Letting Us Eat Cake

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Baking makes an unusual post, but that is today’s and I know there are those of you who will not find this of interest. I promise toys and photos will return soon enough.

Making even a simple cake exercised a rare cooking muscle for me yesterday. I saw a recipe for a one bowl chocolate cake in the paper a few weeks ago and it stuck with me. (The recipe, from the New York Times can be found here, or below.) It looked delightfully simple, but in these strange pandemic days it took a little while to accrue what I needed. I gave myself the deadline of Kim’s birthday, several weeks ahead, to pull it together. Luckily I had flour which has been difficult to find. (There was an article recently about the “obscene amount of flour” being consumed in Britain. I say get a grip and let these poor people bake!)

Recently I was looking for Bisquick (a self-rising flour that can be used for pancakes, biscuits, dumplings and the like) and it has utterly disappeared from all available sources here. This leaves me wondering, as I do about many things, is it not being restocked or is it being bought that quickly? If it isn’t being restocked is it because it isn’t being made, or it isn’t being delivered? We do not know. Hopefully, like some other things, it will reappear over time. Meanwhile, I scored a box of pancake mix, realizing that all pancake flour was likely to be self-rising which turns out to be true and it made delightful dumplings.

Cooking cocoa proved the biggest barrier. Although cooking chips were available, cocoa powder was not to be had and it would work better. After reading an article about acquiring food in bulk I was reminded of a site called Nuts.com which has, in addition to nuts, beans, pasta and cooking cocoa. I bought a bag of perciatelli, hibiscus flowers (to make cold tea which is lovely), dried mushrooms and my cooking cocoa. (I feel compelled to warn you that most everything is sold in enormous quantities, although the cocoa was a reasonably sized bag – we have a lot of pasta however, and the hibiscus flowers will make enough tea through the summer.)

One of the joys of cooking during the internet age is the ability to figure out and calculate substitutions so easily. I didn’t have baking soda, only baking powder, and in seconds I had the conversion. You can find cooking substitutes for just about anything. The whole basis of this cake is substituting mayonnaise for eggs and as I said, I could have used just about any chocolate in a pinch.

Over a year ago I posted about another one-bowl, eggless, butter-free cake that I remembered from childhood, one we called a Poor Man’s Cake. I recreated the recipe from a combination of the internet and memory. (That post can be found here.) That was before we renovated the kitchen (that episode was depicted here and in several other posts) and I was seriously challenged by both my own lack of organization and a lack of space in the kitchen. As a result this time was much easier and more pleasant. (The only item that has utterly disappeared are my measuring spoons – they are blue and I have owned them for decades and they have utterly gone missing.)

I decided on a medium-sized, rectangular Pyrex dish which I think was a good choice. In a loaf pan it might be hard not to have the edges dry out a bit. It was the first time baking in this oven and I should have turned it at the mid-point in cooking as the oven is a bit uneven. It cooked faster than anticipated (about 20 minutes) so I didn’t get the chance.

cake

 

You will note that the use of chocolate chips (I went the full 2 ounces), coffee (instead of water) and brandy are optional and I used all, substituting Jack Daniels for brandy. (I had no vanilla.) In retrospect I think the cake benefitted from all of the above if you have them. I choose the simple confectionary sugar topping although a true vanilla or cream cheese frosting would upgrade this to a real dessert as opposed to a snacking cake.

It whisks together quickly and has a satisfying poof! after adding the baking soda/powder in. This reminded me that what I always enjoyed about baking – or much of cooking in general is the alchemy. You start with such disparate materials and end up with something so remarkably different. It is truly like magic.

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My first time reading a recipe off of an iPad while cooking. That Fresca in the background was also hard won. For some reason it too has disappeared in recent months and just came back on the shelves of the market. 

 

For me baking is a rarely indulged in pleasure. Our diets run to the pescatarian, with an emphasis on veggies – and pastries are a truly rare occurrence, let alone homemade ones, despite my deeply buried background in professional cooking and baking. During the months of quarantine it has taken some discipline not to embrace becoming a cookie and bread baking, cake making and eating machine! Hence the scarcity of certain items as we all think alike. There is comfort in what you can make yourself with your own hands and the thrill of smell wafting through the apartment as it bakes.

From the New York Times, One-Bowl Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

INGREDIENTS

  • ¾ cup/180 milliliters boiling water, or use hot coffee, Earl Grey tea or mint tea
  • ¼ cup/25 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-processed or natural)
  • 1 to 2 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (optional)
  •  cup/160 milliliters mayonnaise
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ cup/150 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or a dash of bourbon or whiskey (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups/190 grams all-purpose or cake flour
  •  Confectioners’ sugar, for finishing

PREPARATION

  1. To a large mixing bowl, add cocoa powder and chopped bittersweet chocolate (if using). Pour in boiling liquid, and let it sit for a few minutes, then whisk until smooth. The chocolate will have melted, if you used it, and the cocoa dissolved.
  2. Whisk in mayonnaise, salt, baking soda, 3/4 cup granulated sugar until smooth. Then whisk in a teaspoon of vanilla extract, if you have it (or a dash of Bourbon or brandy or just leave it out entirely). Finally, whisk in 1 1/2 cups flour (either all-purpose or cake flour), mixing vigorously to eliminate any lumps.
  3. Grease an 8- or 9-inch pan (square, round, star-shaped, anything is good). Pour the batter into the pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 22 to 40 minutes, until the top springs back when the center is lightly pressed. The deeper the pan, the longer it will take to bake through.
  4. Let cool, and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar to finish.

 

We Work Each Day: Clivette Cont.

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I stumbled on the tale of the huckster magician artist Clivette last week when researching my post of the dancing white kitty card of his creation. (It is called Always Cheerful and can be found here.) Meanwhile, I found this card while searching Google Images – and to my delight it was for sale on eBay. I scored it quickly and thought it would make a nice birthday gift for Kim if it came in time. To my delight it arrived on Wednesday evening, his birthday eve. So today it serves as the jumping off point for a part-two post, although I confide that I have already told everything I could find on Mr. Clivette and his fascinating life last week.

However, today’s card is an excellent foil to last week’s dancing duo – these two snoozing pusses look like they just want us to go away and leave them be! The poem that accompanies them is:

We work each day
With a cheerful heart
For we are always together
And never apart.

Their green kitty bows are somewhat at half-mast. They look annoyed that the viewing might potentially wake them – sleep is a serious thing for these cats. Unlike last week’s kitties, there is a vague sense that one is male and the other female. They are well settled into a long nap. The card was never mailed, but there is a somewhat unintelligible and garbled note, written in penciled script on the back. It is addressed to Mrs. Lillian Harter. From what I can puzzle through it says, I will write a letter in a few days/nan glad to get the recite (stet?) for E Bertha Ronsh (?) the catsup, thanks for the…cards.

This card seemed like an especially appropriate bunker birthday gift for my mate, with whom I have spent the past three months (and counting) existing in our 600 square feet of heaven and working hard. Happy Birthday Kim!

Nothing much about our version of life during the pandemic is especially noteworthy. Comics continue to be made by Kim at one long table. I have reclaimed a drawing table directly behind him and from there (and occasionally when my back needs a break, from the couch which I mentally think of as my conference room), I continue to raise money for Jazz at Lincoln Center. With the concert hall dark, no concerts, no tours and no Dizzy’s club, these contributed funds are more important than ever before, and so days have rapidly melted into nights, and then weeks, now months.

It has been a pleasant existence in many ways, I have to admit. I commute ten feet from bed to desk. I have taken the reins of the kitchen in hand and am cooking much more often, which means we will eventually emerge heavier, but hopefully healthy.

We continue to work out and I am backing to a routine of weight lifting, which my previous schedule had interrupted, so I will be fat but buff. And I tag along for the trip up our 16 flights of stairs a few days a week for a bit of cardio – whenever I go outside – but Kim keeps to his much more regular routine up them six out of seven days a week. There have been weird shortages of some food and items (for example ice cream, largely unavailable for awhile seems to have been somewhat restored, flour remains at a premium), but no real hardship. We have always liked being together and here we are. We are lucky.

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An early experiment with root vegetable stew – the dumplings got a bit aggressive!

 

I do not mean to imply that the horror of the situation escapes us. Like many, we exist on a steady diet of CNN and the news is horrendous. For many weeks the sound of ambulances on York and First avenues were constant and haunting, especially at night. Like everyone, we have lost friends to the virus, directly and indirectly and others have been sick with it.

We remain very grateful to the folks who risk themselves to continue to fill the shelves of our grocery stores and deliver our mail and make appreciative forays to the few restaurants to pick up food from those who have hung in with take-out business. A low point was when our favorite pizza haunt closed down for several weeks after a valiant effort to remain open, a symbolic low. Happily we hailed their recent return and celebrated with a mushroom pie. A trip every week or two to Bagel Bob’s around the corner cheers me greatly, and the Gristedes across York has done their best for us. It seems strange to contemplate a return to leaving the house daily and re-entering the world. Meanwhile, our Yorkville corner of Manhattan remains strangely under-populated, sort of like a never-ending holiday weekend.

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Arturo’s Pizza, this taken just pre-plague.

 

Kim and I had hoped to spend more time together this year, with the months earlier having been very travel intensive for me at work, and now we certainly have. I miss seeing my mom in NJ (I fear infecting her and remain unsure how we will resolve that), and of course there are things and people I miss in the outside world, but am mostly able to patiently look forward to seeing them in person when the opportunity arises again. For now we are here and doing our thing. Kim’s world has changed very little aside from my omnipresence and endless nattering on the phone Monday through Friday.

Winter clothes still hang in the closet, frozen in time to mid-March Miss Havisham-esque, despite the weather having turned very warm. (An army of moths has invaded which I am unsure how to oust. We can’t deal with mothballs so please send any less toxic suggestions. Blackie snacks on the occasional one but is of little real help.) I am clad in entirely in a rotation of work-out clothes, an ancient black cotton hoodie the only constant. Make-up is an alien concept (why on earth did I do that every day I wonder now) that I may never really go back to. Like everyone, my hair has grown shaggy and I twist it up in a hair tie. (Luckily I had accepted my gray hair as it came in when it arrived as I hit 30 years old, and so I am not among those growing out gray roots.)

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An unusual moment of togetherness, Blackie and Cookie on the bed, looking nothing like those contented white kitties.

 

The cats, Cookie and Blackie, are the big winners. An extra set of hands constantly at disposal and inclined for petting they take full advantage. Blackie has made numerous appearances on Zoom, but as he is all black and so are most of my allotment of t-shirts and tops, it is only those with sharp eyes who have caught a pair of pointy ears, a tail waving, or perhaps a serious green cat eye peering up. He demands attention, in particular, between 3:00-4:00 daily, but he likes those Zoom calls on-camera and will magically appear for them. He precedes his leap onto my lap with a little meow and stretch up to tap me with a claw paw, ever politely, before making the jump up. Instagram followers know that he is also partial to taking possession of my desk chair when I am not in it – which isn’t often these days.

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So, as we celebrate Kim’s Natal Day for 2020 I provide an idea of what daily life looks like here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama during what I have termed as our bunker days. I fervently hope you are all as comfortably situated in your own.

Felix Fashion Forward

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I’ve had this little gem (displayed above on Kim’s desk) for quite awhile and somehow haven’t managed to write about it. I purchased it on eBay, but am sad to say that they disappeared almost immediately as I think in a better world everyone would have a chance to buy one of these, or even a wardrobe of them.

Some rather enterprising Felix fan created this t-shirt cartoon with the earliest style Felix – very pointy and squared off and a bit dog like. It is the Felix design I have long favored, reminiscent of some of my odder stuffed toy versions from Great Britain. (A few posts about these can be found here and here, and the fascinating history of how many of these dolls were made by indigent women in London’s East End, can be found in the post here.)

This naughty Felix is drinking some booze from a double XX labeled bottle, and it is actually a great five-part strip as he goes through the motions of Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting and Feeling, all with real silent cartoon emotion. I prefer my Felix un-gelded if you will. I don’t mind him being a bit impish, but I prefer his bad boy side rather than the latter kiddy fare. (I feel the same about Mickey Mouse who goes from being a bit rowdy in the early cartoons to positively sticky later on.)

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My pre-quarantine life did not provide many opportunities for t-shirt wearing in reality. I generally found myself exclusively dressed for work, or if home clad in work-out regalia, and pj’s made up the only other avenue of regular sartorial category.

Frankly, like most people I gather, these days my version of the uniform of our universal lockdown has been work-out clothes, as I either starting or ending most days on a space just big enough for a yoga mat, a small pile of weights acquired during one of my post-surgical rehabs surrounding me. (I draw the line at working in my pajamas.) Depending on the temperature of the apartment that attire is usually augmented by a rather ancient and somewhat tatty, black zip up hoodie acquired years ago from the now defunct Modells. (Where will I purchase cheap, generic work-out clothes now I wonder?)

It may, or may not, surprise you to learn that I am partial to brightly patterned stretch tights paired with tank tops – can’t stand working out in anything with sleeves. I vary those tights with a few pairs of black Adidas pull on track pants. (I tend to think of those as dressing up a bit these days.)

I have pointed out to friends that since all I do other than work right now (that tends to occupy about 12 hours a day), is work-out and eat, I am likely to emerge from captivity at some unknown future date hefty, but buff. (We will of course also all be a bit shaggy and will have abandoned most unnecessary adornment – I think I have forgotten how to apply make-up already. I look at it in the bathroom and think – why? Meanwhile, we eat pretty darn well here at Deitch Studio – many of you may not know I was once a professional chef and working at home has me in the kitchen again.)

Zoom and other video calls occasionally demand that I make some sort of an appearance on camera and I try to be understanding about a desire to actually see other folks. I attempt to clean up a bit, but outside of Board meetings or actual online events (which send me puzzling through a closet which currently houses out of season winter clothes, as we started our hibernation in March remember), everyone pretty much gets me, view generally chest up, in a work out top and hoodie. (They frequently also catch a glimpse of Kim working in the background – it is only one room, after all. Meanwhile, his routine only altered by my ongoing presence and my endless work natter on the phone which are now the background to his formerly silent days.)

However, now that the weather is changing perhaps I will migrate to a somewhat enhanced and modified spring look as we begin to consider the ultimate end of our incarceration, which might include the occasional pair of trousers that button and pulling on a prize t-shirt like this one for all to ponder during the next staff meeting.