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.

How My Husband Won My Heart and My Kids’ Stomachs

davis-cooking
Andrew and our oldest, Davis (now 19) in 1999.

Originally published June 10, 2014 over at the fabulous TueNight.

On our third date, Andrew cooked me an incredible dinner: leg of lamb, roasted asparagus and crispy potatoes. It was truly impressive.

Years later, he told me that he learned to cook because it was a good dating move. I might have felt played, but I like eating well just a tad too much. So, I not only let him cook for me regularly, I married him.

Fast forward to when our first son was 3 ½ years old. He went to a preschool friend’s house for a play date and stayed for dinner. (If you’re thinking woo hoo, what a break for Wendy, think again. We had a 1 ½ year old and an infant at home.)

I picked Davis, my oldest son, up at about 7:00 pm and, as always, he was full of stories! What a great reporter he was. So, chat, chat, chat… and then, “Mom. Guess what? It was so weird at Daniel’s house.”

“Really, what was weird?” (You can only imagine where my thoughts were headed.)

“When we had dinner, it was weird. The mom cooked.”

It’s a true gift that my three sons have a father who has taught them some really important life lessons:

  • There’s no substitute for a good knife
  • It is loving to make good food with care
  • Fresh ingredients make better food
  • Do what you do, and do it well
  • Presentation counts
  • Doing it right takes time – don’t take short cuts on the stuff that matters (example: a good ragu!)

Andrew cooks almost every night. It’s true that I get the honor about twice a quarter (and gripe about it on Facebook), and I humbly submit that I’m improving. But I don’t enjoy cooking. And he does. I call that a good partnership. Don’t you?

But more than that, I’m grateful that our three sons have a dad who expresses pride and love through food.

Our sons are 15, 17 and 19 now. Last week, they cooked dinner for Andrew’s birthday. They read cookbooks. They searched online for hours and hours. They agonized over the ingredients. They shopped for the ingredients. They prepped and planned and strategized.

The menu? Hold onto your hat:

Andalusian green salad
Chorizo and shrimp paella
Citrus-olive oil cake with sorbet
It’s exciting to see the delicious life skills they’ll take into adulthood, thanks to Andrew. Bon appétit!

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.

Scams, power & friends.


It sure has been an eventful week. I can’t possibly tell you everything. So I’ll boil it down to the highlights.

Scams.
Some douchebag (I can’t think of a better way to describe the dude) called my parents’ house and told my 80 year old father that his grandson – my son – was in a Haitian prison and needed money to get out. To make it more realistic, he even had some kid cry on the phone. To my 75% deaf father. I’m grateful that my dad called me and I could tell him that it was absolutely untrue and that he shouldn’t worry. But you know what? It made me very, very angry. I hate predators. I hate that some asshole stressed my dad out. Of course he suspected that it wasn’t quite right. But it seemed possible enough that it was worrisome. Enough that he couldn’t quite ignore it and hang up on the bastard.

I called the police. Not helpful, but I felt better.

Power.
If you haven’t heard about the derecho, you haven’t been paying attention.

It was a crazy storm.

We went to sleep on Friday during the storm. Should I have insisted we all sleep in the basement? Probably. But I didn’t. Fortunately, we were fine. No trees through the windows. No house damage at all. Phew. However, we lost power. Us and our 2 million closest friends.

Ehhh. No big deal. We had candles. Flashlights. Games. Saturday, we chopped the trees that were blocking our driveway and headed out for the daytrip that we had planned to the eastern shore. No worries!

And when we got home, all was well. Well, all except that the house was QUITE WARM. Quite. But we set up the boys in the basement where it was cooler and Andrew and I dealt with the warm temps. No worries!

Except the food was all spoiled. Oh well, it’s not as if we just stocked up on everything at Costco. Oh wait, we did. Crap.

Sunday morning. Somehow, it just keep getting hotter. By later that day, we decided we couldn’t sleep here another night. And that leads me to….

Friends.
So the house was hot. Very hot. And while it wasn’t easy for me, I picked up the phone and called our wonderful friends. “Can we crash at your house?” And of course (and no surprise) they said, “yes.” And added, “we’re glad you asked.”

And I think they meant it. Even though their kids are away and they had the house to themselves. (wink, wink) And even though it was the eve of their 17 year anniversary. And even though we were going to create a tremendous amount of laundry including sheets and towels. And by the time we gotten there, they’d set up air mattresses for the boys and turned the guest room into an oasis for Andrew and me.

It was perfect. And then, the next morning we got our computers and our notebooks and we set up shop in the dining room (me) and the office (Andrew). Basically> We took over the house.

And we were so grateful.

When the power at our house came back on Monday late in the day, we transfered all our technology back home. And now, just over 24 hours later, I can barely say how much we appreciate that we could have this continuity. And I can barely describe how grateful we are to our friends. Everyone should have friends this wonderful. We are truly blessed.

Now, our house is back to normal. The well is working, so we can flush the toilet (woo hoo) and take showers. The temperature is perfect. The lights are on. Basically, it’s like it always was but now we appreciate it more.

So that’s my week. How was yours?

The Bunny Trail.

The nice folks at Hershey were at BlissDom. Candy. My biggest weakness. Well, that and wine. But I’m off track here.

And they sent my family this great Easter Basket! I’d selected my favorite candies and color of basket, and grass. (Do you call that stuff grass?)

Our first (and only?) Easter Basket c/o Hershey #BlissDom

Anyway, as you can see, it’s filled with yummies. Is it obvious I’m a Reese’s fan?

My very favorite Easter candies c/o Hershey #BlissDom

There is no doubt that this will be for the entire family. And for those of you who think I’m actually hiding it in my office, it’s not true. (Not anymore.)

So Hershey asked if I’d share my Easter memories and traditions or tips. Being an honest soul, I told them that I’m Jewish and do not celebrate Easter. Never have. They didn’t care. Not a bit.

So here I am. With the first Easter basket I’ve ever had. Ever.

And since I clearly cannot share an Easter memory, I’d like to take a few minutes and share a Passover memory. Hey, it’s the same time of year, so why not?

So here goes:

When we were little, my great-grandfather (we called him Zayde) led the Seder. It was a long, long table with all my cousins and aunts and uncles. There was a plastic covering over the table cloth at the kids’ end of the table. (They didn’t trust us??)

The service was long. We read

every

single

page

of

the

haggadah.

Not like we do now. Now, we do an abbreviated version. We’re big fans of the 30-minute Seder.

So my Zayde used to hide the matzo – the afikomen, as it’s called. And we kids – all 9 of us – would scramble to find it. And it was always in one of two places….

1) in the piano bench, or
2) under the table cloth where Zayde sat.

But even though it was never a challenge, it was always fun. I loved having all those people together. Doing the same darn thing, every single year.

My Bubby (great grandmother) and Zayde have been gone for a long, long time. But there isn’t a holiday that goes by that I don’t think of them. I credit my mother for making my childhood holidays so full of family and love. Thanks, Mom.

I just hope that I am giving that joy to my children, too.

Whatever you celebrate this Spring, I hope you find joy in your family and friends.

It helps to get it off your chest.

Photo credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/daveg147

Those of you who know me know that I seriously dislike (read: despise or abhor) mustard.

It’s the smell. Oh, and the taste.

And while it’s not always been easy – as mustard is pretty darn ubiquitous – I’ve managed to keep it out of my mouth for the most part, save a vinaigrette now and again.

But life hasn’t always been this sunny.

And today, I confronted my demons.

When I was a kid, my mother used to make doctored baked beans. That means that she took a can of Heinz and added stuff to it to make it taste better. Or so she said. When directly confronted, she told me that there was no mustard used in the creation of this delicacy.

But it tasted like mustard to me. And one day I caught her.

Fast forward a bit and there’s the crab imperial. Another denial, but I knew better. There was definitely mustard in that dish. No doubt.

Today, more than 35 years later, I told her I knew what she’d done. And how it has affected my life. How I may never recover. And you know what? She doesn’t remember at all. (Though she did apologize.)

Of course, she is forgiven. (And I hope she realizes this post is all in fun.) But it’s a great reminder that our kids know what we’re up to and they’re hip to our game. (Always wanted to say that.)

So don’t lie to your kids. Not even about mustard.

Confessions of a Good-Enough Cook

Guest post by Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple – the authors of Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood (which I reviewed last week – how cool that they wanted to guest post for me. Thanks girls!)

This is Becky’s sad truth: She’s a terrible cook.

OK, maybe that’s not entirely true: She can boil water, roast a chicken and even make risotto. But despite a few attempts to truly master the skill, she’s never quite gotten the whole kitchen thing down. Often, when she hears Hollee planning some extravagant menu, she feels a tinge of remorse: Too bad my daughters don’t get to eat the kinds of meals Hollee’s sons do …

Becky remembers hosting a play date when her oldest daughter was a baby — back when she was still vying for that gold medal in the Supermom Olympics — and deciding that she needed to whip up an impressive lunch for the other moms. One was a vegetarian, so Becky did something involving grilled eggplant. She spent hours preparing the dish, both the night before and the morning of the play date. The process made her miserable, and the dish failed utterly. (Who knew eggplant slices could look so sad and limp — or make everything around them so soggy? Not Becky).

The problem, however, wasn’t so much Becky’s culinary skills, although those were obviously a factor; it was her attitude. She was trying to show off, even though she didn’t like cooking and wasn’t really committed to improving. She was determined to fit some mythical image of the Perfect Mom.

She hadn’t yet discovered the New Perfect.

Flash forward several years, and here’s what we’ve both learned researching and writing our book on working motherhood: Perfectionism is a liability. And, when it comes to juggling work and family, it may just be our generation’s greatest liability. When we looked at two types of women in our data — those who focused on “being the best at everything” (the Never Enoughs) and those who strived to be “good enough and happy, both at work and at home” (the Good Enoughs) — you know who found more success, both at work and at home? The women who cut themselves a little slack.

The women who defined success on their own terms.

And that’s what Becky eventually did with cooking. She embraced her culinary imperfections and focused on the easy, healthy dishes she could do well — and let her husband do the hard stuff. She let herself off the hook so she could focus her time on the things that truly mattered to her. We could go on and on about our findings on motherhood and perfection; some of them really surprised us. But, for now, we’ll simply tell you what happened when Becky learned to accept the Good Enoughness in her cooking.

She wound up happier. Evenings became easier. And she took all the time she might have spent furrowing her brow over the stove and devoted it to writing a book.

Some might call that perfect. We call it the New Perfect.

Becky and Hollee’s new book, Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood, is available at http://amzn.to/newperfect . They blog about parenting and work/life balance at http://TheNewPerfect.com.

Yo.

At my house, there’s a big fight over the last YoCrunch. You think I’m kidding.

I’m not.

The kids like the candy topped ones best. No kidding.

I like the granola.

And last week at Blissdom, I tried the new Fruit Parfait.

I’m in love! My store doesn’t have it yet, but I’m going to ask them PLEASE! There’s a coupon on the site – so you, too, can try it.

The fact that I love this brand has nothing to do with the fact that I won an iPad from them. (oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!) But I did and I’m over the moon excited about it. I’ve been traveling since Blissdom and haven’t opened it yet, but can’t wait to play with it.

Thank you so much YoCrunch. I’d have loved you anyway. This is just oreo crumbles on the top.