Monday, December 28, 2009

Reindeer Games and Chocolate Cake

I hope that everyone had a happy Christmas and will have a happy new year. Christmas at our house was a great success as usual. The children received most all of the items on their wish lists, with the exception of my daughter’s Lexus SUV.  I feel her pain because I didn’t receive mine either.  Maybe next year.

My son is now the proud owner of a new guitar, an assortment of band t-shirts and a new thermometer for his fish tank. My husband and I exchanged smaller presents since we have agreed that we if we never bought anything else in our lives, we would still have too much stuff. My favorite gift was a huge assortment of mascaras. His favorite from what I can assess must be the small backpacker’s super absorbent towel that Santa delivered. Our dog Scruffy even had a month’s supply of beefy flavor treats and a toy bunny with a brand new squeaker stuffed in his stocking. We’re all pretty happy.

It was just the four of us at home this Christmas. Since it's pretty crazy in Texas this year (my book about these shenanigans is in the works) and my husband’s family wasn’t much better, we decided to stay close to home. I love waking up Christmas morning in my own bed, making a cup of instant (yes, instant, not drip) coffee the way I like it and opening our presents by the light of our own tree. Oh sure, I miss the variety and drama of a good ole south Texas Christmas with the family, but this year I decided to keep up to date via long distance.

When I was a child, I loved watching all of the excitement of a fireside family showdown but as you get older the chances of getting sucked to the middle of it increase dramatically and I wanted no part of that. My daughter was telling me about a website where you can read actual forwarded texts that are sent in by everyday people. One of her favorites said, “Its not Christmas till my mother cries.” This must have been sent in by one of my cousins because in my extended family Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a few tears. After listening to Charlie Sheen's wife's Christmas Eve 911 call, I take comfort in knowing that we're not alone.

Oh, I guess it really wasn’t all bad growing up in my family. In fact, when I think back on my favorite childhood Christmases, I seem to always go back to those mornings at my grandmother’s farm when everyone would open their presents together. We would then play with each other’s toys while our young mothers, with Dippity-do soaked pin curls scotch taped to the sides of their faces, would joke and laugh while preparing such 60’s favorites as Green Jell-O and Cream Cheese Mold, Ambrosia Salad and a gooey chocolate layer cake that I have no idea what it was called.

About three or four o’clock in the afternoon, after begging for any old scrap of food for what seemed like hours, we were ushered to our appropriate places. The younger ones of us were escorted to the kiddie table and the grown-ups took their places at the main table.  I loved sitting with the kids where the population knew how to gross each other out with their mashed potatoes.  The grown-ups just didn’t know how to have fun with their food. 

This year at our little celebration, there wasn’t any division of the generations by table. The four of us all sat together and shared stories and ate the prime rib that took about an hour longer than I thought it would and laughed. We watched videos together after dinner instead of engaging in a Andre Cold Duck infused row like the generations before us, and somehow we still managed to have a good time.

I must admit that I do miss most of my crazy family members who now have either drifted apart or passed away. I keep them alive by relying on my memories of them, cooking some of their wonderful recipes and by having a glass or two too many of inexpensive champagne with my dinner. Maybe those grown-ups knew a thing or two about having a little fun after all.




I'm not sure if this was the exact recipe that my mother used to make, but if there's a better chocolate cake in existence, I'd like to try it. This recipe has been a staple in American homes forever but if I introduce it to just one new person, my work here is done. Try it just once and I guarantee that it will make a regular appearance on your table.

Buttermilk Sheet Cake

1 cup (250ml) water
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (113g) butter or margarine
2 cups (280g) all purpose flour
2 cups (400g) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (125ml) buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 F (180C).

In a large saucepan, bring to a boil the water, cocoa, oil and butter or margarine. Mix the flour, sugar, salt and soda in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the hot mixture and mix well. To this add the buttermilk, vanilla and the beaten eggs; continue mixing. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9”x13” oblong baking pan. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle. Remove from the oven and frost in the pan while still warm.

Frosting:
1/2 cup (113g) butter or margarine
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (100ml) milk
1 pound (500g) icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large pan set over medium heat, melt the butter with the cocoa powder and milk. Stir in the sugar and vanilla; whisk until smooth. Add the chopped nuts if desired; stir well and spread on the warm cake. Let cake cool before cutting.
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