Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Perfect Party, and a cake; TWD

My grandma (who has Alzheimer's and lives with us) is 88 years old. She has a sister, Helen, who is 89 years old. They have always been the closest of sisters, even though for the past 48 years, Helen has lived in Arizona. My grandma used to spend several months of the year in Arizona with her sister, but hasn't been out there for about three years. It had become clear within the last year that she would not be traveling out there, definitely not alone, and even if I took her, I think it may have been stressful and disorienting. Helen's husband had been chronically ill and she was unable to travel here. I was worried these sisters would never see each other again.

Earlier this year, Helen's husband passed away, and just last week, Helen came back here. For good! She is moving back here. She has been to see my grandma every day and I am soooooo happy to see them together again. Of course, I had to have a party so all the family members could get together and see welcome Helen back. Of course, I had to make a cake to celebrate. I was thrilled that this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe was The Perfect Party cake, chosen by Carol of mix, mix...stir, stir.

I baked my cake Saturday and figured I would fill, frost, and assemble it Sunday morning. One of my layers turned out really lopsided though. I wanted it to be perfect. (No pressure from the name of the recipe, right?) Sunday morning, I decided to bake another one. Both layers turned out perfect. I decided to shave the lopsided part off the one cake and use the rest. Seven cake layers would make a spectacular cake. I also had some lime curd needing to be used, so I alternated the layers with blackberry preserves and lime curd.

I hadn't actually started frosting the cake when my guests started arriving. One uncle brought his own cooler of Budweiser he started drinking out of. (He actually does this every time he comes to my house, regardless of whether there is a party going on.) Another uncle put some Moosehead beer in the refrigerator and offered me one. I accepted and drank a Moosehead while I was beating the buttercream with a hand mixer. Yes, it takes that long to make this buttercream. I started feeling a little tipsy and commented to my husband that it must be strong beer. He asked what I had eaten so far that day, and I realized I had only had about 8 cups of coffee.

I put wax paper strips down on the plate, got another beer, and proceeded to assemble/ fill/ frost the cake. I would bet that spreading buttercream over jam and/or lime curd is not easy sober. It was sloppy fun being a little tipsy and I finally got all seven layers stacked. When I pulled the wax paper from underneath on one side, part of the bottom layer came with it, so my cake ended up lopsided after all!

We had a great time visiting and catching up. Someone else bought some Heineken and some Miller Chill, and my cousin kept offering me some Jack Daniels from a bottle he was pulling from his pocket. I declined the Jack, but someone headed out for more beer. We finally cut the cake and it was delicious. Cousin J decided to stabilize it with a knife.

That worked for that side, but part of the cake ended up on the stove, and for some reason, that seemed really hysterical to everyone and we laughed and laughed. And had more cake of course! And beer of course!

For some reason, these pictures are fuzzy and unclear. I thought it was just my perspective at the time, but I guess I am about as good at drunken photography as I am drunken frosting. I loved this cake and loved having the family together laughing and eating and reconnecting.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer Days In Da Club

During my shifts at work, business has been painfully slow. Summer is a slow season for us anyway. This summer, the economic climate has brought a harsh drought to the money of the club. (I learned the phrase "make it rain" recently from Little E. He was with me somewhere when I pulled out my stack of dollar bills to pay my bill in singles. [Hey, at least I wasn't writing a check.] Little E asked why I carry around large amounts of dollar bills and I told him because I am a server, I make most of my money I take home in dollar bill tips. He said "you always look like you're getting ready to make it rain." I asked him what "make it rain" means and from behind us in line my husband laughed and said "You don't know what 'make it rain' means? Remind us where you work again." So I guess I have seen it many a time, but never knew it was called that.) Anyway, there hasn't been much rain in the club lately. Everyone gets irritable. I usually try to keep good spirits and do my job well, even when I am making very little money to do it.

The dancers have been getting a bit mouthy with the customers for not tipping and I have been becoming increasingly uncomfortable about it. I understand their frustration. They PAY to work there. Not only do they not make an hourly wage, they pay a fee everyday to be able to come into work. So they start out their day in the hole and it would be infuriating to go on stage after stage to dance and not have anyone coming up and tipping them. But they are not allowed to solicit tips. They definitely are not allowed to DEMAND tips, which is what one woman has been doing.

Last Wednesday (my day shift), a regular customer said "M has been getting really bad and driving away customers." I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do about it. There is usually no manager there during the day. I'm just a bartender. They are independent contractors. I'm not their boss. But I do represent the club and it is important to me that we make our customers comfortable. So I had been pondering it and decided to talk to her yesterday morning.

I told M that I know it is upsetting when people don't tip, but I would hope she would not try to embarrass them or make them feel uncomfortable. That didn't go well since she pointed out that it makes her uncomfortable and embarrassed to have to dance naked for free. I pointed out sometimes customers don't tip her if they are waiting for another dancer to go spend money on. (I had noticed that last week, her calling a customer a cheap ass because he wasn't coming up to her stage and he was waiting for another dancer to come out, whom he spent $100 on.) She countered that even if a customer is waiting for another dancer, he should show her respect while he is waiting.

These are good points, but customers are not obligated to tip. I also asked her to consider that sometimes, customers spend money on dancers, but don't tip the bartender and sometimes it works the other way. Sometimes I am making money off of people even if the dancers are not. So could she please consider that before harassing them?

It turned out that was exactly the situation yesterday. The first part of the day, several customers got drinks from me without tipping, but were tipping dancers on stage and getting private dances. My tip jar sat completely empty while the dancers made some good money. In the afternoon, a group of three guys came in and tipped me $5 for their first round of drinks. Whoo hoo! Not spectacular, but better than the $0 I had gotten from most of the other customers. They sat and talked while M went on stage. Another round, another $5 tip. M yelled "I'm not getting naked for free here!" Grrr. Whatever. Fine, I understand her not wanting to get naked. She seemed to think that the guys were watching TV and sat on the couch onstage saying "OK, well, I can watch TV too." They looked a little confused. M asked, "Are you so cheap you can't even give me a dollar?" A couple of them reluctantly approached the stage. I walked by and told her to cut it out and went to the table and they ordered another round and gave me another $5 tip. M yelled to the table, "You know those beers are cheaper somewhere else." The next time she got on stage, they got up and left.

We had the same argument we had earlier and she really feels she is right in acting this way. I feel it makes the club look bad. When a manager came for the evening shift, I told him about it and he said he and the house mom would talk to her about it. Great. Now I am going to be considered the tattletale. Once, I told the (same)house mom when I saw a dancer giving a blow job in the couch dance area and was chastised as being the tattletale for years.

On a more humorous, weirdo factor note, the other day a guy came in with a flier rolled up and I could see the top said "wanted". He didn't want to buy a drink, but I told him when there is no cover charge, he has to buy a drink and he reluctantly ordered a cranberry juice. As dancers approached his table, he kept showing them the flier. It turns out he was hoping he could post it in the stripper dressing room. It said "Wanted. Roommate."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Roasted Pineapple Dacquoise; Tuesdays with Dorie

I made this week's TWD recipe on Sunday. I knew it would not get done in time for Father's Day dinner dessert, but hoped it would be done on Father's Day. This recipe just had several steps that took a lot of time. "Bake for three hours, chill for three hours, once assembled, chill for four to six hours."

I had everything I needed for this, except for a pineapple and parchment paper. I even had some white chocolate that I had been thinking would never get used. So I bought a pineapple, decided to use silicone mats, and decided to follow the recipe and make the white chocolate ganache, even though I had a feeling I would like this more with a whipped cream. I decided to just take my time and work on the recipe throughout the day.

I baked the meringue sheets on silicone sheets, so I didn't exactly make neat 6'X 12" rectangles. My camera batteries died, so I couldn't take pics of my steps, but knew that they would be charged by the time this recipe got done.

I made the ganache, and roasted the pineapple and had them chilling, when my brother called wanting to know if I would babysit my 18 month old niece for a few hours. Baby E came over and shortly thereafter was scratched by a cat and started crying. And crying and crying. I knew she was tired and would be more comfortable at her house so I had my husband hold her while I threw the dacquoise together so it could be chilling while I took her home and got her a bath and in bed.

He calmed her for a few minutes by getting a Yo Gabba Gabba song on Youtube. I decided to try to trim my meringues to make them more neat and even, but they cracked. Baby E started crying harder in the other room. Knowing this needed to chill for a few hours, I wanted to get it assembled, but it was hard to piece the meringues together attractively with the crying baby wailing and I felt hurried.

Wah Wah Wah Wah! I hurried and made a layer of meringue. Wah Wah Wah Wah! I pulled the ganache and pineapple out of the refrigerator and made layers. Wah Wah Wah Wah. More meringue, ganache, pineapple. Wah Wah Wah Wah! Finished it off by pouring the rest of the ganache on top and slapping on the rest of the pineapple.

I looked at it, wondering if it was supposed to be sitting in a lake of ganache? Threw it in the fridge and the baby in the stroller and headed to her house. Her cries subsided as soon as we were out the door.

We went to her house and she got a bath and a snack and we read some stories and she went right to sleep. It's been a long time since I have taken care of a little baby. I sat down in the quiet house, and just then it hit me; I forgot to whip the ganache! When I got home around midnight, My dacquoise had been chilled long enough, so I pulled it out and realized it was more of a floating island than a dacquoise.

It was really too sweet too. I think I would have liked this with whipped cream. I liked the meringue (eating my left over chipped pieces) and the pineapple. Maybe whipped, the ganache wouldn't have been so overpowering. I'll have to try this again. Thanks to Andrea in the Kitchen for this pick!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Honey- Nectarine Ice cream; TWD

This was summer on a spoon. We all loved this refreshing treat. This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Honey-Peach Ice Cream, was chosen by Tommi, of Brown Interior. The recipe can be found on her blog, or on page 437 of Baking, from My Home To Yours, by Dorie Greenspan.

I had an exhausting week, volunteering at a summer camp, for a class that teaches kids about fossils and rocks. It is my favorite week of the year, but it is more physically demanding than my regular job, which mostly consists of sitting on a cooler, waiting for a customer, or occasionally having to lift an ice scoop and pour a Captain and Coke.

At camp we walk for a half a mile to a creek. Then we walk though the creek looking for rocks. Then the kids collect too many rocks. And their five gallon buckets get too heavy. Then the instructor wants to go farther down the creek. And I realize, "Hey this water is higher than some of the kids' heads and there is a pretty strong current, so I can barely stand and the water is only up to my thighs." So I yell to the instructor who is way ahead but he can't hear me. And the little kids start crying because of the cold current. So I end up carrying small children and heavy buckets of rocks through a rushing stream until I am almost crying too. Then we go back and do the same thing the next day. Actually, it is more fun than it sounds, but I am just trying to describe my level of physical exhaustion.

So I didn't even know if I would have the energy to make the ice cream. I went to the store and they had only five shriveled, bruised peaches. I remembered that Dorie says you can use nectarines, but I had nectarines all week for lunch and the nectarines at the store were hard and not very appealing. I bought them anyway and hoped for the best.

You don't need to peel nectarines, so that was nice. I just diced them up and boiled them with honey. (I did not notice that I was only supposed to chop half, and save the other half for when the ice cream gets frozen, so all my nectarines went in.)

Then the nectarines get pureed and a simple custard base gets made.

When the custard and the fruit combined, it tasted like peach baby food. Yum. My favorite. Seriously. At this point, I substituted Absolut Peach Vodka for the vanilla.

After being chilled overnight, I poured it in the ice cream maker, froze it a little more, and we had this lovely nectarine ice cream.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Parisian Apple Tartlet; TWD

I really liked this week's recipe for Parisian Apple Tartlets, chosen by Jessica of My Baking Heart. The recipe was sooo simple, but sooo tasty. It would make such an elegant little dessert for a party.

I showed the recipe and picture to little E, and he said, "It just makes one?"

So I explained that the recipe was so simple; apple, a dab of butter, a sprinkle of sugar, and some puff pastry, I could easily make however many I wanted.

I asked how many he thought I should make and he quickly replied, "Twenty-five. There are five of us and we could probably eat about five each." Little E is a thirteen year old boy going through a growth spurt.

I am sure these would be great with store bought puff pastry, but I had never made puff pastry dough and wanted to give it a try. I used this recipe. It didn't turn out perfect, but it was my first time so I did not stress about it. My husband came in and asked if I was making a relief map of Iceland.

Also, that is white thing is a Countrytime lemonade canister lid, about 3 3/4", used to cut the circles. My apple chunks were really too big, but rather than cut them again, I just stacked them a little haphazardly.

I may have wanted to make my apple slices thinner, and/or my circles bigger, because the butter and brown sugar overflowed quite a bit and kept the pastry from puffing in places, and the apples toppled a bit. (Note- I only made ten.)

But they tasted really really good. Even though Dorie says they should be eaten soon after being made, certainly the same day, I had one two days later and it was still good. I wish I had made twenty-five. A couple were almost picture perfect.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cinnamon Squares; Tuesdays With Dorie

It's a picture game. What is this?

Did you guess tents in a sandstorm? Or chunks of Starbucks Mocha Dark Chocolate, dusted with cinnamon, sugar, and espresso powder? If you guessed the latter, you are correct!

I wish I could give you a cinnamon square as a prize.

Cinnamon, chocolate, and espresso, all bold flavors, play nicely together in this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Cinnamon Squares, on pages 210 & 211 of Baking, From My Home To Yours, by Dorie Greenspan. This simple, but elegant snack cake was chosen by Tracey, of Tracey's Culinary Adventures.

This recipe came together so easily. The batter is mixed by hand, and half is poured in an 8" X 8" pan. Then It is topped with chopped chocolate, cinnamon, and espresso powder.

The rest of the batter goes on top, and it is ready to go in the oven.

The recipe included a chocolate frosting, which looked delicious, but it was very hot and humid in my house, and the frosting seemed too heavy. I just dusted it with powdered sugar and cocoa.

(My cake had a couple of stab wounds from testing.)

I served this to the kids as an after school snack. Big E said "If you want to make this again, you can." It is always nice to have to have the sixteen year old's permission to make him snacks. I was glad they liked it though. I thought is was great and I'm sure I will make it again.