Thursday, December 17, 2009

Maybe you really do have to pay to play

Yesterday's New York Times food section pre-empts regular programming. You have to read this  article about Alabama layer cakes -- from which I swiped the beautiful photo above of Martha Meadows and her "little layer cake." Kim Severson writes at length about Southern holiday cake-baking traditions, which are, apparently, venerable and highly localized. (Scott Peacock, who collaborated on a cookbook with Edna Lewis, is collecting oral histories of the women "in their 80s, 90s, and 100s" who bake these cakes, which sounds like possibly the best job in the world.) The story includes two recipes, including one for that mighty tower of a "little" cake in the picture. It looks delicious. It looks very, very hard. It looks a little bit like a Dobos torte.

The whole food section was phenomenal yesterday. Not sure what to make of the square watermelon, but want to bake stollen and peanut butter blossoms and taste some Moser Truffel

Back to Moro & me.

I tested the theory about being crabbier when I cook a routine, practical dinner. Monday -- night of roast chicken and cauliflower -- I was glum and snippy. Tuesday night, made Moro's pea soup with jamon serrano and just opening the little packet of jamon gave me a buzz. Felt fancy. You chop up the jamon and cook it with frozen peas, mint, chicken stock and some other stuff, puree it, and there's dinner. As closure to a rainy day of working, carpooling, arguing over long division, feeding chickens, and cleaning up cat pee, a few slices of jamon struck me as cash well spent on mental health.
Also, cash well spent on soup. Outstanding soup.
Last night, we had a hot chorizo and bean salad for which I bought the specified imported judion beans. Moro describes these as "plump and luxuriously creamy." 
And they were! Which is nice because they cost fourteen times more than what I usually pay for beans. Literally, fourteen times. I won't buy them ever again, but they were huge and buttery and unlike any other bean I've cooked before, and I'm not sorry I bought them once. The recipe calls for briefly marinating the beans with thinly sliced onion, halved cherry tomatoes, and a vinaigrette, then over all of this you toss hot fried chorizo. It was the most delicious dinner I've cooked out of Moro yet, made possible by going to a special store (Spanish Table) and spending extra money.
There's a lesson in this, and it's kind of depressing.
But let's talk about depressing. Later, about to go to bed, I heard a feral scream from the backyard, ran outside with a flashlight and saw a raccoon had peeled back the chicken wire from one of the gaps in the hen house. I've been waiting for the clever, hateful raccoons to weigh in on our poultry project, and this was my lucky night. With his fidgety little paws, this one had unhooked wire from nails and rolled it away from the side of the house and was about to slither in. His pointy face was framed by the inside of the "window" and we stood there staring at each other for about 45 seconds, me, in my pajamas shining a flashlight in his eyes; him, frozen, hoping I would depart so he could begin killing and eating his dinner. My husband came down with a stick and we chased off the raccoon, who then crouched in the street and insolently observed us for a while.  We spent 20 minutes patching every tiny hole in the chicken house from the inside, with a hammer and scrap wood, while all around us the hens purred and clucked. We must really love these chickens because eggs really aren't worth the trouble.


  1. We had a carrot cake with pecan icing in South Carolina that goes for seven hundred dollars in their yearly auction, and it is worth every penny.

  2. HEY! Check out Andrea Nguyen's site,! She has some comments about your blog!


  3. For about ten minutes after I read the NYT piece, I contemplated baking a 12-layer cake.

    Then my sanity returned.

  4. I'm seriously thinking about making one of those cakes - I loved that article too.

  5. Oh my God! My mother used to make Dobos torte! I can't believe you had a link to it. Have you ever made it? I could never find her recipe; my father broke my heart by tossing her old personal cookbook, you know, the kind that have old Ladies Home Journal recipes pasted in with primitive 60s era glue. But it was a spectacular cake, involving some cursing and some trauma with caramel that was too hard or too soft. Let's have a Dobos torte baking party, shall we?

  6. Mary Pols -- Your father did that??? Oh. That is devastating. Let's do have a Dobos torte baking party!!! When???

    Layne -- a $700 cake?

    Oz -- Thank-you! I did not know that and it made me happy.

    Anonymous & modern domestic -- I almost made the cake last night, but lost momentum.

  7. I saved the cake recipe - in my "Projects" file, where I keep any recipe that is more involved than usual. I'm most interested in the boiled icing, and I'll probably make a scaled-down version - 4 or 6 layers. Thanks for sharing this article. I've seen pictures/recipes for Dobos tortes and Smith Island cakes, but wasn't motivated to make them. Guess I'm swayed by a good article and the feeling that I'd love to spend some time with those cake-baking ladies.

    I hope you've seen the last of that raccoon. Dealing with wild animals can be frustrating. They're cute until they start overturning your garbage and killing your poultry.

  8. Jennifer, you are welcome.


  9. Hi Jen,

    Van from Vietnam here. I could not access Facebook since the internet connections in Vietnam is broken.

    I was wondering if I could have your email and your father email? I would really appreciate that. Thanks

  10. Hi Van --
    Nice to hear from you. I was just thinking of you the other day!
    my email is
    my father's is


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