I have a confession or two to make. I would rather bake than cook. Ask me to make mashed potatoes for four and I am likely to whimper. Ask me to make 16 cakes, all with different frostings and decorations and I am on it!
My sister-in-law here in Michigan and I have shared holiday hosting for over 30 years. When she is cooking and hosting and I ask what to bring, the answer has always been desserts. It has been my joy to do so. A few times the desserts had been so good and compliments had been so generous, Bill had to grease my ego to get it to fit inside the car for the ride home.
This was not one of those years.
The first failure made me cry before it was even baked. The recipe was chocolate raspberry bars. A crust was baked for a few minutes in a 13 x 9 pan while sweetened condensed milk and chocolate chips were melted and blended together on the stove. This was spread over the semi-baked crust, to be followed by dollops of raspberry jam, more of the crust mixture and more chocolate chips.
The crust was baking, the milk and chips had just gone into the pan on the stove when the label on the jar of jam went to neon blinking letters and informed me I had bought STRAWBERRY jam instead of raspberry! Nooooooooo!! I tasted a spoonful of strawberry jam with 2 chocolate chips. Waaahhhhh! Not what I wanted at all!
Normally this would have annoyed me but not reduced me to tears. Unfortunately I had a cold this year and my head felt like this: Bill is one of the sweetest men on earth and offered to go to the store for raspberry jam, but it was almost 4 PM on Christmas Eve. No, I wouldn't do that to him, I'd figure out something. Since only a small amount of jam was called for and it was really for flavor contrast, it wasn't an essential ingredient. I scattered some nuts, then the crumb topping and chips and finished baking. If I were to grade this dessert, it would have gotten a C-
To balance the ego that sometimes inflates when a dessert turns out exceptionally well, the good Lord gave me a sense of humor. Thank goodness for that when it came to dessert #2. Do you remember when "Poke Cakes" were the rage? I thought a poke cake would be easy and festive, something the little kids would like.
I made an 8" round layer cake with white batter, and used cherry jello in one layer, lime in the other. Feeling as puny as I did, I never took photos of the cake at home and didn't remember to take my camera to the Christmas dinner either. Long ago when I made this cake, I made it in a 9 x 13 pan because it was easier to cover and tote. Making it in layers was supposed to look like this:
I took the layers out of my refrigerator shortly before we were due to leave for my sister-in-law's house, a mere 15 minutes away. I frosted the cake with white frosting and added red decorator's sugar around the edge of the cake and off we went.
After dinner and watching the kids open gifts from us, it was time to bring out the desserts. Uh-oh....what was going on with my cake? The frosting was sliding off the sides!
"Don't worry" said one of my niece's husbands as he spread the frosting back on the side of the cake.
"It will taste just fine!" said one of my nieces.
"Blame it on the humidity" said my sister-in-law, that being our long standing excuse for everything from unruly hair to threatened manslaughter.
My guys never said a word, but Bill and both of the boys looked at me in a way that made me think they may start looking for a room with padded walls for me. I had lost my knack. Big time.
Now I was feeling like poor Lucy:Leave it to a 4 year old to unknowingly save the day. His dad kept repairing the sides of the cake and cut a piece for Josh. Josh looked at the green streaks in the cake and asked if I had put pickles in the cake! His cousin Alexander now wanted Pickle Cake too!
The brave souls who ate the cake all declared it was delicious and ate every morsel on their plates as proof. Half of the cake had been served. Five or six adults remained seated at the table talking when George, the frosting repairman, said "uh-oh"...the top layer of the cake was now sliding!
By now we were all laughing pretty heartily. It was time to go and I suggested that my sister-in-law dispose of the cake-with-a-mind-of-its-own any way she saw fit.
I called her yesterday to thank her again for the delicious dinner and soon she had me laughing again. She told me that she had moved the cake to her kitchen counter and stopped to bid farewell to whomever was leaving next. By the time she returned to the kitchen, the remaining top layer of cake was on the counter next to the cake plate. My demented "Pickle Cake" had turned into an homage to a cheesy horror mirror classic, The Blob!
My imaginary blue ribbon for good desserts may be tarnished with jello stains now, but the memory of the moving "Pickle Cake" is probably firmly ensconced in family holiday memories already, and as Martha would say, this is a good thing.