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Thursday, January 14, 2010

I knew you were comin' so I baked a cake

If I knew you were comin' I'd've baked a cake
Hired a band, goodness sake
If I knew you were comin' I'd've baked a cake
Howd-ya do, howd-ya do, howd-ya do...

I hear that song in my head every time I bake a cake. Actually, truth be told, I am not in the habit of baking cakes but my mother did have a song for every occasion and that was the cake song.
I too have a song for every occasion now, and when I taught English to youngsters in Taiwan I became known as “Teacher Mary Poppins” as a result.
Anyway, back to the cakes. A week or so ago, the Farmer and I did one of our favourite things, which is hosting a dinner party. Six of our friends came over and my husband cooked up a storm. For dessert, he decided to make flambéed rum bananas and pears. I went to Food Basics and found a bag of ripe bananas for a dollar. Which was great, but the Chef only needed eight ripe bananas and I had about twenty-four.
Don’t get me wrong – I know what to do with over-ripe bananas. You peel them and throw them into a ziploc bag in the freezer and when you get a craving for a fruit smoothie you just pull one out, plop it into the blender with some yogurt and a dash of real maple syrup and voila! Instant Breakfast.
You could also combine the frozen bananas in the blender with some rum and call it a daiquiri. I did all of these things but I still had more than a dozen bananas left over.
As a young mom raising three daughters, I rarely served dessert. I was obsessed with keeping the girls’ eating habits healthy and their fat cells to a minimum. None of them have ever had a weight problem and I would like to get some credit for that. But they do have quite a sweet tooth as a result of being denied treats for most of their upbringing. Paulina’s sense of rebellion has manifested itself with an art installation of candy and gum wrappers in a collage on her bedroom wall.
When I bake something, everyone knows it’s going to include zucchini or wheat germ or something healthy in it as a hidden surprise. I usually cut the sugar in half or substitute honey or maple syrup. It typically ends up tasting “too healthy” and I have to eat the rest of the batch myself.
Enter, the Farmer. He is a strong believer in the phrase, “if you’re going to eat dessert, it’s gotta hurt.” This man has been known to retreat to the couch with a tub of ice cream, a pie and a fork. He has what he calls a “healthy” appetite.
Back to the bananas. So the Farmer walks in and sees me drinking a second banana daiquiri (it was a smoothie but he saw the bottle of rum and assumed the worst) while trying to find room for the remaining dozen bananas in the freezer.
“Why don’t you just make a cake?” he asked. “I love banana cake.”
We have a family dinner every week and either Lorna or Margaret (sometimes both) shows up with homemade pies, cakes, butter tarts or squares. Everyone oohs and ahhs over the sweet treats, often with syrup dripping down their chins. The Farmer does the main meal. I occasionally toss a salad. I am rarely on the receiving end of culinary accolades.
On this particular weekend, my husband’s words sounded like a challenge to me. “I can bake a cake,” I thought. How hard could it be?
The one and only time I tried to bake a cake in the past was for my now 20-year-old daughter Milena’s eighth birthday. I don’t know what I did wrong but the cake turned out so hard that I tossed it into the backyard for the birds and within an hour the kids were using it as a puck for street hockey. I kid you not.
This time I was determined to succeed. I mashed the bananas, mixed in the sugar, olive oil (took a risk there, substituting for Crisco) and vanilla. I only had three eggs and it called for four but they were large and so were the bananas. So far, so good. When it came time to add the dry ingredients, however, I was stumped. The stupid recipe instructed me to “add dry ingredients alternately with ½ cup water”. What the hell does that mean? I had to ask the Farmer. He took this consultation as an invitation to oversee the entire project. I quickly corrected him, took his advice and then shooed him out of the kitchen. The recipe called for a bundt pan and I didn’t have one of those either so I took another chance that two pie plates would suffice.
Just over an hour later the house was filled with the scent of baked bananas. I let the cakes cool, then followed the directions for butter icing in the Five Roses flour cookbook that my husband has been using since about 1970.
You know something? I can bake. I bake a mean banana cake. Seriously. I was so proud of that cake, I displayed it on a cake stand and let Milena decorate it with silk flowers before taking a photo of it. It’s on my blog, if you care to have a peek. It looks good enough to eat.

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