Keeping Up with the French Quarter

Here at kitchen stadium Green Hope Farm, there are culinary triumphs and there are culinary disasters.

As the dust settles on the pre-Thanksgiving November, it is time to share a culinary mishap sure to go down in the history of the neighborhood.

As you may or may not recall, our neighbor Teddy, eternal friend of all things Green Hope Farm lives the good life next door in French Quarter with her three french poodles AND her husband Malcolm. Since Malcolm does not have a single cell in his body that says, “Je suis francais.”, he did NOT feature in our glowing description of french culture at Teddy’s.

Malcolm, an ecumenical minister who marries and buries many folks in the Upper Connecticut River valley, was profiled in one of our green newsletters, so you may have read about Malcolm before. In fact, you may have heard about Malcolm even if you have never heard of us.

Malcolm is a land unto himself. If I need to give the Sears repairman directions to our home I say, ” I live in the house before Malcolm’s” and that is all that is needed. If someone wants to know what Connecticut River valley town I live in, I say, “Same one as Malcolm Grobe.” and everyone knows where to place me.

The fact that Malcolm is well known and also beloved does not mean that Malcolm won’t fire the occasional shot across our bows to keep us down on the farm.

When I wrote the blog about his glamorous wife Teddy, Malcolm wanted to set the record straight about cutlure in the neighborhood.

I received a seething four page diatribe from Malcolm about how he is one of, “the Plain People, original settlers before the “others” arrives with their “goldens,” people who “remember paying taxes by bringing a couple of bales of hay to the Town Barn”, people “longing for the good old days” before we moved to the neighborhood and things went to pot.

But being a forgiving man, Malcolm still invited us riffraff to his seventy seventh birthday party and as a peace offering, I offered to bring the birthday cake.

There are so many questions to be asked about the baking nightmare that followed this offer.

First, what possessed me to try a new recipe from a cookbook I had never used before? What was wrong with tried and true chocolate cake recipes? Why the switch to the big city Magnolia cookbook? In short, why was I trying to keep up with the french quarter?

The chocolate buttermilk cake I made, described in the Magnolia cookbook as having a wonderful flavor and texture, hardly held together as a cake when removed from the cake pan. It had a tinder dry crumb and was an unattractive shade of beige. As I went to frost the first layer, the cake disintegrated into large chunks resembling flecked styrofoam.

Not yet fully alarmed, I pulled a trick out of my baking bag of tricks and went to pop the cake in the freezer for a few minutes to harden up the first coat of frosting so I could apply a clean white second coat. Unfortunately, during this maneuver, I did not keep the cake plate level. Layer number one went flying off the cake plate and smashed into a zillion pieces on the ground.

With layer number one in the dustbin. I returned to examine the remaining layer. It was a sad little thing, hardly an offering fit for Malcolm’s seventy seventh. I clearly needed to bake another cake.

For attempt number two, I went back to a tried and true chocolate cake recipe, one requiring cocoa.

Unfortunately, I had no cocoa and did not have enough time before the party to get to the store to get cocoa and still make the cake….. so I substituted very upscale hot chocolate for cocoa. It seemed like a substitution worthy of gourmet Teddy’s as well as frugal Yankee Malcolm.

The cake baked up looking moist and dark. Unfortunately, when I went to take the cake out of the pan, most of the cake failed to come out of the angel food tin. It was at this point that I began to photograph this culinary nightmare for your edification. Here is the angel food tin after the unsuccessful removal of the cake from the pan. Note strange white lumps from cocoa mix, yet another sign that it was a substitution that had gone south.

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The good news was that the cake had the consistency of tar so I could put all the pieces I scraped out of the tin onto the meager little piece of cake that had come out of the tin in the first place and mush everything together into something that looked like it was baked as one piece.

Party time was fast approaching. I t was time to frost the gooey broken mass of cake.
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What can I say? Tar baby was too warm to frost AND tar baby was going to need the second layer from the first cake to have the stature needed for a seventy seventh birthday party cake.

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I slapped Mutt on frosted Jeff and put the whole thing out on the back porch. It wasn’t as cold out there as in my freezer, but there was less chance of me dropping the cake while getting it onto the back porch.
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The timeclock was ticking in Kitchen Stadium Green Hope Farm so after a short period of cake chilling, I had to get to work laying down first one then a second layer of frosting. I can’t say things went well, but there was general euphoria by the time I applied Flowers and candles. The cake actually looked good enough to eat and we had gotten a chance to laugh our heads off for about two hours.
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Jim, Will, and I went to put our coats on to go next door with the proud cake. When we came back to pick up the cake, this is what greeted us.

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This was a culinary first for me- A cake that literally fell apart after being frosted.

Further salvage was deemed impossible, our time was up and we had to give the birthday boy his cake just like that.

It tasted surprisingly good. More people got to laugh at the futility of keeping up with the french quarter.

And Curly, one of the three french poodles, gave us another moment of high humor when he put up his little head and howled all through our rendition of “Happy Birthday”

I guess he wanted us to be singing ” Bonne fete a toi.”

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