Archives

I Made Another Cake

It was TWELVE LAYERS. I’ll spare you knowledge of exactly how many pounds of butter, cups of sugar, and dozens (yes) of eggs I went through to make this sucker. (Hint: more than any other cake I can recall making, except maybe my wedding cake. Which was for many more people.)

Yellow Sponge Cake Chocolate Soufflé

Yellow Sponge Cake.
Mocha Buttercream.
Hazelnut Meringue.
Coffee Buttercream.
Chocolate Soufflé Cake.
Mocha Buttercream.
Repeat.
Shave Good Dark Chocolate on top.
Serve.

What can I say? It was my birthday. I went overboard.*

Close up.
Finished Cake

I made a whole bunch of other food too. I know you’re interested, because you love food as much as I do (don’t you? Isn’t that why you’re here?) so here’s a round up of the party menu. I decided to keep it classy with fancy, bite-sized apps and none of the usual chip-and-dip business. Also, I attempted to maintain a balance of hot and cold things and to make sure my vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free/kosher friends all had options. Here’s what I made, in no particular order:

  • Bacon-Wrapped Dates (hot) – a time-tested standby, it is hard to go wrong with these. Plus, Julia and I had them on our first date, and so they are special. Plus, you know, really freakin’ tasty.
  • Caprese Skewers (cold, vegetarian) – my play on the classic Italian salad. I put a cherry tomato, a small basil leaf, and one of those tiny (3/4″ diameter or so) mozzarella balls from the deli onto each stick, arranged them on a plate, and then drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • Brie with Apricot Preserves & Almonds (hot, vegetarian) –  I make this a lot at parties because it is quick and easy but also fancy and delicious. All you do is top a wedge of brie with a few spoonfuls of preserves, warm it for about a minute in the microwave, sprinkle it with nuts, and serve with crackers. The amount of effort involved is nearly zero, and compared to the usual grabbing of chips & dip on the way to the potluck… WIN. Seriously, do this instead.
  • Chilled Cucumber & Dill Soup (cold, vegetarian, gluten-free) – This was a new recipe I tried. I tasted it while I was cooking it, and truthfully, I liked it better warm. Still, it was pretty good. I served it in 1oz shot glasses. FYI, I subbed vegetable stock for the chicken called for in the recipe to keep it as a meat-free option.
  • Red Wine Poached Figs (hot, vegan, gluten-free) – Holy crap, these were good. Unfortunately, they came out of the oven right after we decided to bust out the cake, so they were largely overlooked by the guests. Too bad for them. If you like figs, you should make these sometime. Soon, because as I mentioned, they are almost out of season.
  • Cucumber Chickpea Bruschetta (cold, vegan, gluten-free) – We made these once before, at our vegan/gluten-free dinner party, and they were as good as we remembered. Yum.
  • Shrimp Cocktail (cold) – Let’s just say we started with two pounds of shrimp and leave it at that.
  • Lemon-Parsley Gougeres – I’ve been wanting to make these for a while. Glad I finally got around to it – they were heavenly little flaky pastry puffs with a zesty lemon bite. They did not last long.

Of course, there was also wine a plenty along with champagne and some non-alcoholic punch, which turned out to be so good that I ended up drinking quite a bit of it.

In summary: delicious food + wine + the most excellent people = one awesome 30th birthday!

*I spent the better part of my actual birthday on Saturday prepping for this party. There were spreadsheets involved. Because, you know, I needed a schedule and a list of prep times and to make sure I had enough vegetarian, gluten-free, & kid-friendly things as well as a balance of hot & cold; sweet & savory. And also I just like spreadsheets. Yeah, I’m a major geek. But you knew that.

Wherein Regular Life Feels Like Tech

A note to any non-theatre folks who may be reading this: Tech is the week or so right before a show opens, when rehearsal moves from a room with tape on the floor to the actual set on in the theatre; rehearsal props are exchanged for real props; street clothes are tossed for costumes and makeup; fluorescent lights are traded for blackouts and bright, hot lights; sound effects are queued up; and the dancing in the dark that takes place off and on stage between and during scenes is choreographed. It sounds magical and poetic (and it is, once it all comes together) but the journey there is not an easy one. Technicians come in early and stay late; actors play bits of scenes over and over again to get the timing just right; directors and designers tweak every little detail to fit their collective image of the perfect show. It’s a week or so of long (12+ hour) days, little sleep, few breaks, and lots of hard work. In short, it’s exhausting. Which is why it is always followed with a party (booze: required) and if you’re lucky enough to not also have a day job, you may even get the whole next day off to recover.

Sometimes, my actual life outside the theatre gets all crazy busy and feels like a tech week and I just cannot wait until all the things are done and I can sit on my ass for five minutes without feeling like I’m falling behind. This was one of those weeks for both of us. If you are not interested in the minutiae or my rambling, you should just skip right to the recipe. For everyone else, here’s how the week went down:

For starters, Julia’s show, The Chicago Landmark Project, opened last night. So she was super busy all week long working on costumes for that. I think I might have seen her on Tuesday night for about seven minutes. Secondly, I’d volunteered to host this month’s A Practical Wedding book club on Saturday, and for some reason I decided it was imperative that I finish reupholstering some chairs before the event. And also that our condo needed to be spotless. (Which means, in addition to the usual upkeep, things like mopping floors and beating rugs which haven’t been done in a long, long time need to be dealt with.) And that I should plan at least one fabulous appetizer (see below) and maybe make a cake. Oh yeah, and I had to finish reading the book… (You guys know I’m an over-achiever, especially when it comes to hostessing, right?)

So after work every night I was frantically pulling out old staples, sewing piping, and inhaling many years of dust and cat hair. Which is fine, because I’m usually home by 7pm and I planned quick meals, and on Tuesdays I get off work early, so of course I’d have plenty of time to make pretty chairs and deep clean the place before Saturday. At some point during the week, we were invited to a party on Sunday afternoon by a friend we hadn’t seen in a long, long time and decided we could squeeze that into our upcoming weekend. And at some other point later in the week, Keely texted me that her babysitter was sick and she had reservations at Tru for her birthday dinner and could I possibly babysit on Sunday night? And though I was pretty sure all I’d want to do come Sunday night was sit on the couch in my jammies and watch TV, I was also pretty sure that it would be cruel and bad-friend behavior to say no unless I actually had a prior commitment, and I could watch TV my jammies at their place while the baby slept anyway, right? Because – Tru! And her BIRTHDAY! And have I told you how much time she spent helping me write and edit our wedding ceremony? Come on! Only a terrible friend would not help out. So. The week got a little busier but was still totally manageable.

On Tuesday, I was planning to do the grocery shopping and then come home and slow cook some spare ribs after work, since the baby’s grandma comes to take over at noon. But at 9am she called in sick, so I ended up having to work the whole day. Luckily, Julia had a little time, so she got the shopping done, but I still had about five pounds of ribs that had been soaking up dry rub overnight and needed to be cooked. So… I started those at about 5:30pm when I got home and finally consumed my super failure of a dinner around 10:30pm. Wednesday passed without incident. On Thursday, I got stuck late at work again, and didn’t even get home until 9pm, after which I had to make dinner and was so tired from all the getting things done that I didn’t do any work on the chairs or the cleaning and I really felt bad about that, and then, holy crap, it was Friday already.

So I stayed up until 3am finishing the reupholstery project, decided I would clean in the morning, and set my alarm for 9am but woke up at 8am anyway. And then I cleaned and re-arranged furniture so there’d be enough seating and baked some currant scones which were still in the oven when the first person showed up but it was all ok and really fun in spite of my crazyness. And everyone brought food, which you can see pictures of over on photographer Christy Tyler’s blog. (See? This post is totally on topic.) And then I got all pretty and went to Julia’s opening, which was great awesome, though I admit I was entering a sleepy haze towards the end, after which I drank a cup of black coffee and a coke so I could stay awake for the party after which the thought of 45 min on public transit to get home slayed me so we got in a cab and promptly crumpled into a giant heap of tired on the bed.

And we slept until 11am.

Did you read that? Friends, I cannot remember the last time I slept that late. My internal clock has been set to “I work at 7:30am so I wake up at the butt crack of dawn, even on the weekends” for several years now. I am nearly always awake by 8:30am on days off, and I’m often up even earlier. ELEVEN A.M. And we blew off the party (sorry Kasey, we will totally make it up to you) and then we watched TV at Keely & PJ’s while the baby slept and got bonus hangout time with them afterwards and it all turned out ok. The end.

Anyway, on to the food… besides scones, I made one of my go-to appetizers for when I’m short on time or just feeling lazy. It’s easy, fast, delicious, and elegant. And tastes really good, obviously. So here you go!

What You Need:
1 wedge of Brie
3-4 big spoonfuls of fruit preserves (I like peach or apricot)
A handful of chopped or slivered almonds
A box of crackers (I like Carr’s Table Water Crackers, or the store brand of same)

1. Put the wedge of Brie on a microwave-safe fancy serving dish. Top with the fruit preserves.
2. Microwave for about 90 seconds.
3. Sprinkle with almonds.
4. Serve with crackers.

Seriously, could it get any easier? It’s exactly what you need during tech, theatrical or otherwise. You’re welcome.

On Failure

Today was one of those days that just did not go the way I wanted it to.* Ordinarily on Tuesdays, I get off work at noon, hit the grocery store, and then have lots of time to spend working on whatever projects I’ve got going at home in the evening. I had planned to fire up the grill and slow-cook some spare ribs for several hours while working on a little reupholstery project I’m in the midst of.* Oh, but life had a different plan for me. If any of you don’t know, my job is as a nanny to a delightful 15-month-old girl, and her Tuesday afternoons are time with her grandmother.

Around breakfast time, she called to tell me she wasn’t feeling well, so I ended up working until 4:30pm. Which totally blew my plans for a grocery trip followed by 4-6 hours of slow rib cooking, because that would have me eating dinner about 3 hours after bedtime. No good. Thankfully, Julia volunteered to squeeze shopping into her tech week (thanks, honey. I love you!) and she started the ribs before I left work, so that left me getting home at a decent hour and having a (very) late dinner (alone, due to Julia’s aforementioned being in tech.)

So, when I got home I proceeded to cook the ribs, turning them, marinating them, etc. and did a little work on the chair, and then as the ribs were finally nearing the end of cook time around 10pm, I made some plantains. Sounds great, right?

Well. It was not. It wasn’t an epic fail like that time I tried to recreate Chief O’Neill’s Guinness Cheddar Soup. But. It was not good. The ribs somehow got overcooked, even though they were undercooked the last time I checked on them. The plantains were bland and too crunchy. My plans for awesome BBQ photos that would leave you drooling on your keyboards were dashed. In short – it was a big plate of “eh.”

Which I get to eat again for lunch tomorrow. Aha! The downside of always making extra dinner so you never have to pack lunch. Way too much effort for so little reward.

Oh well, failure happens. For now, I’ll be happy I’m not going hungry like so many are, and tomorrow I will try again. (Not ribs though. Something faster. And with less chance of blergh.)

*Grammar note: Yeah, I ended two sentences in this paragraph with prepositions. That is one grammar rule I just cannot get on board with. The awkward sentences that result when you try to avoid ending with a preposition are, well, awkward. And snotty-sounding. So I don’t do it. All three of you reading this probably know already that I am a high-ranking member of the Grammar Police, and I am all over that shit, especially its v. it’s and effect v. affect, but this rule? Stupid. Deal with it. No one’s making you read this, after all.