Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bucka's Cocoa Log

I've been talking about it for years. Wondrous, just sweet enough miracle out of my grandmother's kitchen. Maybe it was the way my mom and aunt sighed in reverence when it was presented, but Bucka's cocoa log has always seemed like pinnacle Christmas treat in my rather eccentric head. I searched every speciality bakery in Denver looking for its like, with delicious result but never quite finding its equal. Mom repeatedly told me making it isn't that hard, I could do it. I finally decided to make it the attempt. With help. I did my best to recruit my coworker Julia-- wondrous expert armature baker that she is. Julia had family obligations (two days before Christmas? imagine that!) so I was on my own.

As you know, my dad faxed me a copy of the recipe card which my grandmother clearly typed in a manual. Grandma, who we called Bucka for reasons nobody remembers left a whole box of incredible recipes from a time when nobody cared about carbs and the A1c didn't exist. Kinda hope nothing critical is lost under that particularly large black splotch on the second page.

As I shopped for the supplies yesterday, I kept hoping maybe Bucka's good spirit would stand at my shoulder as I mixed, whisked and folded, encouraging me. More likely, her real spirit would stand at my shoulder telling me "you know what's the matter with YOU?" That was really more her style. Let's face it, the lady didn't really get pleasant until her dementia was so bad she couldn't remember who we were. But.. I digress.

Yesterday, after the three lasagnas were put bed, I ran out of excuses and knuckled down.

Separate eggs? Ooooh dear. I use Egg Beaters, for Pete's sake. After one failure, I managed to separate all five. Beat whites into stiff peaks? I live in Colorado, high altitude and stiff egg whites don't mix. The only stiff peaks here have ski runs on them (oh STOP, get your minds out of the gutter!). I bravely pressed on. Kitchen Aid on high and whaddya know? Peaks are stiff!

Wait, what? Grease a pan, press wax paper into it and grease the wax paper? This seems excessive. Surely Pam will do, right? My 'this seems like enough' cooking/baking attitude kicked in.

Soon, I had a beautiful beige bowl of fluffy stuff ready to spread on the wax paper. Popped into the oven, fifteen nervous minutes and two phone calls to my mom and.....!


The directions said to turn the cake out onto a towel sprinkled with powdered sugar. 1) The cake wasn't fully cooked (as I should have noticed from the absence of browned edges) and 2) I tried to actually turn the unsupported pan over, like a jackass. A gooey chocolaty mess slid, sort of 'glopped' out onto the towel. Cheryl declared it a delicious gooey mess but you can't spread fudge frosting on a gooey... oh whatever! I started over.

More separating, peaking and folding. Beautiful beigy fluffiness ready for the pan. The properly prepared pan. I took no chances: GREASE, not Pam! After more consultation with mom, I cut a piece of cardboard, covered it with a towel, sprinkled that with powered sugar annnnnd! Successful flipping! Nervous but successful rolling followed, whipping the cream, more rolling and finally...

Bucka's Fudge Butter cream Frosting

Personally, if there were no other foods but this stuff, that'd be ok. Amanda says that instead of a wedding cake, she wants a cake made entirely of Bucka's Fudge Butter cream Frosting. Three tiers, please. It's orgasmic, seriously. If you're sitting on your couch eating Betty Crocker frosting from the tub, shame on you. Not because you're eating frosting, because you're eating crap frosting. This is a ridiculously easy recipe; I'm embarrassed to have used packaged frosting up to now. For the size of cake, it spreads a little thin so just to be careful (and to account for the mysterious disappearance of at least half the first batch, possibly related to all the fingers being sucked in my household), I made two batches.

I'm a great cook, but my presentation generally needs a little something (read as, my food is often ugly but delightful). I knew -- I hope-- that you'd want a picture anyway so.. TADAH! my rather messy but INCREDIBLY delicious Bucka's Cocoa Log

You know you want the recipe. What follows is as near a Bucka-to-English translation as I can manage. There are some things that don't come across easily. For instance, the recipe calls for a 'moderate' oven. No idea what the hell that means. Also, the word 'carefully'' is used A LOT when actually combining the cake ingredients so... yeah. Be careful.

Merry Christmas!

Bucka's Cocoa Log (Bunche Noel, Yule Log, Damn Awesome cake)


  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 3 tablespoons cake floor
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

Pre-heat 'moderate' oven to 375F. Grease a 10"x15" jelly roll pan. Line pan with wax paper, grease the wax. DO THIS, do not use Pam.

Mix sifted cocoa, flour and 1/4 cup sugar into a small bowl. Set aside.

In a small bowl, beat egg yolks until they are thick and lemon colored. Add vanilla and 1/4 cup sugar gradually. In a mixer bowl, using the whisk attachment, beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Beat one cup of sugar into egg white mixture. Fold egg yolk mixture carefully into white. Fold sifted cocoa, flour and sugar mixture gradually in with the other ingredients.

Spread cake mixture into jelly roll pan. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes or until the edges brown very lightly. (Christy's note: avoid the urge to check on the cake, even closing the oven door can cause this thing to fall)

Cut a piece of cardboard slightly larger than the jelly roll pan. Cover with a large tea towel. Sprinkle tea towel with powdered sugar.

Once the cake is out of the over, loosen the edges, then place towel covered cardboard sugar-side down on top of the pan, gently turn over. Cut off crisp edges, then roll cake up with the towel. Allow it to cool at least 30 - 45 minutes rolled up inside the towel.

While cake is cooling, in a chilled bowl, whisk whipped cream until frothy and make the frosting.

Fudge Butter cream Frosting

  • 2 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • dash of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons light cream (you can use whipping cream from the cake ingredients if you like)

Cream softened butter and 1 cup sifted confectioner's sugar thoroughly. Sift remaining cup sugar, cocoa and dash of salt together. Work these ingredients into creamed mixture alternating with cream and vanilla. If frosting is too stiff to spread, you may add a small amount of cream.

Unroll cooled cake and gently spread cake with whipped cream. Lightly re roll and chill for 30 minutes. Transfer cooled cake to your platter, spread with fudge frosting. For authentic 'log look' it's best not to smooth the frosting. Tool marks are a good thing. If desired, garnish with chocolate candies, maraschino cherries or mint leaves. Keep well chilled and covered.

Serves 8

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Barney is Part of My Christmas Culture

We're all molded by our experiences and shaped by our environments. I'm not different. My parents became Jehovah's Witnesses when I was about eight and my brother was five. We stopped celebrating all the normal American holidays. We didn't just put the practices on hold, our house was purged of any items involved with Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc.

Christmas mornings with my family are wonderful. We usually spend them with my husband's parents and his sister's family. In a beautifully decorated home, we share gifts, laughs and participate in their grand and not so grand traditions. I am very grateful to be included in their celebration.

Through no fault of Cowboy's family, I often feel like an outsider. Like an orphan invited out of kindness but never fully belonging. Though I cook and bake for the season and I know it's appreciated, I have often felt that I didn't really add anything to the festivities. There often seemed to be something held back, some parts that we all knew I couldn't fully appreciate because I wouldn't get it.

This year has been different. I've stopped moping. I gave myself a mental and spiritual smack to the back of the head. My family--Cowboy and my children and I-- have our own very rich, rather unique traditions. I realized I short-change us when I discount the little things we do. We don't make a big (expensive!) pilgrimage to Rockefeller Plaza. We fill our Netflix list with Christmas movies and watch them as a family. This year I had the privilege of introducing my 15 yr old son to Clark Griswold in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

I've learned that very few people stick to a set traditional plan each and every year. The Gilmore Girls taught me that rigidly adhering to such a schedule can rob some of the joy and spontaneity from the holidays. Some years I bake dozens of types of cookies and candy. Some, I simply bake thousands of one type. Nobody ever complains when you hand them a cookie.

I finally understand that it doesn't matter how much or how little money a family has, the point is the time you spend, the laughs you share and the love you feel. The year I volunteered full time in a food-bank, working 40 hour weeks leading up to Christmas taught me that you don't have to speak the same language to be comrades. You don't have to worship the same way to help others.

I've learned that what's important to your family is what matters, not some grandiose idea someone constructed of what the holiday ought to be. If it's important to your children to watch the Barney Christmas special (even when they're 18 years old), then that's your tradition. It has as much value as anybody's stately procession to Midnight Mass.

As I've mentioned a couple times (to everyone who will listen, shouting on the street corner, bugging people on Face book, Tweeting ad nauseum), my brother Alex, sister in law Deena and niece Lorelai are coming for Christmas. I'm serving a completely non-traditional Christmas Eve meal of smoked ribs and lasagna. I have no set plans for the evening or the morning that follows; it's our first Christmas together in 29 years. Over planning might spoil it all. I intend to hug them, love them and enjoy every minute our families spend together.

I grew up. I started celebrating again. Every time we did something that seemed silly but turned out great, we added a thread to the fabric that makes up our family's traditions and culture. It's a fabric we've woven ourselves. The lives we've made from it fit just right.

Happiness Is... (and some stuff that drives me crazy)

Lots of things make me happy but some things also drive me crazy. I think this calls for two bullet pointed lists, don't you?

First: Things that make me crazy:

  • It drives me crazy when I wake up at 5:48AM on the first day of my vacation. Retro was happy about it, though. It was all his fault anyway; he pushed me off the bed. How does an 18lb dog take up an entire king sized bed?
  • It drives me crazy that I cannot shut down my work-brain while on said vacation (and use that energy to think up great blog topics).
  • It drives me crazy when my children ask me if they can do things they aren't supposed to do at moments when I'm distracted. They then blink those big innocent blue eyes which I mistakenly gave to them in my genetic material and protest 'but you SAID I could, Mama!' Sneaky sneaky little children.
  • It drives me crazy that my To Do list never diminishes (I also love this, look for it later)
  • It drives me crazy when I am completely unable to think of good blog topics which causes me post bullet pointed lists instead (and the occasional Princess Bride reference) just to keep you reading
  • It drives me crazy when three hapless circus folk kidnap me while I'm out on my ride and drag me to the Gildor Frontier, OH and when my fiance tries to murder me on our wedding night. (see? You're still reading, aren't you?)
  • It drives me crazy when I procrastinate. I should work on that. Later.

Whew! I feel better.

Things that make me happy:

  • Bullet points in blog posts
  • Fuzzy (any shade) pink heart print pajamas
  • The crew at MY Starbucks who know exactly how much to put in my Shot in the Dark with lots of room
  • Wearing my pink heart-print fuzzy pajamas into Starbucks with my Cowboy. We've started making a run together before he leaves for work on my days off (the days I actually take off). Oh and the fact that they don't even blink when I do this
  • Inside Jokes that aren't that inside
  • Being an important part of an organization at work and a family at home
  • A To Do list that never diminishes
  • Deadlines (I do not stay focused without them)
  • Sometimes ignoring my deadlines
  • Sweaters
  • Singing Christmas carols unnecessarily loud in my car
  • Great sex!
  • Gilmore Girls Season 4
  • My grandmother's recipe for Cocoa Log (Bunche Noel for you, Julia!). My parents faxed me a copy of the recipe which looks very much like it was typed on a manual type writer. It makes me think that my grandmother may have typed it up. Even though it's a faxed copy, it makes me feel a little closer to her and this time of year, that's a good thing.
  • The thought of my brother and his family coming for Christmas, maybe the start of a new Christmas tradition?
  • The thought of the lasagna AND smoked ribs we're serving for Christmas Eve dinner (which I will be eating with my brother and his family)
  • Listening to my children describe their favorite Christmas rituals, none of which involve spending money.
  • Cheryl wiggling on the couch next to me even though I've asked her to stop about five times. This also drives me crazy. There's one sure-fire way to fix it.

I must go.. she needs to be tickled. A lot.

Writer's Mountain

There will be no blog post this morning because the only thing I can think about to write is my inability to write. Annoyingly unoriginal.

Look for a list of things making me happy soon.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Newsletter

I am a schlub.

Seriously, not only do I not send Christmas cards, there's no freakin' way I have the energy to write and to send a Christmas Newsletter. But I do have to say, these newsletters make me feel even more schlubby than usual. Not only do I not send Christmas cards, I also didn't design and create my daughter's prom dresses, Cowboy didn't run a marathon and none of my children graduated from the MIT/Harvard/Yale/Stanford Prepartory school two years early as the valedictorian.

Sometimes the evil snarky part of me wishes for the newsletters with the truth of things like, the reason hubby had the time to train for a marathon is that he's been out of work for year. The aftermath of the child pushed to graduate early with honors is a self centered, ulcer ridden ego maniac and $1,450,000 in school loans. Those custom designed and created prom dresses cost 5x as much as any ever purchased at Macy's.

I was going to write the 'real' Christmas newsletter and thought myself very clever until I realized that's been blogged to death. Call me unoriginal. Then I thought of writing Christmas Newsletters for various famous movies, mostly John Hughes films. Also unoriginal. Newsletters from my pets? Yawn. Argh.

I give. Here it is. The McClurg Family Newsletter, good and not so good.

(standard opening)
It's been a busy year here in the McClurg household!

This year Amanda's teeth paid for us to go to Las Vegas tax free. Flexible Spending reimbursement, yay! Cowboy and I had a wonderful time with my friend Aimee and her boyfriend. We'd give you details but some of them are too risque even for the Internet!

I went through four complete wardrobes, spending probably 20% of our income as I whipped through several sizes. I have extra skin enough to donate for 10,000 grafts OR go as a "flying squirrel" to Halloween next year without buying a costume. I have also embarked on a new project at work which is unpaid and unsung. Actually, it's sort of sung. I'd been doing the job illicitly for a year. Now at least I can call myself 'legit.' But I won't call myself 'legit' because my children use that word with annoying inaccuracy. "I do not think it means what you think it means.' Like all things career driven, if I do this unpaid job for a year, I may be able to apply for the paid position for real.

We now have three children in high school, which is almost unimaginably expensive. On the upside: nobody's gotten killed, pregnant or arrested, which doesn't seem like such a big deal until you turn on the evening news.

This spring, Cowboy won a competition naming him Go Automotive Network's top Technician in Colorado. He's looking forward to competing again early next year and hopes to compete in Go's first-ever National event. Never fear, we found a use for the 50" LCD TV prize, even though we had purchased it's twin a month before. We all knew he was a superstar. Finally, some recognition for it!

Cheryl had two most boring (awesome) Parent Teacher conferences ever because she's a stellar second grader ever. Also a plus, we found out that she isn't hard of hearing. We'd been afraid that she might have hearing problems because at home she yells. A lot. Turns out she uses a perfectly normal, acceptable voice at school. She yells at home because our house is loud. Period.

Patrick was voted Class President for the third year in a row. Though he doesn't think his classmates like him, I have a feeling the votes indicate otherwise. The votes also confirm what I've known for years; this kid has charisma.

My brother, his wife and my darling niece are coming to share Christmas with us. Their arrival on Thursday will herald the first time he and I have celebrated Christmas together in 29 years. You read that absolutely right. To mark this momentous occasion, if I am brave enough (am I brave enough?) I plan to recreate my grandmother's famous Yule Log. I'm terrified. I don't follow baking directions. I follow the "that looks like enough" school of cooking. 'Nuff said.

To sum up: this year was filled with joy, fear, tears, hugs, giggles, private jokes, cuddles, fights, folly and triumph. Can't wait to do it all again.