Indoor Garden Party

It was supposed to be outside. My parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party, that is. Until the forecast called for rain, the torrential kind, with high winds. And it was going to be COLD.

Doesn’t Connecticut realize that it’s MAY? The day after the party (today!) is Mother’s Day. Isn’t the earth a mother?

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I imagined the 40 + guests enjoying the fragrance of the giant lilacs I inherited, walking in the garden, and generally taking the sun, eating, laughing, and talking until dark.

What happened the night before the party? A mad dash to swap out big round tables meant to be under the tent for smaller indoor tables under. . . the living room ceiling.

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It was an excercise in delegation: my aunt, my sister, cutting massive amounts of lilacs from the yard, and me, (on the way home from bringing the puppy to the kennel), stopping the car to gather pretty yellow weeds flowers from the side of the road.

It was an hour before the party (I was hopping in the shower) when my sister and twin sons made tissue paper poofs and opened white lanterns to hang from the dining room ceiling. They should have been in the tent. We all should have been in the tent.

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img_7613But, New England weather can never be trusted. And that, as it turned out, was a good thing. Because, the torrential rains never came. It wasn’t warm, but the wind stayed away. 

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By the time the sprinkles started, the party was hours in and nobody cared. Not a one. Cake can have that effect on a person. Also, lots of laughing, and eating delicious food (catered by Jessica Tuesday’s), and hugging in the beautiful Connecticut countryside.

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All these pictures are of my mom with one of her best friends, MaryEllen and her husband Jim, her cousins from Baltimore, and with my twins. My dad isn’t in them becasue he was where he’s happiest: looking at an old car, (it happens to be ours), a Morgan Super-Sport, Plus 4.

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Happy 5oth Anniversary Alan and Carol! (Dad and Mom to me.)

P.S. I made the cake and frosting from scratch. If you are looking for the best white cake ever, look no further. I found it HERE. The frosting is good, old-fashioned butter cream.

 

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Neighborhood Christmas

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This is how it is: I’ve been in my new old-house neighborhood for over a year and I know exactly three neighbors. I do, however, know all of the dogs. I blame hats.

My neighbors and I approach each other with short, cold-weather greetings like: “Morning!” “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” and “Which house are you?” We are covered from hat to boot with only our noses exposed.

Once, taking my English Springer puppy Gigi on a longish walk two miles up our long rural street, a woman in a sprawling colonial opened its front door and hollered from atop her hill, “Hello! Is it very icy?”

But, today I will finally be able to put the people names with the dog names and all of them into the landscape of our old logging woods neighborhood because today is the Neighborhood Christmas Party. Of course I’m expected to bring something. I only remembered this fact a couple hours ago and as I write this, my last batch of something is in the oven and the party starts in 50 minutes.

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In my perfect week-before-Christmas dream I have hours to sit with my dessert cookbooks contemplating options while I drink a pot of tea. All the handmade by me Christmas presents are already wrapped, shovels are greased and ready by the door, and I know exactly what I’m wearing to every Christmas party.

In my reality none of these things is possible because I spent all my time reading Drew Magary’s Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog aloud to anyone in the house.

With the few hours before the party that I was going to work on my manuscript (memoir-in-it-seems-forever-process) instead I pulled my trusty Hershey’s Homemade cookbook from the kitchen bookshelf.

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I bought Hershey’s Homemade in 1991 by sending an envelope to the Hershey Company with three cocoa powder proofs of purchase wrapped inside a check totaling $1.50 for shipping and handling. I was a newly engaged college junior with a chocolate addiction. That my fiance (now my husband, Greg) didn’t (and still doesn’t) like chocolate didn’t even enter my mind. If I was going to go through the effort to bake, I was going to bake what I liked. Today, 25 years later, my eyes fell on this recipe:

Black Magic Cake

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk *
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup strong black coffee OR 2 teaspoons powdered instant coffee plus 1 cup boiling water
  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

  • 1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan, two 9-inch round baking pans or one 13x9x2-inch baking pan.
  • 2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes (Batter will be thin). Pour batter evenly into prepared pan.
  • 3. Bake 50 to 55 minutes for fluted tube pan, 30 to 35 minutes for round pans, 35 to 40 minutes for rectangular pan or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Loosen cake from side of pan and remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost as desired. Makes 12 servings.
  • * To sour milk: Use 1 tablespoon white vinegar plus milk to equal 1 cup.

This was the “bring something” winner because I happened to have all the ingredients. But the presentation of the cake in the cookbook was a little wah. . . wah. The photo showed the cake baked in a rectangular sheet pan and frosted.

It was clearly a time for my grandfather’s Jell-O molds.

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My grandfather was a professional baker who died when I was six. I’m lucky enough to have one of his commercial mixers as well as an assortment of individually-sized Jell-O molds. I can’t stand Jell-O so I use the molds for individual cakes.

I made Black Magic Cake as directed and poured into my molds. I greased and floured the tins which was a mistake. A good deal of the flour stuck to the tops of the cakes when they were turned out onto the cooling rack. For the second batch, I only used Pam.

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The solution for the mistake cakes was to brush off as much flour as I could and apply powdered sugar through a sieve. Presto.

The remaining cakes I whisked confectioner’s sugar and milk, used the whisk to flick-drizzle it onto the cakes and added a garnish of a single blackberry and blueberry each.

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Wow. These look better than I hoped. I feel very generous in a Christmas-y way, letting anyone other than me eat these. Watch out neighborhood, here I come!