Let’s Cook: Valentine’s Day
Each year when Valentine’s Day comes around, I dig out my old Valentines from grade school. Their witty and silly puns still make me smile. Like the one with a pink typewriter that says “You’re just my type!” Another one reads “Write now I’m de’pen’ding on you to be my valentine”, and it has an old fashioned fountain pen with expressive eyes and a huge smile. Of course, one of my favorites is a photographer with the caption “You click with me, Valentine.” There is even a vintage crane-the type that has a cozy cab and you just know the operator has room for a coffee pot someplace in there! The crane bucket is picking up a red heart with the caption, “You can pick my heart up anytime, Valentine.” To me, Valentines are as timeless as twilight time and fireflies, and you catch their twinkle by reading the clever captions. Of course, an added thrill was to see which classmate sent them. You just don’t see cute, pretty valentines like these anymore.
Along with these valentines comes the memory of valentine boxes. Now there is a subject that is still close to my heart. As a child, I deliberated for months about the design. I enjoyed recycling items that would usually be tossed in the trash. In third grade my valentine box was to look like a post office mailbox-complete with a discarded combination lock. Along with the box arose cool letters, a plastic window pane, and plenty of hearts. It was thrilling to see it all come together until I slipped the combination lock into my swinging door and the weight of it ripped the door! Instantly, there was one broken-hearted third grader in McLean County!
That evening when my mom arrived home from work at 11 p.m. I ambled into the kitchen, and she knew something wrong. In my hands was my not-so-brilliant valentine box. She grabbed the keys for the Laundromat and returned with a discarded flip-top soap box. We worked at the kitchen table to create another mailbox. This one would not have a lock but instead a flip top, which was wrapped in gold Christmas paper. It did not sport the usual black color of an outdoor mailbox, but rather aqua.
It was late by the time we finished with this masterpiece. She grasped that missing buckets in a game of horse didn’t bother me, but not having a creative valentine box did. She understood that each of her sons was intended to have a character of his own, and this was mine. We worked in the quiet of the house until my ambition was settled. Her words calmed that secret intimidation a child can feel when things don’t work out. I took that aqua mailbox to Mrs. Leidholm’s third grade class and it was a touchdown!
This past week Lydia and I worked on her valentine box. Yes, it has a pun. It is a traffic light with red being “Stop and be my Valentine,” yellow “Yield and be my Valentine,” and green “GO and be my Valentine.” Her resourcefulness has made each light shine, and there are plenty of hearts colored by her character and contentment.
Valentine Day boxes are worthy as they are connecting parents and children as they work together to fix problems and find joy in creating. After all, a great percentage of happiness that children can know, parents must bestow as they help them learn and grow. Now there is a hearty gospel worth spreading.
Helpful Hints When Baking Cakes
Greasing and flouring pans – It is easy to keep cakes from sticking to pans. Simply grease and lightly flour the pans. Use wax paper or bit of folded paper toweling to apply. It usually takes about 1 tablespoon of shorting for an 8 or 9 inch round or square baking pan and about 2 tablespoons to grease a 9×13 or 15×10 inch baking pan. About two teaspoons for flour are required to coat an 8 or 9-inch round or square pan and 4 teaspoons work well for a 13×9″ or 15″x10″ pan. Tilt and tap the pan to distribute the flour evenly. Tap out excess flour.
Here is a handy tip for making your own pan coating, and it works very well. Stir together 2/3 cup shortening and 1/3 cup flour until well mixed. To use, generously spread the mixture on the bottom and the sides. This mixture keeps well in the refrigerator. A well-greased and floured pan baking is a great investment when you baking as there is nothing worse than a cake that sticks.
Removing cakes from Pans – After removing a cake from the oven, let it cool in the pan on a wire rack about 10 minutes. If you decide to go out and play a round of golf when the cake it cooling, it will be difficult to remove so stick to 10 minutes. Start the removal by running a knife around the inside edge of the pan. Next place a wire rack upside down over the cake and invert the cake onto the rack. The pan should lift off with easy.
Remember the top of cake is rounded, and the cake is not resting securely on the rack. If you leave it this way it could cause the cake to crack. To prevent this from happening, place a second wire rack atop the inverted cake and flip it over so the base rests on the rack. Lift off the top rack. Allow the cake to cool thoroughly before moving. And who said only football players have difficult plays to remember?
Getting ready to frost – If you are making a two layer cake, realize that you will need to level the bottom layer as the rounded top will not allow the top layer to rest evenly. Use a long-bladed serrated knife using a back-and-forth sawing motion while holding the edge of the cake. This task is made much easier of you take time to freeze the cake partially. We must realize there are enemies lurking even with cake baking, and they are loose crumbs. It is most disappointing when the frosting is looks as if it has been rock chipped because of crumbs. Over the years I have discovered the best defense is to invest in a good pastry brush. This will brush the crumbs away with ease. It can be helpful to use your hand if need be.
Cake mixes are handy, but there is still nothing like a cake from scratch. It’s easy and adds a nice touch to a Valentine’s Day meal.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 egg whites
Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans and set aside. In a mixer bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add milk, shortening, and vanilla to the flour mixture; beat with electric mixer on low speed for 2 minutes. Add unbeaten egg whites; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes more, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Turn into prepared pans, spread evenly and tap the bottoms of the cake pans on the counter top to help settle. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes on the middle rack. Insert a toothpick in the center if it comes out clean it is done. Proceed with cooling steps.
Basic Buttercream frosting
cup butter at room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon white vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
Whip butter until light and fluffy, then add shortening and continue to beat until creamy. Add powdered sugar a little at a time until all has been well mixed. The mixture will seem dry but continue mixing, adding in the vanilla and the milk one tablespoon at a time, beating well. If this is covered with plastic, it keeps very well in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. It spreads evenly on cakes and can be piped on with decorating tips for added flair.