Saturday, February 27, 2010

Have your cake and eat it too

So tonight, we are invited to a loser's party. This is not a small event. Our community has a tennis tournament in the winter months, to blast away the doldrums. Anyone can play -- but here's the rub: the better you are, the less skilled your assigned partner will be. This makes for interesting tennis (think, Roger Federer teamed with Phyllis Diller), and as we get towards the finals, big crowds at the tennis court, drinking, betting, cheering.

The invite to this party reads as follows: "Calling all losers! All losers welcome! All potential losers welcome! All winners married to losers welcome!" (For the record, I am not a loser. My partner pulled her calf muscle during our second round match and we had to forfeit. In fact, though we were down a set, we were coming back. That will always be the legend.)

But as I am married to a loser, we will go.

Our hostess delineates potluck responsibilities as follows: If your name starts with A-M, bring an appetizer and cheer. We, with our R and our S, fall into dessert and cheer. My husband requested a replay of a cake that I made last week to send to my step-daughter at college. It is not a "real" cake, so I didn't post it here, but it certainly was something to see, with several tons of glittery sprinkles dumped on it by two enthusiastic 5-year-olds. I am sorry I do not have a picture. Suffice to say, that it didn't last long at all. Even my foodie pals scarfed it down in the car on the way home.

To be frank, for a loser's party sugar seems just the ticket. Plus, I was thinking about some interesting factoids that a friend sent me yesterday, courtesy of Foodlinks America. On January 14, the top trends  for 2010, predicted by chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association, were leaked. Demand for local produce was number one, followed by locally sourced meats and local beer and wine,  respectively. Bite-size mini dishes and half-portions followed, along with healthy kid's plates. Sustainability was up there too.

Sounds perfect. My work here is done.

Except the same newsletter from December 14, just a month ago, details top-selling grocery items of 2009. Soda tops the list, with $12 billion in sales in 2009. Milk is second, then bread and rolls, beer, potato chips, cheese, frozen dinners, cold cereal, wine and cigarettes.

So what's going on? We're going out and demanding raw cheese on our arugula, then coming home to light up, crack a brew and nuke dinner? Is the intersection of consumers and chefs only in the local beer aisle?

Because that makes us all losers. Or maybe we just haven't won yet. What if we could have our cake and eat it too: what happens if I try to make this cake "real?" Or at least, "natural?"

Let's be clear, this cake starts with a stick of butter and a cake mix, and ends with an entire bag of powdered sugar. Just typing that makes my teeth hurt. (The pre-school class went to the dentist this week, and sang him this song: "Brush, brush, brush your teeth, every time you eat. Visit your dentist twice a year for a smile that can't be beat." It even has hand motions which they do with real toothbrushes. I am sure he would have flunked the field trip if they knew about this cake.) Now I don't think I can make it any less sweet -- nor would I want to -- but I set out to see what would happen if I substituted all these ingredients with organic, whole ingredients. And made it gluten free.

(You can check out the original cake recipe, which I got from my Aunt Alice but is also online in detail like crazy at This is a blog written by sisters in Winchester, Indiana, just miles south of the small town both my parents grew up in, and where my Aunt Alice still lives.) 

So I got a gluten free cake mix, and organic butter and cream cheese, and am using Mary Dunbar's eggs. I can't find a sub for the powdered sugar, so that will remain conventional. Here's what happened: it was beautiful. High and light, with a crackly spun sugar top like creme brulee. Okay, sort of. It's not too real. But it sure is good. More sophisticated, more complex, less sugary sweet than the first. A cakier base, with the cream cheese topping oozing gooey beneath the sugar crackle. Of course it didn't have three tons of sugar decorations on it but I think it's more than that. It's still the Midwest, but it's dressed for dinner.


Loser Cake
Adapted from Alice Strohl

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

1 yellow cake mix ( I used gluten-free pantry)
3 eggs
1 stick melted butter

1 box powdered sugar
1 package cream cheese

Beat 2 eggs with a fork in 9 x 13 pan. Add cake mix and butter and stir to combine. Spread to evenly coat pan. In a separate bowl, beat sugar cream cheese and remaining egg for 5 minutes with mixer on medium. Do not use a stand mixer as the sugar will not combine. Spread over cake dough. Bake 30 minutes.

The losers will love it.



  1. I know what I will ask you to bring next time you come for dinner! Cant wait to try it.

  2. This is such a yummy cake, isn't it?!!! Thanks for the link! Great blog!