Saturday, February 5, 2011

Are You Ready For Some Footballs?

Foot-cake-balls, that is.  

It was at a birthday party two years ago celebrating my friend Liz and me that I first tasted the delicious wonder that is the cake ball (thanks, Susan!).  It tastes like cake but it is also ridiculously moist and (better yet) covered in chocolate.  

I have to work at the restaurant this year during the Super Bowl, but my husband gets to go to a party so when I was at the grocery store the other day thinking about what treat to pick up for him to take, I found myself in front of the baking chocolate and it hit me: foot-cake-balls!  It might be the greatest Super Bowl treat since Doritos.  Or the cutest, at least.  

There's still time if you want to try the recipe for your own party:

First, bake a cake according to the box directions (and try to keep an eye on your dog to avoid  a mishap like the one witnessed by the bottom left portion of this cake).
Next, I cut the cake into squares because I thought it would make it easier to put in the mixing bowl (which you will do while the cake is still a bit warm).
Since I knew I was going to use milk chocolate for the shell, I narrowed my cake choices down to chocolate fudge and yellow cake, ultimately going with chocolate chocolate because, well, mmmmm.
I left the edge of the cake because it gets a little crusty in the oven and crusties in cake balls are not delicious kinds of surprises (and I had to have something to taste-test).
Mix the cake with one container of frosting.  In hindsight I would have used less than a whole container but more than half, to preserve more of the cake flavor while still making optimal moisture.
I used chocolate fudge to go with my theme of chocolate and chocolate.  I used the hand-me-down mixer I got for Christmas from my brother and sister-in-law and it worked like a dream!  Grown up hand-me-downs are so much better than when I was a kid and all I got was old snow suits, bikes with banana seats and training bras.  
Cake + frosting + Kitchen Aid =  this delicious play-dough type mixture, which you can form into balls of all shapes and sizes, as seen below:
Once the balls are formed, put them in the freezer for a couple hours or over night
When you're ready, melt your baking chocolate or almond bark, or whatever you like to use, according to the package directions.  I melted mine in a mixing bowl over a saucepan with shallow boiling water because it keeps its melted state as long as you need.  
Use a toothpick to dip your frozen cake balls into the melted chocolate (this is why it is important for them to be frozen, otherwise they will fall right off the toothpick and be very difficult to manipulate).
I found it helpful just to leave the cake ball on the toothpick until the chocolate hardened and go back to refill the hole it left later.  
For the laces you'll want white icing.
You can buy little decorating icing packs at the store but I'm too cheap for that so I just made some with stuff I had at home: 1 egg white, 1 1/3 c. powdered sugar and less than a teaspoon of vanilla extract (admittedly, I didn't measure it).  Just mix the ingredients in a bowl with a whisk and pour it into a small zip-lock bag and cut off a little piece of the corner for decorating.  

If the icing is too thin, just keep adding powdered sugar until you think it will be easy to control (I learned that nifty trick during the gingerbread making competition at my husband's parent's house at Christmas time, where they refer to icing only as "glue," or "paint.")

And now we have foot-cake-balls!

Crunchy chocolate shell with moist chocolate fudge on the inside.  So delicious! (Absolutely not nutritious but, hey, it's a party).

Friday, February 4, 2011

Garment Shops and Restaurants

I have been reading this book* lately about what it is exactly that makes successful people, successful.  The other day I was reading the stories of some successful clothing manufacturers from the early 20th century.  The author explained at a certain point the critical nature of being in that business in New York City in that particular generation as opposed to having the kind of job where you just woke up and went to work for someone else every day for thirty years without ever "learning market research and manufacturing and how to navigate the popular culture and how to negotiate with the Yankees who ran the world."  Jobs as day laborers and domestics and construction workers, or working in the fields of the big fruit and vegetable growers.  Because at that time people were purchasing clothes at an alarming rate, mostly for the first time since they had previously been accustomed to making their own at home or paying high prices for tailor-made clothes, and the fashion industry was making its first big boom in the United States thanks to the industrial revolution and Jewish immigrants from Western Europe who could do the work well and cheap.

Being a garment worker in that time and place was not more glamorous than construction or day labor jobs by any means, "but as a garment worker you were closer to the center of the industry.  If you are working in a field in California, you have no clue what's happening to the produce when it gets on the truck.  If you are working in a garment shop, your wages are low, and your conditions are terrible, and your hours are long, but you can see exactly what successful people are doing, and you can see how you can set up your own job."

Hang on tight if you have no idea where I am heading with all this.

Last time I posted I said I was going to tell our story and I think this is as good enough place to start as any: our seemingly menial jobs that could turn out to be the steppingstone to something huge.

I have a college degree from a decent four year University and even some graduate school work under my belt, but since I graduated with the expensive piece of paper that qualified me as a professional, the only thing I have really done professionally is wait tables.  My dad thought I was flushing my degree down the toilet, of course, and I was embarrassed about that for a long time.  I was constantly trying to find that something I could tell people I was moving on to so they wouldn't think this was all there was to me.  I really cared how people perceived me.  Then I stopped caring so much and my dad gave up hope that I would ever do anything with my degree and I ended up meeting some really great people along the way.  Really, I just discovered that this job gave me the things that the author of my book thinks are the keys to finding one's work fulfilling: complexity, autonomy and a correlation between hard work and reward.  I interact with hundreds of people in a given week and learn and refine relational skills, hospitality and even cooking.  The better I am at my job the more money I make and the schedule of a server is one of the most flexible there is outside of working for yourself.  Restaurants are not just places where people go to nourish themselves, they are where people celebrate significant life events and conduct matters of business, and I get to be a part of that.  Perhaps one of the most interesting and fateful parts of my job is who I meet.  The last place I worked I had the privilege of winning the favor of a couple of business men who became regulars, then friends, then a critical part of helping my husband and me get this church house.  When I started working at this restaurant in our small town, within the first week I was serving lunch to almost every member of the Chamber of Commerce.  "There is a lot of power in this room," the restaurant owner said.  My point is that I feel like I am at the center of the garment industry in the early 20th century.

Then there is my husband.  He went to a reputable two year technical college and worked for an auto dealership for a while before opening his own small automotive repair shop.  Auto mechanics are not exactly white collared, but they fix the cars of the people wearing suits and they have to know a fair amount about business and they have to deal with a lot of automotive oil.  I'll talk more later about how it all came to be, but the oil business is full of potential and we never would have cracked the industry if not for my guy who fixed cars for a living.

I don't even know how all of this will play into our future-- the people we meet even haphazardly, and the skills and knowledge we acquire-- but I believe it's not hurting.

*the book is "Outliers," by Malcolm Gladwell