked in the middle.

Sigh.

Still, I took the good parts and used them as vessels to test icing recipes.

Fortunately, I had a lot of tasting volunteers. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Did I mention I ordered special vanilla online? And that certain butters are lighter in color than others? Or that if you beat the buttercream faster and longer, it becomes whiter? All true. And the icing was really pretty and white. And we came upon the perfect recipe. Done and done.

And then, the pom pom toppers that I ordered came! I opened the box with glee. But sadly, they were not white. And upon further reading on the Etsy listing, they were ‘soft white’ which is another way to say beige. I was going to return them and order a whiter white set until I realized that the shipping cost to return them was half the price of a new set. So I wrote the seller to find out how to ensure I ordered the whitest white poms and how much this cake mattered. And you know what she did? She sent me a new set for just the cost of shipping. And I kept the beige set. They’ll look pretty on a chocolate cake.

But back to the cake itself. The heart of the cake. I didn’t have it right yet. But that last version? It was really tasty. Could I improve it? And then, I decided to make the layers thinner. It was a eureka moment. So I made the cake again. (Not to try to get your sympathy here, but it’s a lot of steps and a lot of dishes. And a lot of eggs!) So I made the batter and split it between 3 layers.

And you know what? It came out perfectly! So pretty. The layers released from the pan perfectly. They were golden and perfect and even and lovely. That’s when I decided to take this actual cake with me to Omaha. So when they were absolutely cool, I froze the layers.

Now, you might be asking yourself how I planned to get the cake to the midwest in reasonable condition. Great question! It just so happened that the perfect styrofoam cooler and a box it fit into exactly. I’d just take the layers in the cooler with icepacks and check it through as baggage. I’d also pack my special, favorite icing spatula with me and the vanilla – and of course the pom poms. This plan was foolproof! I’d have layers and could make the icing in Omaha and assemble a beautiful cake.

End of story.

Except, as you’ve obviously already figured out, this was not the end of the story. Because…

Southwest lost the box.

It was almost midnight when I stood in the baggage office nearly in tears explaining to the clerk about my concerns that it would defrost and get stale. She gave me a piece of paper and told me that they’d do their best (and by the way, please step away from the computer and get behind the line).

At this point, I decided that the fellow who checked my bags curbside at Dulles took my cake home to his family. Do I know this was irrational? Yes, I do. But the thing is, I was in a terrible rush when my boys dropped me at the airport. I was supposed to fly out of BWI but that plane was delayed and I’d never have made the connection, so they rerouted me. My guys drove me (and unfortunately got stuck in horrendous traffic making them late for their dinner date with their aunt which sucked).

I never do curbside check-in but, as I mentioned, I was late and more than a little stressed. The guy was so sweet and I was relieved to dump my big bag and the box. He asked me what was in the box. I told him it was a cake. And that is why, when it went missing, that I suspected that poor guy. While I was very sad, I did actually invent a story in my head that he needed that cake. Maybe it was his daughter’s birthday and he had to work and didn’t get a chance to buy a cake.

Yeah, I have a great imagination like that.

So, back to my story. There was no cake in Omaha. Once I caught my breath, I saw that my friend had 3 9″ cake pans. Check. She and I went to the store and bought ingredients. And we went to Sur la Table and bought an icing spatula.

I called Southwest again and again. No cake.

And then, at nearly midnight they called. They had the box! Should they refrigerate it? (How nice that they asked, right?) I said no. Wrote it off. It was clearly defrosted and I knew I was starting over. I’d pick up the box the next day because frankly, I love that spatula.

We were headed to the airport at 5pm the next day anyway to pick Molly up. And since the cake was clearly a train-wreck, why rush?

The box. I got the box! And when we got back to Wendy’s house, I opened it and found a Christmas miracle. The ice packs were still frozen. The cake was perfect.

Perfect.

And so, the next day I whipped the heck out of a white, vanilla buttercream and put the cake together. I put the pom poms in and cut a sprig of greens.

That cake? It tasted like love.

Roberto’s 4

Last night, we went to Roberto’s 4 to celebrate Liz and Andrew’s birthdays. What an experience! Since you couldn’t be there with us, I thought I’d share some photos from the evening. I missed a few photos (or they were just lousy), so I’ll fill in between the pix.

If you’re in the area, I strongly recommend this – if it’s your kind of thing. Plan ahead though – there are only 4 seats so reservations must be made a while in advance. And if you just prefer a more typical restaurant experience, the food at Al Dente, is terrific.

13361.132f30e1f1a7ac6c48cf8b415cb43dc0
Liz and Andrew – belated birthday celebration!

So this is how we started…

Pizzetta - Robiola Cheese - Black Truffles - Quail Egg
Pizzetta – Robiola Cheese – Black Truffles – Quail Egg

And the pizzetta came in this!
And the pizzetta came in this!
San Daniele Proscuitto - Gnocco Fritto -Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale - Refosco Wine
San Daniele Proscuitto – Gnocco Fritto -Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale – Refosco Wine

Then we had Asparagus with Olive Oil and Shallots. Yum.

Eggplant – Bufalo Mozzarella – Tomato – Smoke – Sweety Drops
Eggplant – Bufalo Mozzarella – Tomato – Smoke – Sweety Drops

So fun! When they took off the glass top, the smoke escaped.

Pea Soup – Zucchini Flower
Pea Soup – Zucchini Flower
Shrimp - Saffron
Shrimp – Saffron
Eggs - Pioppini Mushrooms - Stracciatella Cheese
Eggs – Pioppini Mushrooms – Stracciatella Cheese
Olive Oil – Raviola Cream – Parmigiano Reggiano
Olive Oil – Raviola Cream – Parmigiano Reggiano
Chitarra Spaghetti – Clams – Saffron – Onions – Zucchini
Chitarra Spaghetti – Clams – Saffron – Onions – Zucchini
Frascatelli – Lobster
Frascatelli – Lobster
Risotto – Morel Mushrooms – Duck Sausage
Risotto – Morel Mushrooms – Duck Sausage

Next was Squab with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Duck Liver and Vin Santo. While I’m not a huge squab fan, I have to admit it was delicious.

Venison – Sour Cherries – Cream – Potato
Venison – Sour Cherries – Cream – Potato
Gorgonzola – Moutarda (ewww. Two of my least favorite things. Liz and Andrew liked it a lot.)
Gorgonzola – Moutarda (ewww. Two of my least favorite things. Liz and Andrew liked it a lot.)
Prickly Pear Granita
Prickly Pear Granita

Next was Panna Cotta with Caramel. Then Apricot, Almond and Pineapple with Honey Ice Cream. And then, Bicerin.

Bombolini
Bombolini

Did I mention the wine pairings? Um, yeah. Truly a wonderful night. And today? Today, I swam it off 🙂

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce.


Tonight, we had Papardelle with Ragu alla Bolognese. And yes, Andrew made it. It was unbelievable.* I might have had seconds. And I might have had another bite or two when I went to put it away.

Don’t judge me.

But bragging about how well we eat at Chez Scherer is not the point of this post. The point of this post is consistency.

See that pot up there? Yes, that one. That 5 quart Revere Ware pot? That was my mom’s. I don’t remember why she gave it to me or when, but I’ve had it for a long, long time. Maybe she gave it to me when I got my first apartment out of college with the dream that I’d learn to cook? Hard to say.

But what’s not hard is remembering cleaning that pot after she made us spaghetti and meat sauce (and what’s that except Papardelle with Ragu alla Bolognese without the fancy name?). It was my job to clean up after dinner when I was growing up. And yes, I probably had a bite of the getting-cold-ish spaghetti when I put it away then, too.

That was always my favorite meal. I can see my mom in the kitchen making it and I can smell the house as the meat sauce cooked. Sometimes, it stuck a little to the bottom of the pot and I had to scrub a little. We had those yellow webby scrunchy kind of sponges and Joy dish soap.

Funny, I don’t use either of those now.

So tonight, as I washed the pot I got a flashback.

And I smiled.

*Note: the only better Bolognese I’ve had was made by our dear friend Bob Drake. We’ll never forget him or his sauce.

Everything okay?

Someone recently asked me:

You sure are baking a lot and I know you. Is everything okay?

Yes. Everything is okay.

Thanks for asking.

I do bake to relax. And because I love the smell in the house.

It’s also a way for me to unplug and to just be. I need more just being.

It’s all good.

PS: The Lavash Crackers were delicious!

50 lessons and 50 blessings.

What is it about big milestones that make us want to make lists?

I was planning to write about 50 lessons I’ve learned over the years and tell you about 50 blessings in my life.

I’m sure I’ve learned more than 50 things and I can assure you I have more than 50 wonderful things and people in my life.

Instead, I’m going to go all minimalist here.

I’m grateful for all the people who have taught me anything – good or bad.
I’m grateful for the people who love me. And for the people I love. I think there’s a lot of overlap there.
I’m grateful for knowledge. And for being told I’m wrong so I can try harder.
I’m over the moon grateful for my sons. And my husband.
And for the ones who’ve stuck by me no matter what.

I’m thankful for the 9am phone calls. I’m thankful for the peace in my home.
I’m thankful for my work, which I love. And the clients who trust me.

It never occurred to me that I’d be 50 one day.

Crazy, I know.

But here I am.

And I’m grateful for where I’ve been and I can’t wait to see where I go.

Life is like a Brussel Sprout.

Developed in Belgium (some say in the 1200’s) Brussel Sprouts belong to the Cruciferae or Mustard family, so known because of a four-part flower in the shape of a cross. I love ’em. But I hate mustard. (Note to self: investigate connection between mustard and Brussel Sprouts.)

  • Things you may not know. (AKA: Things you may not care about)
  • The intensive cultivation of cutting all the little cabbages off the stem earned locals the nickname of Kuulkappers, or “cabbage cutters.”
  • Belgians say that eating Brussels sprouts at the beginning of a meal keeps you from getting drunk!
  • Germans call them Rosenkohle (rose cabbages)
  • Canada got Brussel Sprouts in 1905 – monks brought them to New Brunswick.
  • Nutritional values per 100 g = Calories: 34.4; carbohydrates: 3.5 g; fat: 0.5 g; water: 85 g; protein: 4 g; fiber: 4.3 g.
  • Rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, vitamins B, C and E, beta-carotene and folic acid.
  • Love this Martha Stewart-type tip from The Worldwide Gourmet: In the fall, you can buy whole stems of Brussels sprouts at the market that make a great centerpiece for a dinner party when presented whole on a platter. (Cook whole and glaze with butter.)
  • You can keep unwashed sprouts in a cool place for several weeks. Basement?
  • Brussels sprouts freeze well if blanched first in boiling water for 3 or 4 minutes.
  • Brussels sprouts are never eaten raw.

Okay, so where is this going?
I love Brussel Sprouts, but they’re complex. Lots of layers. Hard to pick, hard to clean. But worth all the work (if you ask me). Sometimes, they can make a beautiful centerpiece. And sometimes, the house stinks for a few hours or more. You can’t take them at face value (eat them raw) but if you nurture them and cook them right, they’re a lovely delicacy.

Like life.

A stretch, you say?

Maybe.

But maybe not.

Why I bake.

I am not a cook. Ask anyone.

I don’t like to cook. And frankly, I’m just not that good at it. I don’t have the patience to cut things into similar sized pieces, nor do I care. I don’t like picking out just the right recipe, reading Cooks Illustrated, or having to time out components to a meal.

I’m quite fortunate that I have a husband who not only loves to cook, but makes terrific food. And considering that I do like to eat well, it’s a pretty cushy deal for me.

When Andrew is out for the night and I’m in charge, I admit I can cook a few things. Quiche, lasagna, chicken pot pie, spaghetti, scrambled eggs, hot dogs. That’s just the beginning of my vast repertoire, but think you get the picture.

Cooking stresses me out.

The opposite is true of baking.

I lose myself in it. Kneading bread is one of my greatest joys. I know what it should feel like and it’s exciting when it’s just so. Getting the crust to the exact right place before rolling it out. Now, there’s joy.

Baking is precise in its proportions. I like that. It’s order. But it’s not science to make it wonderful; that is spirit, gut, instinct.

It just is.

I’ve always baked to relax. To de-stress. It’s like therapy to me, only much, much cheaper. I mean seriously, what costs less than yeast and flour? And I don’t need an appointment, either. The kitchen is open 24/7.

And the best part is that I don’t have to eat the goods. There is nothing easier than getting rid of a rustic French loaf, an apple pie, and extra challah, or baguettes. Trust me, it’s true.

I’ve always been this way. See me here at age 11. That’s when I decided that the first thing I want when I grow up is a Kitchen Aid mixer.

And when I lived alone, single in my twenties, there’d be nights when I made a half dozen pies only to drive around the next day delivering them to grandparents and friends.

And now, in the kitchen in my new home, baking has never been better. I have counter space galore and every rolling pin and baking mat has its place.

But best of all, I have 3 teenagers to consume whatever I make. And they don’t even realize they’re doing me a favor.

This post was posted last week on Flashfree. I was a guest blogger. How fun is that?