Piece O’ Cake

Photo by Daniel Dent

Wedding cakes.  Never did I ever think that I would be the go to person when it comes to wedding cakes, but so far I’ve been lucky enough to experience what its like be able to sweeten up two couples weddings.   My first attempt came about in May of 2009 when a statuesque blonde with bands of tattoos asked me to make her wedding cupcakes.  70 cupcakes, and a 4 tiered cake and a broken KitchenAid later the first special occasion cake was introduced to the world. The cake would be a fluffy Meyer Lemon cake with a lemon and orange blossom glaze slathered with whipped cream and garnished with slices of strawberries and candied kumquat.  FIRST TIME!  With some excellent help from my good friend Danielle, my roommate’s KitchenAid Appliance, and tips from my Pastry Chef Jen along with some last-minute necessities I was off for a bit of an adventure!

Danielle Patrice Arazaga - pastry assistant extraordinaire!

Armed and ready with butter, flour, sugar, eggs, honey, and garnishes within 3 hours I was able to whip out those lovely delicate cakes.  But of course something had to happen.  Dee (Danielle) dropped the kitchen aid on the LAST batch!  Whew I thought, it’s okay because that was the last batch, but what about the frosting??? Mixer = Broken. Fell to its death. “Ohhh no I don’t have the money to pay for another kitchen aid” said Dee. “STOP! We’ll worry about that later”.  With two whisk, A sunny San Francisco day, a back yard and some stairs we began to whisk the honeyed whipped cream into the light and airy frosting.  The cake came out beautifully for a Spring Wedding! And of course delicious!

Second came about early June 2009. A couple overheard that I did a wedding cake and they asked me if I would want to do theirs? Suuurree I thought…later  I received an email from the grooms mother asking me to make a grooms cake.  With some handy-dandy research tools I was able to find out that a groom’s cake was a very southern tradition.   Usually a very decadent or whimsical cake that is used to represent the groom.

Karl and Halo had a beautiful wedding on their family’s ranch July 4th 2009.  Needless to say there were insufficient modern-day tools to help me with this one.  I baked the vanilla cakes a day ahead and was able to pack everything in neat little containers so that the next day all I would need to do was assemble the 5 tiered cake.  The cake would consist of Vanilla cake, with layers of whipped cream, strawberries and a milk and honey concoction.  The outer would be slathered with whipped cream, bits of pecan praline, and shavings of chocolate.  IT WAS A SUCCESS!!! But of course mishaps occurred.

Photo by Daniel Dent

No…absolutely no kitchen aid, no whisk, and no bowls present at the ranch.  The local convenience store, and grocery store had only 2 1/2 pint containers of whipping cream.  We had to drive 30-45 minutes away to two different locations to buy 10 1/2 pint containers of heavy

whipping cream.  Daniel who was also photographing the wedding ended up also being my knight in shining armor and my driver.  The local breakfast joint/lunch and dinner spot was kind enough to let me borrow a giant whisk and a very large bowl to whisk the cream, a bowl that Paul Bunion must have used himself.  Assembling the cake was easssssssssy.  4- 8 inch round tiers of cake moistened with a milk and honey syrup (which I found was a symbol of long-lasting love in Persian culture), slices of fresh strawberries,  hand whipped honey cream and a top-tier about 5 inches in circumference was the cherry on top.  assembled 1.5 hours ahead of schedule I went off to take a shower and ready myself for the wedding.

Photo by Daniel Dent

Y’all better head back to the house I think something’s happened to the cake!!” So with whipped cream still in my hair,  my eyes bulged, and I took a gulp.   WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED!!!   I ran into the house.  It felt like I had just walked into a bad hospital scene.  All the nurses inside just bowed their heads down in silence as I walked through the archaic kitchen, walking through the sea of women in the kitchen to see my patient on its side 1/2 the body torn.  The tiny fridge which held the large cake was pretty much at room temp.    I faintly opened the refrigerator door only to find that half the cake had disastrously plunged to its sweet death.  WHAT WAS I TO DO? the chocolate shavings the praline, the cake!!! THE CAKE!!!  The electricity on the ranch was not up to par with modern-day standards. Daniel who by now was running around like a mad man shooting odds and ends of the wedding came to my side and offered me a suggestion as I went completely numb from shock.  1 hour till the wedding, no working oven, no supplies, no extra ANYTHING!

Photo by Daniel Dent

“JUSTICE LEAGUE” said Daniel “Lets just…do this…and that…and we’ll…and then…VOILA” the HALL OF JUSTICE was born.  Karl the groom wanted a cake that would show his love for comic books, so he presented me with a few Justice League characters in the form of Lego figurines.  This was to be the whimsical and decorative element of the cake.  The tippy top of the cake was salvaged from the wreck.  Somehow we jimmied the two leftover portions of the cake together.  I can’t really explain how we did it but we d

id.  With all the separate components now becoming one as the frosting suddenly the HALL OF JUSTICE appeared! No one was the wiser.  The cake was better than the original and in fact matched perfectly what a grooms cake was all about.

“Are you the young woman who made the cake?”  asked the grooms mother.  An angelic woman of magnificent grace and beauty. “Yes…but I have to admit the cake didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to so I won’t charge you anything for it.”  I braced her with what had happened, held her warm hand and led her into the kitchen.  Her eyes lit up and she seemed completely shocked.  I almost had to lift up her lower jaw from the floor!

She loved it, and she didn’t understand what was wrong with it in the first place! It was such a long SIGHHHHHHHHHHHHH of relief.

Both occasions I learned how important it is to roll with the punches and with downs always there is an upside to things. Nothin’ beats a little positive thinking, quick thinking and ingenuity.  Nothing beats teamwork.

And a little song:

Apples and Oranges.

Look…it isn’t glamorous who said it ever was. Today I sliced my finger. In an earlier post I had wrote about the beauty of a Berkel slicer and how the fat was “glistening” as I was slicing Salamis—Well today my finger felt what it was like to be a salami. Not as tantalizing as a savory piece of salami eh? But, I knew it would be for a good story.

Artistically I can say that the red was a deep red…a very deep concentrated berry red that dribbled down my finger–a deep blood red–almost like concentrated pomegranate. My chef whites acted like a blank canvas for the crimson red. Like a Jackson Pollock it unconsciously splattered all over my apron.

It all started with a hum. A Lykke Li song. When I slice I like to get into a rhythm and condense my thoughts into my own world, so that could immerse myself and concentrate on my immediate task. Happily humming along I was witness to my first finger slice! Something must have happened, another random thought must have weaved it’s way through my concentration. So I fumbled.

Oddly enough I HEARD the cut before I even felt it. It was like…well it sounded more like–Remember wood shop? It sounded like wood with a bit of pressure against the viciously moving saw blade . “HOLY (something)” — I proclaimed, as I grabbed my thumb and scrunched my face.. I think the cut was on a 1.5…so that means it was moderate. But, give me 2-3 more centimeters an it could have been a doooozy. Oh when I think of that sound it immediately takes me back to wood shop–at least there I never cut anything off. I did however, make a very beautifully detailed bird clock with a charming little heart.

I sqeeeeeeazed my precious thumb as if I were saying “I LOVE YOU DONT LEAVE ME!” My adrenaline was pumping…I had not felt the pain yet…and I remember the pressure.

My sous chef ran over and automatically knew what had happened…luckily “it wasn’t that bad”. Sure it wasn’t thaaaat bad but I would say I sliced a good portion of the end of my thumb almost off. The adrenaline lead me to a dark laugh that lead to a twisted joke to make everyone around me laugh. My sous (bless her heart) grabbed a kitchen rag and told me to “Go and sit in the dry storage…hold your hand above your head…apply pressure and don’t stop till the blood has lessened”… Chef came down and told me that he thought I was surely crying. “Your a strong girl”…and tried to calm my nerves. I was okay–I think. OH was my adrenaline pumping, my heart was beating and my leg was shaking. I just kept thinking about the rapidly turning slicer…and how much more could have been taken off. I kept on humming that song in my head.

I also noticed a bin of Romano beans. I also remember on the menu “Slow cooked Romano Beans”. I asked Chef, “how are those cooked?”. Two ibuprofens, 4 band-aids and one of those latex glove finger things and I was set. I went back to slicing and finishing up the prep for my station.

You know when I first stated I was hesitant to become a cook, I hesitated because of my mother. She cautioned me of the knicks, the cuts, the burns, the everything. My first burns came from baking cakes, or turkeys in the ovens, and, I still have the scars on my arms to prove it. I’ve splattered oil in my eye, frying eggrolls, or just being nosey–while watching my mother cook I would try to peak through the lids of a bubbling pot and burn my fingers. All this hurt…It’s intensified now. It’s no longer Mamma’s Kitchen.

This incident tonight reminded me of a few moments from my past. Like when I had my first wisdom teeth pulled. By the way, I was fully awake and conscious for the event . A couple of numbing shots of Novocaine and a few moments (more like hours) later I would experience my first traumatizing blood splatter–right ALL OVER the dentist’s pristine whites; that same bright red on his jacket was on my apron tonight. It also reminded me of PACO the parrot. Michelle, my hometown friend told me not to pet this bird…”harmless”, I thought. WRONG. That thing bit off a slice of my middle finger, and a straight line of splotches and splatters ran down those white mini blinds. It was as if I had taken a paint brush–dipped it heavily in paint–raised it behind my head and with momentum and a thrust whipping it onto the white blinds.

Apples slice differently than oranges. Sometimes you do not, need a sharp knife to cut through the crisp skin of an apple…but when cutting through the rough exterior into the flesh of an orange you need a sharper knife…well lets say a tomato. Sometimes it takes an extremely sharp blade to cut through something so delicate even though it’s skin is so thin, because any unnecessary pressure would bruise your produce. When you cut a finger it’s always better to cut with a sharp blade to lessen the pain. Well a sharp knife in general is ALWAYS a good thing to have. Just moments before I cut my finger I sharpened the Berkel.