va va voom, va va vegans: part two

Now comes the part where I confess my guilt.

According to Accepted Hostess Protocol (AHP), when you invite people to your home, you’re supposed to wait on them. While this does not always entail gently waving palm fronds to keep delicate ladies from wilting in summer heat, strategically tossing grapes into eager mouths, or kissing toe rings (yes, I did all of these things), it usually means you should do most of the cooking.

Which is what I fully intended to do — but sometimes you are simply so enthralled by someone else’s culinary techniques and flair, you find yourself watching and snapping photos instead, and then begging for more.

For a couple of years, I had heard tell of The World’s Best Baker — this man of mystery who conjured up recipes, took beautiful photographs of the process and then blogged about it. This man who made a deep, dark, rich Guinness Cake, who seemed to revel in whipping up salads and dressings from ingredients magically appearing in his fridge, this stalwart, erudite vegan virtuoso feeding a brilliant author who recently won a prestigious literary award.

  Chef David shows off his famous Lemon Cake.

If such a man came to your house, would you not want to sit back, observe, and absorb as much as you could?

Actually, Tanita and David work beautifully in tandem, a kind of yin and yang of plant-based foodie experimentation. For the Lemon Cake, Tanita read off ingredients for her Baker Man; throughout, there was quiet attention, occasional commentary, the unfolding of a well-practiced dynamic.

Lemon Cake is something they eat maybe once a year; it’s rich and contains butter, buttermilk and eggs, things not in keeping with their usual vegan diet. David got the recipe from a coffee shop where he worked while in college, and he normally bakes it in two loaf pans. We used two 9″ cake pans lined with parchment, and it turned out fine. Check it out:

First, he peeled the rinds of five lemons (so masterfully, I might add), then processed them with all the dry ingredients except the sugar:

Unsalted butter was then combined with the sugar in another bowl, and eggs were added one by one. Dry ingredients were then added alternately to the butter/sugar mixture with the buttermilk.

  I love a baker who smiles at his batter.

This is a suspension cake; the lemon peels need to be coated with flour, the sugar coated with butter and egg — when combined in this way, you get a nice even-textured cake (no lemon peels sinking to the bottom).

Super supreme lemon squeezing hands.

The glaze consisted of lemon juice and sugar; for this step, Tanita gleefully stabbed the cakes with a skewer to allow the glaze to caress every crumb. (Though she seemed inordinately enthused about working with said sharp object, we will withhold further commentary to spare the innocents.)

Pouring the glaze.

By now, you might well be very curious as to how this all tasted. Are you salivating, imagining the tartness of lemon? And the sweetness of sugar, richness of golden butter — are you dreaming happy cake dreams, dreams of friends, celebration, childhood?

Len happily packed away two slices, something he rarely does so late in the evening. He said this cake reminded him of his grandmother’s vanilla cake, not so much in flavor, but in texture. He liked the chewiness of the lemon rind. As a boy, he looked forward to visiting his grandmother because she’d usually have his favorite cake waiting for him.

As for me, I found the cake similar to a lemon bread recipe I used to make; the glaze was the same, only my recipe doesn’t call for buttermilk. It’s definitely a divine indulgence, to be saved for special occasions, and now, of course, Lemon Cake will always be associated with that singular day Tanita, David, and Geri came to visit. Who can top such a sweet memory?

Nom nom all the way.

Do I sound spoiled? Yes, indeed. These are houseguests you’ll want to invite over any time. Along with their cake baking, listening to T&D was endlessly entertaining. If someone taped Len and me on any given day, there would be a preponderance of caveman grunts and monosyllabics. If someone taped T&D, on the other hand, it would be techno-savy meets hyper-wired Food Network meets Library of Congress meets international intrigue. Or not. I wouldn’t be surprised if either was a Russian spy or gastronomic shapeshifter.

What of Tanita’s lovely mom, you ask? Now, I did extol her warmth, cuddliness, and overall beauty in Part One, but maybe there’s a little somethin’ else you should know about our West Coast visitor.

“SMILE if you’re NOT wearing any underwear!”

Inside the phone booth, there’s this little sign. Most people can’t resist smiling, but Geri? Industrial-strength guffaw — which could be interpreted as, “not wearing underwear this minute, or at any other time in my entire life!” Not judging. Just saying. (And she was so good natured about my relentless teasing, which raises her up yet another notch on the awesomeness scale.) But she did say, “Oh, the freedom!” Could be a California thing. ☺

Did I mention David made us omelettes for lunch the next day? That he played a little Bach on the piano? (He was so sweet to indulge my every whim.)

Wouldn’t you like this man to cook your meals?

Tanita also taught me how to walk with confidence! (That girl has got one intimidating, swaggery strut.) She also looks fetching in a moustache and rubber gloves (don’t ask), can make bearfeet slippers materialize in various locations throughout the house, likes to tell lies and leave scary notes in her wake.

“Scarier than the godfather” — evidence of Tanita’s mischief.

I wonder if she’s found the giant flying ant I stashed in her luggage yet. About that, I do not feel guilty. ☺

Sigh, it is done.

♥ Some of you may have already read Tanita’s account of this visit. There’s always two versions to any story. Hmmm, who’s telling the truth?

♥ Do read this post about her CSK speech by Kelly Fineman, and
Tanita’s thoughts about this very special day in her life, with her best recall of what she said up on the dais. No wonder Kelly called it “magnificent,” and the audience interrupted with heartfelt applause halfway through.

♥ If you missed Part One of Tanita’s visit, click here.

♥ If you’d like to make the Lemon Cake, with or without a guest baker, click here for the recipe.

Tanita’s parting message on top, David’s on the bottom.

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.