My brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life.


Bird Nest Cupcakes & Running in Circles Naked and Screaming 2

Posted on March 18, 2012 by crankycheryl

Today was the second day of our school’s production of Sound of Music, a rip-roaring production filled with costume changes, huge sets, and a cast of 140 elementary school students.  And that meant that it was the second day of the bake sale, and since my attempt at highly appropriate linzer torte cookies was an utter failure, I decided to whip up some ultra-cute cupcakes.

Why not cute little things with birds’ nests on top, with jelly bean eggs?  It’s spring!  So cute!


I scrounged the cupboards for chocolate, and mixed together about a cup of what I found (this consisted of whatever was left from some grain-sweetened chips I had bought, a decapitated Easter bunny that was forgotten in the freezer last year, and two squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate) in a make-shift double boiler (metal bowl over sauce pan of barely simmering water).  I let it melt, stirred it up, and then mixed in about two cups of those weird chow mein noodles from a can.  I gave it a good but careful stir, just trying to get the things basically coated but not wanting to smash the crispy noodles up.  With the noodles coated, and my hands clean, I took a medium pinch of the noodles, gathered them into some sort of nest shape, placed a couple of naturally colored jelly beans on top, and then set them on parchment to cool and set.

They were sweet.

The phone rang.  My friend was on the other line, reporting what another mom had found in the boys’ locker room as the kids were getting into their costumes the night before.  My son, E., naked, running around yelling in people’s faces.  Girls outside the locker room shrieking, “Call the police!  Someone’s naked!”  Boys looking nervous.  Chaos, of course, ensuing.

It was time to mix up the cupcakes, which I did, doubling this recipe to make a scant 2 dozen (22, to be precise).  With a pit of anxiety in my stomach and icy fingers, I was listening to my friend talk while I creamed the sugar and butter, preheated the oven, measured and remeasured as I forgot which step I was on.

As a kid, I remembered an awful lot of boys running around naked in locker rooms and at beaches and the like.  Maybe that part wasn’t so bad, even though it freaked out the other kids.

There was more.  Because during intermission the friend on the phone had gone backstage to find E. with a broken prop, surrounded by third grade boys, all of whom, upon seeing her, pointed at him and yelled, “He did it!”  Which, being no dummy, he completely denied.  My heart broke, picturing him there all alone.

These are familiar moments with this boy of mine.  While his brother collects and treasures and attracts friends, E. just seemed to spring from the egg ready to go at the world kind of askew.   With deep and relentless loves of dinosaurs and superheroes and villains and far off places.  With questions about why and why not and how and what does this mean, and don’t you want to know everything I want to tell you?  With a pure little spirit, who still holds my hand on the way to school and keeps his big feelings pure and strong.  With an imagination that has him outside creating worlds as long as the day will allow.  And without one true friend at his side.

On the phone my friend asked if I could come to the performance to help out, to keep an eye on my guy and “ride herd” on the rest.


I made frosting from this recipe (yeah, the same as the post that had the cake above), maybe doubling it, and making it vanilla instead of lemon.  The boys came home and I asked what had happened with the prop, and E. told me that two other boys had told him to get it, but that when it broke they started yelling and “stopped acting like they were playing with me.  It was like they forgot.”

He told me who was there, and how he was surprised when the rest of them acted like they didn’t know what was going on.   Predictably, we talked about making good choices, and stopping and thinking before acting, and about deciding whether someone was acting like a friend or not.  I talked until his eyes glazed over, and then I kissed him and told him I was on his side.  And that I love him.

I sent one boy’s mom an email to let her know I wanted to talk.

I put the nests on the cupcakes, the cupcakes in the carrier, and the carrier next to the door.  I was thinking about how I pushed him to do the play because I wanted him to be part of something at this school of ours, that I wanted him to have shared memories with the other kids.  I thought back to kindergarten and how the teachers had told me that I’d better help him figure out how to navigate socially by third grade, because that’s when the cliques are really established and roles are determined.

I tried to load up the mom bag with fidget toys and things to keep them busy, and clothed, and engaged enough to stay away from crucial props.  We left for the play.  Driving, I was thinking about how seriously I had taken the warning, and the therapist and the classes and the groups and the training and the parenting classes, and now none of it turns out to have been enough.  And when was someone going to give this kid a break and be his friend for all the great traits that he has?

Arriving, I found myself a.  without the cupcakes I had left there beside the door and b. feeling so angry and isolated and protective that I could barely talk to other adults.  Both boys needed help getting ready, and I’m surprised I didn’t stab myself or a child with a safety pin as I tried to keep it together so I could get them into their little lederhosen.  Z. and another boy had words and slapping and I intervened, and before I could really even say anything, the two of them apologized and agreed to be friends.  They ran off to join their group, and E. and I got him ready and in place for his opening number.

The director had created a special, small, part for him because he couldn’t handle the length and intensity of the long rehearsals, but wanted to be part of the play.  This left him with a role that he adored, and with a lot of time offstage.

While his brother sang and had his most adorable and excellent dance number, E. and I were mostly in the back of the room.  The best item in the bag turned out to be the sleek green booklight I had picked up at the bookstore.  He drove it along the lines in the gym floor, making motor sounds, and attracting the attention of passersby.

To my credit, I did not jump up and scream, “What the hell are you looking at?  Can’t a 9-year-old boy pretend that the damned light is an alienmobile instead of trying to figure out whether the hills really are in fact alive with the sound of stupid music for the 7th time this week?”

I did a lot of wandering around and breathing deeply.  I bought flowers to give to the boys after curtain calls.  I described the beautiful cupcakes I had left at home to anyone who would listen.  I whispered to a friend that at least I wasn’t going up to the mean kids and telling them about how people who peak in elementary school find themselves with shallow lives without a shred of substance.

And I watched my son, happily and obliviously playing with this stupid little flashlight, and wondering which of us was actually acting crazier.

We got through the performance without a hitch, and both boys were delighted, tired, proud.  On the way home, Z. started crying and said that they just had to do the performance again, and he wasn’t ready for it to be over.  Which is exactly how I remember feeling about every play and dance recital I ever did growing up, and it made me think that maybe putting them in the play hadn’t been such a terrible idea.  Probably.

Plus we had 22 cupcakes at home.

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What To Do with that Tasteless Canteloupe 3

Posted on August 25, 2011 by crankycheryl

We were standing around the melon bin at last week’s CSA pick-up, and I was explaining to my mom what I knew about picking out a good canteloupe.

  1. It should feel heavy for its size.
  2. Its blossom end should have some give.  (Which end is the blossom end?  One side will be where the fruit broke from the thick vine, and you’ll be able to see the outline of where the vine was.  The other end is where the fruit grew from the flower, and that’s where you’ll want to press to see if it’s a little soft.)
  3. It should smell like you want it to taste – fruity and a little sweet.

So people started gathering around, looking at me and looking down at the melons in their hands.  I kept repeating myself, and soon there was a small group of us standing around sniffing and hefting and poking and nodding and shrugging.

Though my 3-point list let me pretend to be a candidate for mayor of Melonville, as often as not, I end up with a tasteless melon from our CSA share.  At the store, I ask for a taste of melons before I buy them, and if I can’t have a taste and end up with a dud then I’ll return it for a refund.  But you can’t do that at the farm, and that’s why I’ve been working on ways to use those less-than-perfect ones.  Here are a couple of my latest favorites.

Spicy Honeyed Canteloupe
Serves ~10 (adjust as necessary – we were having a dinner party and so wanted a big platter)

  • 1 whole canteloupe, seeds removed, sliced
  • 3 T. honey
  • 1 t. hot pepper (I used Aleppo, which has a great texture and is mildly hot.  You could sort of fake it with 1/2 t. sweet paprika and 1/2 t. hot pepper flakes)
  • sprinkle of kosher salt
To prepare:
  1. Put melon on platter, drizzle honey over, then sprinkle pepper and salt.
  2. Serve either cold or at room temperature.
Canteloupe Lemonade
6-8 servings
  • cubed flesh from one canteloupe, pureed in blender with 2-3 T. water
  • 2 c. lemon juice
  • 3/4 – 1 c. sugar, depending on whether the melon is at all sweet
  • water as needed
To make:
  1. For a smooth lemonade, strain the canteloupe through a mesh strainer, add water as needed to get to 6 cups total liquid.  If you don’t mind some texture, you can skip the straining and just add water as necessary to get to 6 cups.
  2. Mix together canteloupe, lemon juice and 3/4 c. sugar.  Stir well to dissolve sugar, then chill and serve.
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Zucchini-Cheddar Muffins 0

Posted on August 22, 2011 by crankycheryl

What kills me is that when I consult this blog as a record of my days, it’s going to look like I did practically nothing this summer.

Friends, I did everything this summer.  The boys and I have been out and about, camping and playing and exploring. We’ve read a ton and seen movies and visited family and friends.  I’ve been cooking up a storm.  Canning, freezing, snacking, everything.

I’ve been working, and even (sound the trumpet) am preparing to start a brand new full time job with the University of Vermont’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture.  (Which, let’s face it, I wouldn’t jinx by advertising in advance, except the director has called and gotten my social security number and birthdate to get my paperwork started, so I’m pretty sure it’s true.)

I’ve written articles and emails and lots and lots of copy for a variety of projects.  Just not here, somehow.

Ah well.  We’re here now.

Among all of these other things, I had the good fortune to be able to provide the food for a friend’s brunch on the day after his summer wedding.  They had friends and family coming from all over the country, and they wanted to show off Vermont’s great food with a big Green Mountain brunch feast.

We got planning, and I scored some help from a friend who’s a NECI grad, and we spent a couple of days making all manner of piecrust and waffles and slicing fruit and making currant lemonade and steeping fresh mint for iced tea.  And maybe the most humble-appearing item of our line-up were these muffins, more like scones because they were so rich.  And containing zucchini because Pike said, “Well, it’s summer in Vermont.  We’ve got to have zucchini there.”  Which is totally true.

These muffins are so buttery, cheesy and good that they would have deserved to be on the menu anyway.  Just today, weeks later,  Z. helped himself to one right out the freezer from the few leftovers we’ve still got.  He would have eaten it that way, but Greg took pity and got him to thaw it in the toaster oven first.  Good.   Good either way.

Zucchini-Cheddar Muffins
Makes about 12
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

  1. Preheat an oven to 350.
  2. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin and set aside.
  3. Whisk together in a bowl:
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 4 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
       4.   Add and toss to separate and coat with the flour mixture:
  • 1 c. shredded zucchini
  • 1 c. shredded cheddar
  • 1/4 c. chopped scallions
  • 3 T. chopped fresh basil (we had purple, so that’s what I used)
      5.   Whisk together in another bowl:
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 c. buttermilk or yogurt
  • 4 T. melted unsalted butter or vegetable oil
       6.  Add to the flour mixture and mix with a few firm but gentle strokes, just until the dry ingredients are moistened.       (Let the batter stay lumpy.)   Scoop into cups of pan, then bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until a skewer comes out     clean.  Let cool in pan for a few minutes, then enjoy while a little warm, or else cool on rack.


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Good Finds at Cheese Traders 2

Posted on July 26, 2011 by crankycheryl

What is it about a discount that makes us go crazy?   Have you noticed what happens when a price is reduced, how we start thinking,

Well, why isn’t it reduced more?  It’s 20% off?  Who cares?  Why not cheaper?  Why isn’t it free?  Why don’t they just give it to me, plus one for my mom and a free cookie too?  And a pony!  I want a pony!

Seriously, sales make people lose their minds.   And this has led to a sad realization for me, the perennially thrifty mom.  I was forced to notice that I myself have this trait, and it’s especially evident during bargain-hunting trips to Cheese Traders.

If you’re not familiar with them, consider stopping in to check out what interesting finds they’ve got in their cheese cases and on the grocery shelves.  Besides really good prices on many local cheeses (I overheard a staffer saying to another, “We have a very low mark-up on the Vermont cheeses, but tend to have a higher profit on everything else,” which may be true in general but they definitely can have great deals on cheeses and other items from farther away too.  If you’re hunting down the serious bargains, you just need to know general retail prices so you can evaluate the deals for yourself).

I found myself walking by the display of boxes of organic dehydrated mashed potatoes during my visits.  They’re a great secret weapon to have on the shelf, convenient for all sorts of things, especially if you’re a gluten-free cook:  breading for fried or baked chicken or fish or tofu, a thickener for soup or sauces, or even – yes – can just become mashed potatoes for a quick side dish.  Plus they’re organic, and since potatoes grown with modern conventional practices continually earn their place on the “dirty dozen list” of pesticide-contaminated vegetables, organic is the way to go when it comes to spuds.

(By the way: here in Vermont, even the allegedly conventional growers tend to use pretty great practices.  Ask your farmer what treatments they use if they’re not certified organic, as you may well find that they’re practically organic anyway.)

But back to these little pre-fab boxes with 6 or so servings that had been priced at something like a whole dollar each.  Somehow the amount just scrambled my thrift-hungry brain.  So I didn’t buy any again and again, even though they retail for $3.  But guess what?  Now they’re THREE for that dollar, and it’s time to stock up.  No matter how crazy your inner bargain-hunter may be.

So if you’re local and agree with me that this is something that could make a happy home in your pantry, get yourself over there and buy a few.  Oh, and they’ve got a cooler full of organic Liberte Kefir from our Canadian neighbors too.

And if you’re as wacky as I am, we can get together for a big yogurt and potato dinner and boast about the good deal we got on them.

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Lobsters, Cheesecake, Burial Plans: Summer 2011 2

Posted on July 20, 2011 by crankycheryl

It’s turning out to be kind of a crazy summer around here.

Z. turned six two weeks ago.  He’d been planning his birthday for a year, and actively fixating on it for at least six months, encouraged by the constant flow of birthdays in his kindergarten class.

After extensive negotiations we decided to go camping, and that I’d go into a nearby town and find him a cheesecake.  And I’d get him lobster.  So we went camping.  I had contacted the Barnard General Store, who ordered and cooked lobsters for us at a ridiculously cheap price.  I picked them up and brought them back to our campsite to eat with corn and potatoes for dinner.

I had been worried about the boys’ sensitive little hearts.  This was going to be the first time that they had eaten something while actually looking at its face.   I placed a lobster on each plate, and started helping the boys crack them open to get to the meat.  After I had removed a claw and handed it to E. to start to get the meat out of, he took it, pinched the lobster’s still-attached antenna eand started singing,

Why are you pinching yourself, why’d you do that?!  Why you pinching yourself, huh, huh?!

And cackling wildly.  I realized they were made of tougher stuff than I had given them credit for.

After dinner it was on to dessert.  I hadn’t been able to find a cheesecake in even one of Woodstock’s precious little bakeries and stores.  So I had bought gelatin and sugar and cream cheese and, along with crushed up pretzels and fresh cherries we had back at camp, turned it into one of  those silly no-bake ones.

And I got out the candles and we sang and there were presents and then we tried the cake.  I thought it was pretty good, considering how it came into being.

Z. tried it, and then set me straight, looking earnestly at me and saying, Mommy, I wanted a cheesecake like this (shows me both thumbs up), but this one is like this (thumbs sideways, reproachful look).  I think I sort of mumbled something about how it may not have been perfect but wasn’t it cool that he had a mom who cared enough to make him cheesecake?  While camping?  With no oven?

Whatever.  He was right.  The only cool thing about it was that it actually happened.

And then a few days later, just about the time I had gotten the camping stuff put away, the boys hit me with this beaut as we were leaving the Y after swimming:

Mommy, when you die do you want to be all burned up or buried in the ground in a coffin?

What the hell?  Can they hear the hypochondria streaming between my ears?  My mental reviews of the state of my will because my foot hurts and PT isn’t working and my restless leg syndrome is getting weird again?

I asked them if they really wanted to know.  They assured me they did.

I could have done what the textbooks say, which would have been to answer the question as it was asked and then shut up.

Instead, I took a different route.

Instead I said something like,

Well, you know how I really care about other people and about recycling and taking care of planet Earth, right?  See, you can be what’s called an organ donor when you’re done with your body and that’s really cool because they take like your eyes or your liver and they give it so someone else so they can use it.  And you can even let people learn from you after you’re done living by letting them use your body for experiments and stuff and then they get to be really good doctors and help other people and that’s super great because it’s like you helped those people too.  And then when everything useful is gone I want to be all burned up and put on the compost pile at cohousing so I can be part of the garden forever.  Cool, right?

My final resting place. Or maybe it'll be over by the tomatoes.

You’re probably as surprised as I was to learn that they didn’t think it was cool at all.  They started wailing and yelling with their eyes all wide and welling up and everything, and then they swore they’d use swords and guns to defend my dead body so it could be in the ground in a coffin like it should be.  And that they could put their own coffins next to mine when they died.  And that we’d all spend eternity lying in our boxes next to where their dad buried his dead pet rats.

I’m pretty sure I agreed to all this.

After the crappy cheesecake, it only seemed fair.

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Don’t F. with the Pancakes 2

Posted on July 04, 2011 by crankycheryl

We were preparing for our first camping trip of the year a couple weeks back and it occurred to me:  Muffins!  I could make muffins!  I don’t have to make pancakes in the morning.  I always burn them anyway – how much can they really like them?  I mean, I could make CHOCOLATE muffins.  We LOVE chocolate!  I can even put chocolate CHIPS in them.  They’ll be so happy.  And I’ll be happy not having to clean up that big mess.

They were not happy.  I forgot the cardinal rule:  do not mess with tradition.  But I remembered it once I saw their faces fall, the disbelief as they looked at each other.  I mean, they seemed to think, divorce is one thing.  But this no pancake crap is just too much.

And they’re right.  We live our lives in a state of Plan B.  I’m forever ambitious and re-focusing what we’re going to do, dragging them off to this and that social event, a new activity to try, friends of mine with kids they don’t necessarily love.  They have ample opportunity to adapt, to make peace with a reality they didn’t choose, to punt and duct tape to get through their days.

So as we prepare for our second camping trip of the year, I dug this post up.  And I made the pancake mix.  And off we go.

Originally posted June 2009

I always burn the pancakes.  As I was making the dry mix to bring along with us, I was trying to talk myself out of freshly made pancake breakfasts on the cookstove for our first camping trip of the year.  I always make pancakes when we’re camping. I always burn them, distracted or inattentive for one minute and there they go.

I was grabbing ingredients for the mix and calculating times to see if I could possibly cook the pancakes ahead to just reheat on site, I kept thinking how I always burn them.  Mommy always burns the pancakes.  We go camping and we can count on a few things – hikes, and beach time, and s’mores, and our funny orange sleeping bags.  We try to stay in our favorite sites and leantos and we love to travel with our favorite friends, and in the morning Mommy burns the pancakes.


uu camping 037

So I made the mix and brought the add-ins (fresh blueberries, blueberry jam for putting on top).  We hiked and the boys were big enough to set free to explore the brook behind our campsite and we all got covered in mud and found cool pieces of mica and couldn’t get our fire going to save our  lives.  And in the mornings I burnt the pancakes and all was right in our camping world.

Well, you know, sort of.

Pancake Mix

  • 2 c. unbleached white flour
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c. buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 c. + 2 T. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. cream of tartar
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/2 c. instant nonfat dry milk
  • 3/4 c. powdered buttermilk
  • equivalent of 2 powdered eggs (or 3 egg whites)

Rehydrate with about 1 1/2 c. water and 2 T. oil.  Cook until burnt.


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The Vermontito Mojito 1

Posted on July 02, 2011 by crankycheryl

I’ve come late to liking rhubarb, but I’m making up for that with gusto now.  And with alcohol.

The spring favorite is a nice Vermont approximation of citrus flavors and along with booze and some mint and maple, it makes a great mojito.*


It’s also a really nice pink rhubarb lemonade if you leave the liquor out.

Vermontito Mojito
makes 4

  • Ice
  • 6 ounces light rum (you can use some Vermont vodka if you really want to keep it local)
  • 12 mint sprigs, or spearmint, 8 roughly broken apart
  • 4 cups chopped rhubarb stalks (toss out those leaves – they’ll give you a tummyache)
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup (or more to taste)
  • Club soda

1.  Cook the rhubarb with 2 cups of water on a low simmer until very soft, then either strain to get the liquid (mashing up the rhubarb well to get out all of its sour goodness) or blend in a blender.  Cool liquid before using.

2. Place ice in beverage shaker then add in the rum/vodka, 8 broken up mint sprigs, 1/2 cup rhubarb liquid and maple. Shake well, taste and adjust with more rhubarb juice or syrup as necessary.  Serve over ice in a high ball glass, topped off with a splash of club soda and a sprig of mint.

4.  Get ready to make a second batch.

* Purists could quibble about my appropriation of the term “mojito” for a drink with no lime and no rum.  I don’t disagree, but would just suggest that this is a lot closer to an actual mojito than, say, a green apple martini is to that actual cocktail.

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The June List 2

Posted on June 21, 2011 by crankycheryl

We picked strawberries today at the Charlotte Berry Farm, a.k.a. “berry picking heaven.”  The boys love it because they have excellent toys and creemees, and I love that the farm is owned and staffed by lovely people who don’t spray their strawberries with all manner of toxic badness.

Though the little guys did primarily focus on Legos, I got E. in the field with me to pick berries for the first time ever.  He was racing up and down the rows with his flat, screeching when he found big berries and plucking and plucking away.  Who knew that all I had to do was casually tell him to come with me and he would?

And if we’re picking strawberries, it must be June, a realization that leaves me in the blessed and happy-anxious state of preparing for the Vermont harvest ahead.  It’s true that it’s off to a slow start because of our sodden fields (beautifully written about by Melissa Pasanen in our local paper).  But it’s still time to think about preparing for easy meals in the hot months ahead – not to mention the long winter that’s not too far behind.

So today’s Tuesday Tip is my Food To-Do List for June.  I’m about halfway through, and I will or won’t get there but at least we’ll have berries.

  • Try to use up any lingering 2010 food that’s still in the freezer.
  • Then defrost the freezer.  But do remember to put down something to catch the water.  Yep.
  • If buying ahead, choose items that will combine well with salad ingredients or grilled meals.
  • Pick strawberries for freezing or canning (this year I’m not making strawberry jam and am only freezing).
  • Pick first greens for braising/cooking and blanch and freeze them.
  • Put aside one or two cool nights for baking muffins, cookies and biscuits so I’ve got some baked goods in the freezer for when it’s too hot to crank the oven.
  • Pick rhubarb and freeze it.
  • Pick thyme before it’s in flower and dry it (oops – nearly before it’s in flower).

Or you could just go have a creemee.

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Tuesday Tip: Don’t Buy Brown Sugar 4

Posted on June 14, 2011 by crankycheryl

The other day, I ran into a neighbor with a decidedly fretful look on her face.  We were both in the cohousing pantry and she was looking for the brown sugar for a recipe she was making at home.  There was none on the shelf.

It made me realize that I have not been properly shouting out one of my favorite kitchen tips:

Don’t buy brown sugar. 

Brown sugar is sugar that’s been processed (i.e., granulated and had the molasses separated out) and then had a certain amount of molasses added back in.  You can buy it, but Cheryl’s Law of Pantry Inhabitants dictates that then you will forever have the wrong grade of darkness: dark when your recipe wants light, light if it calls for medium, etc.

But you can avoid this.  Instead, buy plain old sugar (if you’re a Costco member you can get a great deal on fair trade turbinado-type, by the way)  and a jar of plain old molasses.  Then, when a recipe calls for brown sugar you just combine the two.  Here’s what I do (and I’d love to know if your ratios differ):

  • For light brown sugar, I add 1 T. molasses per cup of white sugar
  • For medium brown sugar, add 2 T. molasses
  • And for dark, add 3 T.

Nice, right?

Tuesday Tip is a new feature I’ll be offering weekly, focusing on ways to make your food life more simple, thrifty, healthy and family-friendly.  If there are things you’re seeking or would like to know more about, do send a note!

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Yellow Jacket Cake 0

Posted on June 11, 2011 by crankycheryl

Considering how he’s not really a foodie, E. invents an awful lot of new recipes.  There have been cheese soup suggestions, a lobster and strawberry thing, a hotdog and watermelon soup, and there are always ideas for cakes.  I slightly wish I was one of the moms who let their kids make whatever they dream up, could indulge all of his imaginings, but I can’t afford fantasy groceries.  And I hate wasted food.

Z. is different, a guy who likes to access information he knows is good.  When he asked for oatmeal the other morning, he was excited to run to our Fairy Tale Feasts book and find the recipe associated with it before running off for his little step-stool so he could watch it bubble away on the stove.  He nodded in satisfaction when it tasted right.

Every now and then we all agree on something that E. has dreamed up, and that’s how we came to make the Yellow Jacket Cake he’s been suggesting for some months now.    He kept telling me about the yellow lemon cake that had “sugar … milk … and eggs.  And flour, mommy.  And it looks like a yellow jacket.”  We needed a cake for our big school spring event, something that would have great kid appeal, but not send me into a state of cringe with its ingredients.  The usual thing is to make one from a box, cover it with frosting from a can, and then dump leftover candy all over the top.  (The tip from other moms is that it’s your ticket to moving out all the leftover Easter candy you still have around.)  But cake is easy, and I don’t like to bake from a mix unless I’m cooking for a highly allergic type person and I need to make sure that there’s been absolutely no contamination from offending ingredients.

Buzz buzz.  This recipe made one single-layer lemon-marshmallow cake and a half-dozen cupcakes for home.  E took a look at the cake  and said, “It’s okay, but I was expecting it to be a lot taller.  Next time: five layers, Mommy.”  I nodded.  Maybe.  But I noted that our cake was among the first ones chosen at the big school shindig, so I’m declaring it officially good enough.

Yellow Jacket Cake
Serves 8-plus
I made mine as one single-layer cake and six cupcakes, but for simplicity’s sake am writing this as if for a double layer cake.

Lemon Cake:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 t. fresh lemon zest or 1/2 t. dried lemon peel
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 6 tbsp. milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease and flour 2 8-inch layer pans with removable bottoms.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in egg yolks, then lemon juice and zest.
  3. Mix together flour and baking powder. Add to butter mixture. Add milk and vanilla and mix well.
  4. Spread batter into pans, then bake 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  5. (While cake is baking, make the ridiculously easy and vaguely naughty frosting below.)
  6. Remove cake from pans and cool on racks.

Lemon-Marshmallow Frosting

  • 3 c. Fluff (or Ricemellow, if you’d like to be reasonably pure)
  • 1 1/2 c. organic non-hydrogenated palm frosting
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • pinch of lemon zest or dried lemon peel
  • Optional: tiny dash of yellow food coloring
  • Optional: black and yellow colored sugars and yellow and black candy
  1. Beat all ingredients together until fluffy and thoroughly combined.  Taste and adjust flavor to your palate, with more fluff or lemon juice as necessary.
  2. Frost the cooled cakes:  place one upside down on a large plate, and spread a layer of frosting over the top of it.  Place the other layer, upside down, on top.  Spread a thin layer of frosting on the top and sides of the cake – this is your crumb coat, so don’t worry if it does in fact have crumbs and bits of cake in it.  Then cover that first coat with the remaining frosting, making it as swirly and fluffy as you like.
  3. To make it yellow jacket-ish, sprinkle black and yellow sugars in stripes across the top, then toss on any appropriately colored leftover stale crappy candy you can’t even believe you bought in the first place.   Voila.

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    Cheryl Herrick's brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life. All original content (written, graphical, recipes or other), unless otherwise noted, is © and/or TM Cheryl Herrick. All rights reserved by the author. Want to reprint a recipe? Just get in touch and ask.

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