My mother’s birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and she made it known that she wanted a sheet cake for her birthday. Sheet cake is something that, in my head, she used to make all the time and we’ve had a few times in the last couple of years but not as often as we used to, and then I mentioned it to my wife and it quickly became clear that she had no idea what I was talking about, meaning we had somehow not had sheet cake once in the nearly twelve years that we’ve been married.
So I got the recipe from my mom and … uh, well, my wife made the cake, actually, because every time I try to bake it goes very poorly, but as you’ll see this is a really simple recipe and I totally could make sheet cake on my own and it’s completely Goddamned delicious and go make a sheet cake right now.
This will fill an 11 x 17 cookie sheet. Yes, a cookie sheet. Sheet cakes, as you might guess from the name, are flat.
Obtain two sticks of margarine, a quarter cup of cocoa, and a cup of water. Melt the margarine and bring everything to a boil. Mix two cups of sugar and two cups of flour in a mixing bowl (ideally, glass, as it’ll heat up less readily than metal) and pour the boiling mix over the dry ingredients. Then mix in two eggs, a teaspoon of vanilla, a teaspoon of baking soda and a third of a cup of either buttermilk or “sour milk,” meaning milk mixed with some quantity of vinegar that Mom wasn’t certain about, so we used buttermilk.
Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes.
In the meantime, take another stick of margarine (yes, we’re up to three sticks, dammit, and don’t you complain about it,) another quarter cup of cocoa, an entire fucking box of powdered sugar (that’s what the recipe says; I assume the boxes are standardized, but who the hell knows) and a quarter-cup of hot water, melt the whole mess over a low flame, and beat the hell out of it with a wire whisk until it’s melted and no longer lumpy.
Give the cake five minutes after it comes out of the oven to cool off a little bit, then pour the icing over it. Optionally, sprinkle crushed walnuts over the top; we used to always do it this way when I was a kid but the boy has allergies so no longer.
Let it cool to room temperature and then eat the hell out of it. Eat the corners first; they’re the best parts. Ideally sheet cake is accompanied by a tall, cold glass of milk.
I went to the deli at my local supermarket for lunch today, and noticed that they have poke bowls as a food option now. Poke (pronounced po-keh, which I didn’t know until I started searching for images) is basically deconstructed sushi in a bowl, only with a few other ingredients (in mine, cucumbers and tomatoes, for example) that typically aren’t found in most sushis.
I grabbed a tasty-looking poke bowl and some grapes and a Pepsi and headed to a table to eat my food. Now, this is important: I’ve gotten pretty good with chopsticks, to the point where I really don’t have to pay attention any longer when I’m eating with them, and I had a very busy afternoon ahead of me (I’m still taking half days every day due to the Ongoing Medical Disaster my family is experiencing) so I really wasn’t paying attention to what I was eating. I mixed everything up to what I thought was a satisfactory degree, removing the pile of ginger slices from the bowl as I went, tossed some soy sauce on top of it, and went to town. This is rice and tuna and salmon and some vegetables and a few stray pieces of fruit. It’s light and delicious. I don’t need to pay attention. I was looking at my phone and planning out the optimal order for the ten thousand things I had to do this afternoon. My brain was elsewhere.
And then, because I wasn’t paying attention, and because it was hidden under a Goddamn pile of lettuce and cucumbers rather than being somewhere where I could see it, I put an entire fucking ball of wasabi into my mouth without realizing what I was doing.
So, first of all: don’t eat an entire ball of wasabi.
Second: if you do eat an entire ball of wasabi, just suck it up and spit it out onto something and then quietly clean it up the mess you made, burning with shame the entire time.
Third: if you don’t spit it out, because spitting out mouthfuls of food in public is not something you do, don’t panic and fucking try and use the Pepsi you bought for a drink to cut the heat. It’s not going to fucking work.
Pepsi, as it turns out, when poured onto a mouthful of fucking wasabi, has a reaction not far from the reaction Diet Coke and Mentos do, only in this scenario, the Mentos are made of pain and suffering and fire.
I got it all down without vomiting or spitting a mountain of wasabi and aspirated cola all over the dining area. I don’t know how. And then, tears streaming down my face and my nose running and visibly fucking suffering, I went up to the poor fuckers at the checkout line nearby and told them to go have a word with the goddamn sushi chef and tell him that I was mostly blaming myself for this disaster but that he should never hide a pile of wasabi in a poke bowl again.
You put that shit on top, where motherfuckers can see it.
It wasn’t a good day.
I did finish the rest of the bowl, but only after making sure there wasn’t any more goddamned wasabi hidden anywhere.
We watch a lot of cooking shows around here. I feel like this is generally a known thing, right? I’ve lost my patience over the last several years with a lot of narrative television and so a good proportion of the programs I watch are either reality TV cooking programs, generally with Gordon Ramsay involved somehow, or home renovation programs.
One of the things we entertain ourselves with while watching Gordon Ramsay’s shows is figuring out where the long hand of the production department has shown up. Hell’s Kitchen, in particular, is and always has been rigged as hell– nearly every challenge ends up in a tie before the last person shows up. Once in a while, sure, but it’s literally 95% of the challenges. Still entertaining? Sure. But you can’t take it too seriously.
One of the things Hell’s Kitchen does every season is a blind taste test challenge. The competitors are blindfolded and earmuffed and fed a spoonful of some sort of food which they must identify. Some of them are better at it than others, to put it mildly, and my wife and I have always been curious about how we would do in a similar situation.
Thirteen diced food-like substances, pulled together while I was outside clearing the driveway of all of yesterday’s snow. I knew we were going to do this, because we’d talked about it, but I don’t know that I knew it was going to be ten minutes after I walked in from outside, all sweaty and gross and looking like this:
That bandanna wrapped around my eyes is supposedly a Cooling Bandanna, and it’s not only thick cloth to begin with but it’s four layers thick the way I have it folded. I assure you that I couldn’t see a damn thing other than a tiny bit of light coming from the vague direction of my right nostril, which at no point was especially useful. I was fed with a spoon with the exception of the last two items.
You will, of course, be wanting a blow-by-blow of the entire process. And if you don’t, well, you’re getting it anyway. My blog. 🙂
ITEM NUMBER ONE: APPLE
Weird thing: it turns out that the taste of a thing takes a second or so to kick in. For the first moment or two you’re relying mostly on texture before you can taste anything, and I swear to you that I had a moment of pure bewilderment before the taste kicked in. At which point I guessed apple, and I was right.
ITEM NUMBER TWO: CELERY
I don’t have a lot to say about this one. I was expecting celery to be an item at some point, and got it right. 2/2!
ITEM NUMBER THREE: BROCCOLI TOPS
By this point I was feeling pretty confident. I’m two for two! This is easy, and this show with these professional chefs is obviously cheating! I guessed a bit too early and said cauliflower. It was not cauliflower. By the end of the chewing, I felt like I should have gotten this one right, but I didn’t. 2/3!
ITEM NUMBER FOUR: ONION
So, funny story: turns out my wife was unaware that I have a teensy bit of an allergy to raw yellow onion, or at least it rips the shit out of my throat, which might not actually be an allergy but there’s a good reason I never put raw yellow onion on anything? She felt really bad. At any rate, the taste of onion is overpowering and there was no chance of getting this wrong. 3/4!
ITEM NUMBER FIVE: CARROT
I was expecting carrots to show up at some point, too, and this one was also pretty easy. 4/5.
ITEM NUMBER SIX: GRAPES
I’m calling foul on item number six. It was immediately clear that I had some sort of fruit in my mouth, the only question was what kind– and in case I hadn’t made this clear, texture is absolutely critical to getting these right. And she’d peeled the grapes. I eventually guessed peach, which I wasn’t confident about, but I don’t think I’d ever have gotten to “grape” without being able to feel the skins. 4/6.
ITEM NUMBER SEVEN: POTATO
Potatoes are kinda interesting. We’d actually talked about how it was never terribly clear whether some of the food items are cooked, and who really knows what raw potato tastes like? Nobody eats raw potatoes, especially without any sort of seasoning on them. I guessed green pepper, purely on the texture, and I figured I was wrong while I was doing it. 4/7, and two wrong in a row.
ITEM NUMBER EIGHT: BROCCOLI STEMS
Cheating! I already had broccoli, dammit! And since I’d already thought broccoli was cauliflower and been wrong once, naturally I guessed it was cauliflower again, and was wrong again. Fuck broccoli, man. 4/8.
ITEM NUMBER NINE: GARLIC
NEVER LET ANYONE FEED YOU RAW GARLIC ON A SPOON. JESUS CHRIST. 5/9.
ITEM NUMBER TEN: RAISINS
I psyched myself out on this one, because I’ve actually been craving raisins lately, and there aren’t any in the house. I like raisins a lot and eat them pretty frequently. Well, I thought immediately that I had raisins, and actually said raisins, and then thought “No, there aren’t any in the house,” and paid a little bit more attention to the texture, and eventually settled on dates. They were raisins. She’d pulled them out of a box of Raisin Bran and washed the sugar off, because my wife is sneaky. 5/10.
ITEM NUMBER ELEVEN: BELL PEPPER
I got this one right– at first I said green pepper, then the sweetness kicked in and I amended it to “some other color,” and it turned out they were orange. This wasn’t especially difficult. 6/11.
ITEM NUMBER TWELVE: PAPRIKA
We’d previously agreed that two items would be dry spices and that I’d have to identify them by smell. She even gave me a hint, telling me one of the two was something I personally cooked with fairly regularly and the other was something that we used and had in the house but wasn’t super common. This was the “you cook with this” one– I put paprika on my grits all the time– and I had no clue at all. I guessed basil, which doesn’t smell anything like paprika. Wrongo. 6/12.
ITEM NUMBER THIRTEEN: GINGER
I actually insisted on tasting this, dipping a finger in it and licking my finger, and it actually smelled more familiar than the paprika had, and a faint soapiness led to me guessing it was cilantro. It was not cilantro.
So … six out of thirteen’s terrible, guys, and even if I give myself the raisins and the initial broccoli that’s still eight out of thirteen, which is only 61%, which isn’t a great score at all. This was harder than I thought it would have been, even accounting for the fact that I’m not a professional chef, which supposedly all of the folks on these shows are. I mean, I’m not a terrible cook if I have a recipe to follow, but that’s it.
We will be making my wife do this soon, by the way, to see how she does. I have some plans for her challenge, too. Honestly, I recommend trying this, if you have an hour to kill. It’s fun! It just turns out that I suck at it.
No one was quite sure how it was that we didn’t have marshmallows, but we didn’t have marshmallows. And you cannot make Heavenly Salad without fuckin’ marshmallows. The ingredients: Grapes. Pineapple. Juice from same. Heavy cream. Milk. Lemon juice. Sugar. And marshmallows. They’re kinda important. And we didn’t have any.
At 8:4fuckin7 PM on Christmas Eve.
Turns out Walgreens is open on Christmas Eve. The 24-hour stores are still 24-hour, believe it or not. And there’s one close. We go back and forth a couple of times about 1) whether we actually need Heavenly Salad for Christmas dinner (yeah, we kinda do) and 2) whether Walgreens is likely to have marshmallows.
Walgreens.com allows me to search the inventory of individual stores and I discover that my Walgreens claims to have 10 packages of small marshmallows, but none of the traditional size. I have a vague memory of having tried this trick with the smaller marshmallows in the past and not being super happy with the results, but fuck it; I’d rather have undersized marshmallows than no Heavenly Salad.
I have to wait for a parking spot at Walgreens. Which is packed. Which I suppose isn’t terribly surprising. The employees, who know full and goddamn well that everyone there needs one thing and one thing only, are bouncing back and forth from customer to customer, basically pointing, barking “What do you need?” and leading them to that one thing. I overhear a conversation where one family is carefully explaining that they need macaroni, because their “side dish” is macaroni and cheese, and I realize with some horror that they mean Kraft macaroni and cheese, and I have a sudden flashback to this lady:
I don’t object to macaroni and cheese for Christmas, mind you– I thought about making it myself– but macaroni and cheese from scratch isn’t hard. It’s not even much more expensive! No one should be bringing freaking Kraft Dinner to Christmas. They actually have all the ingredients to make it from scratch! I can see them from where I’m standing!
I find my marshmallows. It turns out they actually do have one bag of the proper size, and technically I only need the one bag, but the bag appears to have been exposed to extreme heat if not an actual flamethrower at some point and I reject it in favor of two bags of the smaller ones. But hey! I have marshmallows! Victory!
I get in line to buy my marshmallows. The cashiers appear to be in genuinely good moods, and they’re having the exact same conversation with everyone, and everyone in line appears to be grateful and happy and not at all the assortment of miserable bastards that I was expecting. There are lots of thank-yous being tossed around.
I glance at the guy in front of me. He is carrying the following items:
A single DiGiorno personal microwave pizza
One (1) liter bottle of Mountain Dew
and nothing else.
I briefly consider asking him if he needs help, or if he needs an adult. Like, dude, do you want to come home with me? Because you are buying a microwave pizza and a Mountain Dew at 9:00 on Christmas Eve and if that is not a cry for help I cannot imagine what could possibly make it any worse.
And then, as if he can hear me, he gets out of line and wanders off somewhere. I do not follow him, because Jesus awkward, so instead I just buy my marshmallows and head home. I am very grateful to the people behind the counter and they are very nice to me.