Friday, July 1, 2022

Having my cake and eating it too

July 4, 1976, on the balcony of 
our first apartment in St. Louis. A red, white and blue Angel Food 
cake in honor of America's bicentennial. We were
having our friends Jeane and Dave for dinner.  I wore that silly pig mask 
at inopportune times whenever possible -- it always made my bride laugh --  
and kept it for 40 years until it fell apart. 

People who didn’t know me as a teenager are often surprised to learn I was heavy. (I started to write “fat” but didn’t want to hurt my feelings.) 

Looking back from my 70-year-old perspective, the reason I was so big is obvious. I ate because I was depressed. Kids today take drugs to self-medicate. My medication came in a box labeled Duncan Hines. 

Up to the time I was 13, when my father got sick, I was a normal size. I had always been required to report for work at his general store immediately after school and that kept me moving — stocking shelves, carrying boxes to customers’ cars, running up and down the stairs between the basement, main floor and mezzanine shoe department. Once he died, shortly after I turned 14, I had nothing better to do than eat after school. And eat. And eat. I would come home, make a cake and eat it. Not a piece or two, the whole cake. Then mom would make dinner and I’d eat that, too. 

I lost 64 pounds my senior year of high school through a combination of exercise and moderation. I’ve regained only about 20 of those pounds in the 54 years since by working out four times a week and keeping a running count of the approximate calories I consume. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I could still happily eat an entire cake every afternoon if I ever decided to let myself go which I just might one of these days.  

My favorite cake, hands down, is Angel Food with boiled seven-minute frosting, like the one Hazel Rudd brought to potluck dinners at the Auxvasse (Mo.) Methodist Church. I make one for every holiday and birthday and always give credit to Hazel, a lovely lady, whenever I serve it. 

I made one this morning, in fact, because we’re having friends over tonight. I’ll serve it topped with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream and, for those who wish, a splash of butterscotch schnapps.

Another Fourth of July red, white and blue cake, 
sometime in the late 1980s, in the kitchen of 
our first Wilton, Conn. house. 

While Hazel’s angel cake was made from scratch, mine comes from a mix. A "real" angel cake requires beating a dozen egg whites and I’d never be able to crack that many open and separate the whites from the yolks without getting some yolk into the mixture and having to start over — so I use a Duncan Hines or Pillsbury mix. Duncan Hines is better in my book, but the cake itself doesn’t really matter. I could probably buy an angel cake sold in the bakery department at my local supermarket because  it’s the seven-minute frosting that makes my cake. 

The frosting takes — duh — about seven minutes to make. I used to follow a recipe that called for combining sugar, water, cream of tarter, salt, vanilla and a couple of egg whites in a double boiler, which I’d beat with the avocado-green GE mixer Aunt Margaret gave us for our wedding. When the mixture turned glossy white with stiff peaks, it was ready to be applied to the cake.

But we just had our kitchen remodeled and installed an induction cooktop which required us to get all-new cookware and our old double boiler doesn’t fit in either of the saucepans that came with the set. When, an hour before company was coming last month and I realized I had no way to make my frosting, I found another recipe that doesn’t require a double boiler. All that's required is to beat the mixture in a pan directly on the stovetop. Amazingly, it is just as good as my old recipe and easier to boot.  

Bonita Springs, Florida. July 1, 2022

I’d write more but I’m supposed to run the vacuum before our friends arrive. Gotta get my exercise in because there’s a freshly frosted cake on the kitchen counter and I intend to eat whatever our guests don’t eat for breakfast tomorrow, minus the ice cream and butterscotch schnapps of course. 

I gotta draw the line somewhere.