Independence Cake

For family occasions, I am the designated dessert maker. Our traditional Fourth of July dessert is chocolate cupcakes with American flags stuck in them (which I did do last year), but I didn’t have the flags or the chocolate and I wasn’t sure what to do. After turning over and rejecting various ideas (including éclairs), I settled on making a cake.

Surprise, surprise, the recipe I chose is from King Arthur flour (I do love them). It’s a classic, standard American cake, the kind that gets made for birthdays: golden vanilla cake.

It’s pretty much a one bowl cake, but it was more work than I anticipated. Each egg needs to be beaten in individually and the whole bowl scraped down in between each one, to ensure that the cake has enough air, presumably. And my cake had a lot of air: each of the layers domed hugely, making it necessary to cut off the tops. And as the pictures clearly show, there were holes throughout the cake.

To fill and cover the cake, I whipped about 2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream with about 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 or 2 teaspoons vanilla. I didn’t use quite all of the cream: 2 1/4 cups probably would have sufficed. I also layered the cake with raspberries freshly picked (by me) from my parents’ garden, and blueberries (store-bought). Then I slathered more cream on the bottom layer so there wouldn’t be any gaps.

To make sure the cake dish would be neat after I finished frosting the cake, I put four strips of parchment paper in a square underneath the cake and when I was done, I pulled them away: voilà! Clean cake stand. That’s a trick I got from Cook’s Illustrated. My husband helped me by slowing spinning the cake stand while I frosted, and by helping me with garnish (again, raspberries and blueberries for a red, white, and blue cake!). I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the top of the cake until the last minute, when I decided a star was appropriate to the occasion, and I think it turned out really well.

The cake was moist and kept well. In fact, I think it was perhaps even better the second day. All in all, a satisfying endeavour.

Cranberry orange scones

In my newfound passion for scones, I have tried yet another recipe. In addition to the fruit flavors, this recipe has an option for adding allspice, which I liked well enough, but I plan on trying them without it next time.

Thanks to my silicone baking mat, I was able to get my dough into an exact 8″ round, the precision of which is pleasing to my inner baking perfectionist. The top is brushed with milk and sprinkled with sugar.

Knowing when to let go

When I was a child, we had a small playground set in our backyard. It had monkey bars, a swing, a deck with a fireman’s pole, and a few other features. I loved the swing the most, and I remember begging my  mom to push me, again and again. My favourite way to be pushed was “underdog”: my mom would push me so high that she could run under me before I swung backwards.

I didn’t need a push to soar, though. I had excellent swinging form (not a currently recognized sport). When I went forward, my legs were straight as an arrow, and as I swung back, I would bend my legs at the knees, keeping them together but spreading my lower legs to make an “A” shape. Back and forth, back and forth. I could swing for what felt like forever, and it really provided a sensation of transcendence.

I spent a lot of time there by myself, but I also often played there with my siblings. We had a complicated game called “Traffic”, the rules of which I no longer remember, but, not very surprisingly, it involved a lot of movement and dashing about, trying to dodge things and people.

Whenever our cousins or friends came over, we would head to the backyard. My best friend and I had great fun in the winter when there was a heavy layer of snow on the ground. We would climb up to the deck and leap from it into the snow below again and again, each time feeling a rush of delighted fear before we took the plunge.

I can think of only one truly frightening experience on the playground. I had gone up to the deck with a cousin five years younger than I, and we were at the end with the fireman’s pole. This was fun not only to slide down, but to prove one’s strength on by climbing back up, hand over hand. Perhaps D., my cousin, was trying to slide down the pole, but I no longer remember exactly how he ended up hanging off the edge of the deck. He was being kept from falling only by my hold on one of his hands.

It was summer and there was no cushion of snow, and I was terrified that if I let go of him he would break a bone in the fall. I probably wasn’t older than 8 or 9, and he was too little to understand why I wouldn’t just let him go, because my grip on his arm hurt so much! He was crying and wriggling, I was desperately clinging. Finally, I couldn’t hold on to him anymore. Either my strength gave way or he succeeded in struggling out of my grasp. He fell, but was unharmed, to my great relief. And not to worry, this incident did not have a negative impact on our relationship: we are still very good friends.

 

Basil Parmesan Scones

Today I made my first-ever savoury scones, using a recipe from King Arthur Flour’s website. When rolling out the dough, I shaped a square, rather than a rectangle, so I ended up with 32 small scones rather than 20.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached Pastry Flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • a heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil, or 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) cold butter, cut in pieces
  • 2 large eggs (1 separated, white reserved for glaze)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • additional Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, cheese, salt, and basil. Add the pieces of butter, working them into the flour (as you would with pie crust) until the mixture forms even crumbs.
  3. Beat together 1 whole egg, 1 egg yolk, and the buttermilk or yogurt. Stir gently into the dry ingredients until the whole thing clings together.
  4. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and pat it into a 1/2″-thick rectangle. Using a bowl scraper, baker’s bench knife, regular knife, or rolling pizza wheel, cut the rectangle into squares; cut each square in half diagonally, so you have triangular scones. Make them as large or small as you wish.
  5. Transfer the scones to a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Whisk the reserved egg white vigorously, until foamy. Brush each scone with egg white, and sprinkle with some additional Parmesan.
  6. Bake the scones for 10 minutes, or until they’re light golden brown. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack.

Cream Tea Scones

They may not be much to look at, but these scones are delicious, brushed with cream and sprinkled with coarse sugar. You can make however many you want and freeze what you don’t want to eat right away. Then heat them up in the oven or microwave and have hot scones that feel newly baked!

ME/CFS TED Talk

This is the first ever TED talk about Myalgic Encephalomyalitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I cried when I watched it. What Jennifer Brea has to say about her experience is so important. We need people to pay attention to us, and to believe us. Doctors don’t treat or study what they dismiss. If you have ME/CFS, please send a link to this video to anyone you know who is interested in understanding you and your illness.

Here are the things I want:

  1. For doctors and scientists to recognize this disease. To acknowledge that it is real and provide palliative care even if they can’t do anything else.
  2. For governments and research organizations to allocate funding for research, which we so desperately need.
  3. For ordinary people to hear “ME/CFS” and understand that someone who has it is very sick. I don’t need them to know what it stands for, or what the symptoms are. All I want them to know is that it is real and it is serious. That seems like a very low bar to me.

In which I am once again stymied by two sticks and a piece of string

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The first section of the hat using practice yarn (why yes, I am very cautious!)

Knitting! Is it some form of wizardry? You take a ball of yarn, add two needles, mess about with them and somehow end up with an article of clothing.

Thus far in my life, the only knitting projects I have completed have been scarves, but, putting fear behind me and venturing boldly into the unknown, I started working on a hat.

Unfortunately, while my stitches are very even, they are also on the tight side, so I may have to switch to bigger needles, as I doubt my ability to knit more loosely with any consistency.

As a novice, I find knitting instructions rather abstruse, but when I puzzle over them with my husband or look up videos online to show me how a given stitch is done, I can usually figure it out. It seems the main thing is to keep on trying. I have a goal to finish one knitting project this year, so . . . we’ll see how that goes.