A Birthday Cake for Kelsey

Kelsey Birthday

Our son has great friends, including Kelsey who turned 18 years old today. He’s a truly talented young man who will be glad to sell you a plaque or trophy, should you need one. Give him a call at The Trophy Case.

There is a reason friends bring desserts to our house: I just don’t have the magic dessert touch. But I couldn’t tell Kelsey that on Tuesday. We were making plans for a group of Sam’s friends to come over and play Dungeons and Dragons, a role-playing game that from my perspective is kind of like a well-mannered game of Cowboys and Indians. As Dungeon Master, Kelsey is the ringleader of the adventure. Before we hung up, he mentioned that Saturday would also be his 18th birthday. Naturally, I asked him what his favorite cake was.

“Have you ever heard of Heath Bar Cake?” he asked.

“Of course! How about I make one?”

Tentatively and very sweetly he said,”Oh you don’t have to bake me a cake.”

“Kelsey, it’s your 18th birthday. You’ll be at our house. Of course I want to make you a cake.”

“Then that would be awesome!”

On Saturday morning, after breakfast I asked Vince if he would run to Food Giant and buy a German chocolate cake mix while I stripped beds and started doing laundry. I explained that I needed to bake the cake while we were working around the house, then as it cooled we could run to Kroger and get groceries. If I waited until after we did the weekly shopping, it would be too late. The cake would be too hot to put the whipped cream on it.

So he went to Food Giant and bought two boxes of German chocolate cake.

“Hmm. Why did you buy two boxes? I only need one.”

“Well, you know. Teenagers.”

Then he went to walk the dog and I prepared the two boxes of cake mix. They returned just as I was licking the beater clean.

“Did you put both boxes in the same pan?” he asked.

“Yes, you told me to.”

“Hmm. I meant you might want to make two cakes.”

“Well, that’s not what you implied.”

I went on about my business cleaning the house and doing laundry. About the time the cake was ready to come out of the oven, I remembered that the sweetened condensed milk and the caramel sauce needed to be poured over the cake while it was still hot. Otherwise, it wouldn’t soak in. So I went to the pantry and got a can of Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. As I was looking for the caramel sauce, Vince made the mistake of wandering back into the kitchen.

“We’re out of caramel sauce. Would you run back to Food Giant and get some?”

I don’t believe that he actually gave me an answer. He just walked right out the back door and got into the truck. A few minutes later, he returned with four jars of caramel sauce. Well, you know. Teenagers.

I poked holes in the cake with a chopstick then blended the sweetened condensed milk and caramel sauce together and poured it over the cake. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed more holes, so I told Vince to grab the chopstick and start poking. Eventually, the mixture started soaking in, but the center of cake had definitely deflated under the weight of the caramel goo. We stood there looking at the sunken center.

“You could fill it with the whipped cream,” said Vince.

“There isn’t enough whipped cream in this world to fill that hole. We’ll just have to cut down the sides,” I said. “Let’s go to the grocery and just let it soak in. I’ll fix it later.”

On Saturdays, we have a ritual. We deal with the recycling, then we do the weekly grocery shopping. Sometimes, we divide and conquer Kroger. Sometimes, we shop together. It just depends on what happens while we’re in the produce department. Most of our basket gets filled from the produce department, which means it will take me a while to find the perfect veggies. If we’re just picking up a few things, then we’re in and out of produce in a few minutes. Today was one of those quick veggie trips, so it didn’t take us long to complete our shopping.

As we were unloading our cart at the checkout, I realized that we hadn’t bought any whipping cream. I must have had a panicked look on my face because Vince told me to go on. He’d finish checking out and then pay for the cream separately. So I crossed the store and headed for the dairy case. Surely by now, dear readers, you know that I wasn’t about to buy Cool Whip. After all, it’s processed. I had already sacrificed my “no processed food” rule by buying a cake mix. Excuse me, two cake mixes. The frosting was going to be made from real whipping cream. As I stood there considering whipping cream or heavy whipping cream, another customer came along. She couldn’t have cared less about my need to read labels. So I grabbed a single pint of whipping cream and headed back to the checkout. At this point, who cares if it had more than four ingredients. Right?

As the cashier was handing me change, I realized we hadn’t bought any Heath candy bars with which to garnish the whipped cream. So I quickly turned around and bought four bars. We laughed that it only took three check-outs to complete our shopping. Then Vince reminded me that he had already made two trips to Food Giant before we came to Kroger. Ha Ha.

When we got home, I declared the cake cool enough for the whipped cream. I asked Vince to level the cake by trimming down the sides to match the sunken center, and I began making the cream. It ended up perfectly peaked and a rich, creamy white. I was very proud of myself. I began spooning it on top of the now levelled cake and realized that I didn’t have enough. Then Vince tasted it.

“Did you put any sugar in this?”

“No. Why would I do that?”

“Because you’re supposed to? Have you tasted this yet?”

Crap.

So I took the whipped cream off, very carefully, so as not to disturb the cake itself or get crumbs in the cream.

“Want to go with me to Food Giant?” I asked.

“Sure. It’s not like I haven’t already been there twice today.”

So off we went to Food Giant to buy another carton of whipping cream. When we got back, Vince once again took Alex for a walk, and I read the instructions on the back of the carton — after I had poured the contents on top of the previously whipped cream. And after the mixer had started whipping the mixture into a frenzy.

“Fold in two tablespoons of sugar and one teaspoon of vanilla to two cups of cream,” it said.

Hmmm. That can’t be good, as I hadn’t measured.

But it looked okay, so I left it running while I folded the load of laundry I had left in the dryer. You see, our bedsheets were waiting in the washer. You will never know how many nights I’ve forgotten to move our sheets into the dryer. I was quite pleased that I had remembered them. After I finished folding, I pitched the sheets in the dryer and went to check on the whipped cream.

It was no longer whipped cream. It had become butter instead. I wish you could have seen the look on Vince’s face when I showed him what I had done. The stunned look, the bemused laugh, the frustrated “Guess I’m going back to Food Giant?”

Now do you know why I love this man so much? He didn’t make me go.

When he got home, I suggested that he make the whipped cream. After all, I had ruined enough cream and Kelsey would be here at any minute to set up. And I hadn’t started dinner yet.

After I scooped the last of Vince’s perfectly-prepared whipped cream onto the cake, I suddenly panicked. Again.

“Do we have any birthday candles?”

Thank goodness we did. We even had enough blue and green candles. I didn’t have to add any pink ones or use any emergency candles (which, yes, we’ve done before). When Kelsey saw the cake, the joy on his face was priceless. He may be 18, but he and the rest of the guys will always be sweet babies to me. No matter how long they grow their beards or how tall they get.

Happy Birthday, Kelsey. You’re one in a million.

Composting 101

Just for this post, I actually turned the compost.  Shock! :)

Just for this post, I actually turned the compost. Shock! 🙂

“‘Organic matter’ (read: almost-raw sewage) for the garden costs WHAT?” I said while perusing the offerings of a big-box garden center.  “Are they kidding?  Are we really stupid enough to pay that for it?”

As it turns out, we were.

But that day three years ago got me thinking.  While we need to amend our garden soil every year, there’s no rule saying it has to be bagged and brought home in the trunk of the car.  I have vivid memories of my grandmother carrying a plastic bucket to the barn and collecting rich, dark loam for her roses.  Granddad did the same for the vegetable garden.  It was never lost on me that the cows who produced the original material were long, long gone.  That my grandparents still had plenty of organic matter for the gardens after so many years always made me wonder exactly how many cattle they kept anyway.

At any rate, I wondered on that chilly (and smelly) spring morning why I couldn’t go about making my own loam for our gardens.  We might not have cows, sheep, or goats, but we do have a kitchen that produces a pound or so of food scraps every day.  I’d far rather dump them into a pile to compost and to use in the garden than send them to the landfill.

Knowing that my Darling would object in the strongest possible terms to my placing a pile of worm food anywhere near the house, I set about making a spot in the farthest possible corner of the back yard.  And I started putting everything even remotely organic in it.  Food scraps?  Check.  Coffee filters with grounds?  Yep.  Tea bags?  Uh-huh.  Refrigerator Cleaning-Out Day?  You betcha.  Lawn clippings, shrub trimmings, flower deadheads….  It all went into my compost heap.

At first, I was pretty conscientious about turning the pile every few weeks.  But then it got hot, I got busy, summer passed into fall, and before I knew it Christmas had rolled around and the compost hadn’t been touched in months except to add to the stack.  And you know what?  I just left it alone.  After all, Mother Nature has been composting a LOT longer than I have, and I’ve never seen her running around with a shovel or rake to turn the piles.

One of my shop foremen.  Okay, even I was a little creeped out by this giant earthworm in the compost heap.

One of my shop foremen. Okay, even I was a little creeped out by this giant earthworm in the compost heap.

Besides, I noticed that the pile got much warmer when I left it alone.  I took that to mean that the bacteria and other creepy-crawlies were doing their thing.  I figured they probably would not thank me for tearing the roof off their house while they were busy.  And the barn cats from next door liked to hang out and nap on top of the warm heap when the weather got cold.  When I noticed them digging for food, I also started making sure to put out leftover meat and fat scraps for them.  Those cats are long gone, but I still put out meat for any critters that want it.  Compost Corner has become a favorite spot for Alex and our own two cats to practice their scavenging skills.

One thing I’ve meant to do since the beginning is to build a container or cage to contain my project.  I have several shipping pallets that a local garden center gave me, but I’ve not taken time to put them together yet.  I also have a roll of chicken wire from another project that would make several nice composters.  And, of course, all the magazines and catalogs are filled with gadgets to “make your composting easier.”  Honestly, those guys remind me of computer and phone makers: They keep “updating” and trying to sell grander toys when the old-fashioned way works better.  Go figure.  I never buy their merchandise.  And my compost heap keeps right on producing lovely loamy soil for our gardens every year.  I’m pretty proud of it.

Our neighbors gave us lots of leaves in the fall.  Last October, this pile was about twice as high as today.

Our neighbors gave us lots of leaves in the fall. Last October, this pile was about twice as high as today.

P.S.  Last fall, the compost pile turned into a neighborhood project when we realized that our neighbors were paying to take their leaves to the landfill or trucking them across town to the Leaf Drop.  We invited them to dump their leaves in Compost Corner instead.  This spring, I have several cubic yards of great soil just waiting for a warm dry day to add to the garden and start spring planting.  Thanks, guys!