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According to fair organizers, if it weren’t for the fact that the Texas State Fair runs twice as long as the Minnesota State Fair, the latter would be considered the biggest state fair–attendance-wise–in the country. Based on our conversation last night, I don’t think Brian would argue that claim. He estimates he’s met at least half the people who live in Minnesota plus a number of others who have arrived from neighboring states for the festivities.

Brian, who has attended a number of state fairs in recent years, seems genuinely amazed at how many people are packing the fairgrounds in St. Paul from early in the morning until late in the evening. He is, without a doubt, having fun yakking it up with the fair-goers, but the large crowds do make it difficult for him to slip away from his work to pursue his quest to sample every food-on-a-stick offering at the fair.

Never fear. He’s a Woltkamp and not easily deterred from the task at hand (except, maybe, by pretty girls). He’s a man on a mission, a 23-year-old bottomless pit with an appetite for something more exotic than mere burgers and fries. He’s busy, but, this weekend, he kept his digestive system even busier. So, with a nod to his tenacity and his iron gut, I share with you his findings in the order they were eaten. I hope you yourself are not eating right now.

First up, Meatballs-on-a-stick, a hearty offering of meatballs rolled in garlic bread crumbs, skewered on a stick, and deep fried. Brian declared them “not bad,” but said little else. Obviously, not a terribly memorable option. He made no mention of dipping sauce, but I think, if you’re going to eat one, a bit of marinara on the side might make the thing more palatable. Maybe.

Meatballs-on-a-Stick

Meatballs-on-a-Stick

Next, Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick. This one is definitely novel. According to Brian, a hard-boiled egg is impaled on a stick, encased in sausage, hand-dipped in a batter tasting strongly of nutmeg, and finally deep fried to a golden brown. His assessment: “intense.” He seemed particularly put off by the nutmeg. If you ask me, that’s the least of this dish’s problems.

Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick

Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick

On to the next offering: a Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick. Amazingly enough, this one is not fried. It’s served cold and is exactly what the name and the picture suggest. A Twinkie, punctured by a Popsicle stick, covered in butterscotch. Brian wasn’t impressed. Specifically, he called it “gross.” Wouldn’t you think that at some point the folks as Hostess would get tired of having their snack cakes defiled?

Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick

Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick

After the sugar rush from the Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick, Brian opted for a truly unique–and savory–offering found only at the Minnesota State Fair: Hot-Meal-on-a-Stick. And here, I must give the good folks of Minnesota their due. Just when you think there cannot possibly be any other way to combine meat, tater tots, and a can of cream-of-fill-in-the-blank soup into another casserole or repast of any kind, the clever cooks up there devise Hot-Meal-on-a Stick, the extremely popular offering in which meatballs and tater tots are lined up alternately on a stick, dipped in batter, and…wait for it…wait for it…deep fried. Lest the cream-of-whatever soup feel left out, they serve that on the side. Brian said he wasn’t sure what the soup was cream of, but it looked like “snot.” Brian has a way with words, doesn’t he?

Hot-Dish-on-a-Stick

Hot-Dish-on-a-Stick

Brian declared the next speared entree on his agenda, “Delicious!” and “a nice break from fried food.” The Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick is essentially what the name implies–chunks of steak, potato, onion, and bell pepper skewered on a stick and grilled–a steak dinner on a stick. Nice. Except for the pasty white dinner roll smooshed onto the end of the stick. Couldn’t they just leave well enough alone? Still, Brian gave it two thumbs up.

Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick

Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick

Next stop? A Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick. I have to say, I’m fascinated by this one. Considering the folks in any food booth on the fairgrounds are feeding hundreds, if not thousands, of people in a short amount of time, how in the world do they manage to find the time to get the potato to spiral down the length of the hot dog so evenly? That must take forever. How many volunteers does it take to prep all those Texas Tater Dogs? And how many different ways–you may be thinking to yourself–can a Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick be seasoned? Well, I’ll tell you. Four: Parmesan garlic, lemon pepper, seasoned salt, and TNT. If you know my son, you know he ordered TNT. Apparently not many folks choose that option. Brian said the woman who took his order raised her eyebrows at him and asked if he was sure. Was he sure. YeeHaw! Stand clear, Robin.
Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick

Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick

Before he stopped for the night, Brian went international. The Chinese-Chicken-Dumpling-on-a-Stick and the General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick both received a “tasted-like-it-came-0ff-a-crappy-Chinese-buffet” rating, but the vegetable Eggroll-on-a-Stick got rave reviews.
Chinese-Chicken-Dumplings-on-a-Stick

Chinese-Chicken-Dumplings-on-a-Stick

General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick

General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick

Egg-Roll-on-a-Stick

Egg-Roll-on-a-Stick

Brian ended the weekend with Ostrich-on-a-Stick, which he called a “karate kick to the innards.” When I talked to him late last night–a three full hours after the encounter–he claimed to be still feeling the effects and planned to stop by the tent where volunteers were passing out Pepto Bismol. In fairness to the ostrich, it could have been the Twinkie.
Ostrich-on-a-Stick

Ostrich-on-a-Stick

See, I told you you’d be better off not eating while reading this.
As for you, son, twelve down. Forty-seven to go.
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Now that Teddy has been living here for more than two months, I believe we have a clearer understanding of one another. At least I feel safe saying I understand him better. It’s not that hard. He’s a pretty straightforward little guy. No pretenses. No wavering. He let’s you know how he feels about something and then has no more to say on the subject. After all, that’s the way it is. End of story.

Teddy’s Tenets:

  • Salmon and rice will not be tolerated in any form–canned or kibble–under any circumstances. Amen. Pass the lamb.
  • Bodily functions can never be performed in the presence of any of the following: damp grass, wet cement or flagstone, drizzle, rain, thunder, lightning, or lightning bugs. Ever.
  • And while we’re on that topic, privacy is preferred during any and all nature calls. Decorous human beings will avert their gaze while bodily functions are being executed.
  • No tree, bush, flower, tomato plant, asparagus fern, strawberry patch, fence, or wood pile is sacred. Have a  pooper scooper and a plastic bag on your person at all times.
  • Glorious daytime weather must be savored with long periods of rolling in the grass, sneezing, and sleeping in the shade. Any attempt to force other behaviors during such times will be considered sacrilegious and ignored accordingly.
  • During thunderstorms–or any time lightning is within a 20-mile radius–a human being’s presence is required. Preferably mom’s. Snuggling welcome.
  • Snoring and farting are part of the package. Deal with it.
  • Belly-rubs, ear-scratches, and hugs are actively encouraged and always accepted.
  • Attempts at playing chase, catch, or Gotcha! will be met with a blank stare. A good brushing is preferred.
  • Walkers and bicyclists passing on the street out front must be acknowledged with a half-hearted woof. People in the backyard must submit to a full-blown bark or barks. All other vocal emanations are discretionary and meted out accordingly.
  • Ear cleaning and trips to the groomer will be tolerated only if extravagant displays of affection are provided afterwards.
  • Goofy neckerchiefs will be grudgingly tolerated for short periods of time.
  • Failure to extend invitations for all car and/or truck outings will result in The Very-Sad-Dog-Eyes Treatment and other guilt-inducing behaviors, as required. Consider yourself warned.
  • All humans, dogs, and cats must be welcomed as friends. Or ignored.

Like I said, straightforward. He’s a pip.

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IMG_0056

IMG_0057

Actually, if you count the egg-sandwich-on-a-stick Tom fixed for Brian before he left for Minnesota Wednesday morning, this posting would be about Day Two, but I’ll not confuse the issue.

Brian and Kyle arrived at the fairgrounds early yesterday morning, the first official day of the fair, to a “whirlwind of delicious fried smells.” I’m guessing Brian’s use of the word “delicious” in his Tweet was tinged with a bit of sarcasm, but I forgot to have him clarify that when I talked to him a bit earlier. What I did learn was professional obligations kept the two of them from exploring their surroundings yesterday as they had planned, but they did manage to try two novel food-on-a-stick offerings before heading back to the hotel late last night.

The first was gator-on-a-stick which, according to Brian, “wasn’t bad.” When pressed to elaborate, he said it “tasted like pork sausage.” Actually, had the sign not announced that the offering was, in fact, alligator, it sounds like–from Brian’s subsequent description–no one would have known the difference. Phooey. I was hoping for something a bit more exciting. A bit more exotic. Swampy, even. At least, I suppose, we can take solace in the fact that he didn’t say it tasted like chicken.

Gator-on-a-Stick

Gator-on-a-Stick

The second food-on-a-stick they tried was a Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick. Yes, you read that right. Curd. Not curds. A single gigantic cottage-cheese-like curd impaled on a stick. Served hot. “Death,” he said when asked, “It tasted like death.” Yummm! Apparently, he was able to stomach only one bite before throwing the whole business–curd, stick, and all–in the trash. He didn’t even hang on to it long enough to take a picture. Rats. Maybe he can stalk a curd-lover or two between now and the end of the fair and get a picture. I want to see Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick. Not eat it, mind you. Just see it.

When I talked to him, they haven’t had a chance to go a-tasting yet today, but he promised they would. Stay tuned!

I’m extremely fortunate and grateful to have enjoyed a number of beach vacations in recent years. Beach chairs set up on the warm sand by resort staff, cloudless blue skies, palm trees swaying in the tropical breeze, the soothing sound of the waves lapping the shore, and, on many occasions, cabana boys bringing me flavorful drinks with chunks of fruit hanging from the rim of the glass while I recline under the shade of a thatched umbrella reading a good book. Ahhhhh. Does it get any better? Well…actually, yes.

Last week, I had the privilege of going to the beach on South Padre Island with my sister, Amy, my niece, Elisha, and my two great-nephews, Jesse and Cameron, ages eight and three respectively. For an hour and a half prior to our departure, Elisha filled zip-loc bags with food; loaded and iced a cooler big enough to have its own zip code; gathered beach chairs, towels, and umbrellas; filled water jugs; chased two excited little boys into their swim trunks; and schlepped all the aforementioned stuff (excluding the boys) outside to tie down in the bed of her truck, insisting the entire time she didn’t need any help. I was worn out just watching her.

After driving just over an hour to get there, Elisha parked along a residential street that ran parallel to the beach. We clamored out, doors open wide as the truck was unloaded into the hot, muggy Texas afternoon sunshine. Squirmy little boys were slathered head-to-toe in sunscreen before chairs, umbrellas, beach bags, and inflatable beach toys were hoiked onto every available shoulder, arm, and hip for the quarter-mile-plus hike down the street, over the sand dunes, and across the beach to a spot which was selected solely for its proximity to the walkway back over the dunes and back to the truck. Hey, you try dragging the monster cooler through the sand!

Within minutes, we had umbrella stands screwed into the sand, umbrellas up battling the wind, chairs unfolded and situated–along with the cooler–in the shade of the umbrellas, and towels unfolded and ready for use, all to the tune of, “Can we get in the water now? Can we get in the water now?” My sister can be soooo impatient.

I was personally ready for a beach chair, a fruity drink, and a good book, but it was not to be. Jesse and Cameron had other ideas, and none of them had to do with sitting in the shade.

Here, it must be said, that I had never been that far south on the Texas coast, and it was much nicer than I had expected. Granted, I wouldn’t want to be in South Padre during Spring Break, but I will certainly look forward to going back with Elisha and her family at other times of the year. The sand was clean and beautiful, the water was clear, warm, and free of seaweed, and the beach was busy, but not crowded. On that particular day, the current had created what Elisha called–for lack of a better term–a wading pool. Between the shore and a sand bar approximately 50 feet out, the water was no deeper than 18 inches. Also, because of the sand bar, and another approximately 50-75 feet beyond the first, the waves were tamer than they would have been otherwise, perfect for cautious eight-year-olds and fearless three-year-olds.

South Padre Island

South Padre Island

For what seemed like minutes, but turned out to be hours, we bobbed in the waves, tried our luck floating in the inner tubes, watched for the tiny fish we occasionally saw swimming around our feet, tried to hold our breath the longest, practiced backward underwater somersaults, and looked for seashells along the edge of the water. Occasionally, when thirst or hunger could no longer be ignored, we would head to the shade for a bit of rest and to raid the cooler for goodies. During one such raid, Cameron grabbed the bag of trail mix and, with a conspiratorial look in my direction, began plucking the M&Ms from the mix, healthy peanuts and raisins be damned. I smiled and said nothing. The prerogative of a great-aunt, right?

Jesse

Jesse (They don't come any kinder or sweeter!)

Cameron
Cameron (Yes, he’s a pistol!)

When someone finally did think to ask about the time, we were shocked to learn that it was well past 7 p.m. Time to gather up our belongings, drag ourselves and our plunder back to the truck, and get as cleaned up as possible (thanks to the jugs of water that Elisha had thought to bring) before meeting Elisha’s husband, Jesse, at one of the local restaurants for dinner.

By the time we collapsed into the chairs at the restaurant, I was exhausted, slightly sun-burned, sticky from the salt water, and had sand hidden where sand should never be hidden. As I sipped iced tea and snuggled a sleeping Cameron on my lap, I marveled that at no time during the entire afternoon had I been near a lounge chair, a book, a fruity drink, or a cabana boy, but I had undoubtedly just experienced one of the best days I’d ever spent at a beach. All because two of the sweetest, most energetic little boys on the planet had reminded me how much fun a beach can really be.

As I type, Brian is heading north to the Twin Cities for the Minnesota State Fair. While his primary responsibility is to execute the assignment Department Zero and Toyota sent him up there to do, his–and his traveling companion, Kyle’s–primary off-duty objective is to sample every one of the 59–yes, that’s right, 59–fair food offerings on a stick, supposedly the largest food-on-a-stick menu at any state fair in this great nation. Cue the anthem.

For the next seven to ten days, these two brave souls will selflessly sacrifice their waistlines and arteries to bring us the details of such novel offerings as spaghetti-on-a-stick, fried-alligator-on-a-stick, hotdish-on-a-stick, deep-fried-candy-bars-on-a-stick, and Pig Lickers (chocolate-covered-bacon-on-a-stick), along with the more traditional corn dogs,  cotton candy, and frozen confections that, as it happens, also come on a stick. I’m so proud. My job is to chronicle the entire gastric extravaganza for you in all its crunchy, gooey, burbly, acidic detail (Brian has promised pictures).

So, if you have the stomach, please join us for the fun. Tom, who never fails to put his snappy-ass spin on any new adventure, got into the spirit of the thing by serving Brian an egg sandwich on a stick this morning before his o’dark thirty departure.

Egg-Sandwich-on-a-Stick

Egg-Sandwich-on-a-Stick

Grab your Tums. It promises to be quite the ride.

Given the choice, I prefer to travel on anything but an interstate highway. I find interstate highways mind-numbing, with mile after mile of the same hideous fast food offerings and dirty gas station bathrooms, but sometimes I have no choice. Time and distance require that I get on the interstate and drive balls-to-the-wall to get to my destination. Such was the case on my recent trip to Texas, which began with a one-day, twelve-hour interstate dash from my house in Kansas City to my sister’s near Austin and ended with the same one-day, twelve-hour push to get back home.

To keep my sanity on such drives, I listen to audiobooks. For that reason–with the exception of the half hour or so it took me to drive through the glorious Flint Hills in Kansas, which would be absolutely impossible to ignore–I couldn’t tell you much of what I saw along the way. On the drive to Texas, I hung out in present-day Los Angeles the with characters in Jill Smolinski’s novel, The Next Thing on My List, and, on the drive back, I bounced back and forth between post-World War II London and the Channel Island of Guernsey while listening to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. With regards to the latter, if you have not read it yet, do NOT pass Go! do NOT collect $200! until you read it. Seriously. I’ve listened to it twice now, and I guarantee you I’ll read and/or listen to it again. Something I rarely, rarely do. It’s that good. I repeat. It’s that good.

Anyway, as you can well imagine, I was pretty wiped out after both days of driving–good books notwithstanding–and looked forward to a good night’s sleep. My sister had a bed all set up for me when I arrived at her house, and I wasted little time getting into it. About 3 a.m., I awoke groggily in need of a wee and immediately became alarmed. I couldn’t move. Where in the hell was I? The room was pitch black–seriously, not a single speck of light–and I was lying ramrod straight, completely surrounded…encased, really…by what? Where am I? Why can’t I move?

As the fog lifted, I remembered I was at Amy’s, and then I realized why I couldn’t move. I was sleeping on one of those double-decker inflatable mattress thingies, and the goofy damn thing had lost just enough air to turn me into a wiener on a bun. If I hadn’t had to pee so badly, it would have been funny, but I was stuck. Really stuck. You know how they tell you to remain calm in the face of adversity. Well, that thought never crossed my mind. After rocking back and forth a bit, I finally got my arms un-wedged from my sides enough to begin thrashing around like…well, like I don’t know what, but I guarantee you it wasn’t pretty. After a good deal of commotion and a few bad words, I managed to free myself and make it to the bathroom.

Problem solved, right? Wrong. It was only 3:30 a.m. I was still desperate for sleep, and my bed looked like it had given up the will to live. The electric air pump was sitting right there, but I’d never used it and had no energy or brain cells left to try and figure out how to get it attached, started, or stopped. Besides, if the mattress had a hole in it, it would just go flat again anyway, so I laid back down on the bed with my arms and legs spread wide. You know, like your childhood swim instructor told you to do when she was teaching you to back float, to increase your surface area on top of the water and all that…yeah, just like that.

The next morning, my sister popped her head in at o’dark thirty to wake me up–as if she really needed to–and said sweetly, “I think the mattress may have lost some air.”

You think?

I had really hoped to sit down and write today. I’ve had all these things rattling around in my head that I want to write about, but no time to give them form. I’m not complaining, really. Since I last posted, I’ve enjoyed a visit with a sister-in-law I rarely get to see; a few wonderful days of having Tom home on vacation; several fun outings with Tom, Carey, and Austin; a trip to a local farm for fresh sweet corn, green beans, peaches, and basil; lunches with good friends; and a couple of good movies. I’ve managed to get the dog groomed, the car serviced, a contract written for our fence project, an estimate for having some trees trimmed, the sweet corn and green beans from the farm frozen and stored, the laundry done, and my bags pseudo-packed for my trip to Texas tomorrow. Oh, and in the middle of all that I successfully crossed over to the dark side–chronologically speaking–without any major body part breaking, shriveling up, or falling onto the pavement. But today, I had really hoped to write…

It wasn’t meant to be. All good intentions evaporated as I flew around the house, arms waving, hair on fire, clock ticking, accomplishing…well, I don’t know what. In the middle of the chaos, as I’m trying to get out the door to meet a friend for lunch, I realize Teddy hasn’t been out to have a wee yet. Ye, gods! He’s normally not interested in going outside for any reason much before 9 a.m., but it was after 11! Surely, the poor little guy was about to burst, so I start clapping my hands and slapping my thigh, squealing, “Come on, Teddy! Let’s go outside, buddy!” and generally acting like I’d lost my mind. How could I be so distracted? And what was I going to do if he didn’t hurry up and pee? Holy cow, I was going TO BE LATE! After much effort, I got him heading down the stairs, out the door, and into the backyard. Whoops. Wait. I went running into the backyard, slapping and squealing; Teddy made it as far as the patch of liriope on the edge of the patio before throwing himself down in the middle of it with the biggest, most satisfied grin on his face you can imagine.

ARGHHH! Teddy and I have had a discussion about the liriope before. From my vantage point, it’s part of the landscaping–something IMG_0006[1]to be looked at, not sat on. From Teddy’s vantage point, it’s really thick, fluffy grass with little, smelly-good, purple flowers–a perfect spot for a pause in the sunshine. The first time he decided to park himself there, I fussed at him, and he reluctantly moved out into the yard. Since then, I’ve generally given up the struggle and allowed the indulgence. You have to pick your battles, right? But today, as he sprawled there grinning at me as I ran crazed circles in the yard, I had an epiphany. There was more to lying in the liriope than defiant behavior or ignorance of previous discussions. He was blissfully happy. I, on the other hand, was a raving lunatic. He was enjoying the glorious summer day. I was sweating like a whore in church. Even if he did have to pee, there was liriope to lie in. What was I going on about? He could whiz later. It could wait.

Oh, for crying out loud. Scoot over and let me sit down, will you?

This past weekend, we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday with a luau-themed open house. It was a terrific party. Friends and family came from all over the country to help her celebrate and to raise their glasses in toast to her.

Weeks before the party, one of my sisters-in-law  suggested the luau theme as a nod to my mother-in-law getting to go on her dream vacation to Hawaii this coming October, a start-the-celebration-early-whet-the-appetite type event. Brilliant. With the theme agreed upon, a couple of my other sisters-in-law and I sat down to plan out how we were going to turn a Midwestern suburban backyard into a Hawaiian island. Ideas flew fast and furious, and in the middle of the melee, I jokingly said, “I’ve seen Sandra Lee make a volcano cake that really smokes…I could do that.” Snort.

Apparently I didn’t snort loudly enough because the gals gathered around the table immediately jumped on the idea. “Wow, that’d be great! Can you do that?”

Wait…wait…I didn’t mean…huh?

For those of you who do not know who Sandra Lee is, she’s a tall, gorgeous, incredibly freakish, blond woman who has several cooking shows on Food Network. In a nutshell, Sandra’s a fruit loop. An entertaining fruit loop in an good-grief-I-can’t-believe-she-just-did-that kind of way, but a fruit loop, nonetheless, who dresses to match the curtains over her kitchen window and the color of the standing mixer on the counter behind her. A fruit loop who closes every show by sipping a cocktail as she goes through a long-winded explanation of the “inexpensive tablescape” she’s created that just happens to match her clothes, the kitchen curtains, and the standing mixer. The same tablescape that is taller than your average sixth-grader and easily more expensive than my first house. I can go on, but I won’t. If you don’t believe me, read what Anthony Bourdain wrote about her recently on his blog in a post called A Drive By Shooting. Anyway, Sandra’s schtick is “semi-homemade cooking” which means that most of what she “cooks” on the show comes out of a box or a package. She uses an expensive-looking chef’s knife to hack the boxes and packages open–which, I suppose, makes her feel justified in using the word “Cooking” in the title of her show–but the knife gets very little use otherwise.

Anyway, the aforementioned volcano cake is no exception to Sandra’s “semi-homemade” repertoire. Made from boxed cake mixes, canned frosting, and those aerosol cans of decorator icing, it truly is a pastry chef’s worst nightmare. It is, however, a five-year-old’s dream. It smokes. It’s covered in frosting. Lots and lots of frosting. And it smokes. Did I mention that? Tom wanted to know if I’d make one for his last birthday…but I digress.

The freakishness of its original creator aside, however, I have to admit the idea of a volcano cake as a conversation piece for a luau-themed party isn’t bad one, especially–I reasoned–if I made the cake and the frosting from scratch. All righty then.

The Friday before the party, I began baking the cake layers. Five in all: two 10″ round layers, two 9″ round layers, and a bundt cake. And here, I’m going to admit–after extensive searches through my recipes and a number of online recipes–I did make the cakes from a box. Or, more specifically, boxes. I’ve never been much of a cake baker, but of the cakes I used to make before going gluten-free, none seemed dense enough to withstand the weight of the other layers once they were all stacked atop one another in volcano formation. I felt pretty confident I wouldn’t have a lack-of-density problem with boxed cake mixes. All those artificial ingredients I can’t pronounce have to have some purpose, I suppose.

I did, however, make the frosting from scratch. I’m not a big fan of sweet frosting–plus, I really wanted to do something special for the big event–so I decided to do a cream cheese frosting instead of the typical butter cream frosting. Saturday night, I made nine cups of chocolate cream cheese frosting and six cups of white chocolate cream cheese frosting. The white chocolate frosting got divided up and colored red, orange, yellow, and green. Each color went into a pastry bag, and the whole lot went into the refrigerator until the next morning when I would take it to my in-laws where I planned to assemble the cake.

Before falling asleep that night, I began to worry that the masses wouldn’t like the cream cheese frosting. I fell  into a fitful sleep and woke the next morning at 5:30 to resume worrying. By 5:45, I was out in the kitchen trying to decide if it was worth the gluten-intolerant side effects I would experience if I taste tested the cake with the cream cheese icing on it. Luckily, Tom wandered into the kitchen about that time, offering to sacrifice himself for the cause, so I smeared a blob of the icing on one of the mutant 10″ layers I wasn’t using and asked for his thoughts. “It’s not what I was expecting,” he said sheepishly as he tried to lick the icing from the corner of his mouth.

Well, that’s all it took. If it wasn’t what he was expecting, then it wouldn’t be what my mother-in-law or any of her guests were expecting either. Within seconds, Tom was off to the grocery store for more butter and powdered sugar, and I was warming up my KitchenAid. By 9 am, I was showered, my car was loaded with the frozen cake layers and buckets of butter cream icing in all the required colors, and I was on my way to my in-laws.

I’m happy to say–after all the hoopla of getting the components of the cake assembled–the cake itself came together without much fuss. Most importantly, it was warmly received by the crowd for both its novelty (we did actually get it

The volcano cake (aka The Giant Chocolate Boob)

The Giant Chocolate Boob (aka The Volcano Cake)

to smoke) and its taste, and my mother-on-law seemed genuinely pleased. So, what’s the problem? Well, there was no problem until after the party when I saw the pictures of the thing. Viewed in person, it was a pretty respectable replica of a volcano. At least, I thought it was. In the pictures, it looks like a giant chocolate boob coughing up party streamers! Seriously. Take a look. Once again, just as I’m feeling pretty cocky about myself and my abilities, my ego gets side-swiped a la raisin on the white capris. I fear I will go down in family lore as the creator of the giant chocolate boob, particularly by anyone who didn’t see it in person. I can just hear future generations talking about the demented aunt who made the obscene birthday cake for her dear, sweet mother-in-law’s 80th birthday party. What a freak.

I’m happy to announce that my aunt, the wickedly witty expat who’s lived in Australia for the last 30 years, the same aunt who took me sailing with her on the Queen Mary 2 this past winter, now has her own blog. Read about life Down Under–and lots of other places (she’s a world traveler)–on The Meandering Matriarch.  Tell her I sent you!