My daughter Charlotte is ten-years-old and is just about the neatest person I’ve ever known. All my kids are the neatest people I’ve ever known, but each is so unique, it’s easy to see and appreciate all the great things that make them who they are. I’m nuts over all of them. The elementary kids (Charlotte and her younger sister and younger brother) were off of school on Monday. I was planning on starting to work on my blog again that day, so it was fun to hear what Charlotte wanted to post.
Charlotte was born in England. We decided that it was quite fitting that we make an English cake together. Incidentally, this has been the first chance I’ve had in a while to photograph someone else cooking, and we are very pleased with the story-book nature of the photographs – Charlotte’s hands doing all the mixing. An added bonus is that we were able to effectively write a little tutorial on how to make a cake from scratch without the use of a stand mixer. Charlotte wanted to go “old school”, so that’s what we did.
You’ll find all the instructions and ingredients below, but first, a little update on life here in Okinawa:
I took a break from posting on my blog for a while. Mostly because things in my house were getting out of control. Basically, the kids’ rooms were cluttered with stuff they didn’t know what to do with, the laundry was always behind, stuff was falling out of all the closets and I felt like I was constantly on a hamster wheel, barely keeping up with everything.
Whenever I start to feel like I’m losing quality of life – whenever I walk by my kids’ rooms and sigh from the mess, then just keep on walking because it’s just too much to handle….well, I suppose I just call an “intervention” for myself. And then just figure out how to shift the axis of my life a little, so I can feel better about things.
I decided to take a break from the things that are not really necessary. Like, this blog and the contract work I do. And other “optional” things in the life of a Marine Corps Spouse of 20 years who cares for seven kids, a dog, a cat, and a hamster. Not a whole lot of “optional” there, but you’d be surprised how much time you can find when you really cut out the fluff.
Aside from my 12-week-planned assault on the chaos of my house, my husband got one week of leave over spring break and we (ishityounot) cleaned this house from top to bottom. He provides support like that. We re-did the kids’ rooms with high-rise beds so they would have more space to hang out. We got rid of probably a dozen bags of clothes and things we didn’t need anymore. I made the girls’ closet into an alcove for the toddler (took off the door, hung curtains). It’s adorable.
By the way, I say “ishityounot” all the time. My husband was like, “isn’t that a flower?”.
“You mean a FORGET me not?”, I said.
So now we say “ishityounot” even more.
I also re-arranged all the kitchen cupboards. It was (no kidding), the most un-relaxing spring break ever. But we got it done, and our house is running so efficiently, it’s something for the history books. Which is really saying something considering the Marine Corps has NINE of us living in a 1400 square foot house. But that’s all the space we’ve got for now. And we’ve just had to make it work. That’s the kind of responsibility to take on when you decide to have a family. Especially a big family. You’ve just got to get in there and get stuff done. Work with what you’ve got. ishityounot.
While I was on my break from writing, I really had to think for a while on how I was going to approach my blog, and what kind of “voice” I want to have. The difference between a massive recipe website like Food Network, or All Recipes, and a tiny little one-woman-show like this little food blog, is that this is my personal place. The former is just a massive collection of recipes. There is a certain “brand” of reader who just wants a recipe. Period. Then there’s another “brand” of reader who wants a story, a narrative, a look into the personal goings on of the author, and a unique perspective.
So, if you are a follower, and if you’d like that perspective, then that is what I’ll deliver. I write all these recipes myself. Most of them are “classics”, but each is my own personal version of the “classic”. Some are completely new creations. As much as I love talking “tech” about each formulation, and about each piece of history, and each food experience I’ve had through my travels, I do realize that a personal narrative of the author adds a uniqueness. A value.
I’ve had to decide how much of my personal life and opinions I’m going to post, and I think I’ve come up with a good policy. My policy here on my blog will be the same policy I keep with my children. I never share or “unload” my personal problems on my children – that’s a form of emotional abuse. However, I do share lessons I’ve learned FROM my problems, after the fact….after it’s all been resolved, or just grown cold.
So our first lesson here is that EVERYONE has problems. Everyone. In fact, I bet there’s a fair chance that you will run into a person in the next year who’s actually having the worst day of their life. Of course, they won’t tell you because people generally don’t walk into a public place and announce: “Hear ye, here ye, you may not know me – or we may be mildly acquainted…. but I am having the WORST day of my life. The WORST. And it’s bad. I mean, you have NO IDEA how bad this grief is”.
Especially in the military community. Not only are we utterly exhausted from over thirteen years of war, but we all have histories and families back home, and sometimes we get really bad news. News that has nothing to do with our lives today, but still “stuff”. “Stuff” that makes us grieve, and get angry, and get sad. Everyone’s got “stuff”.
Still, it’s a hard thing to grasp: That other people struggle. On the one hand, it’s just such a flipping disappointment that no one reaches a point in their lives when they’re like “Well, it’s all margaritas and beaches from here on out. No heartache will ever befall us again! Hooray!”. That just never happens on this earth. What a letdown!
On the other hand, other people’s problems are such an inconvenience, right? Right. That’s probably why they aren’t burdening you with the details. Because there’s really nothing you can do.
Ah, but there is something we can do! We can not make it worse.
So our lesson here is, ALWAYS assume everyone you know is dealing with a very big problem.
Okay, so then what?
Just be kind. Just make a certain politeness your SOP (standard operating procedure). Now, I’m not saying be a pushover and let people walk all over you. Some people see kindness as a special kind of “stupid” and they’ll be like, “Perfect….my new target. She’s so NICE! Lemme see how many favors I can get her to do for me…..”. Oh yes, they’re out there. Don’t let anyone walk all over you. Don’t even let them wipe the side of their shoe on you. Don’t ever let anyone blackmail you with gossip. If that’s the case then you turn around right then and there and you walk away. And let them gossip. YOU just don’t instigate. YOU just be the polite one. YOU just be that person who acts decently. YOU just don’t gossip. Walk lightly (and carry a big stick), but walk lightly. Understand there’s a whole world out there of problems and histories and stories that you will never know just by seeing someone’s outward appearance, or hearing second-hand stories of them.
You can bet on that.
So that’s our lesson for the day.
Or maybe it’s the lesson of the year, or maybe it will be the entire underlying theme for this blog.
“Take responsibility for your own actions, and let go of the rest”.
I think I may just run with that.
These are the same things I talk to my children about when we are cooking together. They nod. They listen. They share stories with me about their own personal experiences. If cooking has done nothing for me in my life, it has provided a conduit for PRECIOUS conversation with my children. They open up. They talk about “stuff”. I listen. Remember? We all have “stuff”. Even kids. Especially kids!
The Victoria Sponge Cake is such an old recipe, that in British homes the ingredients are still measured out in the old way. They weigh four eggs. Then match that weight in butter. Then flour. Then sugar. Then a few pinches of baking powder, salt, a dash of vanilla and enough milk to make it “right”.
Just kidding, Charlotte and I converted it all to something that’s do-able for Americans.
But isn’t it fascinating that the whole formula is based on the weight of those four eggs? And the whole *conglomeration of ingredients is ever shifting, based on those four eggs? Now that’s real cooking. That’s just being right up in there, intimate with all the elements that turn nothing into something, and doing it in a way that’s SO intuitive, yet so precise.
Charlotte and I weighed four eggs, matched that weight in the sugar, butter and flour, and were able to come up with this recipe:
*As a side note, our modern eggs are all basically the same size. In Okinawa, I buy the local eggs, which are just about in line with American “large” eggs.
Charlotte’s Victoria Sponge Cake
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (2 sticks)
2/3 cup + 2 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 2/3 cup + 2 teaspoons cake flour (straight from the box, you do not have to sift it)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
You will also need 1 pint of heavy whipping cream, 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar (to sweeten the cream) and about 1/2 jar of raspberry jam. And nonstick baking spray or lard and flour to prepare your pans. And a little extra powdered sugar for the top of the cake.
But first, let’s bake the cake. Preheat your oven to 350* f.
Charlotte took the 2 sticks of unsalted butter which was softened, and “creamed” it together with 2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons of sugar. We had a ball weighing out all the sugar. Turns out sugar is pretty heavy compared to flour and butter.
Next she added one teaspoon of vanilla and mixed it into the butter/sugar.
In go our eggs. The star of the show. Can you BELIEVE how orange those yolks are? Those are fresh Okinawan eggs. Oh my, the eggs here are worth the typhoons, crushing humidity, small-ness of the houses and more. You would not believe how good eggs can improve your quality of life.
Charlotte mixed the eggs into the butter/sugar mixture as well as she could with the spatula…..
Then she picked up a whisk and did this fun “whisky” move rolling it back and fourth in her hands. She says she invented the technique. Well, she did, here in our house. This whisk action will always be credited to Charlotte in our home.
Next, in a separate bowl she combined the 1 2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. She just combined them gently, stirring with a wooden spoon.
Next, she took half of the flour mixture and added to her butter/sugar/egg mixture. She also measured out 1/2 cup of whole milk and added about half of it to her bowl.
Stir gently, to combine.
Add the rest of the flour and the rest of the milk and stir until you have a nice, smooth batter.
Then, it was time to prepare the pans. We are using 2 8-inch round cake pans. I do like to use Baker’s Joy to prepare pans, but I ran out, so we had to use the old-fashioned method. Charlotte took two clumps of lard and coated each pan with it.
Then she dusted each pan with flour. She rolled it around, and tapped in until the pans were totally coated.
Pour the batter into the pans. Half the batter in each, although you don’t have to make it perfect.
Now it’s time to bake. 350*F for 16-18 minutes. These cakes are actually quite little, so they won’t need a lot of baking time.
The egg content in each is so high, that it’s almost as if they are more in the category of a sweet soufflé. Turn them out onto a cooling rack, and cool completely before filling.
Let’s make our filling now.
Charlotte decided that she did not want to try and whip cream by hand, and I told her she was smart to use an electric mixer. First, we put an empty bowl into the freezer for about four minutes just to chill it a little. Then she poured a pint of heavy whipping cream into the bowl, and used a hand mixer to whip it. We added 2 tablespoons to the cream to make it just sweet enough.
Now it’s time to assemble our Victoria Sponge Cake! Put one layer down on a plate, and cover it with raspberry jam.
Next, add all the glorious, thick cream.
If you haven’t tasted the combination of raspberry jam and fresh whipped cream yet, then you are really missing out on something! It’s a very special combination!
Naturally, stack layer #2 over the jam and cream. Charlotte had a ball sprinkling the powdered sugar all over the top!! Oh my, was that ever fun!
And that’s Charlotte’s Victoria Sponge Cake.
Truly, of the most delicious cakes in the world.
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
-This version is attributed to Mother Teresa and is said to have hung on her bedroom wall.