Ed’s Corner

Fake News

These words have been bandied about over the last six months. People are questioning what they can believe; what’s made up? Is the ‘truth’ from yesterday a lie today? What are we not being told? Our own Scott Dunn went out to Standing Rock, North Dakota, for two weeks to stand with the Lakota people in their effort to stop the potentially hazardous Dakota Access pipeline from going under and through sacred areas. Underlying this is the indigenous people’s right to self-determination regarding the little land they still have left. When Scott returned he remarked how the major media did not really cover the nine months of protest until the dramatic end, when President Obama temporarily put a halt to the project.  So, it wasn’t fake news – it was NO news.

Conspiracy theories spread. We are even going back in time. More than one person has come to me lately asking if I thought the lunar landing back in 1969 was all filmed in the back lot of a Hollywood studio!

For many of us the future – no, really the present! – feels a bit shaky. What can I truly believe in?

Our answer to the last question (no surprise to those who know us) is to step out into nature.

We might call it a Fake Break.

I’m going to now close the computer on this, the 15th day of January, at 12:30 pm, and take a half hour walk – just outside my office. I’ll report back what ‘truths’ I discover. I did not plan on doing this when beginning to write this month’s Ed’s Corner an hour ago, so let’s see what happens.

I’ll be back. I’m going on a Fake Break…

…Whew. I’m back. I’m sweating because I tried to be quick about it and hurried. So, what truths did I find?

  • Warmth when I stepped out the door.
  • A rooster crowing from a distance.
  • In the small garden in front of my office there were dried, long stems from an ornamental grass, matted down in beautiful forms.
  • A slight breeze, bringing different earth odors as I walked around.
  • A surprising amount of the color green – on rocks, walls, tree trunks, and plants.
  • A few turkey vultures circling overhead.
  • Wet tree bark making the green lichens on them really stand out.
  • A slight sun shower, the drops falling into the Fairy stream, making for many beautiful concentric circles on the water.
  • Some clouds moved away, the sun was very bright, the sky opposite full of dark clouds. The perfect set-up for a rainbow! I turned so that my back was to the sun and my eyes, scanning the dark clouds, were hoping for a rainbow. None.
  • I saw a tree whose bottom trunk and branches appear as if they were a strong person making muscles/showing their biceps.
  • I lifted up/rolled away a cement-based stop sign and saw what looked like small ants with wings, hunkered down in crevices and moving slightly. I said ‘hello’ and put back the round base of the sign exactly how it was. But I am curious as to who they were. I’ll come back soon with a magnifying glass.
  • I now hear some blue jays, their calls, at least to me, always sound as if they are complaining about something.
  •  Big deer tracks in the mud on the pitcher’s mound in Mary Dailey Field.
  • A small oak tree on the edge of this field still holding on to its dead, brown leaves, appearing as dry leather and making a sound by rubbing together when the wind blows.
  • The warm sunshine on my face when I stepped out from the shade of a tree.
Muscle tree

Muscle tree

 

Deer hoof

Deer track

 

I know that there are many more truths to be found when out in the natural world. So I suggest taking a short Fake Break when you need to.

Margaret Fuller said “Nature never did deceive the heart that loved her.”

The Way of Things

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, gives us a tale of birds, taking care, and the way of things for this month of January.  

Come the cold, hard freeze of January, Grandma Cramshaw supplied her back yard bird feeder with sunflower and safflower seed. She got angry with anyone who left bread out for the birds, as she said that bread is ‘people’ food and should not be eaten by the feathered ones. Ricky told me that his grandmother felt bread didn’t go down a bird’s gullet very well. I asked him what a gullet was and he said it was the bird’s throat. I asked him why they didn’t just call it a throat and he said because it was bird talk.

“You mean gullet is a bird word?”

He said, “Yeah, sometimes you hear the crows say ‘gullet gullet’. Didn’t you ever hear them say that?”

“I guess so…but why are they saying ‘throat throat’?”

Ricky said, “I don’t know. Maybe because they are talking about two throats?”

We watched the old woman go out into her little backyard right near to the Thruway fence. There she climbed up a short step ladder and dumped a portion of sunflower seeds into an open tray on top of an iron pipe. A foot below the tray was a wide, metal pie pan such that a squirrel could not shimmy up the pipe and get around the pie pan. Then down a little ways from the pie pan was a lower tray in which she dumped a portion of safflower seeds. Below this tray there was another metal pie pan just about two feet off the ground. The whole thing looked like some sort of antenna for a spy satellite.

The sunflower seeds in the top tray were all black. She called them ‘oilers’ as they were Black Oil Sunflower seeds. She said they were for the chickadees, but really all kinds of birds went for the ‘oilers’. We saw doves, robins, catbirds, jays, and even some crows go for the top tray. The lower tray looked light-colored, as safflower seeds are a dirty white. This tray was for the cardinals, as Grandma told us cardinals were very fond of safflower seeds. She also didn’t mind this tray being closer to the ground as she believed squirrels were not too keen on safflower seeds. She kept the bird feeder pole stocked up through the cold winter, but put smaller amounts in the trays as spring approached. She said she didn’t want the birds to get lazy and forget about finding their own wild food in the warm weather.

birds

But one freezing cold winter she took to walking up the back ledge of the thruway cliff with a small bag of feed for something. Ricky and I followed her one day when it was pretty dry and not slippery. There, high above the distant sound of the thruway traffic, we found her pouring out a couple of handfuls of cracked dry corn. Apparently there were a pair of ruffled grouse that had moved into the brush just back of the ledges, and she was worried about them.

She said, “No grouse in his right mind would live on top of this thruway cliff. I got a suspicion that one of them is hurt and needs to heal up before they can go on to wherever they were headed.”

Ricky asked her, “So why’s the other one here then?”

She said, “To take care of the hurt one, it’s the way of things.”

He said to her, “Is that what you do? Take care of birds in the winter cause it’s the way of things?”

She looked at us, her weathered face all carved up with wrinkles like an old piece of leather, but not in a scary way, sort of friendly-like, and she said, “Not just birds, Ricky. We only got one job, to take care of things.”

A few days later she found a raccoon was eating the dried corn and she no longer heard the grouse drumming their wings on the thruway cliff. She told us they flew off or got eaten by the coon. She said, “Either way, it’s the way of things.”

Birthday Cake

Eva Szigeti gives us a recipe for birthday cake (the kind of cake one dreams about). 

We may not think of the kitchen as a place where decisions regarding risk-taking are being made. Personally, with every approaching birthday in the family, I find myself faced with a dilemma: to bake or not to bake (the birthday cake, of course). I consider the pros and cons. There is the safe solution: walking into a pastry shop and purchasing a fine cake. Or the risky one: making one at home from scratch.

The idea of honoring someone’s birthday by investing my time and energy into a handmade gift or homemade cake is appealing to me. Motivation for risk-taking in this case is not financial or political gain, nor fame, but simply giving. The cake will not only please (hopefully) the taste buds of the birthday boy or birthday girl, it will also stand as a symbol of my love and care. But is it worth the risk?

Risk-taking can be exciting as well as stressful. I choose to focus on the exciting part and I hope that the stressful aspect will never materialize. As long as everything goes well, I will be safe. Of course it is easier said than done. Many things can go wrong when baking a cake. Not only is it much harder to bake a good cake than it is to cook a soup or stew, but usually there are fewer opportunities for troubleshooting. To a soup, one can always add more salt, seasoning, or liquid; the stew can be tasted anytime during cooking and there are tricks that can save even a stew that turned out to be too salty. A cake is different. Once the batter is in the oven, we have no control (except for the baking time and temperature), its fate has been sealed.

One day, I decided to take a double risk and bake a cake I have never made before. Not just any cake, a cake with history. This central European classic can be found in pastry shops of Vienna and Budapest under the name Esterházyschnitten (Esterházy slices) or Esterházy torta (Esterházy cake). The cake was invented in the late 19th century in Budapest and named after a member of the wealthy Esterházy dynasty. As the recipe traveled from one city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to another, every confectioner added his touch, and many variations of the original recipe were born. My search for the authentic recipe led to an array of recipes, some of them quite different from one another. After careful consideration, I decided to use two of them.  One for the nut meringue layers; the filling I imagined would taste better if I followed another recipe.

For a not-very-experienced cake baker like myself, the notion of taking risks also comes with exploration. In the late night solitude of my kitchen, I am entering unknown territory where qualities of meringue and buttercream filling will be explored, and where experiments will be conducted as to what extent the amount of sugar can be lowered without compromising the taste or texture of the cake. It is a place where my patience will be tested, where I try not to give up when the freshly baked meringue sheet starts to break apart as I peel off the parchment.  I will need to be ready for a compromise and give up the original fondant icing in order to save the looks of my cake.

A little after midnight, the cake is done. I must admit, it doesn’t look like an Esterházy torta at all: instead of the signature spiderweb-like chocolate pattern on white fondant glazing, mine is glazed with chocolate. To improve the aesthetics of my cake (I should say to cover up the uneven surface), the top is decorated with slivers of toasted almond and a few sour cherries. My final conclusion is that the cake looks good enough after all to be called a birthday cake and to be given as a gift. Now it has to rest overnight for the layers to come together. I won’t know how it tastes until tomorrow, but hopefully the work was worth the risk. It usually is.

As birthdays remind us of life lived and the years that are already behind us, we can think of becoming pastry chefs for a night and going to a slightly unsafe place, not only as a gift to a friend or family member, but as a gift to ourselves.

birthday-cake

The Cake (Almond Meringue Cake with Coffee Buttercream)

In our family, this cake has become the ultimate birthday cake and we refer to it simply as The Cake.  My recipe for The Cake is yet another variation on Esterházy cake. Although it is traditionally a round cake, I prefer to bake rectangular sheets of meringue because they are more forgiving and easier to troubleshoot.

This is a gluten-free cake without any compromises.
Meringue layers
2 cups sliced almonds or walnuts (almonds are typically used in Vienna, walnuts in Budapest)
10 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar

In a food processor process the nuts with ½ cup of sugar until the nuts are finely chopped.

Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and beat until shiny peaks form. Fold in the nuts.

Spread ¼ of the mixture in a 17 x 11 jelly-roll pan lined with parchment. Bake in a preheated oven on 350 F for about 20 minutes. While the first batch bakes, store the rest of the meringue in the refrigerator. Take the baked meringue out of the oven and while still hot, carefully invert onto a cutting board. Peel off the parchment.

Repeat the process and bake all four meringue layers. Don’t worry if the sheets break, they can be put together when layered with the buttercream.

Buttercream
1 ½ cup sugar
10 egg yolks
¾ cup strong brewed coffee
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 sticks butter

In a bowl combine all ingredients except for the butter. Whisking constantly over a saucepan of simmering water bring to a boil. Let cool down.

Add butter to the lukewarm pastry cream and mix with electric mixer.

Chocolate Glaze
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons milk

In a bowl combine pieces of chocolate, butter and sugar. Melt over a saucepan of simmering water. Add milk, mix until smooth.

To assemble: Alternate meringue layers with buttercream. Save the best meringue sheet for the top. Glaze the top and sides with chocolate glaze.

This is a large and very rich cake. It will serve 12-15 people.

This cake has to sit overnight before being served. The brittle meringue will absorb the moisture and flavors of the buttercream, it will soften and lose all the qualities of meringue. No one will be able to tell that this is a flourless cake.