All By Myself
When I was a very small girl–and I know had I had to have been very, very young since my grandmother died when I was five–my grandmother used to tell us stories about Daisy, Maisey and a Cow named Bongo. We would get up early on weekend mornings and crowd into the twin-sized bed with Grammie. We’d drink tea with milk and sugar, and she would share another of Daisy, Maisey and Bongo’s adventures.
In one such story, Daisy got locked in a secret closet in an old mansion. All the adults came and tried to get her out. They beat on the door which was covered in wallpaper and looked like a part of the wall. They pounded with their fists. They yelled in their adult voices, although I still have no idea what they thought yelling would accomplish. After the adults all backed away to regroup, Maisey looked carefully at the wallpaper, and she saw a small catch cunningly hidden in the pattern of the wallpaper. She pressed the latch and, voila, Daisy was freed.
Bongo did not figure prominently in this particular story line.
I majored in psychology and drama in college, and during our group therapy class, we were each asked to share the story or fairytale from our childhood that was the most meaningful or that had stuck with us the longest. The object was, whatever the story was, it shaped who we are now. I shared this particular episode of Daisy, Maisey and a Cow Named Bongo. My takeaway from that story, and the precept that informed my way of interacting with the world was that adults were big and loud but not very effective. It took a small child with the persistence and patience to see what was hidden to win the day. And how I put that into practice was that I never wanted help with anything. I could do things By Myself.
One of the things I could do pretty well by myself was read. I was in the second highest reading group in first grade: Sally, Dick and Jane. I really wanted to be in the highest reading group, the group reading On Cherry Street. Once a week, the second graders would come and read with us. During one of those reading sessions, I finished reading Sally, Dick and Jane to the second grader assigned to me. When Mrs. Hill called the Sally, Dick and Jane reading group later that day, I didn’t get up to join the circle. I sat right at my desk, because I had finished Sally, Dick and Jane and saw no reason to revisit it. Mrs. Hill was not amused, even when I explained that I had finished SD&J and was ready for On Cherry Street. Mrs. Hill did not have a good sense of humor. And she obviously did not believe that kids could do things by themselves.
When I was in third or fourth grade, I read about zebra cake. I cannot recall if it was a book by Beverly Cleary or by Judy Blume, but Our Heroine was at home alone and decided she wanted to make something special for the family. What she made was zebra cake. She found a can of whipped cream in the refrigerator and a sleeve of chocolate wafer crackers in the cupboard. I recall the description of the making of this cake was quite long. It may have been relatively short, but for me at the time, the entire book might have been about how this young girl made a special dessert All By Herself.
She sprayed whipped cream between each of the wafers and then poofed more cream all over the finished stack. As I recall, she did not do a perfect job, but she stuck with it and swooped on the cream with abandon. If anyone remembers this book, please let me know in the comments.
This simple story of a child at home alone, making a special dessert for her family all by herself resonated with me. Not so much because she made food–my passion for food and cooking did not really ignite until I left home–but because she did it alone and without help. She made it All By herself. I loved that. I still love that.
Orange Mocha Zebra Cake
So for Throwback Thursday Food, I have made you a version of Zebra Cake. An Orange Mocha Zebra Cake, to be precise. Make one in the flavors you enjoy, and let your kids help. Or let them make it all by themselves.
The whipped cream is only very lightly sweetened since Brownie Brittle is so sweet. Feel free to add more sugar to your cream if you want it a bit sweeter.
- 12 oz heavy whipping cream
- 4½ teaspoons granulated sugar, or to taste (I used Sugar in the Raw)
- 1 Tablespoon instant coffee or espresso powder, or to taste (I used Cafe Bustelo)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- heavy pinch of salt
- 7-8 squares of Brownie Brittle, your choice of flavors (I used chocolate chips)
- ¼ cup orange juice
- Place the cold cream, sugar, instant coffee, vanilla and salt in a bowl. Whisk until stiff peaks form. You can also do this in your stand mixer if you prefer. Be careful not to over-whip, but do make sure the cream is pretty firm.
- Barely moisten both sides of one piece of brownie brittle by brushing on a bit of orange juice with a pastry brush.
- Spread about 3 Tablespoons cream on the brittle.
- Dip another piece of Brownie Brittle in the orange juice and stack on top of the cream. Press down very lightly.
- Continue stacking layers of orange-juice-dipped Brownie Brittle with the coffee whipped cream. You can stack as high as you like and put the whole thing on its side, but I liked the idea of a cube. You make yours however you like.
- Frost the stack of Brownie Brittle with the remaining coffee whipped cream, being as decorative as you like.
- Cover and refrigerate for an hour or two before serving.
- Feel proud that you made it All By Yourself, and you didn't even have to turn on the oven.
I hope you like this version of zebra cake. Feel free to play with the flavors and make it your own. If you’d like to use the orginal Famous Wafer Cookies rather than Brownie Brittle, by all means go for it.
Thank you for spending some time with me today.
What was your favorite children’s story, and why do you think it has stuck with you?
Take care, and have a lovely day.