Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Perfect Imperfect

I am getting much more out of this project than I imagined.  In working my way through the Bass Family and Friends Cookbook, I have learned wonderful new things about my kin.  I have enjoyed reading the many recipes that were submitted and getting a sense of the personalities that operate behind them.  It is a joy to connect with relations who have been long distant, and share their world through their recipes.

In this book of 262 recipes (by my own count, while my husband was discussing our Disney vacation – so who knows!), there are not one but two recipes for Porcupine Meatballs.  That must say something about our family, but I’m not quite sure what.  There are two different recipes for Hot Dog Bun Pie – yes, a dessert.  There is a Pina Colada Cake submitted by a Baptist cousin, and a single recipe called both Russian Tea Cakes and Mexican Wedding Cookies.  While it may be sad to be confused about one’s ethnicity, I am thinking my dessert may be deported. 

After my last post I learned that the Western Omelet, which I cooked because it was the very first one in the book, was not supposed to be the very first one in the book.  My Cousin Diane had done the typing and the ordering, but then had sub-contracted the book construction to other family members.  (I didn’t think to ask her what was supposed to be the first recipe.)

If this home printed collection of recipes falls short of being perfectly flawless, I find that to be a gift.  I would rather puzzle over mysterious instructions of the “Cook until done” variety, than navigate the inscrutable language of your more high-falutin’ published works.   Here, the contributors are average folks who just want to share with others the things that they have found to be good.  My deepest thanks for them.

For this entry, I chose two recipes:  Pineapple Casserole, submitted by Diane Taylor, and Hot Fudge Cake, by Tonita Bobo.  The Pineapple Casserole was wonderful!  The buttery Ritz crackers make a wonderful balance for the sweetness of the pineapple, and the recipe is really quick and simple to put together.

I was initially drawn to the Hot Fudge Cake because of its emphatic instructions.  It felt like having a cheerleader shouting from the sidelines, and with that I thought I couldn’t go wrong.  Wrong!  While I have to say this dessert is yummy, mine came out nothing like what I’m sure was intended.  First of all, it calls for a 9” square pan.  I don’t exactly have one of those.  The closest I could come was one of the little tin foil numbers that are meant to cook a dish for a picnic then get thrown away.  It was 9” square.  Surely that was good enough, wasn’t it?  What could possibly happen!?

What happened was that after pouring the water in, I tried to pick it up to carry it to the oven.  The container, not being sturdy, allowed the water (mixed with cocoa, etc.) to come pouring out one corner.  When I adjusted to carry it more levelly, the pan shifted and started pouring out a different corner.  This went on and on and led to chocolate sauce on the table, chocolate sauce on the floor, chocolate sauce on the kitchen rug, chocolate sauce on the inside of the oven door (that smelled great!), and some final chocolatey spatters on the cabinets.  Oh, what fun that was!

I cooked the cake for the proper length of time, but the jig was up.  Like a bolting horse, my cake knew I was no longer in charge.  The final product was cake-like on the edges, gradually becoming squishier through to the plain liquid in the center.  The kids loved it.

A practitioner of Zen would remind me that the texture of my hot fudge cake/pie/pudding/soup is just an outcome.  Neither good nor bad, it just is.  And if phrases like “nobody’s perfect” are running through my mind, I want to exchange them for something better.  Perfect isn’t the point.  In fact, most of the things we are tempted to call “imperfections” are gifts if we can only recognize them.

The notion of “perfect” all too often has more to do with our expectations than with any real standard of what is good.  Problems are the things we think exist when our expectations are not met, when things don’t turn out like we mean for them too.  And yet if we learn anything in our short jaunt on this planet, it should be that there are too many lovely possibilities for us to stay glued only to the ones we can predict, to think something can only be “good” when it fits our narrow criteria of what ought to be.  The quirks and the surprises of this world are often marvelous signs of a God of Possibility, whose work will offer much more variety than we can imagine. 

Todd and I have decided that the hot fudge cake/pie/pudding/soup will taste great on top of ice cream, a shift from our original plan of putting ice cream on it.  And so it will.

Blessed Eating!

Pineapple Casserole
2 cans (20 oz.) pineapple tidbits                 2 c. sharp cheddar
½ c. sugar                                                            1/3 c. flour
1 sleeve of Ritz crackers, crushed             ¼ c. melted margarine
Preheat oven to 350.  In casserole dish mix pineapple, sugar, and flour.  Top with cheddar cheese.  In another dish mix crackers with margarine and top casserole.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Hot Fudge Cake
Follow the directions explicitly for a delicious dessert.
Mix 1 cup of Self Rising Flour                       ¾ c. sugar
2 T. cocoa                                                            ½ c. milk
2 T. oil                                                                   1 t. vanilla
Mix well.  Batter will be very thick.  Spread in a 9” square pan.  DO NOT STIR THIS RECIPE ANY MORE!!!!
1 c. packed brown sugar                               1/3 c. sugar
¼ c. cocoa
Mix and sprinkle over the cake batter, but DO NOT STIR!
Pour 1 ¾ c. hot water over the cake and sugar mixtures.  DO NOT STIR!
Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.  The cake will rise to the top and the bottom will be a thick rich fudge sauce.  Great with ice cream.

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