Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Talkin' About Writer's Block

Always a good topic for me, writer's block happened to be the topic of this week's twitter chat at #writestuff.  Join author Tamara Woods and discuss various topics related to writers and writing. These chats happen every Tuesday at 21:00 EST. 

I don’t write fiction in my blog. I don’t really write creative nonfiction, either. I write recipes, and sometimes, I run out of ideas. I get recipe writers’ block, I suppose. Other writers run out of ideas, too. They might write a few pages of utter shite, crumple it up and throw it away, but I can’t bake a terrible cake and then waste it. No way! Brainstorming wastes no food. I can’t taste it, but I have a pretty good idea of what flavors work together well, sorta well, and not at all well.

Recipe writer’s block is like when I look at seasonal ingredients and ideas for inspiration, and I find nothing but the same old ideas. The same handful of recipes, done over and over again with a different garnish. Speaking of things overused, here’s a phrase: There’s nothing new under the sun. And it’s true. For now. I just know I won’t be the one to come up with the Next Big Thing in recipes, and I’m 100% fine with that. That’s not my goal. What I bring to the table (heh) is – I hope – simplicity, realness, some education, and a bit of entertainment.

 Other times, when I am writing a story for fun or an essay about something, I get this feeling that there are all of these ideas dancing around in my head. Some of them try to get into some sort of order, but the other ideas start a game of Red Rover, and there is chaos once again. Plus, the damned things won’t wriggle out of my brain and through my fingertips so I can put them on paper.

When writer’s block strikes, depression increases, and I am very harsh with myself. I doubt my creativity, my talent. Then I think about all the ideas I’ve had in the past. I’ve started cookery book projects before. The ideas just hadn’t seemed right. The organization and content were lacking. When the current idea struck, I nearly lit up like a Yuletide tree. Now I just have to keep up that motivation and inspiration and…

I might need some encouragement from friends now and again. I hope they don’t mind my recipe-related ramblings. For that matter, I hope none of my cakes turn out terrible! I wouldn’t want to waste a failed experiment, but I wouldn’t want anyone else to have to eat it, either. Perhaps a respectful burial would be in order?

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Cake of My Dreams...Quite Literally!

What's going on? How are you? It's been a while, but I said it would be a while, and boy, I wasn't kidding!

As you know, I've been unemployed, and there haven't been any prospects lately, except for one. I applied for it, and when the time comes, I will focus more energy on it. Until then, I'm trying to get myself motivated to get out of the house sometimes, to CLEAN the house sometimes, and of course, to cook.

All of this non-job having nonsense really helps me screw up my schedule nicely. Sometimes I sleep all day, and sometimes I go for over a day, like right now.

However, I have a very good reason for not being able to sleep well last night/this morning.

Yes, that. I couldn't sleep because of cake. No, I didn't want to stay up all night eating the cake. It didn't exist yesterday, you see. No, I was unable to sleep because I could not stop thinking about making a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. 

My dad's favorite combination is yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Taking after him, I am rather fond of it as well. And just creating things in general, as you know. 

But, what has eluded me all these years is THE yellow cake recipe. I haven't used a box mix in probably 15 years, and while I am pretty lousy in the decorating department,

                                                                         (exhibit A)

I am pretty darn good at making them taste nice. 

For many of us, cake is but a vessel for frosting. I'm often the same way, but it's because the cake part is often too dry or crumbly or tasteless or some combination of those. Even recipes that promise to be "Super Moist!" aren't quite what I'm looking for. 

I want moist, yes. I also want fluffy and light. I am looking for texture and flavor that make me think, "Damn, this is good cake! Who made it? Oh, I did! Fuck, yeah!" or something to that effect. Well, I doubt mine is unique amongst yellow cakes; after all, there's nothing truly new under the sun, but it's still a tasty cake, people. 

Oh, and I wanted to decorate it for Halloween because I found candy eyeballs at Walmart this morning. 

Now, on to the recipe for the cake and frosting:

Note: Don't be shocked. Don't be appalled. I'm using Crisco. Yes, Crisco. Trust me. 

Yellow Cake: 

1.     1 c butter-flavored shortening
2.     1 ¾  c sugar
3.     4 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
4.     1 tsp. salt
5.     1 T. baking powder
6.     3 c cake flour
7.     2 c buttermilk
8.     1 tsp vanilla extract
9.     1 tsp imitation butter flavor

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease and flour 2 9-inch round cake pans.
Cream together shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Incorporate eggs one at a time, and then add egg yolks one at a time.
Whisk together salt, baking powder, and flour. Add half of this mixture to the egg mixture. Then add half the buttermilk. Mix in the other half of the dry mixture, and then the rest of the milk. Stir in vanilla and butter flavor.
Pour batter equally into prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until tops are springy and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool on a rack for 10 minutes in the pans. Remove and finish cooling on a wire rack before frosting.

Optional (but you really should do it): Brush cooling cakes with vanilla syrup. Combine 1/3 cup each sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat until sugar dissolves. Stir in vanilla. Allow to cool a few minutes before drizzling and brushing over the cake. 

Chocolate Frosting: 

4 c powdered sugar
1/2 c  really, really dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 c butter, softened
½ c  butter-flavored shortening
½  c milk, as needed
2 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt

Sift cocoa into a bowl. Add butter and shortening and beat to cream together. Add 1 cup of sugar at a time, alternating with the milk, until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Beat in vanilla and salt.

There you go. Frost those cooled cakes, and maybe stick some candy eyeballs on the finished product. 

Serve on a Halloween dessert plate, if you are so inclined.