Posts Tagged ‘family’

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Make a Memory

A few days ago I posted a poem titled Make a Memory and promised I would tell the story behind it. My sister-in-law, Tiz, asked me not to be too long about getting it up, especially after I told her that she and my brother, Mike are part of the story and Mike was a prime player in “the memory.”

Mike and Tiz live in Australia and last September, they visited us in Wisconsin for the very first time. I hadn’t seen my brother in far too many years and had never even met Tiz so this was a big occasion. A wonderful time was had by all but one incident stands out to me above all the others. It was a simple thing really but rich and very complex in meaning to me on several different levels.

We had gathered on the porch in the late afternoon just talking about this and that, enjoying each other’s company and my Gr-son Gabe was sort of lurking around the edges of the adults, listening to our conversation (I think we were discussing politics or something) and he had come up and leaned against me. I could see that he was trying to get closer but there was nowhere for him to sit so I invited him to sit on my lap.

Now Gabe had formed somewhat of a huge boy crush on my brother Mike and I had noticed he was trying to impress him so I wasn’t surprised when he informed me rather scornfully “I don’t sit on peoples’ laps anymore, Gramma.” To which I replied that I guessed he WAS getting a little too grown up for that but I sure wished I had known the last time he sat on my lap that it was going to be the last time. He asked me why and I said because I would have made a memory about it since I loved it so much when he sat on my lap when he was little.

At that point Mike chimed in with a comment about how important living in the present and being mindful of what is precious to you when you are with your loved ones is because you never know when the last time is going to be. We had a short discussion about that. That was probably the best–most meaningful–conversation Mike and I had that whole weekend. There was a whole lot that was left unspoken but was said nonetheless, in my opinion.

The conversation moved on and awhile later Gabe came up and nonchalantly sat on my lap. I didn’t say anything, just gave him a little hug but I knew what he was doing. After a few moments, he leaned in close and whispered in my ear “This is the last time, Gramma. Make a memory.” 

When they got home, Tiz sent me some pictures of their visit. One of them is the picture of Gabe and Daryn playing with some kangaroo boxer toys and there is Gabe, sitting on my lap. Occasionally I would look at that picture and think about sweet Gabe saying “This is the last time; make a memory” and think about writing a poem. Eventually that poem pretty much just wrote itself early one morning. I changed very little after the first draft. Mostly just line breaks and punctuation and one word.

So, Thanks Mike and Tiz.  You both helped make a special memory.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn


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To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
~e. e. Cummings

God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you’re taking away from God; you don’t need him anymore.
~Richard P Feynman

I’ve been trying to write an essay about my irritation with how the word atheism is defined and applied to non-believers such as myself by believers—mostly Xtian believers–and found myself becoming too “scholarly” and “preachy.” Most likely because this is an emotional issue for me. I tend to go into my head rather than write from the heart when my emotions are strong. It’s a protective coping mechanism and it works fine for what it was adopted to do but it sure leads to lousy, boring writing.

Soooo when I read the WordPress daily challenge for March 1 about constraint, I realized that that was a perfect explanation for what was going on with that essay and my dissatisfaction with it. I felt constrained to be nice and avoid offending the 80-90% of the populous who are theists—believers in at least one of the various gods and goddesses currently being worshiped.

 But why? Why worry about what kind of spin some theists want to impose on what I write? Well, being an atheist in America is definitely placing yourself squarely in the ranks of a very small minority. Coming out boldly as an atheist and proud of it opens you up for all kinds of disapproval and criticism. There are plenty of people willing to assure me that my fate is eternal damnation and torture. A lot of them enjoy thinking about the prospect. Many of them seem to take my disbelief as a personal insult.

 The theists that might be reading this blog include my extended family of origin some of whom I have recently reconnected with after many years of self-imposed exile. I’m not sure how they will react if they happen to read this post and since my FaceBook account and WordPress account are inter-connected, there’s a good chance they might.

 I grew up in a family steeped in evangelical fundamentalism, attending a church where the literal interpretation of the Bible was not only encouraged, it was demanded. They believe the Bible should be read as the literal truth. When it says Jonah lived in the belly of a fish for three days, they believe that Jonah really lived in the belly of a fish for three days. They don’t believe that would happen today but they believe their god made it happen back then and if it wanted to it could make something similar happen today.

 I have wandered far astray from that milieu and have very little in common with these relatives except blood ties, a shared history and memories that are more than 30 years old. Don’t get me wrong, that is really no one’s fault but my own. No one chased me out. I doubt they even knew I was going until I had been gone for so long it occurred to someone to wonder what was up. I chose this path deliberately and frankly, I’m not sorry I did. It saved my life and it had absolutely nothing to do with me “losing my faith” and becoming an atheist.But still, I know–well really assume–that my lack of faith in the god they believe in will probably shock them

I’m not looking for a fight with them but I’m afraid they will be offended by and possibly even hurt by some of what I want to say. Part of me wants to apologize to them in advance but then I get pissed about that because they feel perfectly free to post their prayer requests and Bible verses wherever they choose, secure in the knowledge that they won’t suffer the kinds of ire I am often subjected to for my lack of belief. There’s another form of those constraints again. My fear of having to defend myself and my beliefs in the face of criticism

Please don’t misunderstand, none of my relatives have explicitly made an issue out of anything I have said or done recently in regards to this issue and I’ve made it pretty clear on FaceBook that I am a born again atheist and recovering fundamentalist. In fact, only one of them has commented and she graciously gave me permission to exercise my freedom to have my own opinion which amused me to no end since she is my son’s age.

It’s amazing how quickly one can fall back into the dysfunctional patterns and habits you worked so hard to overcome. I haven’t even seen these relatives face to face and here I am, the parentified child wanting to take care of them and their feelings. Wanting to apologize for being me. And none of them have even asked for that or anything else for that matter. Sigh…

This post is supposed to be about using constraints to free yourself up to write. I’m flipping it on its head, declaring freedom from the constraints that keep me from writing freely and giving myself permission to have my own opinion and beliefs. Tomorrow I will exercise my freedom of expression and blog about what it means to be an atheist without worrying about what anyone else thinks or says or does. I will let them be responsible for their own reactions and not fall into the trap of feeling responsible for them. I will write from the heart and with passion because I AM passionate about this subject. I will write as if no one who will be reading what I write will disagree with me once I have made my case.


Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn 

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If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
George Bernard Shaw

Happy is said to be the family which can eat onions together. They are, for the time being, separate, from the world, and have a harmony of aspiration.
Charles Dudley Warner

Family. Can there be a more prickly source of joy and despair in our lives? Last night my children, Daryn and Kerryn, came to have dinner with me. We haven’t had a meal together just the three of us in years. There were a good many conversations that began “remember when…”

Daryn brought Kerryn his electronic key board (she wants to learn to play the piano and is planning to take piano lessons!) and while I got dinner on the table and took pictures of it, she began trying to play chopsticks. I was immediately transported back in time, wandering down memory lane. That was the one piece I taught them as youngsters and they loved the fact that we could all three play a part. Whenever we got near a piano back in the early years the three of us would play chopsticks.

Last night was special. My kids became kids again and I was the Mom. We were the family of origin once again.  The salient unit. Happy being together.

Sadly, I forgot to take pictures of THEM. I’m pretty sure they enjoyed having just the three of us together without spouses, grandchildren and extended family members present. We’ll have to remember to do it more often.

On the menu: “left over” Boef Bourguinon (I froze some of the beef and broth when I made it a couple of weeks ago and added fresh vegetables. Fairly quick and easy.) and Dairy Free “Buttermilk” Biscuits. It was a great meal for a night spitting rain and snow and the biscuits turned out really well.  So far I have had only one failure with my egg and dairy free adaptions of family recipes.  That’s amazing!

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.  ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story

Last Sunday I tried a new recipe and baked a Dr Pepper Ham for a feast for the “kids.” I’ve heard about soda pops being used to tenderize meat but had never tried it.  Then a ham recently came into my life and while I was googling recipes to be sure I had the oven temperature and stuff right,  I ran into the Dr Pepper Ham recipe on The cooking Dude website and I had to try it and tweak it to make it my own. 

Dr Pepper just happens to be my favorite soda pop.  I can remember the first time I tried it.  I was at the Pibel Bible Church Camp and Jon Zlomke bought it for me. Ahhh…sweet memories.  But I digress, back to my very tiny, very retro 1980s  kitchen:

Actually I tried FIVE new (at least for some of the family) recipes for that dinner since I’m trying to adapt tried and true family recipes to the dairy and egg allergies that have recently been diagnosed. Reinventing the wheel so to speak. The menu:

Dr Pepper Ham*

Garlic Mashed potatoes and Cauliflower*

Roasted Beets*

Steamed Broccoli

Corn Bread*

Grandma’s Dilly Bread**

Vodka Apple Pie*

Everything turned out great except for the adaptation of Grandma Iola Gavin’s recipe for Dilly Bread (**found in The Joy of Cooking recipe book). I’m not sure exactly what went wrong because I went off course and mixed the batter up the night before and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight in the interests of saving time and energy when I had all that other stuff going on. That might not have been a good idea for batter bread.  I substituted soft tofu with a couple of tablespoons of almond milk for the cottage cheese and added a tablespoon of vinegar and extra baking soda to substitute for the egg. The rise didn’t ever quite get there and when I took it out of the oven it fell. :^(  It was really dense and seemed too “wet.” 

The good news is that it tasted quite similar to Grandma’s Bread.  I’ll have to try again because Dilly Bread is a big favorite and a must for a ham dinner at our house. I’m thinking there was too much moisture—I didn’t adjust the wet ingredients to account for the vinegar and the almond milk may have been overkill.

After a big ham dinner, what comes next? Why Ham & Bean Soup*, of course! My friend Mark Zakula is responsible for the ham dinner because we bartered for services. He drove my dog Igor and me to the vet and requested a batch of bean soup in return. As happy coincidence would have it, ham went on sale at my neighborhood store, Capitol Centre Market, that same week and we scratched the Ham Hock & Bean Soup in favor of that coveted ham bone and my “kids” got a ham dinner. :^)

I was “talking” to Bebe, author of the French Twisted Woman  blog here on WordPress, about cooking, recipes, and food photography and mentioned that I had made bean soup but neglected to get a picture but maybe I should post a picture of the blister I got rendering all of the carrots I put into it into ¼ cubes. She said she’d post a picture of one of her failures If I would post my blister picture. So here you are Bebe:

It had already begun to heal and wasn’t full of water anymore so it’s not as dramatic as I would have liked but if you look closely you can see it at the base of my index finger on the right. <heheheh>

Then I remembered that I actually had a couple of bowls of that soup in the refrigerator so here’s a picture of the soup too!


*All recipes can be found by post date in the new Recipe pages found in the tabs at the top of every post or by clicking the links on the menu posted above.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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In poetry, you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your capacity to love anything at all.

That’s my nephew, Greg Gavin.  He is a poet.  A good poet.  Here is a link to his Blog and poetry:  The Viscous Somniloquy.  I speak as someone who has studied, written a lot of, published a few, and at one time wanted to teach writing poetry.  We have our own little  mutual admiration society going on.  It has been such a pleasure for me to discover a kindred soul in my extended family.

He and I have been having some interesting conversations about writing on Facebook’s Instant Message thingie.  A few nights ago we were discussing where our gift to string words together in pleasing and wondrous ways comes from and he asked if I thought the ability to write well was genetic.

I do.  Both of my kids are fairly good writers.  Particularly my son who actually writes in connection with his present and past jobs as an educator.  He wrote all the training manuals for the people he trained at his last job. My brother Michael writes very well.  I’ve been getting emails from him lately and I can “hear” him talking while I read.  He writes just like he talks.

But what I find most interesting is that my Dad, Bill Gavin, wanted to write when he was a young man and had, in fact, written at least one mystery/crime novel.  Greg was unaware of this.  Sadly, that doesn’t surprise me.  My father is a taboo subject back there at the family of origin’s homestead.

My mother told me years ago that there were some manuscripts in a trunk down in her basement.  For whatever reason, I never asked to see them.  I wish I had.  I worry that she cleaned out that trunk and destroyed those manuscripts out of a desire to erase all traces of my father from her life.  Not that I would really blame her but I really, really want to see those manuscripts.

I know my Dad was a good writer because of a very few letters I got from him over the years that I didn’t keep.  I wonder if he ever wrote poetry.  It would be interesting to find out if anyone else in hthe Sinner-Gavin family had aspirations to be a writer.  Especially a generation or two back.  Grandma Gavin, Iola Sinner Gavin, was the word person in Dad’s family.  She used to do the New York Times crossword puzzle every Sunday and loved to play scrabble.

It would be even more interesting to discover that the Hoyt-Fate family line had some aspiring writers in it.  I know they were avid letter writers.  My Gramma, Della Fate, encouraged me to have pen pals and even bought me stamps and stationary to encourage me to write letters to my cousin Linda who lived in Japan where her parents were missionaries.

But yeah I do think the ability to write has a genetic component.  Just like the color of your eyes, the shape of your nose,  your hairline, health issues, and even your personality quirks and a lot of other things are genetic.  The neurons in our brains are composed of DNA.  Where nature leaves off and nurture begins to produce that passion to write is a mystery.  Hey, we could have (and actually have, at least in my case) inherited worse things from our family.

Greg has inspired me to pick this blog back up and write.  He has even inspired me to write some poetry again.  I wish I was rich because I would love nothing more than to be his mentor and a patron who could send him off traveling the world and writing about his experiences.  He’s an intelligent, gifted, and talented young man and he’s an old soul with a wisdom beyond his years.

Today is National “Have a Brownie Day.”  I think I will make Greg some Brownies just because.  These are the brownies I used to make my kids every Friday night for a few years when they (and I) were young.  They had to help beat the eggs and sugar until they were just right.  This recipe comes from the Joy of Cooking Cookbook by Irma Rombauer.  Thanks, Irma!  Four generations of women in my family have had one version or another of your cookbook in our kitchens.  It’s my go-to gift for Bridal showers and wedding gifts.

Brownies Cockaigne*

*Cockaigne? I’d forgotten that this recipe has that strange word in the title. I had to look it up.

 Quick definitions from WordNet (Cockaigne)noun:  (Middle Ages) an imaginary land of luxury and idleness.

Imagine that while you bake. 

Preheat your oven to 350*

Melt in a double boiler*:

½ cup butter

4 ozs of unsweetened baking chocolate**

Cool this mixture to room temperature. Irma says that if you don’t your brownies will be heavy and dry. I trust Irma. *Nowadays I would skip the double boiler and melt the butter and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl on low or even defrost for a couple of minutes. How did we ever manage without microwave ovens? Then stir it and nuke it on low again for a couple of minutes, more. Lather, rinse, repeat until the butter and chocolate can be stirred together. Be careful, chocolate scorches easily and that’s not nice. Trust me, you don’t want scorched chocolate in your brownies.

**If you don’t happen to have baking chocolate in the house you can substitute 3 TBS of cocoa or carob powder and one TBS of butter for each square or ounce of chocolate. Irma taught me that too. So total butter for this recipe using cocoa would be 1 cup. Melt all of the butter together on low in the microwave oven and gradually stir in 12 tablespoons (or ¾ cup) of cocoa or carob powder a couple of tablespoons at a time until there are no lumps. You might want to sift the cocoa or carob powder. Cool it to room temperature.

In a large bowl beat until light in color and fluffy:

4 room temperature eggs*

¼ tsp of salt

That room temperature note on the eggs is important.  Your eggs won’t get nice and fluffy and the sugar won’t dissolve unless your eggs are about 70*.  If you decide to make these Brownies on the spur of the moment, you can warm your eggs up by putting them in a bowl (with the shells intact please) and running hot tap  water over them for a minute or so and then letting them sit in it until the water is room temperature.  That will take anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour. I learned that from Hints from Heloise.  Heloise had a daily column in the newspaper for years.  She taught me how to be a better housewife. <grin>

Add gradually as you continue beating the eggs until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and creamy. This takes awhile. If you are doing it by hand you should invite a friend to share the work and the brownies, your arm is going to get tired! Preteen boys enjoy doing this for some reason:

2 cups sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Quickly fold into the eggs the COOLED (I cannot stress this enough) chocolate and butter. Do this by hand. Before the mixture is uniform in color quickly fold in with as few strokes as possible.

1 cup of all-purpose flour

Before the flour is completeluy incorporated, add

1 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts*

*The nuts are optional. Bake in a greased (use some canned and pressurized oil aka cooking spray) 9” X 13” cake pan about 25 minutes for moist chewy brownies. If you prefer them more cake like then use a 9” X 9” cake pan.

Here’s the hardest part of the recipe:

Let the brownies cool to room temperature cool before you cut them.

We always put the pan on a cookie sheet and stuck them in the freezer to speed this process up because we were greedy piggies who needed our chocolate fix.  You can eat them straight from the oven but they won’t be pretty and they won’t taste as good. Anticipation adds a lot of flavor to almost anything.

Listen to Carly Simon while you’re waiting!

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Life at the Three Threes is ummm…interesting to say the least. I love living in downtown Madison and having the University so near. The energy of so many young people roaming the streets and patronizing the same business establishments I patronize is exhilarating. Living on the 9th floor of one of the tallest buildings in the city is excellent. I’ve got a view! Having the Senior Center where I volunteer and socialize keeps me from becoming socially isolated. As an extrovert with introvert tendencies I really need and enjoy that outlet.

And then there is the Three Threes (the building street address is 333) itself. This building is HUD Housing meaning the rent I pay is based on my income and the rest is paid by a federal program with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The residents are either senior citizens or disabled in some way.  The staff here is primo! We couldn’t ask for nicer and better folks in the office or on the maintenance staff. They all have an excellent sense of humor and are kind and helpful to the inmates err…residents.

Jill, in the front office, reigns with a quiet fair-minded benevolence. Gina, the resident activities coordinator and Jill’s assistant is creative and enthusiastic as well as fun to hang with. Erica, the Services Manager (she helps us get the social services we need to stay independent and healthy) is the BEST! I want to hook her up with my son.

The building is extremely well maintained and if you ask for something or there is a problem Vern and Scott are Johnny on the spot. Eldegard (I may have misspelled that—it’s Spanish) keeps the common areas spotless. They are all pleasant and nice folks.

BUT…(you just knew there was a but in there, didn’t you?) there are some things I (and most everyone else here) don’t like about living in HUD housing. Yearly inspections are one of them. A lot of people hate it with a purple passion but I’m generally pretty stoic about it. It forces me to spring clean which is a good thing and I sort of appreciate the push to do what I should be doing anyway.

But I don’t like it. It’s stressful. It takes all the fun out of spring cleaning which is that I do it because I feel like opening and washing the windows and as long as there is fresh air let’s get rid of all those pent up winter smells that accumulate. I’m in the mood and energized. Bring on the Pine Sol!

Besides that, I don’t particularly like young, healthy, physically active people coming in and judging my housekeeping skills. It doesn’t matter how nice they are. It’s unnerving.

Inspections take that away from me for the most part but whatever… I can deal. However, this year I am in the “hating it with a purple passion” camp. I have been incredibly busy for the past 4 weeks running to the chiropractor, the vet, and today I have to go see my GP. My son’s birthday was last Sunday. That may not seem like much but for me, it’s exhausting.

When I got the notice last Friday that they were going to be doing inspections THIS Thursday (that’s tomorrow), I was horrified. I was baking a cake on Saturday. Saturday night I was going out of town until Sunday evening. I had a Chiropractor appt Monday, Bridge on Tuesday, Dr’s appt on Wednesday. I need naps every afternoon. Serious two-three hour naps or I get sick. Just when was I going to find time to clean? Especially since they want the oven, refrigerator, bathroom, and carpet looking good. Oy…

If I fail this inspection then they will put me on horror of horrors quarterly inspections. Good gawd…

Don’t get me wrong, I think I am one of the luckiest people I know to live here in affordable housing that is well taken care of. I try to remember to count my blessings and not bitch a lot. Today I’m bitching.

Bless her heart my daughter is coming over tonight to clean the oven because that always triggers an asthma attack for me and needs its own day all by itself. And I’ve taken on the attitude that what gets done gets done. If they put me on quarterly inspections I’m going straight to Erica and asking her to help me find some housekeeping help. I’ve always wanted a maid.

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Sunday was my son’s 41st birthday so of course we had to have cake! My family doesn’t eat a lot of cake. Not that we don’t like it because we certainly do. A little too much, in fact. We just reserve cakes and pies and sweets in general for special occasions. So we get birthday cakes 6 times a year and probably a couple more “just because” cakes when all of us get together. Daryn has requested boxed cake mix cakes for years because he likes the oily fluffiness of them. To my daughter and me, this is cake heresy.

So this year I vowed to find the oiliest fluffiest cake recipe out there. After 41 years, I finally came up with a homemade cake that Dz actually liked. Presenting…

Brazilian Chocolate Chiffon Cake

with strawberries and custard

The cake:

Preheat your oven to 325*

Pour 1 ¼ cup hot very strong coffee* over:

4 squares of baker’s chocolate chopped

2 TBS margarine or butter

¼ to ½ ** tsp hot red pepper flakes

½ to 1** tsp cinnamon

½ tsp baking soda

and stir until chocolate is melted. *I ground coffee beans until they were espresso powder consistency, put a couple of heaping teaspoons in my glass measuring cup and then poured boiling water into it and let it steep awhile. Then I reheated it in the microwave and poured the whole mess over the chocolate. Most of the coffee grounds stayed in the cup. You can use 2 heaping teaspoons of instant crap coffee but… I’m just saying…

**The amount of pepper flakes and cinnamon depends on how much you like those flavors. I used more pepper flakes because we like more and less cinnamon because I was serving strawberries and cream with the cake. In moderation both intensify the flavor of the chocolate as does the coffee and you hardly know they are there.  Adding more pepper flakes does give the cake an unexpected bite.  You can also use cayenne pepper.

Set the chocolate mixture aside to cool and sift together:

2 Cups cake flour

1 ½ cup sugar

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

Make a well in the dry ingredients and add in order:

1 1/2 cup canola oil

7 unbeaten egg yolks

cooled* coffee and chocolate mixture

2 tsp vanilla

Stir with a spoon until the mixture is smooth. Do not beat. You do not want the gluten to start binding together. The less you stir the fluffier the cake will be.

*Make sure your coffee and chocolate mixture has cooled to room temperature. Too hot and it will cook the egg yolks and you don’t want that!

Beat slowly until the eggs whites start bubbling:

1 cup of egg whites (7 or 8)

½ tsp cream of tartar

Then crank the mixer up to high and beat until the egg whites form stiff glossy peaks.   Fold, do not stir, the chocolate batter into the egg whites just until they are incorporated. There should be light streaks, medium streaks and a few dark streaks in the batter.

Bake in three ungreased 9” cake pans (or in the case of the cake pictured above one 10 inch flan pan and two 8”pans) at 325* for 25-35 minutes, then check with a tooth pick. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. If it’s got gooey stuff on it bake another 5-10 minutes and check again.


Bake in an ungreased angel food cake pan for 55 minutes. Increase the heat to 350* and bake another 10-15 minutes and test with a toothpick.

What comes next is probably the most ambitious cake project I have ever attempted. I should have stuck to plain old cake with Ganache icing but noooo, I had to try fancy. All I can say is DO NOT attempt this unless you are an experienced cake decorator or you are prepared to fail. I failed. Spectacularly.

Strawberries and Custard Filling

I wish I could give you a good recipe for this. The one I made tasted good but it was a total flop as far as constructing the cake went. I wish I had an excuse to make another cake to see if I could pull it off, having learned from my mistakes but given the expense of the key ingredients (13 eggs! 3 cups of heavy cream, 10 squares of baking chocolate, a bag of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips and a pint of strawberries), I will have to wait until the next special occasion to experiment. Or not. If you insist on doing this, use the custard of your choice and slice some strawberries up in it. Don’t blame me if it doesn’t work.


Where have I been all these years that I had not discovered you can cover a cake in semi-sweet chocolate candy??? Sweet!

On medium heat in a heavy pan, scald 1 ½ cup of whipping cream or to be safe, do it over a double boiler. Watch it carefully because it will scorch in a heart beat. That would be bad. While it is heating, in a heat proof bowl put:

1 bag of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips,

6 squares of bitter-sweet baking chocolate

1 TBS corn syrup (I used coconut syrup)

2 TBS unsalted butter

2 TBS Dutch processed cocoa mixed with a little of the hot cream.

Just before the cream starts to boil, pour it over the chocolate and other ingredients and start stirring. Stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours until it is of the consistency you can still pour it onto the cake and spread it like frosting. Start assembling your cake.

Here’s where things started going south for me. The strawberries and custard in the well of the flan layer, worked out great but the second layer, not so much. The custard was supposed to sit on top of the second layer but it was way too loose. I might not have cooled it down enough. The kitchen might have been too hot. I also should have listened to my gut and gone with my instinct that the recipe I was referencing for the custard called for way too much whipped cream. Probably three times as much as it should have had in it to do what they claimed it was going to do. In other words, 1 ½ cups of heavy cream vs ½ cup of heavy cream whipped. That was my first big mistake.

At any rate, the strawberries and custard started sliding off the second layer of cake immediately. I threw the whole mess in the refrigerator and took a break to contemplate my impending disaster. Then it occurred to me that I could just make a well in the second layer of cake and slap the third layer of cake on top of it to contain it. So I scraped all the strawberries and cream off the second layer, dug a well by cutting a circle 1 ½ inch from the edge of the cake and hollowing it out about 1 ½ inch down. Then I filled it up with the strawberries and cream and used some of the ganache to glue the top layer onto the second layer. That worked for the most part BUT I should have glued the second layer to the flan base too. Mistake number two. Strawberries and cream started oozing out of the bottom layer. Gaaaah!

About now the Ganache is starting to set up big time, desperately trying to turn back into chocolate chips and squares. So I’m starting to panic and I start slapping Ganache on there, trying to use it like Spackle and I’m filling in nail holes on the wall, getting chocolate everywhere. Oh brother… Then it hits me. I can probably just heat this stuff back up to get it back to pouring and spreading consistency again. Ah, yes, that works. Deep breath, all is not lost, yet…

Finally it’s together and doesn’t look nearly as awful as I thought it was going to look. In fact, I’m rather pleased with it, all things considered. I decide I will use this recipe for Ganache again but I need something better than a table knife to apply it with.  I put an offset icing spatula on my Amazon wish list.

So 10 long hours after I started baking I have a cake to take to my son’s birthday party. In a fit of laziness, I buy some canned whip cream to cover up the worst of the messiness and make my THIRD big mistake.

My daughter comes to pick me up and talks me into letting the cake be seat belted into the back seat rather than riding on my lap where I can keep it upright. You KNOW where this is going, right? HUGE mistake number FOUR. I knew before I took it out of the car that I was in crisis mode again. The top two layers have slid off of the flan layer and are smushed up against the lid of the cake carrier.

We  decide to deal with it in the morning and stick it into Kerryn’s refrigerator. It doesn’t look irreparable and canned whipped cream can cover a lot of sins. Right? Right.

Sooo I’m up early and at K’s house looking for coffee by 7:30. My son-in-law promises to help me fix the cake after Kerryn and I get the roasts in the oven. We begin browning meat, preheating the oven and peeling vegetables. By 10am our dinner is under control and Kerryn and I have made a run to PiggilyWiggily to find the flints for the vintage table lighter I got Dz.

Mike and I get the top two layer of the cake back to where they belong and I proceed to use my trusty can of pressurized whip cream to make pretty flowerets that cover up the worst of the disasters. But wait, before I’m done the flowerets start melting! Oh NOES! The kitchen is too hot from the roasting beef and pork. Back in the fridge it goes!

I go peek at it before dinner and all those pretty whipped cream flowerets have dripped down the side of the cake like whipped cream tears. This cake is looking decidedly and sadly Gothic. THEN I remember that canned whip cream isn’t very stable. Sigh…

In the end before I present the cake to my family and guests, I show them the picture of what it looked like before the whipped cream melted. Then I bring out the sad Gothic mess I had to serve and we all have a good laugh at my expense. Before I can find the camera, they start pulling the chocolate covered strawberries off so Dz can cut it into serving pieces. 

Everyone agrees that despite its sad appearance the cake and its damn strawberries and cream custard tastes really good although Jen doesn’t look like she is too sure she wants to taste it in this picture. Dz says it is as fluffy and oily as a boxed mix and I should try again next year. So mostly a success.

In retrospect I should have gone and bought an angel food cake pan or used my Bundt pan and poured the custard and strawberries into the center as advised by one recipe I read but they didn’t have an angel food cake pan at the store and I was afraid my Bundt pan wouldn’t work well enough. I wanted a flat top for the chocolate covered strawberries. Right…

Oh yeah, the vintage lighter doesn’t work either. It needs one of these:

On the other hand it looks really cool but I forgot to take a picture of it. It looks like this but is cooler because it is black and tan and shinier.

We are looking for a working model to get the part we need.


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