Coming up on Christmas, time to do all the baking and cooking, planning what to do in advance, what to cut off the list this year because it went over like a 50lb sledge hammer dropped on the toe. Pretty much all of my baking has that result. For some unknown reason I decided last year to bake a multitude of Christmas cookies, including merangues, shortbreads, lemon things, and delicious (I thought) red velvet cookies. Yeah. Well. I think the last time I put on a baking spree I was living back in Eden Pit and Jefferson was four or five and the neighbours decided to have a cookie exchange. The idea of course is to bake 6 dozen cookies and bundle them in packets of 6, then you leave your dry, lumpy blob cookies there for some unsuspecting sap to pick up while you take home 6 dozen cute, decorated, delicious kinds of cookie. I had six people ask me wtf it was on the plate. Several of the laughed. Not sure any of them actually put them out for company. They were my comfort cookies. Oatmeal peanutbutter chocolate chip raisin, and they were the only thing I could bake that my family said were good.
I can cook. I can whip up almost any kind of meat, potato, veggie, turkey, chicken, rib dinner, Italian Chinese or Polish influenced for 40 people in two hours! But I can’t bake. Nope. Give me a cake recipe and you get the deer-in-the-headlights look. Of the three deserts that I *make* that get rave reviews, two involve no baking, just toss the stuff together and put it in the fridge. That would be the ubiquitous no bake cheesecake, the recipe for which I cut out of a TVGuide magazine about 35 years ago and still keep hermetically sealed in an equally ancient tupperware container. The second one is the Birthday Cake.
Amusing story behind the Birthday Cake. When Jefferson was about 5 we went to New Jersey to visit my favorite uncle. We had never been to New York and thought it would be cool to combine a family visit with sightseeing in the Big Apple. Stupid and I took in our first Broadway show, which was A Chorus Line, he and Jefferson climbed up into the Statue of Liberty and waved from the torch, we walked through Central Park and stepped in horse poop. I recall standing on a corner somewhere near Wall Street checking a map in relative normal street traffic then boom, five minutes later we were clinging to lamp posts for dear life as the street flooded with people. Tourists. Stupid and I were at different posts… he’d been swept along in the crowd of office workers rushing for home until he managed to snag another pole…and we were shouting over their heads to stay in contact. That little experience affected his bladder and while he was in a questionable little restaurant easing the tension, apparently a tall black gentlemen stood at the urinal beside him, got distracted, missed the bowl and splashed all over Stupid’s foot.
So when we got back to Mountainside, where my uncle lived, he instantly went downstairs and washed his foot and his sandals. My aunt, who had been greeted with “Excuse me, I have to go wash my foot” just looked at me and rather calmly asked if he always did that, and was it a foot fetish?
But anyway, ramble aside, it was also Stupid’s birthday and she had thoughtfully made him a birthday cake while we were fighting the hoards in NYcity. It was a delicious concoction of angel food cake and an icing that had us drooling. When I hesitantly asked her for the recipe, she snorted and told me the cake was store bought, the icing was a tub of Cool Whip with smashed up Crunchy chocolate bars mixed in. That was it.
SO. Ever since that fateful day, the Crunchy cake has been our Birthday Cake, and over the past 30 years, no one has gotten tired of it. I’ve had to double the recipe,as our numbers increased with DILs and SILs and grandkids, making two cakes and using two tubs of CW and five chocolate bars, but there’s never any left on the cake dish to suggest I stop making it.
The third desert, recently added to my arsenal is Key Lime Pie. Years ago, before marriage even, Stupid and I took a trip down to the Florida Keys. We went all the way to Key West and stood at land’s end just so I could say I stood where Hemmingway had stood. At one of the tiny diners we ordered Key Lime Pie and it knocked my socks off. It was the perfect blend of sweet and tart, had a firm consistency, and not a speck of meringue in sight. I’ve been searching for that pie for nearly forty years, trying it in every place that advertises “the best” or “prize winning” key lime pie, but all of them are made like lemon meringue pie, with squooshy pudding filling that sort of tastes like a lime if you close your eyes and imagine it real hard. The few…very few..that have come close have avoided the meringue topping, but still….missed the mark completely.
Last winter when I was in Orlando, one of the snowbird neighbors found a recipe for Key Lime Pie on the internet that she wanted to try. Being the Key Lime guinea pig, she brought a piece over to me to taste and OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was my pie!!!!!!! It was that perfect blend of sweet and tart, the perfect consistency, taste, everything!!!!! I had found it. Like the prodigal son who wanders up to the door and says yo! I’m home.
So I made it rather tentatively for the family when I got home and BOOM! Instant hit. Even the grandkids dig in and ask for seconds. They like to toss a swirl of whipped cream on top, but I like it plain, I like to savor the pleasure of eating something I searched so long to find. So thank you Carolyn. *s* The DIL has even requested the Key Lime Pie for our Christmas dinner dessert this year in place of the ubiquitous no bake cheesecake. She’s even volunteered to whip the cream! Bonus!
In a way I feel a bit bereft. That pie, after all, was like my quest for the grail, and gave me an excuse to try every key lime pie offered in every diner between here and wherever I travel. It’s now firmly entrenched with the Best BBQ Sauce ever on the planet…the only other recipe I have kept for over 35 years… and my salmon dip, which is really made with chicken but still called salmon dip. It’s only about 20 years young, but still qualifies as Canham Family Comfort Food
So…anyone else have a grail food or a comfort food they couldn’t imagine doing without?