Friday, April 06, 2007

Happy Birthday Ray!

When I finally managed to get some information out of Ray, about what kind of a birthday cake he wanted, this is what I got:

Ray waxing nostalgic about a cake from his days at Goshen scout camp, where he was both a camper and a staff person, at different times. What he described was a coconut cake: a yellow cake with white frosting in a rectangular shape. The cake in question came out of some sort of an industrial kitchen, what we are talking about here is mainstream food service fare, with all the accompanying trans fats and high fructose corn syrup type ingredients. Actually, I recently learned, from my reading of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, that high fructose corn syrup has only been around since 1981. I thought that was interesting, something so ubiquitous has really only been on the landscape for a quarter of a century?

Regardless, the point here is that we are not talking about some warm, cozy homey cake, emerging from memories of the kitchens of Ray’s childhood, made with love by Geraldine. Here, my husband has the choice of anything, a wife who will happily take on any cake challenge, and what does he pick? A food service cake. A food service cake coming out of a fascist organization that promotes bigotry and intolerance.

So I start thumbing through the cake books, and settle on a yellow cake recipe, really a “golden sponge” from the Tish Boyle Cake Book which I got out of the Louisville Library last week. It’s just a basic yellow sponge cake. But a few things worth noting: the recipe calls for two extra egg yolks, plus the regular three that a cake this size has, and the eggs being our wonderful local farm fresh eggs, really did make for a lovely yellow cake. I then chose a frosting from Dorie Greenspan, what she calls a buttercream – basically, egg whites and sugar and butter, and more butter, and then some more butter. I am not kidding. Huge amount of butter. Then, you sprinkle coconut shreddies all around the top of the cake.

I was a little worried about the whole thing not being quite coconutty enough, since it was just a yellow cake, and since the frosting was not actually a coconut frosting. So, I decided to try something (not easy for me to go out on a limb like this, as some of you know.) The yellow cake calls for 1 1/3 cups of whole milk. So, here is what I did, replaced 2/3 of that milk with 2/3 c of organic coconut milk. I have to say, I think this was a really successful adaptation. The cake was not very coconutty, but I think did just have a hint of coconut flavor, which of course Ray liked. Really, I have to also just say, that in terms of texture and taste, this was one of the best cakes I have made, I think (I am just talking about the cake here, not the frosting).

The frosting was fine, I guess. I think the coconut on top works really well for Ray. For Alden and me, not so much. You remember how I feel about coconut cake… Alden did not eat any of the cake at all, claiming not to like the frosting, although, interestingly, he had managed to lick the mixer beater clean, after he and I made the frosting together. He was momentarily sad, about not getting to eat cake, even though it was his choice to not eat it. But, I reminded him he would be getting his own cake very soon.


Magpie Ima said...

Mmmmmm....I *love* coconut cake. This sounds delicious. I'm sure using the coconut milk made a big, tasty difference. Somewhere around here I have a recipe for an orange-coconut cake which is also heavenly. When I find it I'll send you a copy. Happy birthday Ray!

Jon said...

It's a lot of fun acting on an inspiration to modify a recipe. And a lot of the time, lo and behold, you've got something even better than it was supposed to be!

tuna said...

What I especially enjoyed about reading this, was that it suggested that you have actually read The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Clarissa said...

I am absolutely reading, and really enjoying, the Omnivore's Dilemma. Ray is also itching to get his hands on it.

It will take me months to finish it, at the pace I am going. I just don't ever manage more than a few pages at a time. But I do like it!

Spgonahan said...

Thank you Melisa! It is a really yummy cake. I am living on it this afternoon, 6 days after.

It might be worth noting that the food service who provided the "sunbeam bakery" (or some such) industrial coconut cakes was the same one that served the Virginia Military Institute, located in nearby Lexingon, Virginia. There's another school there too - Washington and Lee. Anyway, the food service guys I worked with also did food service at "VMI", and there were several who were unforgettable. The man I worked for directly was Buster Cooper, who spoke a really fun working man's dialect. Ranch dressing was dispensed to end users from number 10 cans into 8 oz styrofoam tubs, and if I broke one, he would dryly observe, "You done busted that one." Cereal was the Kellogs individual size boxes, apple jacks, fruit loops, sugar pops and cocoa crusties. These came in 24 count cardboard boxes that could be hucked aloft by playful 15 year olds, and they came once a summer in vast quantities. So we stacked them atop a walk in refrigerator that was free standing under the vault of the building's rafter roof, unadorned with any drywall, drop cielings or other furnishings. This was fun to do, because one guy got to get on top of the "refer" whose job was to catch the hucked boxes of cereal and stack them in a perimeter wall, while the other guy got to huck the cereal. The cereal is significant because Buster called it "Ceral" and called a partial box of it a "piece 'o box". As in "We're outa cocoa crusties, boss!" "No we ain't! There's a piece 'o box on the refer." Buster was a great guy, who was really fun to hang around with. He seemed like an old man at the time I knew him, in 1978.

Buster worked for another old guy, Sarge Miller who we all agreed was a prick - but who nevertheless achieved more reknown than Buster did. He did this with an annoying but catchy mannerism where he'd follow up any question or even statement with a series of "eh?"s, not pronounce like a Canadian, but rather a flatter, ignoranter American take. You know what I mean? eh? eh? eh?! I remember hearing Sarge Miller come into the commisary and say to Buster, "... and hey, Buster. Get all this shit outa here, eh? eh? eh?!" And he always talked like that, so it became a big joke among the staff, with everyone going around all the time invoking Sarge Miller and the "eh? eh? eh?" until finally this big overbearing guy with long hair testily announced that the next guy he heard making fun of Sarge Miller he was gonna blah blah blah.

There was a third man who also worked for the food service and used to come around, who's name I can't recall, and I feel bad about it because like Buster he was also very kind to me, and fun to hang around with. Of the three he is the only one likely to be still living. He was built like a brick shithouse and used to offer an outstretched arm for me to swing on when I saw him. One time he gave me a one way ride into Lexington - that was the night when I discovered how very far it really was from Lexington back to the shores of the incipient sewage lagoon, Lake Merriweather. I finally got a ride with another camp staffmember in the wee hours ... I'd made it nearly to rockbridge baths ... and after that, I had a whole new outlook on everyday life, how cushy and fine it was, compared to being stuck out there in the middle of the night.

Melissa said...

Wish I had been there to enjoy a slice, because I happen to LOVE coconut! Happy birthday Ray! Btw, inspired move, Clarissa, to sub coconut milk for cow's milk.

Melissa said...

Oh, and I also enjoyed reading about the guys in the kitchen. Can I assume spgonahan is Ray? eh?eh?eh?

Spgonahan said...

Yeah, well, you know, Melissa ... Jamokes that call themselves something like "Spgonahan" don't necessarily want to be outed. You know what I mean? Eh? Eh?! Eh?!!

And while I am roasting people, Tuna, you are a fine one to talk about talking about books without actually reading them. Clarissa is READING The Omnivore's Dilemma, it's just that it is a project whose scope is pushing 3 months.