Life’s a Feast and mirth its sauce is;
Here each guest shall take his share.
Here each guest shall take his share.
- Elijah Barwell Impey’s Baucis and Philemon, 1811
Trouble seems to be my middle name. No, I don’t mean that I cause trouble. Oh no! I am and always have been good to a fault. I have never gotten in trouble at school, never skipped a day (well, once, but that is a story related elsewhere in this long tale of mine), never cheated, I am a horrible liar, could never rat on a friend, just can’t do it! I am even too good to be true for some people.
What I mean is that I seem to draw trouble to myself like a flame draws the unsuspecting moth, like sunshine draws the flowers up through the dark, damp soil come springtime, like a hot young rising star draws screaming girls. Magnetic! Trouble seems to swirl around me, calling my name, whispering in my ear gently, ever so gently, pulling me into his warm, soothing, hypnotizing embrace. For, no matter what I do, no matter how long I wait, looking for just the right moment, the right configuration, signs from the heavens, trouble seems to trip me up every time, standing over me and chuckling at his own evil joke.
They have been telling me to do it, advising me that turning my blog into a domain would be the cat’s pajamas, that blogging would become smooth, easy sailing, I’d feel a tremendous power over my little baby like never before and that it would be, like a shot in the arm, quick and painless. Well, more like root canal it has turned out to be. As the numbness wears off and your jaw starts to throb, as you turn down that bowl of ice cream, waving it away with a flip of the hand that isn’t clutching at the side of your face, you curl up on the sofa in the dark and wonder why, oh, why you let someone convince you to do this?
No, I am not blaming my friends, my husband. No, that would be wrong. They only have my best interests at heart. It’s that old devil Trouble, hovering around uninvited just waiting for me to make a decision, try something new, something bold and brave. And this simple switch, this “click of a button”, this one step deal, has turned into a nightmare, dragging on endlessly, days and days of waiting, nail biting and nervous eating… oh wait, the nervous eating happens anyway, nervous or not…
And Old Mr. Trouble just pushed Mme. Patience off the swing and rubbed her face in the playground dirt. Son hit the “transfer” button on Sunday and… nothing. Pulled up my blog, it stared right back at me. But then I tried to open up a post and… error! And my new domain nowhere to be found! Well, “patience” they cried! Friends on Twitter compared stories, “Piece of cake,” said some, “just hit the button and it was immediate.” Others were less gleeful. “Same thing happened to me,” said Sarah. “I lost my blog and had no new domain and it was days before anything was resolved. Days of craziness and frustration!” Aparna calmed me, telling me her switch happened right away although she lost all of her comments. Crazy! Wouldn’t you think that this should be so much easier?
Finally, more than 3 days later – 3 days of hair pulling, nail biting, pacing a trough in these old wooden floors, 3 days of flailing arms, praying to the Blog Gods and cursing everyone else – son finally put a stop to all the madness! “Stop your incessant whining!” he cried and, after seeing that finally neither the blog nor the domain could be found anywhere, he succeeded in simply just flipping it back. Back to my little baby, my lovechild, my blog. And here I am, hoping that Mr. Trouble doesn’t come looking for me, angry that his plans were frustrated by a quick thinking 19 year old. Maybe he’ll show up in the kitchen looking for revenge, watching as I pull out flour and sugar, eggs and cocoa powder from the pantry, rubbing his scaly hands together in anticipation, his steely, hot breath on my neck, knocking my elbow as I measure, pressing down on the scale as I weigh, well, you get the picture. And no, I am not paranoid. I have simply learned from the past that things are never as simple as they promise to be, never as easy as pie and certainly rarely as painless as I could hope for.
So here is to my old, faithful blog. Life is indeed a Feast, but one should stay away from the oysters if the odor is doubtful, not bite into the pastry if it appears a tad too dry, keep away from the fish if rumors abound, avoid cheap champagne at all costs…. stick to what you know best, what you are most comfortable with until you are very sure that everything is tasty and delectable, that the wine is smooth and fruity and the food won’t get stuck in your throat.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns… chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
- Melody Beattie
Well, it has happened before and it will happen again, that I know. But there are just two little things. The first, and the most important, is that I want to thank all my friends from the bottom of my heart for sticking by me through thick and thin these last few very trying, exasperating days, sticking by me and supporting me, encouraging me, calming me down with their kind words and silly jokes. And putting up with the whining, complaining and cursing. To thank you all I baked a cake just for you, luscious, dense with the rich flavor of the best of all chocolate bars, two layers sandwiching cool, silky, fabulous chocolate pastry cream and all covered in my favorite of all chocolate buttercream frostings. Just for you!
And for Simon who, with infinite patience and the occasional slapping me back into sense, I have made these delicate little chocolate muffins drizzled with white chocolate. To be eaten with a tall, ice cold glass of milk or a steaming mug of café au lait.
And second, I do need your help, your advice. From all of you. For the moment Life’s a Feast is back to being a blog, but poor old thing, she’s almost two years old and she’s feeling her age: a wrinkle here, a gray hair there, sagging a bit where she didn’t sag before. My little lady needs a facelift. And I would like your help. Think of yourselves as Dr. Food Blog, aesthetic surgeon to the world of food bloggers! Tell me where I need a nip, where a tuck. A light dye job? Maybe a whole new wardrobe will simply do the trick? I am open to every and all suggestions – kind, polite, well-meant and serious suggestions, please!
So please, friends, do tell me what you think! What do you love about my blog, what don’t you like, and what should I change to make it even better? Look? Color? Template? Pages? Images or photography? Writing? I would love your opinions and suggestions before I make any decisions and go about with my total relook. This lady wants to come out looking young, hip and gorgeous! Just simply leave a comment below. And enjoy your slice of cake.
It is not the quantity of the meat but the cheerfulness of the guests, which makes the feast.
- Edward Hyde
PERFECT CHOCOLATE BUTTER CAKE
From Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible
½ cup + 3 Tbs (65 g) unsweetened cocoa powder, lightly spooned into measuring cups
1 cup (250 ml) boiling water
3 large eggs
2 ¼ tsp vanilla
2 ¼ cups + 2 Tbs (235 g) sifted cake flour
1 ½ cups (300 g) sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease 2 x 9-inch (22 cm) 1 ½-inch (3.8 cm) deep round cake tins, line with parchment paper circles and grease the paper and flour.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the cocoa powder together with the boiling water until smooth. Cool to room temperature.
Once cooled, and in another small bowl, whisk together the eggs, ¼ of the cocoa mixture and the vanilla.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients (the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) and blend on low speed of your electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add the softened butter and the remaining cocoa/water mixture and mix on low speed until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase speed to medium (high speed if you are using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 ½ minutes, scraping down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides as needed.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula. The pans should be about half full. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until the center is set – a tester inserted in the center should come out clean and the cake should spring back when lightly pressed.
Let the cakes cool on racks for 10 minutes before turning them out of the pans and letting them cool completely before filling and frosting.
LUSCIOUS CHOCOLATE PASTRY CREAM – Milk Chocolate and Caramel Pastry Cream
From the Joy of Baking website
1 ¼ cups (300 ml) milk
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 large egg yolks (keep the whites for macarons!)
¼ cup (50 g) sugar
1/8 cup (20 g) flour
Scant 3 Tbs (20 g) cornstarch
2 oz (50 g) chocolate (I used Milk Chocolate Caramel) melted and cooled to room temperature *
In a medium bowl, stir the egg yolks and sugar together with a wooden spoon until thick and creamy. Sift the flour and cornstarch together then stir into the egg/sugar mixture until you have a paste.
Place the milk and the split vanilla bean in a saucepan and heat just until boiling; the milk will start to foam up. Remove from the heat and add the melted chocolate, stirring until smooth. Add the hot chocolate milk mixture to the egg mixture slowly, whisking constantly so the eggs do not curdle from the heat, until all of the milk has been whisked into the egg paste. Remove the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds adding the seeds back to the chocolate cream mixture.
Place the chocolate milk/egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat just until boiling, whisking constantly. When it comes to a boil allow it to cook, still whisking non stop, for an additional 30 – 60 seconds until it becomes very thick.
Remove from the heat and immediately scrape out of the pan into a clean glass bowl or large measuring cup. If you like, you can stir in a tablespoon or two of Amaretto, Grand Marnier or whatever you like, to taste. But for this cake it really is not necessary.
Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic onto the surface of the pastry cream, and refrigerate until cool. You can keep the pastry cream in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
* For Vanilla Pastry Cream, simply follow all the instructions but leaving out the chocolate.
FAVORITE CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM **
6 ounces (175 grams) powdered/confectioner’s sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons (50 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons (25 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons very hot water
** Double the recipe if you think you need more frosting or if you want to use the buttercream for both filling (in place of the pastry cream) and frosting.
Using an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and the powdered sugar together. Add the cocoa powder and the hot water and beat, scraping down the sides as necessary, until well blended and fluffy. If the buttercream is too soft to spread simply place in the refrigerator for several minutes until it reaches spreadable consistency.
Make your cake:
Put one layer of your cake on a cake plate and, using a spatula, spread the Chocolate Pastry Cream on thickly. Place the other layer on top of the filling and frost the sides and top with the Chocolate Buttercream. Pipe designs on your cake with any remaining buttercream or, using the spatula eat any remaining frosting left in the bowl. And that’s it! Now enjoy!
From Donna Hay’s Chocolate
2 ¼ cups + 1 Tbs (300 g) self-rising cake flour
½ cup – 1 Tbs (40 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup + 1 Tbs + 1 tsp (220 g) sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup (160 ml) vegetable oil
½ cup (125 ml) milk
Optional, chocolate chips, chopped chocolate or chopped nuts to stir in or melted chocolate to drizzle on top.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line muffin tins with cupcake papers or prepare silicone or cardboard muffin cups on a baking sheet.
Blend the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking powder and sugar) together in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, oil and milk. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry and stir together just until completely blended and smooth, not over beating.
Fill the muffin cups about 2/3 of the way and bake for 15 – 25 minutes depending on the size of your muffins (I made mini muffins) and your oven. When the muffins are puffed and just set in the center – better to slightly underbake muffins than overbake – remove from the oven and onto a rack – removing from the muffin tins or the baking sheet – until cooled.
Drizzle with melted white chocolate if desired.