Category Archives: Baking

My Brazen Attempt at a Chocolate-Raspberry Torte From Scratch


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The end result – my Chocolate-Raspberry Torte

Brazen.  That’s the perfect word to describe my attempt at making a bittersweet Chocolate Raspberry Torte… from scratch.  Well, almost.  I don’t have a chicken coop to retrieve fresh eggs from so a slight exaggeration it is.

Well, it came out LOOKING okay per above… but……..

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The kids didn’t put me up to this although my Little-Cake-Boss-Now-Dreadful-Teenager would have likely devoured it.  Alas, she is gone for a week and a half on a bus vacation with my ex.  No, I don’t know where they are – not even in which state – which is part of the secret life they lead with their mother.  So, I needed a distraction.  Besides, I owed my good neighbors an experiment a treat.  Their two youngest kids were a wonderful influence on my two little rug rats as they were growing up.

I just happened to receive two wonderful Cook’s Illustrated recipe books on a super deal and while exploring it, I came across this challenge – the Chocolate Raspberry Torte.  There you have it.  (ps The two books together weighed at least 15 pounds!)

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Putting it together can be summarized in several steps:

  1. Make the two pieces of bittersweet, flourless chocolate cake;
  2. Make the filling;
  3. Make the ganache for the chocolate glaze; and,
  4. Make the mess putting it all together.

It really wasn’t all that difficult. 🙂

While I would encourage single men trying to impress a lady to subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated (besides, there’s even a short and informative video on how to put this concoction together on their website), the ingredients were as follows:

Bittersweet, flourless chocolate cake:

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, bar or chips (I cheat – I use the chip form.  I used Ghiradelli’s. If you buy a bar, you’ll have to chop it up which is a mess no big deal.)
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces, room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp instant expresso powder
  • 1-3/4 cups sliced almonds, lightly toasted (I forgot to do that)
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I use MacArthur’s)
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 5 large eggs, room temperature (I forgot to take them out, too)

For the raspberry filling:

  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries plus 16 individual raspberries for garnishing; pick the best ones for the garnishing
  • 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam (Since my good neighbors are health conscious, I bought an organic product.  In hindsight, it wasn’t as sweet as no sugar was added.)

Chocolate Ganache Glaze:

  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, bar or chips
  • 1/2 cup plus one tbsp heavy cream

You will also need a food processor, two good quality 9″ cake pans, a wire rack, cardboard rounds for the cakes and parchment paper.

Instructions

The cake:

  • Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Grease then line bottoms of the two 9″ baking pans with parchment paper.  Grease the parchment paper then dust with flour.
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Since I don’t have a suitable bowl for this, I always use my trusty Japanese bowl.
  • While the recipe says to melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over some barely simmering water, I cheat (via Cook’s Illustrated).  I zap the chocolate chips and butter for about 1-1/2 minutes at 50% power.  Stop when the chips pretty much lose their shape but don’t overheat.  Whisk gently and let cool 30 minutes, then add vanilla extract and espresso powder.  Whisk gently again.
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Whisking the melted chocolate and butter.  Cool for 30 minutes before adding extract and espresso powder.
  • Process 3/4 cup almonds in food processor until coarsely chopped, six to eight 1-second pulses; set aside to garnish cake.
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Coarsely chopped sliced almonds. Remember to toast!
  • Process remaining cup almonds until very finely ground, about 45 seconds. Add flour and salt and continue to process until combined, about 15 seconds. Transfer almond-flour mixture to medium bowl.
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Ground almond slivers after flour and salt added.
  • Process eggs in now-empty food processor until lightened in color and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. With processor running, slowly add sugar until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds.
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Before.
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The five eggs after three minutes. Remember to use room temperature eggs!
  • Using whisk, gently fold egg mixture into chocolate mixture until some streaks of egg remain. Sprinkle half almond-flour mixture over chocolate-egg mixture and gently whisk until just combined. Sprinkle in remaining almond-flour mixture and gently whisk until just combined.
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After some folding of the eggs into the chocolate mixture. Note the streaks.
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Addition of first portion of the ground almonds and before whisking.
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After addition of remaining ground almonds. Frankly, I may have over-whisked it. Doing so breaks down the aerated eggs.
  • Divide batter evenly between cake pans and smooth with rubber spatula. Bake until center is firm and toothpick inserted into center comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 14 to 16 minutes.  (ps I over-baked mine as the cake pulled away from the sides.  I’m thinking my oven was too hot so I need to lower the temp next time.)
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One cake before inversion. You do not have to invert the second cake.
  • Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool completely in pan, about 30 minutes. Run paring knife around sides of cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto cardboard rounds cut same size as diameter of cake and remove parchment paper. Using wire rack, re-invert 1 cake so top side (the shiny side) faces up; slide back onto cardboard round.

The filling:

  • Place ½ cup raspberries in medium bowl and coarsely mash with fork. Stir in raspberry jam until just combined. Spread raspberry mixture onto cake layer that is top side up. Top with second cake layer, leaving it bottom side up. (Tricky!) Transfer assembled cake, still on cardboard round, to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet.
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A horrible cell phone pic; it looked much better than this. 🙂 Smooth filling to almost the edge. Placing the second cake on top of this slightly squeezes the filling out.

The glaze:

  1. Melt chocolate and cream in medium heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. (Again, I zapped it, this time for about a minute at 50%.  Don’t overzap.)  Remove from heat and gently whisk until very smooth. Pour glaze onto center of assembled cake. Use offset spatula to spread glaze evenly over top of cake, letting it flow down sides. Spread glaze along sides of cake to coat evenly. (Having one of those portable lazy Susan gizmos for cakes helps.  Besides, all men like gizmos.)
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Use an angled or offset spatula to smooth the glaze to the edges and allow to drip down. Use offset spatula to then smooth it around the sides. (Note: I inverted this top cake needlessly.)
  • Using fine-mesh strainer, sift reserved almonds to remove any fine bits. Holding bottom of cake on cardboard round with one hand, gently press sifted almonds onto cake sides with other hand. Arrange raspberries around circumference., placing one raspberry at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions; evenly place the rest of the raspberries using the first four raspberries as a guide.  Refrigerate cake, still on rack, until glaze is set, at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
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Finished!
  • Transfer cake to serving platter, slice, and serve.

It really wasn’t that difficult… although I forgot to toast the almonds and overbaked the cakes; sorry, Brad!  But now, your lovely wife can show off her own baking skills in your kitchen since since she can now follow the recipe! (Am I in trouble now?)

By the way, this was MY dessert treat calories after this brazen effort:

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Did you know Hostess is now owned by a Mexican company?  What’s made in the US of A anymore?

 

My Shepherd’s Pie from Scratch


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My shepherd’s pie. The kids love it. They even eat the peas!

Well, my kids finally returned from Japan this past Monday; they had been gone for over three weeks.  Believe me, I didn’t like it ONE bit.  Worst part of it was my ex prevented me from emailing with them for longer than the last two weeks of their stay.  What kind of parent would do that, I ask?  There are some other irritating things about this trip – like her postponing applying for the Little Cake Boss’ passport until the last minute.  They finally picked it up from the Federal Building in Westwood two working days before their departure in late July.  No kidding.

But they are back albeit badly jet lagged; they went back to their mom’s today after a groggy week with me.  I had asked them what they would like to eat their second night back now that they are home and Jack immediately, said, “Shepherd’s Pie!”  So Shepherd’s Pie it was.

As a couple of my friends have asked me to provide them with the recipe, I thought I’d take a break from writing about my Leyte pilgrimage.  The pilgrimage was emotionally draining; it still is weighing on my heart, especially when I write about it for my family’s sake.

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On Leyte, July 2015.

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The recipe is quite easy.  I use Rachael Ray’s recipe for this one instead of my standby cooking bible, Cook’s Illustrated.  Besides, she’s as cute as a button.  (Did you know some “pro” chefs on TV don’t think she should be showing people how to cook?)

The ingredients are:

2 pounds potatoes, such as russet, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan
1 3/4 pounds ground beef (lean preferred for me)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup beef stock or broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire, eyeball it
1/2 cup frozen peas, a couple of handfuls
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
For the potatoes, I use russets, about four of the potatoes found in your typical supermarket’s bulk bag.  While I wash the skin, I leave the skin on and drop them into cold water with about an inch to cover.  The reason I start with cold water is that I believe (ha) that the potatoes will cook more uniformly.  I feel that dropping them into boiling water will cook them unevenly, from the outside-in.
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Boil potatoes and remove when done.

Combine sour cream, egg yolk and cream.  Add the cream mixture into slightly mashed potatoes then mash until potatoes are almost smooth.

While potatoes boil, preheat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil to hot pan with beef or lamb. Season meat with salt and pepper.  Brown and crumble meat for 3 or 4 minutes.  Add chopped carrot and onion to the meat. Cook veggies with meat 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

In a second small skillet over medium heat cook butter and flour together two minutes. Whisk in broth and Worcestershire sauce. Thicken gravy one minute.  Add gravy to meat and vegetables. Stir in peas.

Preheat broiler to high. Fill a small rectangular casserole with meat and vegetable mixture. Spoon potatoes over meat evenly. Top potatoes with paprika and broil 6 to 8 inches from the heat until potatoes are evenly browned. Top casserole dish with chopped parsley and serve.
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As a side note, I do cook the carrots a bit first, then add the ground beef and onions to brown.  If still frozen, I throw the peas in for a minute before I add the gravy mixture.
Lastly, you’re not going to see the paprika and chopped parsley leaves in the picture above because… I forgot.  Old age sucks.
Enjoy!

Pixies!


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It’s Ojai Pixie Tangerine season, folks!

Chef Cathy Thomas (from whom some of my recipes come from) turned me onto these delightfully yummy tangerines.  They are grown in Ojai, California; we are right after the start of the season which may run into late May or early June.

These savory Pixies are:

•  Easy to peel

•  Sweet

•  Juicy – did I say JUICY?

•  Seedless

•  And my kids love them

Chefs use them in their salads when it calls for tangerines.  They are that good.

I obtain mine from Melissa’s Produce, four pounds for about $18.  They can be shipped anywhere and will arrive fresh.

http://www.melissas.com/Ojai-Pixie-Tangerines-p/321.htm

They are highly recommended!

 

 

Triple-Chocolate Espresso Brownies


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Decadent Triple-Chocolate Espresso Brownies

Long name, huh, for brownies?  O_o

Well, my little Cake Boss asked for me, her servant, to make her some brownies. And since I had all the ingredients at the house, I decided to do it from scratch…again.

Wasn’t someone supposed to tell me to stop this non-sense?

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Sugar, salt and unbleached flour are not shown. As a side note, I much prefer Hershey’s unsweetened chocolate.  It’s a lousy photo but that’s a foil-lined baking pan in the background.

Per my yes-yes beacon, Cook’s Illustrated, the classic brownie should be moist, not “goopy” or dry.  The chocolate flavor should most of all be decadent – especially for my little Cake Boss.  Gotta raise her right, you know.

Like avoiding the supermarket pre-mixed who-the-heck-knows-what’s-in-it stuff.

Well… it’s really ‘cuz I wanted to avoid the uncomfortable situation experienced after baking the little Cake Boss a classic white double-layer birthday cake.  The little Cake Boss almost fired me because I didn’t do as she told me to.

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Some of the easy steps:

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Melting the chocolates and butter over barely simmering water. Gotta keep stirring!  Just like my homemade chocolate truffles.
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After it all melts, whisk in the cocoa and espresso powder. Set aside.
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Whisk eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. You then whisk while pouring in the still warm chocolate yumminess. Fold in the flour and pour into a foil-lined baking pan. Smooth over as best possible then bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes.
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Don’t overbake! I’ve learned my oven runs on the hot side and items need to be rotated. It’s perfectly done if it domes slightly and some sticky brownie crumbs stick to a toothpick. Very logical (unlike the illogical “Common Core Mathematics” now being taught in elementary schools).

After cooling for two hours, lift out the brownies with the foil liner and pig out!

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Actually, this first batch of homemade “triple-chocolate espresso brownies” came out REAL good as the little Cake Boss came back for a second piece.

She must’ve been pleased.

I guess I’m still employed at the house.

Somebody Say Strawberry?


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My completed strawberry pie.

This old croaker of a former mechanic thought he could cook… again.

Will I ever learn?  Would someone padlock the kitchen please?

Actually, I had a request… for a homemade strawberry pie.

Daryl Strawberry first came to mind.

Duh.  I must have been on drugs, too.  What did I get myself into?  What was I thinking?  A strawberry pie?

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The key ingredients including the freaking huge strawberries.

So I found a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated once again.  It looked easy enough.

And there weren’t too many ingredients: sugar, cornstarch, pectin, fresh lemon juice and salt…… and strawberries.

Lots of strawberries.

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Well, Cook’s Illustrated failed me this time.

They didn’t write down what SIZE of strawberries to get – just a weight.

Blasphemy.

I thought strawberries were all about the same size.  You know.  Size doesn’t matter.

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Well, the FRESH strawberries I ended up buying were too big.  Freaking too HUGE.

Geez.

And there were LOTS of them.  And they needed to be hulled.  Heck, I knew I would eventually slice my fingers trying to hull them all with a knife so I cheated.  Mechanics love tools, right?  I bought this fancy-schmancy huller for seven bucks.

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For size comparison purposes, I took a picture of the gizmo alongside one of the freaking huge strawberries I bought. It is all Cook’s Illustrated’s fault indeed for not explaining what size strawberries to get.
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This is what it looks life after you press that green button on this fancy-schmancy gizmo made by Chef’N Corporation. You push it into the strawberry, let go of the button and twist. It worked great! But I learned it is better if you remove the sepals first (I found out that’s what the little green leaves on the top of the strawberry are called.).

What a deal.  Hulling was now a piece of cake!  (Shhh…  Quiet.  My little Cake Boss may hear.)

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The recipe called for whole strawberries.  But because the strawberries I bought were so freaking huge, they looked like bowling balls in the pie crust.  While I didn’t know if it was taboo or not but I decided to cut the strawberries in half.  I was worried that all that juice would leak out and make the crust feel like you were biting into a sponge.

(I cheated again and got pre-made crusts; it really shrunk big time after baking as you can see in the picture.  I will endeavor to make the crust from scratch next time.  Oops.  Someone stop me from trying that, please.)

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Well, aside from the glaze not becoming transparent enough and the incredible shrinking crust, the pie turned out tasting great.

I will write a scathing letter of complaint to Cook’s Illustrated.  They did not consider that old berry-brained former mechanics like me would actually try to follow their recipes.

I will also write a letter to President Obama and have him execute another Executive Order to change the law – that Cook’s Illustrated must write their recipes so that old former mechanics will understand.

But why complain.

I will just go to Marie Callendar’s next time and buy a strawberry pie for $8.99.

Classic Pound Cake From Scratch


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Classic pound cake from scratch. A secret is the temperature of the unsalted butter.

So my little Cake Boss wanted to bake something with me…but what?

The funny thing was she told me the only dessert she really liked from my repertoire was the Strawberry and Almond Frangipane Tart.

Really.

Hmmph.

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Just a smartphone photo…and before the little Cake Boss started to fold in the cake flour.  It looked as if Mt. Vesuvius erupted in our house.

So we decided on Classic Pound Cake…sans the lemon glaze.  She didn’t want it.

…Darn.

Per the Cook’s Illustrated recipe I decided upon, the secret apparently lies in the temperature of the butter and eggs as well as using cake flour.  Do I dare say it sounded easy..?

It did…until I remembered I wasn’t baking it…alone.

I forgot I worked for the household Cake Boss.  Silly me.

Well, she plowed through it… at a eleven year old’s pace, that is.

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Before she added the egg mixture…

The ingredients used were:

  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), cold, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour (7 ounces), plus extra for dusting pan
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar (8 3/4 ounces)

We followed the Cook’s Illustrated bible as best we could… And you know what? It domed wonderfully!

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It domed wonderfully…! And I had to guess on the doneness as I had no wooden skewers. Afraid to have a soggy under-baked creation, I overbaked it by about five minutes… Boo-boo.

After it cooled and nearing midnight, we got to sample her creation.

Oink oink! It was really good!

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So now, I have another addition to my man-kitchen dessert repertoire… and the little Cake Boss didn’t fire me. She nearly did after I put together her Classic White Double-Layer birthday cake. She had demanded I even off the domed tops…which I did not… and I should have listened to the very experienced little Cake Boss. 😦

But I survived to bake another day.

Homemade Double-Layer BD Cake (Kinda-Sorta)


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In case you haven’t figured it out, my daughter is on the left.

My just-turned eleven old daughter had her third 11th birthday party.

That’s right.  Third one.  LOL

And, with the stuff that’s been going on our family life, I decided to try and make a “classic white double-layer birthday cake with raspberry filling and butter cream frosting” for her – from scratch.

Key word: “try”.

And dang, that’s long name for a cake, isn’t it?  Mary Poppins would be pleased.

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My two oldest celebrated Brooke’s 11th birthday a week earlier during her real birthday.
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That’s my beloved Green Bay Packers t-shirt… Oh, and my four great kids.

This ol’ mechanic thought he could throw this cake together easily…  You know, like if I was Major Nelson with Jeannie at his side.

And I wish I did have Jeannie.  Only for her blinks, of course.

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Most of the key ingredients. By the way, I use old medicine cups that came with children’s medicines to pour in extracts.  They even have markings on the side.

I followed the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.  Its recipes are proven battle plans for old mechanics that are easy to follow with predictable results.

But they forgot to consider my age and my (poorly) man-equipped kitchen this time.  Unthinkable.

This time, two (and a half) things went wrong while making the cake:

1.  As I didn’t have a flat beater for my KitchenAid stand mixer, the cake flour/butter mixture couldn’t get “crumbly” enough.  I believe this kept the cake from properly rising while baking.  (Well, there were three things that went wrong: it was overbaked by a couple of minutes.)

2.  I over-whipped the frosting, making it REAL tough to spread…  It was worse than cold peanut butter.  But it tasted just fine.

And while no fault of the recipe, I ran out of frosting; because the cakes had domed too much, there was a gap around the circumference my belly could have sneaked through.  I ended up shoving a LOT of frosting in to fill the gap.

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Smuckers raspberry preserves over the almond-buttercream frosting. Spread from the inside to just short of the edge. It’ll squish out.

Since Brooke has gotten hooked on “Cake Boss” (darn fake reality shows), she has become an eleven year old expert on how to frost and decorate cakes.  She was “lovingly critical” on how the frosting was being put on…a little after midnight.  “Pa-paaah! I told you.  You should have cut off the domes.  It’s too high now so you’ve got a HUGE gap!”  (My oldest, Robyn, is probably snickering to herself, “Haha.  Now you know what its like!)

You have no idea how close I was to being fired by the household Cake Boss, let me tell you.  But since it was after midnight (yes, she was still up), I would have received double-time.

For a cake stand, I had to improvise.  The cake was first placed onto the bottom of a 9″ springform pan.  Then that bottom was placed on top of a 9” Pyrex pie dish which was atop a mixing bowl.  Complicated.  Pain to use.  But I did it.  Frustratingly.  With the Cake Boss still cracking orders to boot.

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Anyways, the girls ate it.  They said it was good.  I made sure they said that.

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Brooke’s four closest friends.

Below, you can see the HUGE gap between the layers I was nearly fired over.  Admittedly, the gap (all the way around the cake) measured about an inch:

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So now I know better next time.  And I did order the right flat beater and a revolving cake stand.

But the 11 year old Cake Boss is still here.

I have a great idea.

I should join the baker’s union.

They would keep me from being fired.

Two Old Men and a Father’s Day Anguish


It was Monday, Valentines’ Day 2001.  My wife was five months pregnant at the time we moved into this wonderful neighborhood smothered in US Naval glory.  After I came back from work the next day, she told me a kind old man stopped her as she was wheeling out the trash bin.  She said he hobbled from across our quiet street lined with peppercorn trees then kindly wheeled them out for her.

I found out the “old man” was a World War II combat vet.  Worse yet, he was a sailor in the Pacific – he fought the Japanese in World War II.

“Holy crap,” flashed through my mind, “What if he finds out we’re Japanese?”

Twelve years later, I was honored to have been a pallbearer at his funeral.

I was so far off base about my first thoughts on Old Man Jack that even George Burns could have picked me off without being called for a balk…and this while he was in his grave.

I felt so ashamed.

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I snapped this picture of a happy Jack Garrett when we went to the Chino Planes of Fame in 2003.

“Young man, get over here and plant your butt in that chair,” barked old man Jack from his cluttered garage across the street.  Having lived in that house since 1953, it was filled with his life history.

“But I have my stogie going, Jack,” said I.

“Well, I can see it and I sure as hell can smell it.  Now shut up and sit down.  I want to tell you something.”

That was Old Man Jack, my dear neighbor who lived across the street.  I like to think we were close.

He was 87 years old by that summer’s day in 2010 when he called me over.  While he had become feeble, his barrel chest was still prominent.  He was a rabble-rouser in his youth.  He was always “mixing it up” throughout his young years…  Well, he was mixing it up even while working at Northrup in the 50’s.  That makes me grin.

His handshake was always firm and warm; you didn’t need to be psychic to sense his insight and outlook on life.  He always spoke his mind.  He earned that right having been shot at, strafed, and bombed on “those stinkin’ islands” in the Southwest Pacific as he so often said during a most bitter war.

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Taken on Father’s Day 2010

I had invited Jack to Father’s Day dinner that summer just two years ago; my Dad who was 91 was coming as well.

Jack knew my dad was US Army but I fretted over what they would say to each other when they first met.  Or how they would react to one another.  It was more than just a concern over the centuries old rivalry between Army and Navy.  It was the bitter war.

Dad was in the front room when Jack rang the bell – right on time as always.  Jack had on his favorite blue plaid shirt; he wore it often as it had a pocket for his glasses.  I often wondered how often he washed it, though.  Jack and Dad are shown here on Father’s Day 2010.

“Dad,” I said, “This is Jack, US Navy, Aviation Machinist’s Mate, First Class, the Pacific.”

“Jack, this is my Dad.  US 8th Army, sergeant, Military Intelligence Service.”

Although not as agile as they once were, they immediately saluted each other.

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You didn’t need a sound system to hear them.  Dad and Jack are both hard of hearing.

It was easy to hear Jack ask Dad what he did in the Army.  During the Occupation of Japan, Dad said he went into a room once a week that reeked of dry cleaning to retrieve a crate.  (The crates contained documents, photos and other personal items such as war diaries written by Japanese soldiers.  They were removed from a WWII battlefield – read on.)  He would then translate the contents for military intelligence (below).

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Dad translating captured war documents in the U.S. 8th Army HQ’s, Yokohama, Japan. 1947.

I had to tend to cooking so I lost track of the conversation.  It was regretful I didn’t keep tuned in.

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So back to being called over by Jack on that summer’s day.

He was sitting in his favorite blue wheelchair.  He didn’t need it but it belonged to his beloved wife Carol who passed away ten years before.  They married during the waning days of the war.  They had been married for 55 strong years.

“So what did you want to tell me, Jack?” I asked.

He then went into his trance – one signaling evident anguish and wretched remembrances.  When he went into these trances, he always started by staring at his hands while picking at his right thumbnail with his left ring finger.  He would lift his once thick eyebrows now turned snow white with age, then begin talking in a slow, deliberate pace, never taking his eyes off his hands.

“I went on ID patrol…” Jack rasply whispered while ever so slightly drawing out his words.

“ID patrol?  What is that?” I asked.

He ignored me.  It was as if I wasn’t sitting next to him… He had already left the present. He had stepped foot onto that violent SW Pacific jungle of 70 years ago.  I’m sure its smell was as vivid to him in his tormented subconscious as it was seven decades ago.

“They would issue six of us white caps M1’s with bayonets…  Then we’d follow two Marines on a patrol into the jungle.”

“Patrol?  You?  You were ground crew, Jack,” I remarked.

“Ain’t enough of them (Marines) to go around on those stinkin’ islands so we got picked,” he said, still speaking in a lifeless yet pained monotone.  He added, “If you got killed, you rotted real quick in that jungle heat.  And if you got killed with shit in your pants, you got buried with shit in your pants.”

His stare doesn’t change.  His eyes have glassed over.  He is in a different world now – one of 70 years ago in a stifling jungle, his youthful, sweaty hands trying to grip onto his Garand rifle while wearing a smelly steel helmet… Listening in terror for any sound that may signal a Japanese soldier concealed in ambush knowing that the enemy was just there shortly before. A world that only combat veterans understand.  Thankfully, you and I never will.  Never.

“The Marines had two bags – one small one and a big one.  When we found one, the two Marines would stand guard.  We’d hold the rifle by the butt end and use the fixed bayonet to fish out the tags.”

It was then when I realized what he was painfully regurgitating.

This is what he meant by “I.D. patrol”. They were going back into the jungle to locate the dead Marines they had to leave behind after a “tussle” with the enemy as Jack liked to say – a life or death firefight.  Old Man Jack was only 20 years old.  The Marines were likely younger.  Ponder that thought.

“We weren’t allowed to touch the dead (Marine) as the Japs would booby-trap ‘em.  We’d hand over the tags hanging on the the end of the bayonet to one of the Marines who would put a tag in the small bag.  They marked a map for the graves registration guys to come back later.”

Jack’s anguished delivery dimmed even further.  “But we’d come across a dead Jap.  Nobody cared about them so they rotted where they were.  But we’d have to stick the bayonet into the rotting goo and try to fish stuff out.  The prize was a pouch or a satchel.  Those would go into the big duffel bag just as they were, covered with rot and maggots. We headed back to CP and that’s the last I saw of those bags,” he said.

He abruptly ended but his unconscious stare didn’t change.  He was still in the jungle, scared out of his wits. He was still picking at his thumbnail all this time.  His head hardly moved while he sat in the blue wheelchair that belonged to his beloved wife.

I thought to myself, “Is that the end, Jack?  That’s it?  Why did you tell me this?”  I knew not to pry any more so I kept the thoughts to myself.  He was in torment already.  Seventy years had passed but he was reliving the awfulness of a brutal war.  Nevertheless, I wondered why he chose that time to tell me about this horrific recall of something he experienced so very young.

It bugged me for several weeks.

____________________

About a month later, I understood why Jack told me the story after I communicated with Mr. Grant Ichikawa, a more well known veteran of the famed US Army’s Military Intelligence Service and combat veteran himself.  Apparently, the items they recovered from Japanese corpses were dry cleaned to remove the rotting body fluids.  After getting dry cleaned, they ended up in the crates that were in the room my Dad went into once a week when he was in the Military Intelligence Service…and why the room reeked of dry cleaning.

The brief chat with my dad on Father’s Day sparked that vile memory back to life.  It had been eating at Old Man Jack since that day.  He wanted to get it off his once mightily barreled chest.

I lament to this day that an invitation to a Father’s Day dinner had resulted in an unwanted recall of horror Jack was very much trying to forget.  More so, I lament he relived such horrors each night for the last 70 years of his life.  Seventy years.

Jack was a great man to have endured combat in the Pacific during World War II.  He was an immeasurable giant in learning to forgive – although he was never able to forget.

I miss him greatly.  I thanked him for all we have when I visited him today at his grave on this glorious Memorial Day.