On my way home from some assorted errands today, I was starving and thought I’d try my luck at Thi Thi – the best Vietnamese subs possibly anywhere – these things are so good, when my friend Rachael used to visit from Vancouver it was her only Calgary must-do. Come to think of it, I haven’t been back there since she died in November.
Anyway, being teeny and located downtown, across from the government building no less, it’s near impossible to find parking. Usually we have to double park or pull up beside the fire hydrant and Mike sits in the car while I run in to wait in the inevitable lineup that typically goes out the door.
Not today. I pull around the corner, and there is the golden ticket, rock star parking spot directly out front. We’ve never had this spot before, not in the years since discovering Thi Thi. I pull in. There’s time on the meter. I go inside, and there is no one there. This has never happened. The friendly couple who owns the place are at the ready to prepare a satay chicken sub for me. I wonder if there is a hidden candid camera somewhere, or if I should run out and buy a lottery ticket.
But wait, I quickly scan for an Interac logo as I order. Panic. There is none. I’m afraid to ask, but I just ran out of cash.
“Sorry, cash only!” (And no machines in sight in every direction.) NOOO!
So that bummed me out quite a bit. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get over it anytime soon.
It was a birthday dinner tonight, the first night since January 21st (my Mom and sister’s birthdays) we could all coordinate our schedules, and no one was sick. We all met at Mom & Dad’s for takeout sushi. The tradition to serve spice cake for their birthdays started so long ago none of us can remember when or why, but they have always had spice cake with penuche icing – a brown sugar icing – and last year I tried to incorporate the bananas sauteed in butter and sugar that used to be my Grandad’s favorite. It went over pretty well, so I did it again. All that is required for this is a pair of bananas, fairly ripe, a blob of butter and sprinkling of sugar. Put the butter in a hot pan and as it melts, add the bananas, sliced lengthwise. Don’t crowd the pan, or they won’t have the opportunity to brown properly. Sprinkle with sugar and cook until the sugar melts and the bananas start to brown, but don’t turn to mush. Lift them out and lie them on top of the bottom cake layer, and top with the second. I imagine caramelized bananas would be exquisite between layers of chocolate cake.
Any white or yellow cake can be turned into a spice cake by the addition of cinnamon, ginger (I rarely use ground, but for some reason I do on this occasion) and perhaps some nutmeg and/or allspice. I like to use brown sugar instead of white, too.
To be equally vague about the icing (I never use a recipe when making butter icing – only when I make the cooked 7 minute frosting you do with egg whites and sugar in a double boiler on the stovetop) – all you need to do is add some brown sugar to a regular buttercream icing. I could instruct you to cook it with the butter on the stovetop, but then you risk producing caramel. What I did today, purely as a result of circumstance, was beat a blob of butter (about 1/4 cup) until it was creamy, add about a cup of brown sugar (dark is better) and then poured a bit of boiling water over it to instantly dissolve the sugar – something I didn’t plan, but I was making a cup of instant espresso and the kettle started to whistle at precisely that minute. So I beat that, and then beat enough icing sugar into it to make a spreadable frosting. That’s how you make icing – start with butter or cream cheese and sugar, and add liquid – water, lemon juice, milk, coffee – and any sort of extract – vanilla, coconut, maple – and beat until it’s right for spreading. Add more sugar or more liquid as it needs it.
Mom & Anne’s Birthday Spice Cake
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg and/or allspice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, softened
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray two 8” or 9” round cake pans or one 9″ x 13″ pan with nonstick spray.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt. In a larger bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer for about half a minute, until it’s pale and creamy. Pour in the sugar and continue to beat for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Scrape down the sides of the bowl whenever it needs it.
Stir the vanilla into the milk. Add about one-third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir it in by hand or with the electric mixer on low speed, just until it’s combined. Add about half the milk in the same manner, then another third of the flour, the rest of the milk, and the rest of the flour, mixing just until the batter is blended.
Divide the batter between the greased cake pans and tap the bottoms a few times on the countertop to remove any air bubbles. To prevent a domed top, spread the top of the batter with a spatula, creating a slight dent in the middle and a raised edge. This compensates for the way a cake tends to rise higher in the middle.
Bake for 30-35 minutes for round layers or 40-45 minutes for a 9-x 13-inch cake, until golden, the edges are pulling away from the sides of the pan, and the tops are springy to the touch. Let them cool for about 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge of the pans and inverting them onto a wire rack. Cool completely before you frost them. Makes 1 layer cake.