Because I’m my mother’s daughter, I’m not wasteful. I’ll hang a paper towel to try and use it again. But unlike my mother, I don’t play Russian roulette with expiration dates. I grew up thinking that her plastic cups made our milk taste funny, only to discover years later that sour milk makes milk taste funny. So I have to use the dozen eggs in my fridge before they hatch.
I call my cooking lifeline—my friend and Paula’s Senior Food Editor, Libbie Summers—and ask for a dessert recipe that calls for a litter of eggs.
“Baked Alaska,” she suggests, without hesitation.
“That’s disgusting. I’m not eating salmon for dessert,” I say.
“It is salmon, right?”
Once Libbie picks herself up off the ground and wipes the tears from her eyes, she clears things up for me. I’ve never had Baked Alaska, but somewhere along the way it got into my head that it was a hunk of salmon baked inside a shell of meringue, which sounds as appetizing as a jelly-filled hot dog. But really, Libbie should cut me some slack; she knows I’m a little behind in the cooking department. Just yesterday I learned that a scallion is a green onion, not Pirate-speak for “rascal.” The point is, I’m making progress.
Libbie says that Paula’s recipe for Baked Alaska with Strawberry Ice Cream is easy: make a red velvet pound cake, slap on some strawberry ice cream, cover it with meringue and put it under the broiler. I’m not sure why you’d cook ice cream, but then again, I thought baby carrots were born that way.
I smile and wave as Libbie leaves, still clutching her side. When she turns her back, I narrow my eyes in determination. I’ll show her.
Surprisingly, I have all of the ingredients on hand, though I don’t have enough red dye for the red velvet pound cake. The Twizzler factory doesn’t have that much dye. I use what I have, making a distinct pinky-red color that looks vaguely familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it. Otherwise, the pound cake—or rather, the ten-pound cake—comes together just fine; it’s so dense, my cooling rack strains under the weight, much like my sofa will after I eat this thing.
Libbie warned me that I’d “struggle” with the meringue (her exact words are not printable). But I don’t see what all the fuss is about: it looks like a fluffy little cloud.
As I prepare to broil the slices, I call Libbie and invite her back to sample my masterpiece—to eat my cake and her words.
Libbie comes over as I’m smearing the meringue onto the cake slices, which looks just like Cool Whip, so it must be good. However, I’m a little confused because I’ve used up the entire batch of meringue on three slices . . .
“Does this look right or should—”
Before I can finish, Libbie’s jaw hits the countertop. Apparently, it doesn’t look right.
She ticks off my dessert’s inadequacies one-by-one.
“First, meringue shouldn’t look like whipped cream. Second, your cake shouldn’t resemble Play-Doh” (Yes! That’s it!).
I laugh along with her, but only to make her think the tears running down my face are tears of joy, not humiliation and defeat. It doesn’t help that my husband seizes the moment to try out the new camera.
Libbie takes a few bites because somewhere underneath that stone-cold culinary perfection lives a heart. Then she sets it aside, claiming she can’t eat any more because it’s “too rich.”
To spite her, I force down every last bite of mine even though I can’t shake the thought that it looks alarmingly like a piece of uncooked salmon covered in meringue. The flavor isn’t much better.
At 5 AM I lie awake in my bed with a heating pad strapped to my stomach. I’m either suffering from third-degree heartburn or the agonizing pain of defeat.