I’m not sure why I’m always so optimistic about experimenting in the kitchen because my creations usually flop.
But I take to heart the counsel of culinary experts to be adventurous, forgetting that I’m not a professional chef.
I offered to make a chocolate sheet cake for my sister’s Halloween party last weekend. I had a brilliant idea to spell out the words “Trick or Treat” and “Happy Halloween” with my new alphabet cookie cutters I hadn’t used yet.
I figured I could cut the cake into squares, carve out the letters with the cutters and pipe cream into the indentations to spell out my words.
But I didn't want just ordinary buttercream so I found a recipe online with ingredients of cream cheese, whipping cream and Cool Whip.
I was kind of concerned it might not be firm enough to stand up to piping but it sounded scrumptious and I wanted to try it.
I ran into my first snag with the chocolate frosting.
The recipe is my aunt’s from-scratch icing that I make on the stovetop, and I’ve made it dozens of times. But as I spread the frosting on the warm cake, it was too thick.
I wasn't worried because I figured I’d be covering most of it with the cream for my letters. I tinted the cream orange and although it tasted good, it was pretty runny.
But my chocolate frosting was more like cement. I pressed the “T” (for "trick") cutter into the icing.
It didn’t budge. I pressed as hard as I could and still only saw the barest outline of the letter.
I took a paring knife and scraped out the frosting into the outline of a T and piped my cream.
I had less success with the second letter and only ended up squashing flat my cake square.
I gave up on the cutters and thought I’d just pipe the letters on top of the frosting.
When I was finished, it looked like a preschooler’s art project. I couldn’t ask my sister to serve this mess at her party.
I considered throwing the entire cake out. But instead I laid on my couch for a few minutes.
And my trifle bowl popped into my head. It was my only hope for salvaging the cake.
I cut it up into bite-sized pieces and layered the cake and the orange cream in the trifle bowl.
I didn’t have enough cream to cover the top layer so I just showered the cake with chocolate sprinkles I found in my pantry.
I had no idea what the trifle tasted like. I took it to my sister and told her to put candles in it and use it as a centerpiece.
She called the next day and said it was a hit. She said two of her party-goers stood over the table eating spoonfuls, saying it was addictive and they couldn’t tear themselves away from it.
She told me I better write down what I did to create my improvisation so I could repeat it.
I guess my baking escapades are not all that different from what makes up the rest of my life.
I create, repurpose, salvage.
I do this all the time with my flea market finds – I use shutters designed for windows as display boards.
I use an ironing board intended for laundry as a sofa table.
I use containers meant for plants to hold cosmetic brushes.
I feel inspired and artful when I find a use for something different than it was originally intended.
And I shouldn't be afraid to do the same with the experiences of my life.
When I think I don’t have what it takes, I actually find that I have all I need.
To get back up after a failure.
To move in a different direction when I hit a dead end.
To salvage the things that happen that aren’t quite as perfect as I'd like.
Because my life is filled with those times.
When the writing piece I labored over didn’t get accepted. When the guy I liked didn’t ask me out. When the owner of the townhouse I loved rejected my offer.
These experiences turned out differently than I wanted them to.
But I reworked the writing piece and posted it as a mass-post day for bloggers.
I discovered the man I wanted to go out with wasn’t really who I thought he was.
I found a different townhouse I liked even more that better fit my style.
So I shouldn’t be so quick to despair and discard.
Because it might just be the trick that turns into a treat.
For a Halloween treat, I've included my recipe for the cake and cream.
Aunt Shirley's Chocolate Sheet Cake
Bring to a boil 1 cup of butter, 1 cup of water, 4 Tbsp. of cocoa. Remove from heat and add 2 cups of flour, 2 cups of sugar, and 1 tsp. of salt. Add 2 well-beaten eggs, 8 oz. of sour cream and 1 tsp. baking soda. Pour into cookie sheet pan and bake for 20-22 minutes at 375 degrees.
While the cake is still warm, spread with frosting. Put 1 stick butter, 6 Tbsp. milk, 4 Tbsp. cocoa and bring to a boil. Add 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 box powdered sugar. Beat until smooth. Spread over cake. Chill cake until served.
Beat 6 oz. cream cheese and 1/3 cup sugar until smooth. Add 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 cup heavy cream. Whip until increases in volume and thick. Fold in 4 oz. Cool Whip.