Hi there. Did you miss me? In case you hadn’t noticed, I skipped writing a column last time.
I’m sorry. I hated to disappoint you, and I really tried, but I just couldn’t get the words to flow.
I sat down to write it as usual, but the combination of a late-night return from a trip to Chicago combined with an early deadline and a nasty cold left me with an advanced case of writer’s block.
Part of the problem was finding a topic. Originally, I planned to tell you about the fabulous fundraising gala my sister Margie chaired to raise funds for diabetes research, which was the reason for my Chicago trip.
The party was fantastic — the best yet. The whole family was there. Even dad flew in from Florida and donned his tux. The food was delicious, the drinks flowed, the band rocked, we all looked gorgeous and the company was great. Plus, they raised a lot of money for a very good cause.
The problem is, absolutely nothing went wrong. The tent didn’t blow down, no fistfights broke out on the dance floor, the drunks attempting karaoke with the band could actually carry a tune and the fire trucks did not appear. (For some reason, visits from hunky firemen are a hallmark of Margie’s parties, but apparently the smoke detectors failed to malfunction this time.)
A successful party with no catastrophes is great fun to attend, but as a writing topic, it’s an utter disaster. “A good time was had by all” does not make much of a column.
Another part of the problem was that when I got home, the week following the party was distinctly unfunny.
To begin with, Eddie was nowhere to be found, and he continued to not show up no matter how much I called him.
When the greediest cat on the planet failed to turn up for food three days in a row, I feared he was gone for good. I was convinced that he had found a new sucker willing to feed him even more frequently than the five meals a day he has conned out of me, and had moved on to greener pastures.
After all, he appeared in my yard one day out of the blue. I wasn’t surprised that he had departed as abruptly.
But just as I was sitting down to write about his desertion, in the hope that one of you might have spotted him and could report on his well-being, he turned up at the back door, hungry (as usual) but otherwise none the worse for wear.
I grilled him as to his whereabouts, but he was tight-lipped. All I could get out of him was the meow equivalent of “bring me more food, woman, and be snappy about it.”
As I had not had the foresight to equip him with a kittycam, I was unable to report on his mysterious travels, so another perfectly good column idea bit the dust.
Then there was the cold that hit me the day after I got home. I tried it as a topic, but it turns out there is nothing the least bit amusing about a nasty, sneezy, coughy drippy summer cold. Yes, it offered an opportunity to rant about airplanes and how they are set up to blow germs directly in your face for the entire trip, ensuring maximal infectious possibilities. But that didn’t feel quite fair, as I think I actually caught it from dad, who was sick two days ahead of the rest of us (yes, we all came down with it).
Or I could have written about dad, who after generously sharing his cold, decided he was dying that week, sending his daughters into conniptions (spoiler alert: he’s fine). But I had a hard time trying to wring the humor out of his conviction, however short-lived, that he was at death’s door.
In desperation, I picked up the newspaper, looking for a cheerier topic on which to ruminate. I really wanted to get that column written before my stuffy head exploded.
And that’s when I spotted the story. OMG! How had I missed it?
They say that folks who work for themselves have the worst bosses, and I was living proof. There was a shiny new law on the books, and I had very nearly broken it in its first week.
The headline read, “Sick leave now mandatory in California.”
I know the meaning of “mandatory.” And my week was already bad enough without courting an arrest.
So I gave up on the column, grabbed my box of tissues and crawled back into bed.
Rich Lemony Bundt Cake
I’m happy to say my cold is now gone, Eddie has been sticking close to home and dad is still doing fine. With that miserable week receding in the rear view mirror, it’s time to focus once again on enjoying summer.
One of the joys of this season is the plethora of just-picked fruits and vegetables available at nearby farm stands. Strawberries, in particular, have been at their peak recently. I’m usually not a dessert person, but I can’t get enough of strawberry shortcake — or really any combination of fresh, juicy fruit served with a rich, buttery cake and whipped cream.
This cake is great by itself, but even better accompanied by fruit. I’ve been making variations of it for decades, and it never disappoints. The original recipe (before my tweaks and changes) was a poppy-seed tea cake I found years ago in The Silver Palate Cookbook. I think their idea of soaking the cake with syrup at the end is inspirational. It may seem counterintuitive, but it doesn’t make the cake soggy, just moist and delicious.
For the cake:
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
2 cups flour
2½ tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Grated zest of 2 lemons
For the glaze:
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Thoroughly grease a 10-inch bundt pan.
In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the batter, alternating with the milk, mixing well. Mix in the vanilla and the grated zest.
Pour into the prepared bundt pan and bake about 50 minutes or until the edges pull away from the pan and a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for about half an hour before turning it out onto a rack to finish cooling.
In the meantime, make the lemon syrup by combining the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan and simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it forms a light syrup. Let it cool until ready to use.
Prick the cake all over with a long toothpick and slowly pour the syrup onto it. The cake should be able to absorb it all.
Serve by itself, with ice cream or as the base for a great strawberry shortcake.