Monday, July 8, 2013

Bucket Of Cake

It was abysmal, this cake I made for my friend some 1000 miles away, some 25 years gone past. It was a double chocolate cake w/ a chocolate ganache. And, for a small amount of time, it stood on a pedestal, stacked like so much Celtic masonry, and drenched w/ thick, silky, chocolate that is neither cream nor liquid, neither solid nor liquid. And for that moment, in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, on his Birthday, I looked at this silly and delicious cake that shook comically under its own weight. And even when it began to fall, began to give way all-slo-motion-sexy, as the ganache began to dam and burst across the slow rise of the cake platter, it was an excellent cake, made for my friend, Jeff Odum.

It is magic, cake making. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Don’t cotton to those polyester hucksters, those t.v. Charlatans. Pay no attention to the pretty magazines, with their glossy pages that make the cake look more vixen-like than appropriate. It is cake, after all; and not some kind of tart.

Cake making is sorcery. Spells and Incantations. Bits of this. Parts of that. Knock thrice on the counter before you separate the egg. Every kitchen is warmed by superstition, calmed by strict belief systems. This recipe calls for a stiff cup of coffee, before anything else.

Coffee? How can this be Odum’s cake if I put coffee in it? He doesn’t drink coffee.

But I so love the idea of a recipe that calls for a cup of strong coffee, stiff coffee. The sort of coffee that has been sitting all day, cooking on the hot plate. Thick, jittery tar. This is the sort of coffee I would make in our dorm room, and leave unattended too often, too too often. In those days, back then, back there.

Besides, it was a chocolate cake, And the magic of chocolate almost always needs a mule like caffeine to close the deal. The dust of cocoa powder (Dutch) floats in the kitchen light. The cat is confused, but won’t show her hand. The smell that blossoms, as the boiling water flood the chocolate dustbowl, is that same smell of life that I smelled in West Texas, in the dessert, after it had rained

Chocolate and butter. Buttermilk and Sugar.
Baking Powder. Baking Soda (Duran Duran)
Vegetable Oil & Vanilla. And salt, always salt.
And eggs, big fat farm eggs – yokes yellow as wheat
Well, Art Class Wheat , you know, REALLY yellow.

It was that sort of thing we would scrawl on the loft structure we built of Sophomore year, and kept through our Senior year, and willed to those underclassmen who shared our taste in music, which is how we called the shots, back then, back there.

Had I made this cake, this abysmal failure of cake then I would have seen portents, I would have diagnosed cast dye. I would have fretted over the bad geometry. I would have shaved down the domes. I would have planed them all to hell. But as I pulled them from the pans yesterday, each one heavy and off balance as a hemisphere is apt to be, I recalled this one thing about Jeff, above all others.

Jeff hates pretentious jerks.

He’s not a guy who spews a lot of hate. Hell, the cat is all love, really. Crumudgeonn? Sure. But that’s always been true. Frustrated w/ small minded humans? Always. But, honestly, why aren’t you, too?

Get a grip. It’s really that simple. Get a goddam handle on what’s going on. Doesn’t mean you can necessarily boss it around, make it tote that barge, or lift that bale. But if you are honest about it, about who you are in it, well then life tends to be pretty sweet.

And so when it fell, and it collapsed , I moved to get that really big piece of Tupperware. I shoved it in, fighting time, fighting gravity. And I was upset.

I had ruined the cake. It was the sort of thing Jeff would never do. But then I remembered, no. We had destroyed endless recipes in out time after college, in Northern Virginia. There were repeated failures, which we ate to extinction.

And that was the thing about cooking w/ Jeff, living w/ Jeff: it never really mattered how rickety the loft was, how loudly I snored, how scientific the coffee pot became, how many pounds of bacon we wasted on a horrific experiment w/ home made ice cream. We were together, aligned, touched.

We were banned from playing Pictionary together due to an incident in 92.

And so to see his cake fall, it was awful. I questioned my sorcery, accused the spirits that cohabitate the collective that is my kitchen. And then I heard Jeff’s voice in my head::

“mmmmmmm bucket of cake mmmmmmmmmm”

It is now , of course, my mantra.

But it’s Jeff’s cake. And, yeah, it’s delicious.

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