Category Archives: Food

What’s Not to Love about Carrot Cake?

I had my first piece of carrot cake in 1974, or maybe it was 1973.  We were at my uncle Denby’s wedding, and the cake they served was this oddly wonderful concoction of flavors I had never tasted.  Being one of the munchkins in the crowd, I did what smart munchkins did back then:  I eavesdropped on the adults who were talking about the cake.

They called it carrot cake, but this cake was a lot more than carrots, and it was awesome!

I don’t remember having carrot cake again until college.  I may have had it before then, but those memories are lost in a din of other information like the capital of North Dakota, the difference between an adverb and an adjective, why the earth rotates around the sun and not the other way around, and who shot J.R (we watched that episode with a huge crowd of Hilltoppers in a hotel bar in Rosarito Beach, but that’s another story).

Whenever I see carrot cake as a dessert option at a restaurant, I order it.  Carrot cake muffin?  Gotta have it.  I’ve sampled carrot cake recipes across the US, and even a couple in foreign countries.  Some are decent.  Claim Jumper’s is probably the best, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (everything is good with a scoop of ice cream).

When the time came to choose our wedding cake, Janet and I chose carrot cake.  Actually, I think Janet knew I’d love it, and it was her small wedding gift to me.  The only bite of that cake I got that day was in the cake-cutting ceremony.  We were too busy with all the other wedding stuff to actually eat any of the awesome cake we’d chosen.

As good as everyone else’s carrot cake is, none come close to mom’s.  Mom’s is the only carrot cake that captures the awesomeness of my first carrot cake experience in the ‘70s.  It’s simply the best.

Unfortunately, my love affair with all things carrot cake came to a screeching halt a little over a year ago when I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance.  Someone asked me recently what I miss the most now that I basically can’t eat anything made with wheat, or containing gluten as an additive (it’s hidden in tons of sauces, dressings, and of course, beer).

The first thing that popped into my head was carrot cake.  It’s not that I miss the taste of carrot cake so much (but, really I do).  It’s the freedom to try everyone’s attempt at carrot cake…knowing that none will compare to mom’s.  I miss getting to have a huge slice of carrot cake at mom’s, and then getting to take about half of the cake home (since it’s not everyone else’s favorite) to enjoy every night for a week.  There’s nothing like a slice of carrot cake and a tall glass of milk after a hard day of whatever I did that day.

Thanks to gluten intolerance, I thought those days were gone.  Not so fast!

Turns out there’s an excellent gluten-free “all-purpose flour” available at Trader Joe’s.  What’s the first thing I thought of when I saw it?  You guessed it!  I need to get mom a couple pounds of this stuff so she can make some of her carrot cake with it, just in time for my 49th birthday!

We are about t-minus one hour from heading over to mom and dad’s to celebrate the September birthdays in our family (there are a bunch of them).  We’ll eat some barbecued steaks with all the trimmings.  But, more importantly, we’ll be trying the gluten-free carrot cake that she and my niece baked.  I’ve heard that it’s pretty good.

I know it will be awesome.  Why?  Mom (and my niece) made it, and that’s all that matters.

 

Some Things I Know to Be True

  1. Airplanes generally don’t crash due to one failure, or unexpected event. They rarely crash when a second failure happens.  It’s usually the third unexpected event that brings it down.  This tragic truism in real-life plane travel can be applied to life.  Consider your own “plane crashes.”  Were they preceded by just one failure, or unexpected event?    It was probably the second and third failure that actually brought things down.  We learn more from failures than successes.  Even better are the lessons that come when we honestly and thoroughly investigate our own plane crashes, and the series of failures that caused them.
  1. Speaking of success. Success is all about definition.  The only definition that matters is the one you create for yourself.  Success, by any definition, won’t bring truly transcendent happiness.
  1. Transcendent happiness comes from within.  Its foundation is a belief in something greater than yourself.  Something that you can’t touch, taste, see, smell, or hear.
  1. Speaking of something greater than yourself.  Love is the most powerful force in the universe.  It transcends all time and space.  Love can’t be stopped by death.  Being loved, and loving others, fills your soul.  Love is free, and yet it has infinite value.
  1. Teaching your son to cook blueberry muffins for his dad is one of the best gifts a mom can give to her son (and husband). Texting a photo of that cooking lesson to his grandpa is a great way to demonstrate truth number four.

James_Cooking_Muffins

Hourglasses, Egg Cups, and Grandma Anne

Hourglass

‘Cause you can’t jump the track,

we’re like cars on a cable,

And life’s like an hourglass, glued to the table.

No one can find the rewind button, girl

So cradle your head in your hands

And breathe… just breathe,

Oh breathe, just breathe.

Anna Nalick

Grandma Anne had a small hourglass in her kitchen. It was her egg timer, and I’m sure thousands of other kitchens had the same thing. In my Grandma’s kitchen, that timer was the magical key to making Eggs in the Egg Cup. The starring attraction was a perfectly soft-boiled egg. The proper dipping tool was a lady finger (toast cut into strips).

Forty years later, I could soft-boil some eggs. I could slice my toast into strips. I could find proper egg cups for serving. It wouldn’t be the same. I don’t have Grandma’s egg timer, or her loving touch.

Hourglasses don’t care about how time passes. Their job is only to measure its passing. Each grain of sand merely represents a moment in time.

We know better. Some moments carry more magic than others.

When I started this post, it was going to be about time passing through the hourglass and how it symbolizes our lives. We only get one pass through the hourglass (it’s glued to the table). We don’t know how much sand is left. We don’t know if our hourglass will fall off the proverbial table and shatter in an instant.

Nothing new there, but I had a sense there was something else, so I started writing to find out.

The image of Grandma Anne’s egg timer and lady fingers filled my head. I haven’t had Egg in the Egg Cup in forty years.  Grandma Anne passed away more than twenty years ago. Yet I can see the many breakfasts she served when I spent the night at her house. I smell the bacon.  I hear the crunching of the toast.

She taught me Yahtzee, and then Triple Yahtzee. I can hear the dice rolling around in the cup.  She folded a napkin in the bottom of the dice cup to keep the noise down.  She shared a lot of Grandma wisdom on strategic thinking during those Yahtzee games.

One thing is certain as the sand passes through my hourglass.  I get only one pass.  But I get to experience my memories as often as I’d like…even when I least expect it.  How cool is that!

 

Photo Credit:  Nick Valdovinos

Why Oreos and Steaks Matter

A kid’ll eat the middle of an Oreo cookie, and save the chocolate cookie outside for last…

I personally never saw the benefit of splitting my Oreos in half, and eating the middle first.  Seems like a lot of work.  In fact, the middle is boring without the chocolate cookie, in my humble opinion.

If dissecting the cookie isn’t the best, what’s the best way to eat an Oreo?

If you bite into an Oreo, it’s a challenge to not drop crumbs all over the place.  The cleanest and most effective way to eat an Oreo is in one bite.  Just pop the whole cookie in your mouth and let the taste celebration begin.  To add to the party, take a small sip of milk and let all that flavor mix around as you chew.  Enjoy.

The ideal number of Oreos to eat in one sitting is four…each with one bite, and each with a healthy sip of milk.  Oreo purists will argue that the ideal number is an entire column (purists know what a column is in this context), but that’s a bit much for me.  You’ll have some milk left in the glass after your four cookies, and that’s useful for rinsing everything out of your teeth as you contemplate the goodness of your Oreos.

I always thought it would be fun to eat a few Oreos before a dental hygienist appointment.  I wonder if anyone has actually gone through with this idea.

Steak.  It’s what’s for dinner.

For vegetarians, I apologize in advance…

The smell of steaks on the grill is a little slice of Heaven.  There’s something about the smell of a barbeque grill that permeates a neighborhood.  If your neighbor is cooking steaks, you know it, and you wish you were cooking your own.

Some of the best steakhouses age their beef for thirty, even sixty days.  They say that the longer the aging process, the more tender the meat will be.  I’m not quite so patient.  I’ll give it about three days of aging in the fridge before cooking.

I’ve tried many cuts of beef.  My favorite is the rib eye.  Rub a little olive oil on each side, and then season with Mansmith’s.  Grill it low and slow, about ten minutes on each side for the perfect medium-rare tenderness.  Let the meat rest for a few minutes, and then enjoy with a baked potato and some steamed or sautéed asparagus.  Talk about good eats!

I like nearly every food I’ve tried, except olives and horseradish.  A few favorites come to mind…Salmon.  Eggplant parmesan.  Hot apple pie (with ice cream).  Saag paneer.  Unagi.  Lasagna.  Date shakes.  Vegetarian lamb.  Chocolate chip ice cream.  Chili.  Oatmeal cookies.  Fried chicken.  Carrot cake.  Cornish pasties.  Bacon!

Food is much more than the sustenance we need to live.  It’s more than nutritional value (or lack thereof).  Foods have history.  Many are at the heart of our family traditions.

One thing all foods across the world have in common:  they are best when shared with the people we love.

Explore.  Taste.  Savor.  Share.  Love.  Enjoy!

Unmaking an Oreo:  http://youtu.be/cJyGoGPXTj4