Monday, January 16, 2006

A Million Tiny Pieces of Cake -- Chapter Four

What's with the name of Mrs. Linklater's memoir? The cake part. James Frey's non fiction piece of fiction, A Million Little Pieces, is about drug addiction. Compared to his life, Mrs. L's life has been nothing but cake. Literally and figuratively.

I haven't bought his book or even felt like reading it yet. Mainly because I have no desire to feel the pain of people going through drug withdrawal, even though i'm related to people who have been down that road.

I have my own addictions, but they are not drug or alcohol related. Not that I didn't have my chances. I was on something with five grains of codeine in each pill every month for seven years because I had such terrible cramps in high school and college. Until they finally invented Ponstel, a miracle drug for me.

Before that, I was on an industrial strength high for at least two days a month -- legally. How ironic that I hated every minute of it. The codeine dreams were hallucinatory. I felt like I never slept. The only upside for me was that I was sooooooo mellow. The razor sharp edge that separates me from normal people was gone. In college an ex-boyfriend called my sorority house to talk to someone else. I answered and I sounded so laid back that he ended up talking to me instead. He even asked me out. Unfortunately I wasn't doped up anymore by the time we got together a few days later.

I did gain what little empathy I have for addicts and their pain, when I was a divorced mother raising kids and hurt my back. The spasms were killing me, but it was a holiday and I couldn't reach my doctor for a prescription, or call a chiropractor for an adjustment, or hire a massage therapist for some relief.

Scouring through the medicine chest I found some Darvocet leftover from foot surgery. I took a couple. They didn't do much for the pain in my back, but they sure numbed the "white noise" of stress that had been buzzing -- unbeknownst to me -- in my head.  Hmmmm. I'd always heard about the ability of drugs to silence the noise scrambling around in your mind, but I didn't know I even had any. Or how much. Still, I didn't take more pills when those wore off -- I realized there was something going on and talked to someone to figure out what it was.
After medicating myself with a box of chocolates.

Which brings me to the cake part of the memoir. I love cake, especially chocolate cake with chocolate butter cream frosting. Why can't it be one of the food groups?

My favorite childhood cake was store-bought -- chocolate layers with creamy white icing and the top and sides covered in chocolate sprinkles. For some reason it was called a Ranch Cake. Thinking about it reminds me of summer suppers of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans after which my mother would bring out a Ranch Cake for dessert. It also reminds me that we had a glass-topped table and my brother used to come to dinner with bare feet, which were visible through the glass in a most unappetizing way.

I graduated to yellow cake with chocolate frosting, angel food cake with strawberry frosting, carrot cake, banana cake, German chocolate cake, Black Forest cake, you name it, but I never learned to bake any from scratch.

Then I got married. My mother-in-law had a family recipe for chocolate cake that my husband loved. He mentioned it so much that I took the hint and asked my MIL for the recipe. The first time I baked it was a disaster. The layers were only about 1/2 inch high, instead of at least an inch.

To save face, I called it a torte. A two-layer torte. I think the definition of torte is at least five to seven layers of really really thin cake layers. So mine was pretty pathetic.

I think the real issue was that my MIL wasn't ready to relinquish her exalted position as the chief and only cakemaker. 

That may have been why she neglected to tell me to use cake flour instead of regular flour. Her recipe only called for flour. She just assumed I knew it was supposed to be cake flour. It was a cake, wasn't it? Every knows that. Except for me.

Then I had children who began to have birthday parties which required a cake. Usually there were so many kids I would use that as an excuse to buy a cake, so there could be leftovers. For me.

I found a family bakery close by that made two layer sheet cakes with wonderful, moist and light chocolate cake, covered with extraordinary chocolate butter cream frosting. With your choice of filling between the layers -- I always chose raspberry. When my metabolisim was in high gear I could finish off the leftover cake in a day or two, but those days are long gone. It just goes stale now.

When my younger daughter was in high school I met a woman on a freight elevator in myoffice building who was carrying a beautiful designer cake to a big party. She was the cakemaker, so I took her card and later had her create a cake for my daughter's sixteenth birthday. It looked like a Laura Ashley hatbox. It was beautfiul. My daughter loved it. I tried to find a picture of it, but no luck.

For a friend's 36th birthday party I found a cake sculptor who created a voluptuous female torso in a bikini for him. I had "A PERFECT 36" written across the middle of some body part.

By the way, this wasn't two breastlike mounds on top of a sheet cake -- the cakemaker had actually carved a very shapely and realistic body. My friend loved it. He said it tasted good too.

These days I have no use for any frou frou flourless cake, or those obscene Death by Chocolate extravaganzas. Just gimme good old fashioned layer cake with real butter in the frosting. A scoop of ice cream couldn't hurt. Lately, bakeries under pressure have come up with smaller layer cakes -- only five inches across, instead of ten. So it won't go stale before those of us who live alone and just pretend we're having company can finish it. 

There's also a new place in Chicago called Cupcakes -- which specializes in nothing but -- go figure -- cupcakes. Apparently they go through 1200 a day on the weekends. It might be time for a road trip this afternoon. Sometimes these trips down memory lane are full of calories.

So many pieces of cake. So little time.

End of Chapter Four


mosie1944 said...

As I read this, I'm eating gingerbread with Cool Whip on top.  I shouldn't have made it, (dieting, you know) but granddaughters are off school and I wanted them to have home-made dessert.  Besides, I LOVE gingerbread.

artloner said...

Hey LinkyLu!

  If I had a dollar for every time some idiot said to me "Oh I WISH I could walk around on a those DRUGS." Aside from being plain old insensitive and rude, I wish they'd have just one day on "those drugs" and see if they'd say that. Try to balance your checkbook, drive to do errands, even interact with your closest friends without mind-cracking concentration to try to follow the conversation.  All of that, and of course, the pain that is always there, regardless of any prescribed medications that only make you not care so much. They don't take the pain away. But you know all that, because you are thoughtful and kind and my buddy.  (I have missed fault).  As for cake? I just don't buy it...if I did, I'd eat the whole thing at a sitting.


sdoscher458 said...

Let them eat cake...actually not a bad addiction, unless you are trying to lose weight. People can really express themselves in their choice of cakes too. I had a groom once who wanted a Groom's cake to reflect his love of I had the baker create a cake in the shape of the wing shaped thing they wore on their uniform and she wrote the sayings.."Beam Me Up Scotty", and (this was a hit) "Going where No man has gone before!" It was funny....Sandi

ksquester said...

Oh goodness, Mosie always has the best recipes, so if you are hungry and she posts one, you will actually go out and get the ingredients for it and try it. She has an applecake that is to die for. My sons' GROOMS cake was french vanilla with strawberry filling and vanilla buttercream frosting with strawberries on top. When the kids were little, I always did cupcakes for their birthday cake. I put them all on a round platter and spelled out Happy Birthday with their name on it.  Cake=memories, who knew?   As for the book, just finished it......have lived it as the mother of an alcoholic etc. I don't like James Frey as much as I wanted to. His story is much like the stories I have heard from others.  Let's just say I am famliar with Tent City in Arizona. (Hi Remo!) I find Mr. Frey much too arrogant.  But that's just me. Sorry for the LONG comment, but I need a cupcake now.  Anne

psychfun said...

I knew there was a bond we had...Codiene! HA! I totally relate. 2 Fiornel #2 with Codience & some wine..cramps away! Darvocet is too funky for me. Vicodin now....

Have you tried Portillos Chocolate Cake? Man it is amazing! I'll have to find that Cupcakes place...can you email me the address?

Did you watch the Golden Globes? What did you think?

onemoretina said...

    Nothing .... NOTHING .... is as wonderful as a slice of really good cake.  What makes it good ?  Well, it has to be light and moist, but most importantly, it HAS to have Buttercream Frosting.  None of that so-called whipped cream stuff.  Nope.  It has to have real butter.  One whiff of that frosting, and I am a goner.  Tina

suzypwr said...

Cake is good. I agree, basic chocolate and butter cream stuff is best. No need to get fancy with unrecognizable parts and flavors. Now I feel like baking. Too bad my oven doesn't. I hope your book has a lot more chapters!


mombzbe said...

Mmm, choc. cake.... My birthday fell a couple of weeks after I went away to college.  I couldn't go home that day, and the little old lady I lived with was sweet and made me a chocolate cake.  It was the best birthday cake I've ever had. :)

Nowadays, I try not to take it personal that my kids will clamor for cupcakes, and I oblige them, only to find cake carcasses in the garbage...because they lick the frosting off the cake, and say they are done.  

You guessed it--next time they want cupcakes, I'm handing them frosting and a spoon. :p

screaminremo303 said...

Better living though prescription pharmacuticals. I'm willing to give it a try, but Wild Turkey stock would plummet and civilization would cease as we know it.

That may not be a bad thing.

sunnyside46 said...

I am al lfor better living through chemistry...and cake