As I rub the sleep from my eyes and make my way to the side of the bed, I hear my four-year-old exclaim,” Mommy, I want us to bake a cake today!”
My husband’s birthday was ten days ago. While I intended for us to bake him a cake on the weekend following his birthday, we didn’t get to it. So here we are, the next Saturday morning and she’s ready to bake. This girl has got a mind like a steel trap when it comes to remembering the fun stuff we talk about. Tell her what not to do or try to have a serious conversation with her though and it’s in one ear and out the other. Of course, that’s probably pretty typical for a four-year-old.
I’m thinking since it’s Halloween today, a pumpkin cake would be appropriate. Many years ago my friend Sherri gave me a recipe for pear cake. After having mixed results with the pears, I once substituted pumpkin pie filling for the pears. The result was amazing and I’ve never used pears since.
1 cup Vegetable Oil
2 cups Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Water
2 cups Flour
2 teaspoons Cinnamon
¾ teaspoon Salt
1 pinch Nutmeg
3 Pears (diced) or 1 can Pumpkin Pie Mix
Note: If I use the Pumpkin Pie Mix, I do not add the Cinnamon and Nutmeg.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13 x 9 baking pan.
In a large mixing bowl beat eggs and oil until foamy. Add sugar, vanilla, baking soda, and water. Beat until light and fluffy. Add flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Continue mixing until smooth. Fold in pears or mix in pumpkin pie mix. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Cake will be moist.
Now, let’s see about finding a can of pumpkin pie mix. I think I have one but I’m not positive. I roll over to the kitchen closet, secure Maya as she climbs onto my lap and start searching the shelves. Almost immediately she exclaims, “I see pumpkin.” She places my hand against the can and says, “Look.” She understands that mommy and daddy’s eyes don’t work and so we look with our hands not our eyes.
Amazingly the can she is showing me is one of the few that I have taken the time to label with a Braille tag. I read with my fingers “pln pmp.” “Yes baby your right. That’s pumpkin but it’s plain pumpkin. We’re looking for pumpkin pie mix. Let’s keep looking.”
Systematically I begin searching the three shelves I can reach from my wheelchair. I begin at the upper shelf, feeling my way through the boxes, cans and bottles that fill the shelves. I’m feeling for a can that’s about as round as a can of corn, but almost twice as tall. If I was as organized as people think I am I would have each item labeled with a few Braille letters on a small piece of paper and taped to the item. I use to have a really good memory and knew how much I had of what and where it was without having to label. Since becoming a mother my memory lapses are becoming more and more frequent. I really need to be better about labeling the items that aren’t so obviously identifiable by their shape and the sound the contents make when I shake them.
My hands have traversed all three shelves and there’s no sign of the pie mix. “Hmm, what about brownies?” My daughter gleefully agrees to chocolate brownies so I begin searching again.
Eureka! I find a boxed item that looks to me like it could be brownies. It does feel a little light though for brownies, perhaps it’s a cake mix. Holding the box out before my daughter I ask, “Baby, what’s the picture on this box? Does it look brown like chocolate?” “it’s pink,” she replies. Immediately I remember that I did buy a strawberry supreme cake mix a few months before for her birthday. I didn’t use it then because she decided she wanted a chocolate cake so I made one from scratch.
Well let’s see. I peel open the box, tear the cellophane bag, and sniff. Sure enough, it smells like strawberry. Of course these packages don’t come with Braille or audio instructions so I put my husband to work on the computer. He types in www.directionsforme.org into the browser and begins a search for “Duncan Hines strawberry cake”. He clicks on the Strawberry Supreme Cake and reiterates the directions to me.
“It says here you need one and one-third cup of water, one-third cup of oil, and two eggs. You’re supposed to preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake in a greased 9 x 13 pan for 33 to 36 minutes.”
Before I begin gathering my baking paraphernalia I roll alongside my wall oven, reach up to the flat digital control panel, and lightly glide my fingers across until I find the sticker labeled in braille as “bk”. I press the bake control and scoot my fingers over to the right where they locate the brailled number pad and enter 350. I hear the oven click on and feel the stream of air that circulates from below the door.
As my husband gets one of the glass pans down from the upper cupboard, I begin gathering everything I’ll need. Into the center cupboard under the island I go, feeling for the mixing bowl I want and pulling out the hand mixer too. I reach for the electrical outlet between the oven and stovetop. When I contact the edge with my middle finger, I use my thumb and first finger to firmly push in the mixer’s plug. Inserting the beaters into the mixer is a breeze because they only go in one way and they lock into position. Next I shuffle my hands into the drawer where I keep my measuring cups and spoons. Quickly I locate the one-cup and one-third-cup measures by the Braille on their handles. Once I’ve collected two eggs from the fridge and the large plastic bottle of olive oil from the pantry shelf, I begin to consider which parts of this process I can safely have my daughter do.
“Baby, go wash your hands please. And make sure you use soap.” I hear the bathroom faucet run for five seconds before she bounds back into the kitchen. “Did you use soap?” I ask. Let me smell.” “Oh!” she exclaims and rushes back to the bathroom. “here mommy, smell,” she announces as she raises her chubby hands to my nose.
We start by greasing the pan so it will be ready when we need it. I pour a little olive oil into the bottom and we use our fingertips to make sure it gets spread all over the bottom and around the sides. Maya grabs us a paper towel and we wipe our hands before beginning on the cake.
She is just tall enough to reach the front half of our Corian counter tops. Passing her the cellophane bag of cake mix, I instruct her to dump it into the bowl. I hold the edge of the bowl because I’m afraid her arms will bump the side and send the bowl tumbling. Next I hand her the one-cup measure and we shift over to the sink. Although she can reach the spout, I need to turn on the water control. Then, as she fills first the one-cup and then the one-third-cup, I hold the bowl nearby so she doesn’t dribble the water. While still at the sink I crack two eggs into the bowl, handing Maya each empty shell for the trash.
Of course she complains, “Mom I wanted to do that.” I can tell she’s got a pout on her face from the sound of her voice. “I’m sorry baby. Maybe next time we’ll get a separate bowl and you can do the eggs.”
For our final ingredient I hold the one-third cup measure over the bowl while she carefully pours it full of oil. Now it’s time for her favorite part, the mixer. I stabilize the bowl with my left hand and place my right over her hand on the mixer. We begin on the slowest speed with me showing her the small circular motions made around the bowl to make sure everything is mixed well. I bravely turn the speed up one notch and instruct her to keep the mixer down against the bottom of the bowl.
As soon as the mixer stops, she dunks her fingers into the batter. “mm, it’s yummy mom. Wanta try it?” “Sure why not!” Knowing that we won’t be offering this cake to company, I stick my finger in too. It really is yummy. I hand her a beater to lick while I run my finger over the other one collecting the clinging yumminess.
After rinsing the beaters and washing my hands, I carefully pour the cake batter into the greased pan. Maya is still at my elbow steeling fingerfuls of batter.
This reminds me of a time a few weeks earlier when Maya and I were preparing dinner. Her job was to hand me the pierogies while I placed them into the microwavable dish. Feeling the pierogies I noticed that the first two or three had a corner missing. At about the time of this realization, I hear Maya chewing on something. Here she was taking a nibble of each pierogies as she pulled it out of the bag. Once since the pierogies incident I caught her taking a bite of raw bacon as she aligned the strips in the frying pan for me.
When I’ve gotten all the batter I can out of the bowl, I jiggle the pan to make sure the batter gets into all four corners and any finger prints are erased from the batter’s surface. Into the oven it goes for 33 minutes. I set the timer on my iPhone and head off to another chore while Maya plants herself on the couch in front of the TV.
When the timer bleeps from my iPhone on the island counter, my husband helpfully removes the cake from the oven and places it on the cooktop. Carefully I run my fingertips over the cake’s surface and it feels firm. No moist areas and the corners feel firm but not burnt. I grab a toothpick from a kitchen drawer and insert it into the cake’s center. The pick feels clean so my husband turns off the oven.
“Maya, do you want to come look at your cake.” When she arrives at the cooktop I ask her if she wants us to icing it or just eat it as it is. I’m hoping she says it’s fine the way it is. That means we can cut it and enjoy it while it’s still a little warm. Surprisingly she opts to leave it as is. I thought for sure she would want to ice it and then cover it in sprinkles.
Grabbing three pieces of paper towel, I cut us each a piece. It’s so light and fluffy and smells amazing.
The warm strawberry flavor is so refreshing for this time of year. It’s a definite success despite the Maya germs.
“This would be even better with real strawberries baked inside,” I suggest to my husband as I munch on my extra large piece. He counters, “It would be really good with fresh strawberries and whipped cream on top,” just before he asks for a second piece. We may just have to try that next summer.