Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Merry Wife's Completely Non-Authentic Bermuda Rum Cake

Rum Cake on Johnson Bros. Rose Chintz platter.
Several years ago, my sister and her husband went to Bermuda for their honeymoon. When they returned, she raved about the pink sand, the Dark 'N' Stormy cocktails, and (best of all) the Bermuda Rum Cake.

The cake apparently has its origins in the Christmas plum pudding. As far as I can tell, it's a boozy Bundt cake made with dark-as-molasses rum. I've been tempted to order the real thing online from one of the several bakeries specializing in this cake, but so far, have just resorted to making my own. It's quite possible that I have completely misinterpreted the essence of the Bermuda Rum Cake, much like the medieval illustrator who, after hearing a description of an elephant, drew this strange looking monster:

Either way, it's a great excuse for me to break out a bottle of Gosling's Black Seal Rum.

Here's the recipe.

Ingredients for Cake

1/2 lb. butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups light brown sugar (packed)
5 large eggs
5 oz. evaporated milk
1/2 cup dark rum
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Ingredients for Glaze

1/4 lb. butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup rum


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and shortening. Gradually add the brown sugar while beating at medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until just blended.

Stir together the evaporated milk and rum in a bowl. In another bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Alternately beat in the flour and milk mixtures to the butter and shortening, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stir in the vanilla.

Grease and flour a 10-inch (12-cup) Bundt pan. Scatter pecans at the bottom of the pan. Pour in the batter. Give the pan a good tap on the counter to make sure that the batter has settled.

Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, remove the cake from the pan to the rack. Let the cake cool for 45 minutes.

For the glaze, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the water and sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from heat and carefully stir in the rum.

Poke holes all over the top of the cake with a thin skewer, chopstick, or carving fork (the pecans will help disguise the holes). Slowly spoon glaze over the cake.* It will take several minutes for the glaze to soak in, so pour on a little at a time. Continue until all the glaze is used.

*Merry Husband suspects that superior results may be accomplished by injecting most of the glaze into the cake before pouring the rest over the top. So far, his theory remains untested.

Friday, August 30, 2013

One Last Hoorah for Summer

If only...
Well, here we are. One last chance to wear our white shoes, break out our most obnoxious Lilly shifts, and grill up various and sundry meat products in the great outdoors.

Except (today at least) the weather here isn't cooperating with my summer fantasies. Mother Nature has been reading the September Issue at the hair salon, and is craving tweed jackets and leather boots. Perhaps she will relent tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'm up for good fun. First on the list:

Any movie involving Simon Pegg, evil robots, and pubs just has to be good, right?

Later this weekend, I'll check out the Fells, a 2,575 acre state park about five miles away. And on Monday, I'm meeting up with a friend to run a road race in the town of Acushnet, near the old whaling town of New Bedford. My legs have been cranky with me lately, so while I don't expect to race well, it will be nice to catch up with my friend with a cup of coffee later in the morning.

This summer was excellent, and I'm sorry to see it end. Everyone keeps telling me that fall in New England is glorious, so perhaps the turning colors will be a good consolation prize. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy that last little bit of summer this weekend!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An Afternoon at the Concord Museum

I'm slowing learning to adapt to life in the Boston suburbs. We've moved into the house that the Merry Husband bought several years before we got married and had rented out when he moved to California. It's an old house by my West Coast standards, built over 100 years ago by a turkey farmer. Over the years, parts of the house have been renovated so that the sleek Modern (granite counters!) now co-exists with the charming Vintage (radiators! original tile!) and the hopelessly Outdated (please tell me that is not my closet). 

Everything here seems infused with history. As I write this, I can look out the window at the wooded remains of the now-defunct Middlesex Canal, which connected the port of Boston to the Merrimack River 27 miles away when it was completed in 1803. In the mornings, my running route takes me past a cemetery that looks like a set for Sleepy Hollow and a library that could double for Hogwarts. When I have insomnia, the old bell tower in the town center lets me know just how late (or early) it is.

But our town pales in comparison to the two giants of American history next door, Lexington and Concord, birthplace of the American Revolution. On a recent afternoon, the Merry Husband and I visited the Concord Museum, which had opened its doors for free for the day

Museum Entrance
Here, you can see one of the two lanterns that hung in the belfry of the Old North Church on April 18, 1775, the night of Paul Revere's famous ride.

Concord was also home to a different kind of revolutionary, Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1930, the contents of Emerson's study were moved to an exact replica of the room inside the museum.

As someone who keeps a book of Emerson's essays on her bedside table, I was especially thrilled to see this part of the exhibit.

The museum also houses other "period rooms", including this mock-up of an early 18th century chamber.

This was a multi-function room, used for dining and
entertaining. When not in use, the dining chairs were pushed
up against the wall.
I should have asked the docent what paint was used in this room. To my eye, the color looked very similar to Farrow & Ball's Breakfast Room Green.

The "Mid 18th Century Chamber" featured a red and white Queen Anne easy chair that I would love to have in my own home.

I have a weakness for Staffordshire figures, so was very interested to see this one of Uncle Tom.

In the 19th Century Parlor, these figurines graced the fireplace mantle.

I enjoyed admiring the museum's architectural details almost as much as the museum's exhibits.

View of the museum across the lawn.
If you find yourself in Concord for a day, you can easily work in a visit to the Emerson House, across the street from the museum.

Louis May Alcott's Orchard House, a must-see for anyone who loves Little Women, is just down the road too. For lunch or dinner, stop by the Village Forge Tavern at the Colonial Inn.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Road Goes Ever On

Crossing the Mighty Mississippi in
La Crosse, Wisconsin
There comes a point in every road trip when the thought of yet another long day of cows, corn fields, and cramped legs is enough to make you wish the travel plaza served martinis along with those Auntie Anne pretzels.

After two weeks on the road, scenery like this
seems more depressing than interesting.
So when one of my bridesmaids phoned to say that she would love it if we would stay at her house in Pittsburgh for a few nights, I danced a jig of pure happiness. A home-cooked meal and access to a washing machine? What could be better?

On our full day, we stopped at the P&G dinner for a huge breakfast of strawberry hotcakes. According to my friends, P&G is something of a local institution. Politicians, including President Obama, make a point to stop by for their photos ops.

Waiting for a table...
Reminders of Pittsburgh's industrial past are everywhere in the city.

You can even still ride the Dusquesne Incline, a funicular that once carried freight up and down Mt. Washington (aka Coal Mountain).

Mt. Washington
The station.

The ride up.
View from the top.
Going back down (not for the faint of heart).
Pittsburgh has done much to get past its Rust Belt image. Point State Park, located where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River, is a beautiful spot to spend an afternoon in the downtown district.

Heinz Stadium in the background.
We were entertained by the Plymouth Fife & Drum Corps, visiting from Plymouth, Michigan.

Poor kids. It was 100 degrees that day.
While in Pittsburgh, we ate Church Brew Works. Formerly the site of a Roman Catholic Church, the brewery now serves beers like the Pipe Organ Pale Ale and the Pious Monk Dunkel.

Some of the booths are old pews.

The altar.
It was so nice to catch up with our friends, and I was sorry to leave. Brooklyn, where we would stay for a week with the Merry Husband's parents, was a mere 8 hour drive away. Unfortunately for us, we arrived in the middle of a severe heat wave, and sight-seeing seemed daunting. On one day, we ventured out to Coney Island, where we stayed just long enough to get ice cream cones.

The Wonder Wheel at Coney Island.
I also forced the Merry Husband on a cupcake run.

Little Cupcake Bakeshop, Brooklyn
The evenings were a bit less oppressive. We took in Times Square...

And we admired the Lower Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Heights Promenade, just down the street from the church where we were married.

We're now back up in Boston (or rather, in a suburb about 10 miles from Boston proper). We've recovered from the trip and have unpacked most of our belongings. My car has finally been delivered, so I'm starting to get my bearings. I'm looking forward to exploring my new home and starting this new chapter of my life.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Zen and the Art of Subaru Maintenance

It's a zoo out there.
After Mt. Rushmore, our next stop was Sioux Falls, South Dakota, near the Minnesota border. At the suggestion of our motel's night check-in clerk, we decided to stop at the "world famous" Wall Drug Store. What, you've never heard of it? Me neither. Clearly, I'd been missing out.

A drug store might sound like an odd attraction, and indeed it was. However, this is no mere Walgreens. At 76,000 square feet, this Western-themed gift shop, soda fountain, and (yes) pharmacy is the kitschy tourist traps to end all kitschy tourist traps. Several hours before you reach Wall, South Dakota, you'll start noticing billboards like this.

After seeing these billboards every 100 yards for several hours, a kind of Stockholm syndrome sets in. You. Must. Go. And even though the summer temperature soars above 100 degrees, 5 cent coffee seems too good a deal to pass up. Once there, you wise up and order an ice cream float instead while admiring the taxidermy covering every inch of wall space.

From Wall, it was just a short drive to Badlands National Park. The park looks as though someone scooped up several thousand square miles of Martian landscape and dropped the craggy peaks and bright red canyons in the middle of the great American prairie.


The Badlands have yielded some impressive fossil finds over the years. Something, though, strikes me as a little off about this display.

Everybody walk the dinosaur.
Before getting back on the highway, we stopped to fill up our tank, only to find that the tank stubbornly refused to be filled. With the tank less than half full, we didn't have enough gas to get to Sioux Falls. Instead we rolled into Kadoka, South Dakota, population 654. According to the town's website, Kadoka is the Lakota word for hole in the wall. Seriously, people, you cannot make this stuff up.

So, there we were, on a 104 degree afternoon, at Osburn's car repair behind the Sinclair Gas, feeling vulnerable and somewhat inept and wondering just how long we'd be staying in Kadoka.

A sad day for the Merry Mobile.
At this point, our trip started to feel like the beginning of a clichéd Hollywood thriller. Luckily for us, though, we were in the hands of perhaps the world's last honest mechanic. Two hours and $77 later, our ventline was repaired and we were on our way. That evening, we celebrated our good fortune with beer and fried pickles at the Texas Roadhouse next to our motel.

Up next: the road home.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Don't Fence Me In

Road side poetry at a rest-stop in Montana.
From Seattle, we traveled east on Interstate 90. As we crossed the Columbia River in Eastern Washington, we spotted the Wild Horse Monument, 15 life-sized sculptures of galloping mustangs.

We continued on to Idaho, where we drove a scenic byway around beautiful Coeur d'Alene Lake. My mom told me later that my grandparents had gotten married here. The Late Great Gaga always did have great taste.

Our resting spot for the night was the charming college town of Missoula, Montana. Should you ever find yourself in Missoula, do yourself a favor and eat dinner at the Riverside Cafe. Their rhubarb pound cake wins for best dessert of the trip.

Walking along the Clark Fork River in Missoula.
The next day, we set out for Keystone, South Dakota, a 10+ hour drive away. My goal was to get us to the town just outside Mount Rushmore so that we could beat the crowds and the heat by viewing the monument first thing the following morning. This was, I think, a mistake. I wish now that we had added at least another day to the trip here and wandered south to see Yellowstone National Park. Someday, perhaps, we will get back and see the wilds and rivers of Montana not visible from the highway.

Instead we pressed on, stopping for BBQ brisket sandwiches in the quaint resort town of Bozeman. In the afternoon, we visited Little Big Horn National Park, otherwise known as Custer's Last Stand.

Last Stand Hill
From there, we took what we thought would be a short cut on the 212 highway through the Cheyenne reservation. 

Small Town America

The route turned into the loneliest stretch of road we had ever seen. For miles and miles, there were no cars in ahead of or behind us. There were no services either, and we were grateful we had filled up the tank before switching highways.

Lonesome Road


Until the cows come home.
In the evening, as we came into South Dakota, we started passing through small towns again.

Our stop for the night. (Thank God, no.)

We rolled into our motel at 11:00 p.m., grateful for a shower and comfortable bed. At 7:30 a.m. the next morning, we drove to the Mt. Rushmore Memorial. We arrived so early that the staff were still power-washing the walkways. We had the viewing platform to ourselves as we watched the light bounce from the granite faces.

Our next stop was Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a mere five hours away. We'd get there in the early afternoon, relax, stretch our feet a little, and grab a steak dinner somewhere. It was going to be great.

Next time: car trouble!
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