Monday, March 12, 2018

Happy 50th birthday, Nick

Dear Nick,

Today is your 50th birthday.

When we met, you were approaching 40. You’d been dating for a long time, and had begun considering the idea that you might be too difficult a person to be married. (Some days I think this is probably true, and I imagine you’d say the same about me.)

But in any case, with this thought in mind, you'd decided to fulfill a lifelong dream and bought an old sailboat that you were excited to fix up.

We talked about it in emails and on our first date. I’d only really been sailing in exotic locales, and certainly never had to be the one to steer the boat, so I thought they were fun, and sailing with you sounded like a grand adventure.

My dad loved boats, and he was so excited to help you get your boat across the Chesapeake. It was such a big event for all of us, I talked about it at his memorial service.

I feel lucky, honestly, that my dad got to know you and have truly meaningful experiences with you before he died. He knew from the start what a fine person you were, and I know he felt like I was in good hands. I don’t know if he thought about the fact that he’d be leaving my mom in your capable hands as well, but I suspect so.

Anyway, you got your boat fixed enough to sail and brought it across the bay, and then we got married and I got pregnant. And then we bought a house that needed so much work that it would suck the life out of a normal person. Lucky for us, you’re not a normal person.

You approached your boat in the same way you approach our house and our family, and really anything you love. You always pour your whole heart in, and work so hard to make everything perfect. Of course, nothing is perfect; it's real life.

But you do your best, and you get more done in a day than most people I’ve ever met.

I know you loved your boat a great deal. You refinished the wood yourself, and you put so much energy and love into the project. Eventually, a demanding job, a needy house, two delightful kids, and a gem of a wife took precedence over your boat.

There just wasn’t time in the day/week/month for everything. It got to a point where you looked at your limited time and decided to spend it on your family.

I know letting go of your boat meant letting go of a dream, and so in retrospect it was terribly unkind of me to wish your dream would sink in a hurricane so we could have the insurance money. I didn’t think I’d said it out loud but at some point I apparently did, because you mentioned it.

But you promised it didn’t factor into your decision. Your family came first.

The fact is, you work, and you spend time with us. And fix toilets, wiring, plumbing, and refinish banisters and fireplaces, and so on. The list is long. You don’t golf or go to happy hour or go on fishing trips.

When you have free time, you want to spend it with the people you love most, and that is us.

You don’t get a lot of time with the kids during the week, and always spend weekends creating grand adventures I know our kids will cherish when they are grown.

Months ago, I asked you if you wanted a party. I wanted you to celebrate this big birthday in some big way. You didn’t want a party. You wanted a small family dinner, so we went out to eat at your new favorite Mexican restaurant.

We had cake at home. India was super excited to blow out the candles.

You did, however, want to do something big to commemorate this birthday. I was so glad when you told me this, because I think commemorating milestones and using your birthday magic is important.

This morning you told the kids they were playing hooky, and you took them on a helicopter ride over the Chesapeake. (I of course had major anxiety about my entire family going down at once. But you’re back on land and I am so glad you had a spectacular time.)

I think what strikes me most is that for your birthday, for you the most joyful choice was to do something incredible with your children. I love this about you.

You are extraordinary, and I love you more than sunshine.

Happy birthday.



Friday, March 09, 2018

Let them eat (vanilla) cake! Or cupcakes.

Oh, hey! This is a really good cake. I found it on King Arthur Flour's site last year. This is also their photo.

When I made it I followed the instructions exactly, and it was delicious.

I made cream cheese frosting for it, and discovered that cream cheese frosting is just cream cheese, butter, and sugar. I don't know what I thought was in it but I was super sad to know that the ingredients didn't include something more redeeming like spinach.

 It's Nick's birthday on Monday, so I asked him what kind of cake he'd like (and suggested this).

He said vanilla.

India said "I'd like vanilla, but cupcakes, and not that frosting you made last time. Actually, no frosting. Just vanilla cupcakes."

I told her it wasn't her birthday and we should try to make Daddy happy. And she said, "OK. Just vanilla cupcakes."

 Personally, I view cake as a vehicle for frosting, but I'm also picky about frosting. I have two I like. One is my grandmother's huge, fluffy beaten egg white frosting, and the other is cream cheese.

 But again, it's Nick's birthday, so he gets to pick. Or maybe India does.

Or maybe I make this cake with whatever icing Nick wants. And what's the difference between icing and frosting? I use these words interchangeably. Like car-mul or cara-mel, in my mind. And perhaps I will also make cupcakes with no frosting.

And then I will be very tired and sit in the corner eating a bowl of cream cheese frosting with a spoon.

Except that I basically gave up sugar in January so maybe I won't.

Anyway, I hate the endless anecdotes on food blogs when all you want is the damn recipe. But then again, I'm not a food blogger.

But if you're here for cake, here's the cake.

2 cups sugar
3 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon
12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, soft enough to leave an indentation when pressed
1 1/2 cups milk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (but don't flour) the bottom only of your choice of pan(s): one 9" x 13" pan, two 9" round cake pans, three 8" round pans, or the wells of two muffin tins (24 muffin cups). You can also line the muffin tins with papers, and spray the insides of the papers.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt.

Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.
Combine the milk and vanilla and add, all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.

With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

Repeat this procedure with the second egg. Continue adding the eggs, scraping after each addition, until all 4 are added. After the last egg is added, scrape the bowl once more, then beat at medium-high speed for 30 more seconds.

Transfer the batter to the pans of your choice.

For layers, divide the batter among the pans. The batter weighs 48 ounces; if you're using a scale to measure out your layers, each 9" layer should weigh 24 ounces; each 8" layer needs 16 ounces of batter. Smooth out the tops with an offset spatula or the back of a tablespoon.

For cupcakes, scoop by heaping 1/4-cupfuls into the prepared muffin tins. Bake for 35-40 minutes for a 9" x 13" pan; 30-35 minutes for 9" layers; 24-27 minutes for 8" layers, or 23 to 25 minutes for cupcakes.

The cake is done when it's golden brown around the edges and just beginning to pull away from the edge of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.