Archive | October, 2015

The Zebra Cake

17 Oct

I just started the self-cleaning cycle on the upper oven of my almost new stove so I have a little time on my hands before I can make my brownies. It seemed like a good time to do a blog entry.

Since my blogs are about my impressions or views of life as it happens & another little hitch just happened in the stream of the life continuum, it seemed like a good time to share my thoughts. And maybe this blog entry will help some other poor, unsuspecting soul who just wants to bake a unique zebra cake for a Halloween party.

My first advice is if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. That applies to a great many things in life & now I’m adding a zebra cake mix to that list.

Several days ago I was in the grocery store looking for something to make for refreshments for our club’s Annual Halloween Party. Everyone brings one item for refreshments, which works well & nobody goes broke bringing all the refreshments for the evening.

Our club has an adult membership but once a year at Halloween we sort of step into our perceived worlds of fantasy at our Halloween party & get in touch with our “inner child;” a part of our personalities that is just below the surface & in some cases eagerly waiting to be unleashed. We have a Costume Contest with prizes & play silly games all night & toss caution to the autumn wind. We look forward to it.

So in the grocery store at cake mixes I looked up & saw a cake mix for a Zebra  Cake. It wasn’t a mix by Pillsbury or one of those two cake mix geniuses, Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker. It was some off brand name that boasted of “bakery quality cakes” if you’d just give their mix a try. The zebra part seemed like a cool option for a Halloween party cake so I decided to give it a try although the price seemed especially steep for a cake mix… $3.98 … even one of the zebra variety.  I bought it anyway & 2 cans of chocolate icing.

It’s been a busy week getting everything ready for the party so today I decided to make that Halloween zebra-type cake. The party is tomorrow.

The directions began by telling me to grease & lightly flour one 9” round pan. I know my cake pans are round (duh) & I know they’re 9” but I got a ruler & measured one again just to make sure. I didn’t want anything to interfere with the baking of my “bakery quality” Halloween zebra cake. I DID, however, question  why the instructions called for ONE 9” round pan when the picture on the cake mix box showed a three layer cake.

The cake was complicated for a boxed mix; something that is supposed to make baking quick & easy, but I followed the directions to the letter. My zebra cake was going to be the talk of the Halloween Party refreshment table. I planned to WOW the walkers, the witches, the hippies & the Klingons with my creation.

The directions on the box instruct the cook to make 2 separate mixes in two separate bowls – a chocolate cake mix & a vanilla one; both of which come in the same box. To achieve the “zebra hide” look you rotate ¼ cup scoops of each flavor; dropping one on top of the other & waiting for it to smooth out on its own before dropping another scoopful of the opposite flavor onto the last. It was all pretty intriguing. When it was finished & ready for my precisely preheated oven, it looked like any normal single layer of uncooked cake in a 9” round pan.

I stuck it in the oven & set the timer for 55 minutes as instructed on the side of the box. I went off to check email.

About 25 minutes into the baking process I smelled smoke. I went to the kitchen where smoke was semi-billowing from my oven. I turned the hood vent on “high,” hoping to avoid tripping the smoke detector & bringing the fire trucks, sirens at full squeal, racing to find our house. Our alarm system instantly alerts the fire department. Thinking back about this later, it would have been nice to have a little moral support from Engine Company #7, even though I already had Willy’s moral support. There really wasn’t a lot of room for extra hands cleaning the oven.

The partially baked cake had breached the sides of the 9” cake pan & the liquid portion, like lava covering an unsuspecting village, had engulfed part of the bottom oven element. I snatched that erupting mess from the oven & set it on a pizza pan. I turned off the oven & attempted to get the bulk of that puddling zebra off the stoves heating element & lessen the possibility of the arrival of Engine Company #7. It was SUCH a mess. Willy offered to take over the clean-up but I was already elbow-deep in zebra contents so I just forged on; grateful for his company & support.

Afterward, while I tasted the cooked edges of the cake eruption (which were really quite tasty), Willy back-tracked, reading all the steps of instruction on the cake mix box. I hadn’t taken one uninstructed step so we were at a loss to understand why that zebra cake that was going to WOW the masses at tomorrow’s party was lying in a bubbling, pulsating mess OUTSIDE my 9” round cake pan.

The off-brand cake mix company actually has a Facebook page so I sent them a message. Here is what I said:

I was excited to make one of your zebra cakes for a club Halloween Party tomorrow night, even though the price of your cake mix was a little steep at $3.98 a box.

I checked the instructions. Was surprised that this was only a single layer cake & the instructions said to prepare ONE  9″ round pan. The picture on the box clearly showed a three-layer cake.

I KNOW my pans are 9″ but I measured them anyway. Yep … 9″ round pans. I’m imagining any pan that is a 9″ round pan is a 9″ round pan. If depth were a concern I’m guessing your instructions would have mentioned that somewhere. But a 9″ standard round cake pan is still a 9″ cake pan … isn’t it?

So I made the cake & followed the instructions exactly. About 25 minutes into the baking process I smelled smoke. Went to the kitchen & smoke was coming out of my oven fairly fast. I opened the oven door to find the cake running over the side of the cake pan (9″ as instructed) & burning as the batter hit the heating element. This is a fairly new stove with no thermostat problems.

I’ve just spent a lot of time cleaning up my kitchen & the inside of my stove … waiting for it to cool down so I can run it through a cleaning cycle. My whole house smells like smoke & so does my hair. Fortunately, our fire alarm didn’t go off triggering a visit from our local fire department. We can be thankful for small blessings.

The cake is in the garbage can but the part around the edges that was cooked was really good. I’m sorry the people at the Halloween Party won’t get to try it. I was really excited to see the zebra pattern but could hardly make it out as it burned with a vengeance on the element on the bottom of my stove.

I’m going to make some brownies for the party as soon as I get the last of the burned cake scraped off the floor of my oven & finish the oven cleaning cycle. I swear NEVER to buy anything again without reading the instructions before leaving the store. But even if I had questioned this being a single layer cake when the picture on the box clearly showed a three layer cake, I probably would have bought your zebra mix anyway. It sounded like a cool novelty for a Halloween Party. And who doesn’t like a zebra???

Thanks for listening.

I’m so sorry I won’t be taking a really unique cake to our Halloween Party but my oven probably needed to be cleaned anyway. I’m trying to look at this as the glass half FULL & find some benefit from my zebra disaster.

I know I won’t be trying any bazaar animal hide cake mixes again & I hope I’ve helped some of you by telling you about my zebra cake mishap. If you don’t absolutely NEED a zebra as part of your Halloween experience I’d just let that slide & go for a typical chocolate cake with a plastic cat head & 4 plastic cat feet. You can buy those little cat kits at craft stores.

Happy Halloween & I’ll let you know if I get a response to my letter from the cake company.

 blog zebra



The Martian

5 Oct

Day 12 of rain. If we have more rain tomorrow as predicted (hopefully the last of it), we will be just 27 days behind… & threatening to break… the existing record of 40 days & 40 nights.

Between Day 1 & Day 12 we’ve had showers, downpours, high winds, power outages, toppled trees, flooded low-lying areas, streets & basements, ceiling leaks, broken rain gauges & records, cresting rivers & rain locally heavy at times” resulting in 4.46” of rain in just one 24 hour period. While farmers were struggling to protect unharvested crops, most people were just trying to stay ahead of the next downpour.  Thankfully, we were only kissed by the whisper of hurricane Joaquin.  By the grace of God, our area dodged the bitterest pummeling of that bullet. We were truly blessed.

There’s a lot to be said about depression that affects some people when there is an absence of sun for many, many days on end. Even the least depressed of us start feeling caged after a while & look for different things to do during those periods when the weather anchor on the News at Six tells us not to venture outside unless we “HAVE” to.

So here on Day 12 my husband suggested that we forego another dreary afternoon at home watching it rain & go to a movie. He wanted to see The Martian with Matt Damon. Since we both enjoy anything about space, I was delighted to go & it was, after all, still raining.

There were a lot of people at the movie. It was like a refugee camp of rain survivors; many of us sharing that hollow, vacant-eyed stare that one acquires from being bitten by a zombie or from days of squinting through mist & fog; whichever happens to be plaguing your area. We were among our own kind …

The Martian was a WONDERFUL movie & 2 hours spent primarily on the alien soil of the “red planet” was a delightful change of scenery from gray & wet. The theater was so still & quiet once the film began, you could hear the monotonous squeak of popcorn between teeth & the telltale sound of Rolo wrappers hitting the floor.  It was good to be in that different place.

The Martian was intense but it was also exciting, clever, intellectually appealing, funny, fast paced & VERY believable. It was laced throughout with nostalgic music from “my time,” which added a special appeal.  There was none of the hokie stuff that MIGHT have slipped into a similar script. It was a story of teamwork & resourcefulness that was, on many occasions, a seat gripper. Several times I had to remind myself to breathe.

Matt Damon gets 5 “thumbs up” from me for an Oscar … or maybe even two (Oscars, not thumbs). The film was one that we just hated to see end & sat there through the credits because we didn’t want to miss anything. I believe that speaks volumes about the character of the movie & really had nothing to do with the fact that the wind was still blowing a fine, cold mist around just outside the theater entrance. I LOVED it!

Coming out of the theater into the gray mist & whipping wind of the day wasn’t so bad after all. Filled with 2 gallons of Coke & an 8-gallon bucket of popcorn, we were too stuffed & too wrung out from our short stay on Mars to want dinner. It was a delightful afternoon.

*         *          *

Willy & I both have lousy knees so we sat on the front row where there was “leg stretching room.” From my seat, if I glanced to the left I could see the upper & lower theater EXITS.

My mom took me to movies from the time I was old enough to respond to light & sound & took me screaming from Bambi when the fawn’s mother was killed by hunters. To this day I’ve never seen the rest of that movie. Today the girl taking up our tickets was also checking purses … a relief but also a disquieting reminder of the times in which we live.  I have been going to movies most of my life but today was the first time I’ve ever felt a nudge of anxiety & uncertainty when glancing at those EXITS.

I realized I was subconsciously alert & continually felt a twinge of relief when each person or couple came into the theater to find a seat. Some part of my mind was replaying recent theater scenes of shooters & mass murders; of automatic assault weapons & craziness in the dark … an all too often repeated sign of our times & our culture.

I am angry at these times & this culture for spreading a dark & unwanted blanket over my otherwise enjoyable afternoon & hope that generations that come after us will never have to feel the weight of that blanket. I remember when an afternoon at the movies didn’t hold any threats or anxiety. We just went to the movies & had a good time.

*         *         *

For an afternoon of good, solid entertainment … with very minimal questionable language & none of the violence people heap upon each other … go to see The Martian. You won’t be disappointed & if it’s raining outside you will forget all about it ……….