Cake-Mix Education Time

I know what you’re wondering on this weirdly warm Saturday night in the middle of winter: You’re wondering, “Is there anything Genie Abrams won’t do to advance the culinary  sciences?” And the answer, gentle readers, is, “Hells, No!”

For example, I have just come upstairs from an adventure in the kitchen that involved my eating 15 ounces of cake. Here, i’ll do the math for you: That’s one ounce less than a pound.

It was a bit much, i must say, but it was all for Science. Some of us must suffer. And it was angel-food cake! Kind of.

What happened was, my ex-sister-in-law (i have a whole collection of these, but the ex-sister-in-law in question is Sue, who lives in South Carolina) forwarded me an email that said you could make “lovely cakes for one,” perfect for those of us who live alone, simply by stirring together the contents of two one-pound boxes of cake mix — one an angel-food mix, and the other one ANY OTHER KIND, in a gallon-size, zip-closing bag — and then putting 3 Tablespoons of that mixture and 2 Tablespoons of water into a small microwavable container. Stir, nuke on high power for 1 minute, and VOILA!

(It’s called “3-2-1 Cake,” because it’s 3 Tbsp of the mix, 2 Tbsp of water, and 1 minute in the microwave: Get it?)

Put some frozen strawberries around this cute little cake, or on top of it, or frost the damn thing, whatever … and you’re all set. You can then store the rest of the dry mixture on a pantry shelf — no need to refrigerate or freeze, since it’s just cake mix. And then, for months to come, as long as you’ve got water, a microwave, a microwavable container and a minute, you’ve got yourself a cake!

I had questions. What size must this “small microwavable container” be? Would my 5-Tablespoon cake be lying there an eighth of an inch high in the bottom of one of my containers? Or, would it rise too high and spill out over the top of it? Also, do you have to “grease and flour” the little container, the way you do a Bundt pan when you’re making a regular angel-food cake? And why do you have to combine the angel-food mix with a regular one? Could you use just angel-food cake mix? Or, just regular cake mix?

Sue didn’t know. “Why don’t you experiment,” she said.

I did.

Results: 1. I am happy to report that NO, you do NOT have to “grease and flour” the microwavable container. i performed my experiment three times tonight, using three different containers, and none were greased and floured. All three cakes i made fell quite readily onto the plate when i inverted them.

No, sticking to the container was not the problem.

2. Here’s the problem: These cute little cakes taste no better than regular angel-food cakes. That is to say, they taste quite a bit like Nothing, only more rubbery. i did defrost a one-pound bag of strawberries and put them in a bowl with sugar; with that topping, the little cakes are vastly improved. Even that process was not without problems, however: Yes, somehow, i managed to screw up defrosting strawberries. Straight from the freezer, i dumped them all onto a plate and nuked them for a minute. When i took them out, half of them were not only defrosted, but actually quite hot; specifically, the bottom half of each strawberry. The top halves of them were still frosty! Back into the microwave they went, flipped over like pancakes; this time, they emerged hot and squishy. Not bad-tasting, especially after i added the half-cup of sugar to them; but not quite what you want on your rubbery little angel-food cake.

3. As for container-sizes: The first one i tried was the smallest Rubbermaid microwavable “servin’ saver,” the bottom of which forms a square just 1 1/2 inches on a side. The vertical sides of this container angle outward so that at the top, it’s 2 inches wide and long. Also, it’s 2 1/2 inches high. This was the first container i tried, and the little cake that came out, being taller than wide, and a bit tippy, was adorable: It looked like a wee, drunken stovepipe. And while the top was airy like a normal angel-food cake, the part nearer the narrow bottom grew more and more dense and rubbery. The second container was my supermarket’s generic smallest: 4 1/2 inches long, 2 inches deep, and 2 1/2 inches high. The cake that came out was OK but odd-looking: It rose only an inch high, and to me it looked too big for one, yet too small to share with a friend. For my last experiment, i used a small, straight-sided, Pyrex oven dish, 4 1/2 inches in diameter. I doubled the recipe so i used 6 Tablespoons of the mixture and 4 Tablespoons of water.

To be proportional, I intended to double the time in the microwave, to 2 minutes, but then for some reason i had the feeling that that would be too long, so i arbitrarily took the cake out after 1 minute and 40 seconds, rather than 2 minutes.

PERFECT! This one was perfect. It fell easily from its container, just as the other two cakes had; but it had quite a nice texture, compared to them. The one in the generic container, i swear, when i went to cut it, i pressed the knife down all the way to the plate, sawing back and forth, and the cake just bounced right back up. i finally had to stab at it, point first, like a kid jabbing eye-holes in his snowman with a carrot. Only later did i realize that the container said on it: “Microwave reheatable only.” OOPS! Maybe that’s why the sides of that container seem a little squishy now.

I never did try using only angel-food cake mix, or only regular cake mix. That experiment will have to wait for another day.

Finally, fellow science students, a note about cake-types: i used an angel-food mix that had two bags inside the box: one for the “flour mixture” and one for the “egg-white mixture.” Maybe that’s how they all are, but it surprised me. Anyway, i used both bags in this recipe as though they had been one. And for my “any-other-kind” of cake mix, i chose my supermarket’s generic “Price Chopper Incredibly Moist White Cake Mix.” It says on the box, “Just add egg whites and oil.” A lot of the other mixes on the shelves at that supermarket said, “Just add eggs and oil.”  Hmmm … I wonder if it would have made any difference if i’d used one of them.

But, like the single-type-of-cake-mix experiment, that’s for next week, same time, same station, here on “Fun-Food Science Network!”


Field Trip: Let’s Check Out Hide’s Goddard College Exhibit

In the 1920s, Tokyo High School student Hide Oshiro was moved by a haiku in which 17th-century poet Matsuo Basho described coming across the subtle beauty of a wildflower during a walk in the mountains.

“I wanted to make this kind of haiku once in my life,” 101-year-old Oshiro told Kyodo News in a recent interview.

“Nothing else; just one haiku.”

Hide Oshiro, the 101-year-old poet laureate of Newburghwho has written one haiku every morning of his life since then, in November donated his life’s work, totaling several volumes of poetry and about 750 other pieces of art, to Goddard College in Plainfield,Vermont. On Wednesday, the college held an opening reception for the exhibit, at which Oshiro regaled attendees with stories of his life and his wishes for young artists and writers.

The works he donated represent different phases of his artistic development, covering his entire career. They include paintings, drawings, calligraphy work, prints, handmade books, poems, haiku, stories, sketches and scrolls.

In presenting the work to the college on Nov. 3, “He said that the product is only important in how it uncovers for the viewer the process,” Goddard President Barbara Vacarr told Kyodo News, Japan’s largest news agency. “Most artists focus on the product of their work. What (Oshiro) talked about was the process, or development, of the work.”

Born in 1910 in what was then the U.S. territory of Hawaii to Japanese parents who had come to work in the pineapple plantations, Oshiro was sent to Japan at the age of 3 to live with his grandparents and receive a Japanese education. Oshiro learned etching, woodcuts, gold carving, sculpture and brushwork in high school and at SophiaUniversity.

Having spent his formative years in a country of diverse religions, he was exposed to Japanese Shinto, Chinese Confucianism, Indian Buddhism and Western Christianity. His knowledge of such varied religions and philosophies profoundly influenced the convergence of East and West found in his creative process.

He returned toHawaiiin the 1930s, where he taught Japanese at a school on Oahu.

He still clearly recalls the Sunday morning in December 1941 when a group of students came running to him saying, “JapanattackedHawaii!”

At first, he told Kyodo News, he did not believe it and told the children, “No, it’s only war games,” but soon realized that the bombs falling and fires erupting on the school fields were real.

“I couldn’t think about anything, only darkness and doom,” he said, adding that the 2001 film “Pearl Harbor,” with all of its Hollywood“imagination,” did not come close to the horror of the actual event.

Along with other Americans of Japanese descent at that time, Oshiro spent three months in an internment camp. Despite that, he joined and worked for six years as an army translator. He then left to pursue art at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere inParis. Eventually he settled inNew York City, inspired by the vitality of the bustling metropolis. He studied at theBrooklynMuseumArtSchooland set up his own studio inGreenwich Village.

InNew York, Oshiro met his French wife, Catherine Bullier; they married in 1969 and settled inNewburgh, he said, because of its vital arts community. While Oshiro never formally exhibited his art, his wife collected his work all along the way.

In the sixty years of work represented by the 45 pieces now on display at Goddard, one can witness the vast reaches of the mind of this artist, writer and philosopher.

When asked to comment about his work, Oshiro was quoted in the Kyodo News as replying, “Our minds can conceive any form, from a galaxy to an atom, from the blue sky to a minnow.” In his work we are able to share with him his vision of the magnificence of this universe.

“It really strikes me how much of the process was preserved,” Goddard Library Assistant Dustin Byerly told Kyodo News. “I think we owe that to his wife — her handwriting is on everything.”

Oshiro’s lifelong dream has been that his work be housed in an educational institution so that future generations of students could learn from it. Carol Curri of Newburgh, an artist and Goddard College graduate, organized the donation to her alma mater.

Oshiro’s work is far from finished. He continues to write a haiku every morning and to inspire other poets, such as the members of the Hudson River Poets, who meet monthly at the Newburgh Free Library, a few blocks from his Grand Streetapartment.

The cheerful artist hopes that his donation will encourage students to explore the totality of life and fully express their experience through art.

“It’s not art, it’s just an expression of yourself,” he told the news agency. “The mind is fantastic; it doesn’t want to be oppressed. Let it be free.”

Odd Relationship

We ran an AP story in the paper last week about the father in Graham, Washington who killed himself and his two sons by blowing up their house. The details, sordid and tragic to begin with, got more and more crazy as the story went on (the man’s FATHER had been arrested on child porn charges last fall, and the man’s wife has been “missing” for two years, since one December night when, he now claims, he took the kids out for an “excursion” in freezing temperatures, at midnight, and when they got back: Hey! Mom’s gone!

But the sentence that really brought me up short came one graf from the end, where it said, “Kirk Graves, 39, of West Jordan, Utah, whose wife is Josh Powell’s brother-in-law, said they were stunned by the news.”

I’m saying, if this guy’s  wife is somebody’s brother-in-law, then that family should have been under observation from the git-go.

Singlets for All Hands!

One thing I noticed while watching the Super Bowl’s postgame festivities last night: All football players, when addressing the news media, wear baseball caps.

I would like to propose, in the interests of symmetry and basic fairness, that from now on, all baseball players wear football helmets to their news conferences.

And basketball players should wear bike helmets, and hockey players, wrestlers’ singlets.

In fact, EVERYONE should have to wear singlets, at all times … post-office clerks, night copy-desk editors  … to guard against taking ourselves too seriously. Man, that would add a touch of whimsy to the ol’ management team, eh?

And, can you imagine soldiers wearing singlets? I rest my case. 

Almost Dead!

Yesterday at work i was reading someone’s obit, and his year of birth was given as 1912.

i turned the page, musing idly, “Well, he lived a nice, long time, didn’t he” … and then i was nearly knocked breathless by the realization that, WAIT! He was born only … let’s see, 1949 … 1912 … only 37 years before ME! And Jesus, thirty-seven years is a real  short time, isn’t it? Which means that i, too, am almost 100! Or to put it a bit more frankly, almost DEAD!

i spun my chair around and ran over to my friend David Dann to tell him this outrageous, astonishing fact.

Always the philosopher, he pulled the earbuds out of his ears and calmly
replied, “You’re a nut, you know it?”

Man, THAT went fast!! (My life, not David’s reply.)

Hmmm … i guess that expression “We’re all goin’ down the toilet” has quite a bit of truth to it.  i mean, at first, life seems to go slow, you’re just floating around gently, and then you start to notice that there’s more and more stuff around you, like jobs, and friends, and mortgages, and enemies, and deadlines, and then after a while you start to feel like, Jeez, i’ve seen all this stuff before, and then you start to feel like life is going faster and faster and it really IS, because you’re going around in tighter and tighter circles, and pretty soon you can’t keep up with all your stuff, and then … WHOOSH! You’re 100.

Which is all fine and dandy, except that every now and then — like when i was reading that obit — i think i can hear that “WHOOSH” already.

MAN, that went fast!!