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Carla’s rainbow cake turned out FAR better than I had hoped.

Rainbow Cake Final 4

Firstly, I asked Carla which order the layers should go. I said, “Do you want it to go ‘purple, blue’ like the Bubble Guppies song?” And she thought about it and said, “No, that’s wrong. I want it to be like a real rainbow.” Although she then asked “Where’s the white layer” and I had to assure her that there would be white frosting. (She has also since begun singing the song “blue, purple” despite the Bubble Guppies’ maddening insistence on “purple, blue.”)

Let’s back up a bit now. Because while the title and the first sentence of this post indicate Unadulterated Success, I will admit that there were some small setbacks. Especially when it came to the cupcakes. But a bit when it came to the cake, too.

For some reason, I am determined to make Carla’s cakes from scratch. I don’t know why. My husband (indulgently) thinks I am a wacko. My mother, who intuited my birthday-related stress from thousands of miles away, understood completely. She – who worked a demanding, full-time job throughout my childhood and beyond – made all of my Halloween costumes from scratch because of the same genetic quirk.

So I used my tried-and-true Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe for Carla’s cake. It is a good recipe, and it makes a very nice vanilla-y cake. But I realized only very belatedly that it is an oil-free cake. And – possibly because of that, although I can’t say for sure since I am a baking amateur at best – I think that makes it kind of heavy. I comforted myself for the heaviness of the cake by choosing to believe it makes the cake very easy to cut and layer. But I think perhaps next year I will try a different recipe. OR I will try to force myself to use boxed cake mix, which is what I used for the cupcakes, and which turned out light and fluffy and yet perfectly moist.

Of course, I was converting Sally’s recipe – which was for cupcakes – into what I needed for a six-layer rainbow cake. So I instantly made a mistake. My model cake used 8-inch cake pans. But I didn’t have 8-inch cake pans. I had three 9-inch cake pans OR two 6-inch cake pans. I decided to go with the 9-inchers, which resulted in super thin, super flat layers.

Rainbow Cake Layers in Oven

Too thin! Abort! Abort!

But! I stopped while I was ahead! I only made those two layers, and when I realized they would result in a very thin cake, I recalibrated. I mixed up another batch of Sally’s cake batter. And I went with the 6-inchers.

IMMEDIATELY better. They turned out very even in size.

Rainbow Cake Layers Six

They are not in ROY G BIV order here and it is Driving Me Crazy.

To get the color to be so vibrant, I used Wilton gel food coloring. And I ended up using a LOT of each color. Maybe 1/4 to 1/3 a teaspoon of each, which is a LOT. (Note: Sally’s recipe uses only egg whites, which I think definitely helps with the brilliant colors. Using egg yolks makes the cake more yellow than white.)

Rainbow Cake Batter Colors

I used my new Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.  Okay, correction: MY HUSBAND used the Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.

rainbow-cake-leveler.jpg

I carefully studied the directions (“directions”) for how to use it. And then I watched a video about how to use it, but I still couldn’t get it to work. My husband on the other hand got it to work just fine, and he did all six for me, which made me feel like he was being involved which was a nice feeling, and plus, I ended up with nice, flat tops to all the layers. I saved the tops in a Ziploc bag; they are in my freezer. (It turns out there are a lot of things you can do with leftover cake. I tried one of them – making a cake-pop-within-a-cupcake – with limited success, but there are other things to do as well. Might make for a fun project to try with Carla.)

Then I made the frosting – the same recipe that Sally used for her cupcakes.

Oh! And this is where I tell you my Shocking Vanilla News. Sally’s cupcakes and frosting both call for vanilla beans. And vanilla beans have always been expensive. I think the grocery store brand usually was about $11.99 for one decrepit bean. But last year I discovered that Penzey’s sells vanilla beans, and I was able to get two nice, plump beans per jar for $8.99.

That’s what I assumed I would pay this year, too; I have no concept of the changing price of vanilla beans. But this year, two beans was $18.99. EIGHTEEN NINETY NINE. I expressed my shock to the Penzey’s salesperson, who said that there’s something going on in the region that produces Penzey’s vanilla, and it was pushing the price up. She said she thought it would be temporary. But SHEESH. (Listen, I am selfishly NOT looking up the details about why the price is so high; I am hopeful it is something like an unusual drought and not a horrible civil war or something, but there are only so many things I have the capacity to worry about, you know? I am trying to limit the number of things I cry over these days.) It turned out it was a good thing I spent the $18.99 for two beans, because, as I noted above, I ended up having to make a second batch of cake batter.

Having learned from previous mistakes, I did a crumb coat of frosting and then put the whole cake in the fridge overnight. This is what it looked like right before I did the crumb coat.

Rainbow Cake Pre Crumb Coat 2

And then the next day, I added another layer of frosting and decorated the whole thing with these little rainbow-hued non-pareils.

It was hands-down the best looking cake I’ve ever made.

I don’t think it was the best tasting, though. First of all, the cake was dense and heavy as I mentioned above. Secondly, the frosting was VERY sweet. I mean, it was just sugar and butter, so it wasn’t a surprise; I didn’t expect it to taste like pickles or something. But it was too much. Probably the thick top layer on top of the crumb layer didn’t help. If I were to do it again, I would find a less-sweet frosting to use. Maybe a cream-cheese style (which is my personal favorite) or something that was more like a traditional buttercream, with less sugar. A third option, I suppose, would be to layer the cake with something other than frosting. I would normally go for a curd of some sort, but that wouldn’t really work with the aesthetic of this particular cake. Maybe a whipped cream frosting would be okay.

The cupcakes were another matter.

If you will recall, I made the rainbow cake for Carla’s actual birthday. She and her grandparents and her father/my husband and I went out to her favorite restaurant for dinner, and then we came home to eat cake and open presents.

But her birthday party was several days later. It was a make-your-own-pizza-party at a popular chain and we invited twelve of her friends and it was DELIGHTFUL. But I wanted to make cupcakes for that party, see above RE: wacko, so I did.

Rainbow Cupcake Tray

I think I’d gotten a bit cake-saturated by the time I got to the cupcakes, so my head wasn’t in the game. Plus, I’d decided to use a store-bought cake mix, which made me a little cocky. So I kept making stupid mistakes. I forgot to add the water to the first batch. (I was able to salvage that one with math; I’d already separated the oddly too-thick batter into its separate colors. When I discovered my omission, I simply divided the required amount by six and stirred the appropriate amount into each color.) Then I forgot to add the eggs to the second batch. (That one I had to throw away.) Then, when I finally got to the frosting, I’d left the cream cheese out all day… and despite varying reports online about whether cream cheese is safe to eat after that long (answers ranged from “it’s only okay if you’ve left it out for no more than four hours” to “I’ve left it out all night and it’s fine!”), the resulting batch of frosting I made had a very weird texture and I couldn’t in good conscience feed it to twelve of Carla’s preschool friends. (I ate some of it and have lived to tell the tale. But I’m not going to use preschoolers as guinea pigs.) So I scrapped it and made some more too-sweet icing – although this time I used a Martha Stewart recipe because I was plum out of vanilla bean.

Making the cupcakes into nice even rainbow layers was HARD. I tried the “use a spoon” method. And then I tried the “put each color into a separate sandwich bag” method. And then I tried the “drop whatever you have in wherever it fits” method. I kept running out of one color or another, so that the layers were never perfect.

OH WELL. They were all pretty. And they were all super delicious as well.

And hopefully Carla is DONE with rainbows. Because I don’t know that I will have the kind of patience that comes with novelty if she asks me to do it again.

rainbow-cake-final.jpg

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It is hard to believe that, four years ago today, I was officially 42 weeks pregnant with Carla… 14 days past my due date… and yet I wouldn’t meet her for another two days.

My Dealing with Birthday Feelings therapy is, apparently, making an elaborate homemade birthday cake for my child. I don’t know how, exactly, panicking over measurements whilst being covered in flour is therapeutic, but it is my thing.

Carla has requested a rainbow cake this year. Which is an improvement over what she asked for previous to settling on rainbow cake, which was a purple cake with black frosting. I am not opposed to that combination, but no way am I cleaning black frosting out of a fancy birthday dress. I doubt there is enough OxiClean in all the lands for that task.

My model rainbow cake looks like this:

I am going to follow The Little Kitchen’s strategic plans to the tee. But I am going to kick the crazy up a notch by not using boxed cake mix and instead making my own cake, using the recipe I used last year: Very Vanilla Cupcakes from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Since the cake has many layers (SIX), and since I have proved to be terrible at making straight cuts to the top of a cake, I got myself a little helper. It is a Wilton cake leveler, and I bought it at JoAnn Fabric for $7.99, although NOW I see that I could have bought it (as an add-on item) from Amazon for $4.98. Ooh! I also see it is now on sale at JoAnn Fabric for $5.59. I have not used it, so I have no idea if it will work or if it is destined to become one of those things that languishes at the back of the bottommost cupboard, only to be glared at disdainfully the three times a year you spot it behind the food processor. I will report back.

Speaking of disdainful glares, we have now come to the Bubble Guppies portion of this post.

Listen, I have a lot of problems with the Bubble Guppies as it is. But my current problem is rainbow-related.

Bubble Guppies Venn

I don’t know why this image is so huge, nor why the circles themselves are so THICK, but we do the best we can with the tools available.

My daughter has been singing a little song regularly for the past few months. It’s very catchy, so you can imagine that sometimes I awaken at half past three in the morning with it running in maniacal loops through my brain. It basically goes, “Red orange yellow green purple blue white! Something something something just right!”

That can’t be right, I thought. So I kept correcting her. “It’s not red orange yellow green purple blue white,” I would say, secure in my knowledge that of the few things I can truly accept as fact in the world, Roy G. Biv is one of them. “It’s probably red orange yellow green blue purple white.” Even though I don’t know why they’d tack the white on there, I guess I could ALLOW for it, because of rhythm. And yes, “blue purple” has a different rhythm than “purple blue,” but so what? Children’s songs have made more with less.

But Carla would become quite adamant. She would screw up her face and stomp her foot if she was in foot stomping position, and she would say, “NO Mommy, it IS red orange yellow green purple blue white!”

And I would calmly explain to her about Roy G. Biv and the rainbow and blah blah she’s not yet four so you may already know how well those conversations went.

We did end up seeking out the song on YouTube. And my dear Carla was finally vindicated! The song DOES say “purple blue white” and so now I am furious with the Bubble Guppies for passing on misinformation in such an ear-wormy way. WHY, Bubble Guppies? WHY? (Also, “orange like an orange”? You couldn’t think of ANYTHING ELSE that’s orange? Um, pumpkins? Tangerines? Velveeta?)

I would like to publically acknowledge that the song is not about rainbows per se. But it has insinuated itself into Carla’s brain as Fact. Color Order Fact. So she looked at the picture of the rainbow cake and told me that it was in the wrong order. And that her cake needed to go purple blue, NOT blue purple.

I don’t know if I will be able to misorder the layers of the cake. It will look so horribly WRONG, you know? (Although it will look horribly wrong to Carla if I do it the Roy G. Biv way…) And, more importantly, it will BE wrong. Plus, I don’t want her to go through life thinking that this is the way the rainbow goes! I can envision her failing all sorts of rainbow-related tests in future years, and her teachers shaking their heads and recommending rainbow remediation and our dreams of an Ivy League education disappearing into a bank of cumulous clouds.

We watched a YouTube video of Bill Nye, explaining rainbows. We looked at an actual rainbow. We discussed how mommy is a bit older than Carla and knows a few more things.

Nope. Bubble Guppies are apparently the Final Word on color order.

Basketballs are also orange, BUBBLE GUPPIES.

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When I left for the grocery store yesterday, I was feeling pretty smug. My freezer is FULL of meat, which is generally the most expensive item on my shopping list, and I’d come up with a meal plan that required only a small package of beef for stir frying. So I was feeling confident that my grocery bill would be nice and low.

Well, it wasn’t. It was, in fact, higher than normal. As I was doing Lamaze-style breathing while the checker scanned and scanned and scanned, my GAWD haven’t you reached the divider between my groceries and the next person’s yet?, I kept soothing myself with this thought: But they’re STAPLES.

I’d hit the trifecta of 1) Lots of fresh fruit at decent prices, and 2) Lots of good sales on Things We Always Need, and 3) Needing to buy more of things we’d either just run out of, or were close to running out of.

The woman behind me had a full cart, too. And it was kind of interesting to see the things that she was buying, in comparison to the things that I was buying. For instance, she had two gallons of milk (I buy a quart every… whatever the lifespan of a quart of milk is), a bunch of boxes of bran cereal, Thousand Island dressing, a big bag of pre-washed spinach, and a watermelon (among other things; I tend not to take thorough notes while poking through someone else’s grocery cart). I would never buy watermelon! I have only purchased spinach a few times! It’s so fun to see how different our lives are from other people’s!

It’s fun to think about what other people consider “staples.” Outside of flour and salt and olive oil, or whatever. Recently, I mentioned that half-and-half is a staple in our house, and Swistle, in the comments, noted that half-and-half is a staple in her home as well. And so I’ve been kind of wondering, what are the staples at YOUR house?

Here’s what they are in mine…

Produce: My husband eats a banana every morning, so I buy those every week. My daughter LOVES fruit, so I buy whatever is in season and least expensive. (Although yesterday I kind of went crazy, buying strawberries AND blueberries AND cherries, and I PLEDGE TO THE INTERNET GODS THAT I WILL WASH AND FORCE MY FAMILY TO EAT EVERY LAST MORSEL.) We eat a lot of broccoli and green beans as sides, so they’re usually on the list. Same goes for iceberg lettuce, which is (probably, I haven’t done any tests) nutritionally meaningless, and yet I can’t quit it. And onions, potatoes, and lemons are super versatile, so I buy them most trips to the grocery store, unless we’re flush with them for some reason.

Dairy: Shredded cheese is totally a staple around here. We eat tacos maybe once a week, and I like to make pizzas for lunch. My husband eats yogurt every day for lunch, so I’m always loading up on yogurt when there’s a good sale. Carla eats yogurt fairly regularly, but then sometimes she’ll boycott yogurt completely, and it’s impossible to tell what the next day will hold, so I buy a lot of the yogurt pouches you can freeze. They are super expensive, so when they are on sale I grab a ton. Half-and-half and sour cream are also staples.

Frozen: Carla, for some reason, loves frozen vegetables. So we usually have a bag of frozen green beans and a bag of frozen broccoli florets in the freezer at all times, and often a backup. She also enjoys the Mrs. T’s pierogis, so when they are on sale, I toss a box into my cart. Same goes for pancakes, French toast sticks, fish sticks, and chicken nuggets. You can almost guarantee you’ll find those things in our house on a given day, so if they are on sale I have trouble NOT buying them. (Which sometimes results in two unopened boxes of fish sticks in the freezer at the same time, so I really need to figure out how to curb that particular Must! Buy! Now! impulse. I think I am what advertisers call “a dream consumer.”)

Meat: We eat a lot of chicken and pork. I get my chicken at the grocery store when it’s on sale and freeze it in two-to-a-bag Ziplocs. I get the pork tenderloin at Costco (unless there’s a good sale). I also get beef at Costco and then grind my own meat for spaghetti, tacos, and chili. Carla LOVES fish. She started out strongly preferring salmon, but she’s branched out into things like opah and swordfish and tuna. So when it’s a good price, I buy some, cut it into small Carla-size chunks, and freeze it. Yesterday the wild salmon was $34.99 a pound and I wish I could all-caps a number because WHAT. So I am glad I still have a piece of more reasonably priced salmon lounging in my freezer for the next time Carla has a salmon craving.

Pantry: Our grocery store is always having sales on canned beans, which means that sometimes my pantry is overflowing with black beans, chickpeas, and dark red kidney beans. We always have a lot of tomato sauce on hand, as well as coconut milk, chicken stock, rice, and taco shells. Carla loves Cheez-Its and Goldfish, so we usually have one or both of those in our pantry. My husband drinks coffee and I drink tea, so we always have those on hand. My husband eats a specific brand of pretzels every day for lunch, and it is now impossible to find them at Target, so I buy two bags at a time just to make sure we don’t run out. Rice Krispies and applesauce are two other must-haves, although I HATE buying Rice Krispies when it’s not on sale, so sometimes we go without.

Spices: The spices I cannot live without are cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, garam masala, cardamom, and coriander. I am constantly buying those things on sale, to the point that one day I discovered I had more cumin than any person could ever use in a lifetime. (I have now gone for several months without buying cumin, which makes me feel a little panicky.)

Condiments: Ketchup is one of Carla’s I-Cannot-Live-Without-You condiment. She also likes maple syrup to an absurd degree; this morning she asked if I could pour some maple syrup into a little bowl for her so she could dip her strawberries in it. Um, no. Then there’s hot sauce, which I count up there with oxygen. Which is how my husband feels about peanut butter, so there’s always plenty of that to be found.

Alcohol: I am the only person in our household who drinks alcohol really at all, so I usually pick up a bottle of Riesling. We typically have gin on hand, for in-law visits and occasional gimlet cravings, but we are OUT of gin right now and I am not interested in replenishing it at this time. If we’re anywhere near having guests, I keep an eye out for wines with high Wine Spectator rankings that are under $10. Come to my house for cumin, stay for the cheap wine.

One of the magical things my mom could always do was whip up a meal out of items just lying around our house. (She didn’t, like, store pasta on the couch or anything. The items she cooked with were in normal food-storage locations.) I suppose, now that I think about it, she probably did meal planning just like I do. But it appeared that she could come home, open the freezer and take a peek in the pantry, and then just throw something together. After many years of buying my own groceries and making my own meals, I feel like I’ve finally reached that point. I prefer to plan out meals in advance (hahahaha – just kidding; I HATE meal planning) (but I do it anyway) (shakes fist at adulthood), but when I haven’t been able to get to the store, or we are just back from a vacation or whatever, I feel pretty confident that I can pull something meal-adjacent out of the items we have on hand. I mean, as long as I have some chicken breasts, a lemon, a potato, and some white wine, I can feed you something pretty delicious, if lacking in greenery.

(Re-reading this, I’m realizing that I am super lucky to be able to buy and stock so many fresh [and otherwise] foods, and I feel a Food Pantry Stock Up trip to the store with Carla coming on, so we can help other people fill their cupboards and bellies, too.)

Okay, now, your turn. Let me peek inside your grocery cart and pantry and fridge. What are the Must Haves and Can’t Live Withouts in YOUR house?

 

Groceries

Don’t be fooled; we had six total grocery bags, packed FULL of groceries. This is just a representative sampling because I didn’t have any other photos to add to the post. For example, I came home with four times the pictured amount of yogurt ALONE. 

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Apparently I am new to this WordPress thing, because I wrote a post last Friday and thought then to post it for you today, which would have been, at that point, the future, but instead it somehow posted in the past, as in, on the 18th of April. If you were unable to follow that mess of commas, I don’t blame you.

If you want to read about and/or roll your eyes at my complete inability to function in a situation involving other people, mosey on back to the 18th and take a look:

It’s Just Ham

But if you would prefer a new story, I have one. Unless I have already shared it here. I don’t think I have; it happened Pre Blog. But I’m not going to look it up because lazy.

In any event, the story begins like so:

I eat a lot of jalapenos. They go well with nachos, burritos, stir fries, chili, guacamole. Yum. So I would call myself an experienced jalapenan. Jalapenian. Jalapeno buyer. Procurer of jalapenos. Why won’t my computer do the fancy ~ above the Ns?

Jalapeno 3

My cutting board looks a little worse for wear, this close. I suppose one could say the same about my face, though. 

All this is to say that I know better than to purchase a jalapeno with a hole in it. I carefully inspect my jalapenos before I buy them, to ensure they are Hole Free.

Caterpillar 1

Caterpillar 2

Instructional manual about how to choose caterpillar free foods.

So when I pulled a jalapeno out of my crisper yesterday, I was surprised and a little perturbed to find what looked like a hole in the skin of the pepper. Maybe it was a little weakness or bruise that was causing the skin to sink in on itself. Not well defined. But I was suspicious anyway.

Because many years ago, before I knew to check for holes, I brought home a large beautiful jalapeno and cut the top off and a CREATURE crawled out.

It looked something like this:

butterfliesandmoths.org

Photo from butterfliesandmoths.org                                                                                         Please believe me when I say I looked at so many photos of caterpillars that I now have a permanent Being Crawled On feeling about the head and neck.

 

 

 

Listen, I am well aware that fruits and vegetables do not magically come into being in a sterile refrigerated room. No. They grow outdoors with critters and crawly things. So I am not fazed by a fruit fly corpse in my red leaf lettuce. Nor am I squicked out (too much) by the occasional spider web on a grape stem. This is why you WASH YOUR PRODUCE.

Furthermore, I am not normally creeped out much by caterpillars, just in general. But to have one fling itself – okay, perhaps the verb is closer to “ooze” than “fling” – out of something I was about to EAT, onto my clean kitchen counter… Well, that resulted in some shrieking. I think my then-boyfriend was home at the time, and rushed to my rescue, i.e., disposed of the thing. Either that or I entered some sort of caterpillar-induced fugue state, because I have no recollection of the events post caterpillar emergence.

Back to yesterday. Somehow, I convinced myself that the maybe-hole was not a real hole, but a dent… I mean, I am cautious, but I am also not going to throw away a perfectly good jalapeno without at least giving it a go. So I cut the top off the jalapeno.

Alas! I didn’t cut far enough into the cavity of the jalapeno. There was still a semi-transparent layer of jalapeno flesh blocking my vision. But one half of the veiled cavity was empty but for seeds, while the other half was very dark and full of… something.

Listen, I don’t need to see another caterpillar emerge from a jalapeno. Nor do I have any desire to cut into a DEAD ONE. So I dropped the entire pepper into the disposal and… disposed.

I got a new jalapeno and moved on.

Jalapeno 2

New trend in photography: off center, worn-out cutting board, old knife.

Although… I am still bracing myself for a zombiepillar to crawl out of the sink drain.

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We use a lot of citrus around here – I like lemony flavored dinners and limey flavored drinks – but our current juicer wasn’t really cutting it for me.

 

Here it is:

Old juicer

I searched Amazon, Sur la Table, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Target, and couldn’t find this for sale anywhere, so maybe I’m not alone in thinking this could be improved upon.

I mean, it’s FINE, but it tends to get seeds in the food and it requires some elbow grease to extract juice, so it’s not PERFECT.

So the last time my husband and I were at Sur la Table (for a hot! date!), I asked if we could look at the juicers and see if there were any better options.

I was thinking of something like this, where you can use gravity to aid in the juice extraction process.

Glass juicer

Glass Citrus Juicer, $12.00 (photo from Sur la Table)

But instead, during the course of our hot! date!, we got to see THIS juicer in action.

Juicer 2

And lo! it was amazing!

So even though it was $14.99, we bought it. And it is my new favorite thing EVER.

It’s SO easy to use.

But! It is also non-intuitive to use!

If I had bought it on sight rather than after seeing a demonstration, I would never have guessed how to use it properly. And the website is no help. There are multiple photos, including a somewhat disturbing one of juice falling from the juicer, but not ONE showing how you put the fruit into the juicer.

I would have put the cut lemon or lime into the bowl of the juicer with the rind nestled down in the little bowl all snug, and the pulp facing up. So that when I squeezed the arms of the juicer together, they all fit together in a nice nested fashion, and that the emptied-of-juice lemon ended up looking like a little empty bowl at the end.

No!

Instead, you put the lemon in round side UP, and pulp side DOWN. Like so!

Juicer 4

I do know this is a lime and not a lemon. Also, it’s not a FULL lime. There are limits to what I will do for a post.

At the end, you have an inside-out lemon. And lots of delicious juice.

A real live chef showed us this method, so I am choosing to believe that this is The Best and Proper Way to use it. Although I haven’t tried it the other way. So perhaps it works equally well if you put the lemon in round side down.

It is – and I am not being compensated at ALL for this opinion (call me, Sur la Table) – FULLY worth the $14.99. In fact, I plan to buy one for each family member at Christmas. Okay, I also now see that there is a very similar version on Amazon for $8.95. Whatever. I don’t regret a thing.

Perhaps you do not use lemons and limes as frequently as I do. I still recommend this tool because it is AWESOME.

Juicer 1

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I love pizza but I hate tomatoes.

It’s a pizza paradox.

pizza-3-pizza

Pizza, delicious pizza.

Yes, yes, I know there are white pizzas and green pizzas – and I do love me some pesto, don’t get me wrong – but my True Love is traditional pizza with red sauce. I like it not only as a pizza base layer upon which all other toppings rest, but also as a dipping sauce for my fully-cooked pizza.

But. The sauce must be completely smooth. COMPLETELY. SMOOTH.

If I get a single tomato seed in my teeth, the entire pizza-eating experience is RUINED.

So my pizza preference is to make my own. And I have perfected my pizza-making methods, including my pizza sauce. And now, dear internet, I share it with you. You know, if you care about smooth sauce.

For the tomato lovers out there: my husband could eat chopped up tomatoes (HORK) on his pizza and still enjoy himself, and he also enjoys my sauce.

First you get your ingredients.

My favorite pizza has mozzarella, pepperoni, and mushrooms. Sometimes I throw on some sliced onions or green peppers, if I’m feeling fancy.

So, you know, assemble whatever you like to throw on your own pizza.

Then you’ve got to make your crust.

I don’t care to make my own dough, so I buy it pre-made. My local grocery store carries a brand called Papa Sals that I really love. I’ve compared it against the pizza dough that my local Italian bakery sells, and it’s got everything I like: it makes a nice crisp crust with a good chew and a nice mild flavor. It’s very easy to knead into a pizza shape. And, most importantly, it last a LONG time. I tend to make little pizzas for lunch, using an eighth of a crust per pizza, and the dough lasts an entire week. (And what dough I have leftover, I roll up in baking-spray sprayed cling wrap and freeze.)

pizza-1-dough

Papa Sal’s, best pre-made pizza dough on earth. Or at least best available in my local grocery store.

(Disclaimer-y deviation from the post at hand: I was in line at the grocery store once, buying my Papa Sal’s dough, when a fellow shopper asked me how long it lasted. I told her a week and the grocery store checker frowned and said, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that” as though I was suggesting the woman lick the inside of a trash can lid or something. And to be fair, I am no food scientist. And also the dough does get limp and weepy at some point. So I guess even though I have eaten week-old dough and I am still here, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing it yourself.)

Getting back to the sauce.

It’s the easiest recipe ever. Takes 10 minutes, tops.

There are four, maybe five ingredients:

pizza-5-ingredients

You have no idea how much money I spend on Penzey’s and Hunt’s every year. So. Good.

  • Hunt’s tomato sauce: I usually get two of the 8 oz cans because my grocery store doesn’t carry the larger size in the low-salt variety. Why low-salt? Well, I prefer it anyway, but also the seasoning for the sauce has salt in it.

 

  • Water: I fill up each tomato sauce can about halfway with water and swirl it around. So let’s say 8 oz of water to be specific about it.

 

  • Penzey’s pizza seasoning: This is a combo of fennel and oregano and basil and other things that combine into sweet sweet pizza goodness.

 

  • Sugar: I put in maybe a teaspoon? I’d err on the side of less sugar. I have over-sugared my pizza sauce before and it is Not Pleasant.

 

  • Cayenne pepper: totally optional, but if you like spice, it adds a really nice extra heat to your pizza.

Combine all these ingredients in a sauce pan. Bring it to a simmer. I turn it to medium and then go collect my pizza ingredients and usually by the time I’ve peeled and washed a mushroom or two, the sauce is beginning to bubble. Then turn it down and let it gently simmer for about five minutes, just long enough so that the sauce is warmed through. Seriously. That’s it.

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This is the sauce in a pot as I am stirring in the seasonings. That odd silver pole in the middle is the handle of a spoon. What? I never purported to be a photographer.

You might want to taste test it, just to make sure you’ve got the right balance of seasonings. I find the best way to taste the sauce is to dip a slice of pepperoni in it. And then maybe another slice, just to make sure. Yum. Pepperoni. But any pizza topping should do the trick. Or I guess you could, like, use a spoon or something. To each her own.

While the sauce is simmering, I usually throw my crust into the oven — at 425 degrees — for a few minutes, just to help with the crispening process. Technical term. If I’m making a teeny just-for-me pizza, I do three minutes; if I’m doing a big for-the-whole-family pizza, I give it five minutes.

Then once your crust comes out, you slather it with the sauce you just made. Add your cheese and pepperoni and whatever else floats your pizza boat. And toss the whole thing in the oven for about twelve minutes (for a small pizza) to twenty minutes (for a big one), or until the cheese is all melty and your pepperonis are nice and crisp.

(Pro tip: I like to pre-bake my ingredients. I put sliced veggies on their own tray to dry out in a hot oven for a few minutes, which helps prevent a soggy pizza. And sometimes I’ll put the pepperoni on the raw crust when I pre-bake it for three to five minutes. That way it gets nice and crispy when I cook it for real.)

This recipe makes enough sauce for your pizza and dipping sauce and more to refrigerate. I have left mine in the fridge for… a long time. A few weeks, I’d say. But again, your results may vary and I am not recommending that you do or not do anything.

Except I do recommend that you eat pizza. Pizza is delicious.

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Completely. Smooth. Smooooooooooth.

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Last night as I was pacing the kitchen, waiting for the broccoli to become “tender-crisp” without plummeting over the edge into “muddy yard waste” I found myself rummaging through the pantry, looking for sweets.

We have a not insignificant amount of Halloween candy leftover from, you guessed it, Halloween, and the miniature gold-edged bag of tiny Haribo gummy bears caught my eye. They were delicious, by the way. I eat them orange first, then yellow, then red, then green, then white. There are far too few white gummy bears, in my opinion.

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Image from haribo.com

I haven’t had a gummy bear in, what, a billion years? No, I can pinpoint it exactly: middle school. Because the instant the first gummy bear broke on my tongue, I was plunged back to the days when, instead of taking the bus home, I would walk to my mom’s office. What a walk, for an 11- to 13-year-old – two miles by car. It must have seemed like a thousand miles by foot. First, I’d cut through the residential area around the middle school, then walk through the park, then up past the cemetery. Then I’d cut through a grassy area that ran behind the football field, cut down a steep hill via some meandering paths that may well have been cut into the hillside by water, then head north through more residential areas to the small business district in the center of town. That’s where my mom’s law practice was, and she’d let me do my homework in the basement law library as long as I was quiet and respectful to the other lawyers.

Now we get to the candy part.

Her office was next door to a donut shop, and for some reason it sold gummy bears in little cellophane bags, cinched shut by red tape. I think you could get an entire bag for a dollar. Maybe it was even less. (Past Me did not know to make a note of it.) All I knew was I had a couple dollars in my pocket and wanted to spend them on candy. I’d sometimes buy a donut and a Sprite instead, or too. Occasionally I’d meet a friend there, and she’d have an Italian ice, which sounded exotic but tasted too much like soda water for my taste.

The law office basement also housed a sort of break room, where I mixed myself coffee and powdered creamer and packets and packets of sugar. Sitting between the sink and the coffee maker was a box of various delights – chips and candy bars and trail mix and the like – that could be your very own by shoving 50 cents or a rectangled dollar bill into a slit at the back of the box. Some days when I didn’t get the gummy bears, or they didn’t fill me up, I’d buy a Butterfinger. Or a Fifth Avenue Bar. I was always suspicious of the Watchamacallit, the confection with the tantalizing commercials that didn’t sound all that great on the package description.

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Image from thehersheycompany.com

In the summer, I’d sometimes spend days at my friend K’s house. We’d ride our bikes or roller blade or giggle over boys. There was a convenience store a few blocks from her house – not that everything wasn’t a few blocks from everything else – and it sold candy by the penny. You could 100 Swedish Fish or 100 Sour Patch Kids for a buck. Which I did, as often as possible.

sour-patch-kids

Image from troyerscountrymarket.com

Is that where I discovered Zotz? Hard candies that exude a sour fizz when you reach the middle. I know I experimented with the chocolate Charleston Chews. And fell in love with Laffy Taffy – and discovered that I despised its cousin, Airheads. Put a king size grape Laffy Taffy bar in the freezer and you had a delicious melt-in-your-mouth snack for days.

Never one for chocolate, I would gorge myself on Pixie Sticks and Lemonheads and Alexander the Grape and the sour apple version of that candy. And also: Jolly Ranchers. Candy corn. Those little wax bottles of sugar water. Lik a Dip, or whatever ridiculous name accompanied the candy spoon you could dip into various packets of flavored sugar.

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Image from oldtimecandy.com

Gum was my second choice, after candy: Hubba Bubba and Big League Chew and Crybabies and Fruit Stripe and all the pungent flavors of Bubblicious in the world. (Snappin’ Sour Apple was my jam back then; during car trips, my dad would yell at me to stop blowing bubbles because it stank up the car.)  I loved Blow Pops best of all: the perfect combination of hard candy and bubble gum.

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Image from retrocandy.com

In high school, a bunch of kids went through a phase where those sour caramel apple lollipops were “in,” and I must have eaten one every day. Oh! And my best friend and I spent our entire freshman year eating Peanut Butter M&Ms for lunch, alongside our cafeteria-made nachos (chips with a mucousy layer of nacho cheese).

At some point, I became obsessed with these teeny candies called Tart n’ Tiny. (Oh look! You can still buy them online!) And then there was the friend-of-a-boyfriend who got me hooked on Chewy Sprees.  High school was also the site of a chewy peach ring period in my life.

In college, my then-boyfriend (now husband) brought me some candy from Europe that looked like fried eggs: the yolk was a jelly candy, the white was some foamy concoction. I’ve been trying anything that looks similar ever since, but haven’t come across quite the right consistency or flavor.

These days, my go-to candy fix is Haribo mini rainbow frogs, which I can get at the local branch of World Market. Sometimes, I’ll go for Nerds. (Especially on top of vanilla ice cream.)  Sour patch kids are still pretty great.

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Image from haribo.com

On the rare occasions I’m interested in chocolate, I choose Skor bars. Or Snickers. Maybe Reese’s peanut butter cups. Or peanut butter M&Ms.

It is a wonder that I still have all my teeth. (And that I’ve had but two cavities.)

 

When I was on my little gummy bear time machine, being transported back twenty-plus years to middle school, I started thinking about how strange memory is. Encounter something out of the blue – something you’ve truly been distanced from – and the experience is transformative. The past ripples in front of you so vividly you might step back inside and resume your years ago life.

But go seeking that thrill of memory? And it fades.

I eat sour patch kids all the time, and they certainly played a much bigger role in my candy-eating childhood than gummy bears did. But because I never stopped eating them, they have lost the tinge of nostalgia.

When my husband and I first moved in together, and had to cook for ourselves, I whipped out all the recipes that I’d grown up with. My mom’s chili, her fried chicken, her mulligatawny soup, and on and on. At the time, it was akin to bringing a piece of my childhood into my adult home.

But now, we’ve made those same dishes so many times… and put our own spin on them, to make them fit our particular tastes, that they are almost unrecognizable as My Mom’s Meals. I think if I were to go to my mother’s house and ask her to make mulligatawny, it wouldn’t taste right. And it wouldn’t taste like childhood. Because I’ve worn it out so much.

Have you ever tried to preserve the past? I have. Years ago when we were still dating, I spritzed a stuffed animal with my husband’s cologne, so I could drink in his scent when we were apart. That elephant just smells… neutral, now. (Well, and it’s now been incorporated into Carla’s collection of plush critters, so who really knows what it smells like.)

I kept the bottle of shampoo we used the first time we (the nurse) bathed Carla in the hospital when she was a newborn. But after a few sniffs, the feelings that used to walk hand in hand with that particular scent, the images of us crowded around a squalling, incredulous infant as a nurse gently washed her skin, have faded.

The songs I’d listen to in the car on the way to work when I was pregnant – they no longer bring back that bursting sense of joy and possibility and fear and wonder and anticipation that they once did.

These tastes and scents and sounds of the past: overuse has corrupted their connection to the memory.

Holding onto things you love, things you enjoy is one thing. But holding onto the past is impossible. Those flickers of time long gone are fleeting. And that’s what makes them so delicious.

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