I didn't mean to leave you with nothing but a picture of a groundhog and an empty Framboise bottle seated so elegantly atop one of my most recent purchases, that vintage laundry hamper from Village Merchants, a secondhand store in SE Portland that I could go on and on and on about how much I love. It feels almost magical the way I always find just what I wanted when I go there, and it's not in crummy condition and it's totally affordable.
My friends Julianna and Rebecca had told me about it several times, but I pictured a sea of thrift store junk in dubious condition or a collection of nice secondhand goods marketed as "vintage" with frighteningly high prices. Village Merchants is neither of those things.
Also, the first time I went was the morning, after measuring water for coffee in a 1-cup measuring cup--four times--and boiling the water in a saucepan, I decided I really needed a kettle. What would be perfect, I thought, would be a red kettle. Then it would match all of my other kitchen things. I promise you, Reader, that I am not exaggerating for the sake of the story. The very first thing Rebecca and I saw when we walked in the door of Village Merchants was a red kettle. I think it was $12. Later, I'd see the same kettle (new of course) for $30 at Fred Meyer.
Whoops, now I've gotten distracted and just gone on and on about this store! Anyway, I guess the relation to the housewarming party is that I went there, even though the cake I promised guests was still only an idea in my head and the apartment was unquestionably a mess (and the thing about studios is that there's no room to hide all your junk in and put a bookshelf in front of the door to hide the entire room from nosy guests). This was because I found myself in possession of only three spoons and not many more forks, and also, of the three chairs I have, two are kind of broken and one is a camping chair. Fortunately, that laundry hamper, as you can tell, matches my apartment walls perfectly! and functions as a place to hide junk.
By 7:30, every room (by which I mean "room-like section") was totally in order except for the kitchen, which was neat enough for a place where a cake was being made; the fire was lit (by my boyfriend, the helpful guest); the cake was in the oven; and a pre-cake spread was laid out of various pickles, spreads, crackers, and cheeses.
It was then that I noticed that a lot of my entertaining supplies come from the Russian market near work. Later, I was listing some of the spreads contents out loud and a guest said, "That sounds made up. If you were to list that on Facebook right now, people would think you it was just nonsense." I suppose it does resemble word salad: "Apple pie cheese, chocolate cheese, and five-dollar caviar!" However, it wouldn't be a party without some kind of caketastrophe.
The planned cake was this Flourless Orange and Ginger Cake from Chocolate and Zucchini. I first made this cake three years ago, the winter of Wednesday Night Dinners in which some lady scientists and I met up for potluck-style weekly dinners which gradually became Wednesday Night Gluttonous Feast; all of us liked to cook and therefore, even though we'd each claim only one course, each guest would arrive at the dinner with something to offer for all three courses. The cake was such a hit and I kept finding myself with excesses of citrus, that I kept making the cake. I can't remember when I started swapping out the sugar for honey and agave nectar, making it even more decadent. A couple of months later, I made a taxonomic, even more decadent version for my birthday party. The Anacardiace-a-cake was flourless mango cake made with ground pistachios. Admittedly straying from the Anacardiaceae family, the cake had a lime glaze. Sometime last year, I started using ground flax seeds in place of the eggs.
I make this cake every winter, usually more than once. Everyone likes it. Even people who hate oranges, almonds, or ginger.
I used to buy whole almonds and turn them into meal myself. But Trader Joe's sells almond meal for $1/pound less than they sell whole almonds, for some inexplicable reason. Part 1 of the Caketastrophe was this valuable lesson: Maybe you shouldn't put a full bag of almond meal into the freezer. The almond meal froze to itself and to the bag and was very hard to pour into the mixing bowl.
Part 2 of the Caketastrophe was the discovery that my food scale is totally broken. Everything was in the bowl - the orange puree and the honey and the ground flax seeds beaten with water into something like beaten eggs. So, when the food scale started measuring the weight of my almond meal as "60 g" and then "-275 g" and then "300 g," there was no way to get the almond meal out of the bowl to measure it separately. I ended up just guessing based on "what looks like a little more than half of the bag."
Part 3 of the Caketastrophe is still a mystery to me. Last year, I made this cake in a tarte tatin pan, which is wrong. In previous years, I don't recall what I used; perhaps it was a Pyrex rectangle. Also wrong. This time, I used a parchment-lined springfom pan, which is correct. And this time, the cake burned on top while staying liquid-y and pudding-like on the inside.
Back in the oven it went. The cake is now a slightly burnt (but still good) shell with regular orange-almond cake on the inside.
And so, everything was great. Friends came and met other friends. Neighbors came, met each other, informed me that this is the first time anyone in the house has invited everyone else over. I learned the name of the cat that hangs out on our front porch. I couldn't have asked for a better housewarming party.