Monday, June 28, 2010

First Public Appearance: Chocolate Joy Cake, Milk Chocolate Cake, Cherry Torte, Swedish Shortbread & Blueberry Muffins

I apologize for the delay in posting my recap of The Found Recipe Box’s first public appearance. It’s been a crazy week and my scanner decided it didn’t want to work for a while!

Last Monday night, I did a presentation about The Found Recipe Box project for the Visual Journaling Collective at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. There were about 25 people in attendance at the meeting, including two very special guests: my husband and my mom. I got a surprise the week before when I found out my mom would be coming to help me bake and to watch the presentation. She was a huge help in the kitchen and it meant a lot to have her there because there was a lot I had to thank her for (click here to read about how she got me involved in art). 

I included quite a few items for show and tell in my presentation including the two recipe boxes I’ve added to my collection, two recipe boxes I decoupaged years ago and use to store writing ideas and keepsakes, articles I’ve come across in my research for the project, the spreadsheet of all the recipes in the box, and the boards I made for my Dan Eldon emulation project. But the most popular ones were the treats I brought to share. I made five recipes: Chocolate Joy Cake, Milk Chocolate Cake, Cherry Torte, Swedish Shortbread and Blueberry Muffins. It was really nice to have an extra set of hands while trying to make five recipes in two days! After I finished speaking, we cut up the desserts, but the group couldn’t dive in just yet. Everyone had to draw their food before eating it. There was a lot of moaning and groaning as people began to inhale the irresistible smell of chocolate cake and shortbread, but soon the room became quite and everyone focused on completing their drawings so they could eat their desserts. 

 Artist Suzanne Hughes' sketch of chocolate cake

But my favorite part of the night was when people shared their own stories with me. That’s what I’ve loved so much about this project, is when something I’ve posted has triggered memories for someone else and they share their stories. Monday night I heard about food traditions from Europe, family recipe boxes, artist inspirations, and how people have related to something I’ve written about, such as the struggle to “let go of perfect.” It was so empowering to hear each person’s memories or feelings and I realized what an impact food has on our lives. Before I began this project, I had a challenging relationship with food. It’s something that we require to survive, but it can also be difficult to make good choices all the time, which can lead to feelings of regret and shame. I have an insatiable sweet tooth. I don’t like very many vegetables. And I don’t have a very adventurous palate. But since I’ve started this blog, I realize there’s a lot more to food than just the act of eating (and sometimes feeling bad about it). There’s a story embedded into every card in every recipe box across the globe.

One of the things I talked about in my presentation was the inspiration for my posts. I explained that it has been a very serendipitous experience. For every recipe I’ve posted, the story literally fell off the card as I pulled it out of the box. For some, this has been a more fluid process than others, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised how quickly the stories and recipes find each other. The Saturday before my presentation, my mom and I saw author Kate DiCamillo read at a library in the Twin Cities. If you’ve never read any of her books, I highly recommend checking her out. She writes kids’ books, but they are stories that resonate with adults as well. My mom and I recently read The Magician’s Elephant and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s one of those stories that reignite your belief in the impossible. I really needed that spark to relight the fire in my heart, and this book did the trick. And seeing her in person was just as inspiring as reading her books. One of the things she discussed was where ideas come from. She suggested that you take a ride on a city bus and pay attention to everything happening around you. One bus ride, she said, will produce more stories than you could write down in a lifetime. In fact, she has an essay on her website about this very topic. Her first book, Because of Winn Dixie, was born out of an experience she had walking out of a Winn Dixie and seeing a woman with a tambourine sitting on top of a 100-pound bag of dog food singing about the moon. The book didn’t come immediately after their meeting; it stewed in her head for a while until it finally poured out onto paper. But if she had never been paying attention to the world, if she had never taken the time to write down what she saw, Because of Winn Dixie would never have come to life. I always thought my life was mundane and uninspired. I never imagined that birds pecking holes in my house, falling off a horse, my dog digging holes in my yard, or organic chemistry could be more than just an annoyance – until I started to write the stories down. Sometimes the things we overlook because we perceive them as plain or boring can truly spring to life when we write them down (or pair them up with a recipe). 

I was recently told that a reader of my blog was inspired to pull out her family recipe box, write down the stories connected to the favorites, and make copies for each of her daughters. I love this idea! It’s something that I wish I had for all the recipes in my family and something that I hope to be able to pass along to my own children someday now that I’ve started collecting my stories. And it’s something that I encourage everyone to do for their own families. You don’t have to be a “writer” to capture those stories and keep them alive. Just put them down on paper and pass them along. The collection will become a cherished family memento that people will devour right along with the recipes themselves.

After drawing and sharing stories, we got to everyone’s favorite part of the evening: the food. Since we have several people in the group who are big fans of cake, I made two chocolate cakes. The first cake was a Chocolate Joy Cake. 

The recipe for the frosting called for an egg yolk (uncooked). I had horrible visions of giving the group salmonella so some other unpleasant stomach ailment, so I swapped out this recipe for my mom’s famous chocolate frosting that she always uses on our birthday cakes. It was a hit.  (Domingo's Chocolate Frosting found on page 81 in the Ghirardelli Original Chocolate Cookbook - Second Edition.  Author Phyllis Larsen.  Published by Ghirardelli Chocolate Company)

The second cake was a Milk Chocolate Cake. 

I was excited to try this one because it uses malted milk in both the cake and the frosting. It’s not an overpowering flavor, there’s just enough to give it a hint of malt taste. The day my mom and I made this cake, it was about 90 degrees outside and even with the air conditioning on in the house the frosting was melting faster than I could get it on the cake. So we spread on a quick layer then threw it into the fridge where it stayed until just before we left when we brought it out to do touch-ups, re-chilled it, then quickly put it in the air conditioned car to transport to the meeting location. 

Despite it’s less than perfect appearance, it was hard to tell which chocolate cake was more popular, the messy malt cake or the one with the famous frosting.

I also wanted to throw in some options for those people who aren’t huge fans of chocolate. The first dessert was a cherry torte, which was basically a cheesecake with a graham cracker crust and cherry topping. It too, was popular and was gone almost before I got to take a picture of it! 

The second option was Swedish Shortbread. I’m a huge fan of shortbread and this is a great variation of the basic shortbread recipe. It includes a dollop of raspberry jam and a light drizzle of frosting over the top. Delicious!

And finally, I offered an option for anyone who didn’t have a sweet tooth (I think my husband was the only one present that didn’t have an overwhelming tendency to hit the desserts) – blueberry muffins. Muffins are one of those foods that we tend to buy either pre-made or get one of the boxes that require only an egg and water or oil. But this recipe is just as easy as the box and rewards your extra effort with that wonderful homemade taste. 

As I began my talk Monday night, I was really nervous. It had been a while since I’d done any kind of public speaking. But as I talked about this project, which has become such a huge part of my life and is something that is very dear to my heart, the nerves were replaced by excitement and I gained strength from every face in the crowd, especially my husband and my mom. And it helped that the group I was speaking to was so encouraging and supportive and very excited about cake! I’d like to thank Roz and all the members of the Visual Journaling Collective for giving me the opportunity to share my project and all the stories I’ve collected along the way. I had a blast! Also, thanks to my mom and Ryan for coming out to support me, you guys are the best. I hope to have more opportunities to share this project with people. And when I do, I promise to bring treats! 

A few other members of the group posted pictures from the presentation on their blogs and can be viewed at the links below:


  1. so proud of you, woman! let me know when i can take you out for a celebratory drink/treat. -- sara

  2. Great post as always Molly! Monday was a wonderful evening and I look forward to the next public appearance the Recipe Box makes!