Posts tagged ‘cake’
When it comes to subjects that interest me, like writing and photography, I have a strong sense of perseverance. If I’m lacking creativity, my mind like a cloudless sky, I’ll sit there until an idea forms. I’ll look around my room for inspiration for an essay, or do whatever it takes to capture a certain photo – whether that means laying in the soil and ruining my clothes, or snapping shots the whole afternoon. But when it comes to manual labor? It’s not natural for me to be motivated, and I have to concentrate hard on being dedicated.
It’s not that I can’t contribute, or don’t want to help. It’s just hard to convince myself to tough it out, especially if it’s cold or I’m feeling tired. Two years ago we decided to remodel our backyard, all on our own. We lifted up all the sod, carried in large slabs of stone, and sifted through the gravel and dirt like human colanders. I helped, but not very enthusiastically. I complained more than I should have, and my motivation wore out far before my physical strength.
Still, in spite of all that, I do like to try new things, and I am always excited for exposure to new experiences. So when I had the opportunity to visit Jubilee Farm with my classmates, I agreed, even though it would mean waking up early and completing farm chores in the morning. I left my house that day at 8 AM, wearing four layers and some rubber boots.
Frost seemed to form on my eyelashes on the drive to the farm, it was so cold. I traveled further and further from the city, and soon gray office complexes and fast food joints were replaced by stripped, leafless trees barely discernible through the fog. I passed grazing cows in icy pastures, small houses trimmed with Christmas lights, and a steely-blue river. There was a beautiful simplicity about the small town I passed through, and I drank in the country scenery as the car warmed up. When I pulled up next to a large white barn with the words “Jubilee Farm” cheerily painted in green, I felt ready to be a farmer for an afternoon.
But the moment I stepped out of the car, the blustery wind swept through my jacket and under my sweater. My nose started to run and my fingers blushed blue. As my classmates and I shivered in our boots, waiting for the tour to begin, any desire I had to do some physical labor flickered like a candle, and then blew out completely. I just wanted to be warm again.
It took an effort to walk towards the barn, and I had no idea what kind of work I’d be asked to do. I told myself, resolutely, that I would do my best to be a good-spirited and helpful guest at the farm, even though I wanted nothing more than a cup of cocoa and a blanket.
We met the man who runs Jubilee Farm, E-. He had an easy smile and a youthful attitude, and I was surprised to learn that he’d been farming for over 20 years. Jubilee Farm is organic and nearly 100% sustainable, a rarity in many places these days. E- described Jubilee Farm’s “this much, not more” policy, rather than the “more, more, more” motto of some agricultural businesses.
His voice made his love for his work tangible, and his excitement gripped me as strongly as the cold. I could see that he farms not for financial gain, but for a satisfaction that money simply cannot provide. E- was passionate and well-spoken, citing quotes from philosophers, farmers, and social activists from memory to explain his outlooks.
After a quick tour of Jubilee Farm’s cropland and cow pen, it was time for us to get to work. I joined a group that walked down to Jubilee’s vegetable patch, located right next to E’s own home and underneath a vast gray sky. We pulled on work gloves and were asked to help harvest and prepare rutabagas. The leafy green tops of the rutabagas stuck out of the ground in neat rows, and E’s wife showed us how to pull the stems up like a mandrake, revealing a round white vegetable underneath. Though I wore gloves, my hands felt numb as I reached for the first one.
The biggest rutabaga we harvested that day. Photo credit: Rosaline Zhang, my friend/classmate. (Check out her cool “go green” blog! She just published a great post about Jubilee Farm that goes more in-depth on E’s sustainable farming and the farming lifestyle we learned about.)
Rutabaga – even the word itself has a roundness to it, a heaviness. I closed my fingers around a plant, and ice seeped through my gloves. With a surprisingly strong grasp, I yanked the rutabaga up with a pop. I was filled with a curious satisfaction as I held it in my hand, knowing that I had pulled it from the earth – beautiful, delicious, organic nourishment. I set it down and returned where I left off, eager to unearth another.
Before I knew it, the hour was up. I had grown so warm that I’d shed my outermost rain coat and fleece zip-up. I uprooted the last rutabaga and breathed deeply, exhaling little warm wisps of air. The sun had finally come through, and though my cheeks were rosy and my gloves soaked through with freezing icewater, I hadn’t stopped working.
Although I think I’m ultimately a city person, there is such a charm about the country. At Jubilee Farm, I felt like I could keep going on for hours. It wasn’t just that I had warmed up and moved easily, or that my friends were there working alongside me. Instead, using my muscles and the land effectively provided a sense of contentment. For once, it felt good to use my hands. My head seemed clearer, my mood lighter. I felt like I’d accomplished something in the past hour, and with new eyes I swiveled my head to gaze at the postcard-scenery all around me.
I thought about the farm again while I pulled up photographs of these cupcakes I made for my friend T-. The swine flu is going around my school, and I made these for her when she got better. It wasn’t the swine flu that reminded me of the farm, but the pigs. Jubilee has animals in addition to rutabagas, as part of their completely sustainable vision. I piped out each pig the night before T-’s return to school. Baking, after all, is the type of “hard work” that I always have patience for. :)
My mom tells a funny story from my childhood. Her best friend’s brother was babysitting me in his office. When my mother returned two and half hours later, I was sitting at his typewriter – though I’d never used one before – typing out a story, using one chubby finger to press the stiff keys. She tells me that everyone who saw it was shocked – what kind of four year old patiently sits for two and half hours to write a story, letter by letter?
My blog is physically fueled with flour, eggs, and several tons of sugar, but what really drives me to maintain it is my passion for writing. I’ve only recently begun to bake, but my love for the written word has been nurtured throughout the years by everyone close to me.
The other day I discovered an old photo album. I looked through it with my mom and we sat on the bed, both trying not to get overly sentimental as we turned the plastic pages with delicate fingers. Memories surfaced of birthday parties, old friends, our life in California, my loved ones in Texas whom I haven’t seen in years… I looked at my beaming face in every picture, my mother’s beautiful smile, my dad’s goofy grin and my grandmother’s affectionate winks, my grandfather’s crinkled laugh.
My best friend D- (left) and me (right) in 2nd grade
I can’t even write this post without tearing up a little. I had a beautiful, wonderful childhood. As I looked at our faces in the photos, I felt sad for any distress I ever caused my family in my rocky pre-teen years, or during my outbursts of stress as a teenager in high school. I almost wish I could be their sweet six year old again.
While I can’t be that child anymore, I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, and I have an overwhelming desire to make them proud as I grow into an adult. The evidence of their love is displayed for the whole world to see here on this very blog, reflecting in your eyes as you read these words.
Some of my oldest memories involve snuggling into a pillow at my grandparents’ house, listening to my grandmother tell bedtime stories. She is a fantastic storyteller. I’d give her the first subject that popped into my head, and she would craft the story on the spot, spinning tales of silk ribbons, fat lovable penguins, and clever mice who lived in museums. I always closed my eyes and fell asleep with her gentle, patient voice in my ears, like the sound of the ocean in a seashell.
Besides leaving me with pleasant dreams and a lingering smile, her stories sparked my own creativity and passion for storytelling. I spent my childhood writing poetry and half-finished stories, filled with characters I still cherish today. Even more importantly, her stories all concealed values and morals, subtle enough to escape my knowledge but influence me all the same. One night she described a town which rained rainbow paint, changing the skin colors of the townspeople with each passing storm. I was enchanted by the story, unaware of its themes of acceptance and diversity. Her stories helped me be a better person.
Grandma and I on a road trip – I think we caught a tadpole. :)
My mother introduced me to a new kind of writing. As soon as I was old enough to write the letters, she bought me my first diary and made sure I wrote something every night. In all honesty, I didn’t enjoy it. Some evenings I would get away with writing a couple sentences about dinner or school before running out to play – “Today I had broccoli. It was disgusting.”
But even an entry about something as simple as that night’s vegetables forced me to think about my actions and translate them into words. That little bit of writing every night built up my vocabulary and improved my grammar, and by the time I was in grade school, I was writing entries on my own free will. I wrote about my best friends, the ups and downs of the fourth grade, and what my parents were making for dinner. I wrote to remember, but I also wrote to write. I still keep a journal today, and although I write every few months instead of every day, it isn’t a chore.
By the time I got to high school, writing essays and homework assignments was never difficult, and I know my mother’s influence is there. Creativity and imagination isn’t all it takes to be a writer – it takes perseverance, dedication, and practice too. It’s not just writing, though – in every aspect of my life my mom pushes me to be the best I can be, and she couldn’t have loved me better, or given me any more of herself than she has over the years.
With my mom in front of our old apartment. She is a beautiful person inside and out.
It won’t surprise my regular readers to hear that my dad has also played a huge role in the process. In elementary school, he encouraged me to participate in creative writing programs. I entered the Reflections contest in 4th grade with my short story, “What’s for Dinner?” When I moved through the school, district, and state levels with my story, he was there every step of the way. He held my hand when I was finally out of the running and stood, crying, in the hallway of the awards ceremony. He helped me get up, move on, and submit another written piece the next year.
In middle school, he showed me authors who used words in ways I’d never considered, inspiring me to branch out. After reading a collection of Kafka stories in 7th grade, I wrote my first short story without a happy ending, attempting to imitate Kafka’s voice. I felt a little unsure about its ominous tone and dark ending, but he praised it until I couldn’t stop smiling. While that story doesn’t reflect my own personal writing style, it’s remained one of my favorite pieces over the years.
When I began to show an interest in journalism, it was my father who truly made it happen. Without his encouragement and research on my behalf, I would have never become an intern for the local paper, or been able to work with journalists from the Seattle Times. I’d originally loved to write because of the creativity and reflection involved, but after the opportunities I’ve been given, now I can see a new purpose in writing. I dream of pursuing the truth and justice, of stirring the sleeping compassion in every person, of making a difference in the lives around me.
I’m in my prettiest dress and headband with my dad. He’s my coach and my #1 fan all at once.
And after everything my family has done for me, I’ve done something for myself, completely on my own: 17 and Baking. Blogging is even another type of writing, unlike anything I’ve tried before. And all of you – for reading, for commenting, for making me smile – all of you have also inspired me to write. Your support keeps this blog going, something that brings me endless joy, and something I hope makes my family proud every day.
So here I am today, with roots in creative fiction and an appreciation for the written word’s ability to persuade, explain, and explore. I have newspaper print inked onto my fingertips and silly limericks stamped on my soles. When I look back at my life, I feel like a walking pinball machine, filled with balls of light that bounce around my ribs and brighten me from within. It hasn’t been an easy journey to grow up, but I know I always have a place to call home. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I am a writer at heart… and I truly can’t wait for my life ahead of me.
The recipe for this old-fashioned apple cake is handwritten by my Great-Aunt Ethel. It was the perfect excuse to use some old apples, and the fact that it was a family recipe made it all the better… it made me feel closer to my roots, and it made me feel like home.
Ever since I got my license in June, I’ve wanted to drive myself as much as possible. Even though I don’t have my own car, somehow it feels amazing to be able to say, “Hey – I think I’m going to drive to the library and return these books, okay? Be back in a few minutes.” For me, getting into the car, listening to music, and knowing exactly where I’m going to go gives me such a strong sense of freedom and contentment.
I don’t know if adults get this feeling since they’ve been driving for so long. But I really love driving at night, where I follow every curve in the road perfectly and feel comfortable and smooth. And it almost makes class worth it to drive to school in the morning, listening to the radio and taking the route so familiar I could do it with my eyes closed.
And I hope you all still enjoy this, but I love parking the car. It’s such a good feeling to step around the back and see that I’ve parked exactly in the center. Don’t you get happiness from walking away, locking the car with the click of a button and a satisfying beep?
I don’t have my own car, and even though I get to use mom’s whenever available, I still pine for my own. It means I could drive home instead of taking the hour-long bus ride, and it means I wouldn’t need to depend on my friends. Half the time I think I should take all the money I made over the summer and just buy one. The other half of the time I tell myself the money could be used for a vacation after senior year, like for the road trip my friends and I are planning for next summer.
But for now, I just make excuses to drive the car we have. Sure, I could walk, or maybe I could let mom drive, but I need to get practice, right? Especially after I was late to the driving scene. Most of my friends went after their licenses at 16, but I waited. So after months of guiltily asking for rides or walking to the bus stop while my friends walked to the parking lot, it’s nice to do it myself.
But sometimes, you really need to be in the passenger seat.
One of my oldest friends, C- turned 18 last weekend. He is an incredible cellist who plans to pursue music professionally. For his birthday I knew I wanted to make a cello cake. He doesn’t like chocolate, so I played with my favorite swiss buttercream to try and get it brown without cocoa powder. Peanut butter, maple syrup, coffee, nothing produced the right hue. So I put in as little cocoa powder as possible while still ending up with a woody brown frosting. I used my go-to white cake and did all the baking the morning of.
Like always when I make shaped cakes, I found a picture of a cello on the internet and cut the cakes appropriately. I baked cocoa and vanilla shortbread to make the neck and various parts of the cello. Finally, I used gel icing to pipe the f-holes and the strings. Five hours later, I was looking at one of the coolest cakes I’d ever made.
I was home alone, and the original plan was to drive with the cake in the passenger seat. Unfortunately, this unusually shaped cake didn’t fit into any of my cake carriers and I was at a bit of a loss. The cookie neck of the cello proved extremely brittle, and finally I bitterly concluded that I just could not drive there myself. I called four different friends, and only one was available to pick me up, and that was J-.
J- was one of the first to get his license and car, but despite the experience he’s a bit of a reckless driver. He isn’t dangerous, but he resents stop signs and considers speed limits more like suggestions. He has a tendency to make sharp, unexpected turns and step on the brakes without warning. I wasn’t worried about getting into an accident, but I couldn’t help but picture the cello cake splattered all over my shirt, or a thick coat of frosting on the glove compartment.
Getting the cake into a car was a hassle. He held the door open for me and I carefully got in, putting the cello on my lap. Then he handed me the scroll, which I held in my hand, palm up. As J- pulled out of the driveway he kept asking, “You got it? Should we pull over?”
J- took the speed bumps at two miles per hour. When we got to the main road, he stayed 5 miles below the speed limit and his driving was impressively smooth. Twice, other cars passed us, and I could just see the wistful expression on his face as he let them go by. When we got to C-’s neighborhood, he made all the winding curves slower than the people using the sidewalk. He parked the car, turned to me and said, “I was more nervous driving you and this cake than I was during my driver’s test. Man.”
Although I got a little frosting on my fingers, we managed to transport the cake without damage straight to the kitchen. C- and everyone else there was blown away by the cake, and laughed as they tried to picture J- practicing defensive driving. Somehow I get the feeling he won’t be driving so slowly again for a long, long time.
After an afternoon in the park and the take-out Chinese, C- cut the cello and ate the f-hole topped slice. He ended the night with a performance with his real cello, and I accepted a ride home with a smile on my face and yummy cake in my belly.
I’d like to clear something up – not everything goes according to plan. In fact, I probably endure more angst and heartbreak in the kitchen than in my high school. Sure there’s homecoming coming up and some share of senior year drama, but really, it’s all minor compared to some of the disasters that come out of my oven.
I’ve had meltdowns in the kitchen. Lie-on-the-kitchen-floor, seriously-consider-smashing-plates, cry-and never-want-to-get-up meltdowns. Some of the mistakes have been simply frustrating, like the Daring Baker milanos that just did not want to be oval shaped. Some have been so meaningless that I shrugged, threw out the inedible bits, and moved on. Some have been genuinely funny, like the blueberry corn pancakes I made for breakfast (see above photo) where in the end I stopped putting blueberries in because honestly, why waste blueberries on awful pancakes?
But my worst baking failures, the most bitter disappointments, have all somehow been father related. My very first ambitious project was for my dad’s birthday a few years ago. I tackled a triple mousse chocolate cake which… well, five hours passed and all I had for my effort was a sticky, teetering pile of dishes and a failed mousse that could only be described as a waste of ingredients.
For father’s day, I knew I wanted to make eclairs. Although my dad is a great cook he isn’t a huge fan of baking, but he has always baked to make my birthday special. One year, he made large chocolate eclairs for every girl at my party. Before and since then, I’ve always loved his eclairs. I’d never made pate a choux or pastry cream before but figured it couldn’t be that difficult. Oh, boy.
The first time I overbaked the eclairs and the pastry cream was eggy and rubbery. You’d think that anything with milk, cream, butter, eggs, sugar, and vanilla would be wonderful – but now, I know better. The morning of, I decided my overdone eclairs wouldn’t cut it and tried again. This time, scared, I underbaked them. I didn’t have time to make more pastry cream, and the chocolate glaze… I don’t know how I ruined chocolate glaze, but there was too much corn syrup and it had the consistency of gloop. Dad tried to scrape some up with a spatula, but it slid right off. That stuff could make pans nonstick, if you could get it to stick to the pan.
For dad’s birthday this weekend, I was determined to get it right. I was going to make Boston Cream Pie, one of his childhood favorites. I would get pastry cream and chocolate glaze right, or die trying. I decided to go with a sponge cake instead of yellow cake for a lighter pie, and simply crossed my fingers.
Maybe I’d stocked up on good karma, or maybe I really have learned a thing or two, but somehow, it all went according to plan. The sponge cake was light and spongy, the pastry cream was sweet and creamy and rich, and the chocolate glaze was perfectly shiny and thick. When Dad came into the kitchen and dipped a finger in the pastry cream, I held my breath. “Pretty good,” he said, and I felt it would all be okay. When he’d finished his first slice before I’d cut my own, I knew it was more than okay – it was great.
I’d like to give a shout out to my dad, who will probably be the first and last person to read this post. He checks my blog more often than I do; he has always supported me in baking. Even when I break 18 eggs or serve him gross blueberry pancakes (which, by the way, he ate) he supports me. He was the only person I told when I got my very first comment on this blog, and he kept me going even when I thought I was going no where. He is the first person I bounce Daring Baker ideas off of at the beginning of each month and, okay, his ideas are usually better than mine.
I have wanted to write this post since Father’s Day and it’s a shame I had no dessert to write about then. But at the moment there is no Boston Cream Pie left, as he took the last “slice” (about a third of the whole thing) last night. As he closed the refrigerator door he commented, “Leftover pastry cream and ganache… sounds like you should make eclairs.”
Happy birthday dad, I love you!