Archive for February, 2014

The Amazing Checkerboard Cake


Unknown(This is how it would look if you had amazingly steady hands. Which I do not.)

Last week, one of my best friends turned 85. That seems like a long time to live, but when you have filled those years with joy and world travel and a great love story, as my friend has, you probably want it to go on for lots longer. She is an inspiration to me, and an 85th birthday calls for something special, so I dug out my checkerboard cake pans.

While checkerboard cake is only two cake mixes all prettied up, it does have that “wow” factor, and I only make it for special occasions or when I need a really great desert to follow a mediocre dinner.

To get started, you need this set of 3 cake pans and a plastic or metal batter divider. I honestly can’t remember where I bought this set, but I do have a funny story about them.


Many years ago, in the early 1970s,  I was living down south, and one summer I came back to Duluth for a family visit. I brought my sisters each a set of the checkerboard cake pans, and I brought my dad a couple of spatterware enamel coffee mugs. Not very practical, but you know — pretty. My sister Be stared at the puzzling cake pans for a while, and then turned to my dad and said “Trade you for the coffee mugs.”

So first you mix up two cake mixes, like a chocolate and yellow, or you can use two white cake mixes and add food coloring to one of them. Follow the directions with the pans, and you should end up with three cakes that look like this:


Then, create a gooey chocolate or vanilla filling to cement the layers together, since a 3-layer cake is kinda tall. I use the standard cocoa powder, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla recipe with a bit of hot coffee in it. Spread this between the layers and even them out as best you can. I do love my offset spatula, which makes frosting things so much easier. Go buy one.



Then you need a lot of fluffy frosting to cover up any rough spots on the cake, so here’s a simple recipe that makes enough frosting for this cake, until you take a picture of it and then think uh oh, I’d better make more.


Quick Fluffy Frosting

1 small package Jello instant chocolate pudding
1 cup milk
1 8-oz carton of Cool Whip, thawed
Combine the pudding and cup of milk in a large bowl and whisk for about a minute, until well mixed and thick. Fold in the Cool Whip. Spread on cake. Hopefully, it will look better than this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou could sprinkle some cocoa powder on top, too.

Here’s the finished and cut cake. This is why you need a steady hand to pull the divider out of the batter, but even with wavy lines, it looks impressive. (At least to the worn out baker.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here it is, on a plate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some strong coffee. A good time was had by all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHappy birthday, dear friend. And many, many more!





This Week at the Little Free Library



I took a picture of the area outside of the Little Free Library just so you can see how much snow we’ve had this winter. Despite that, the Library is doing well, as evidenced by all the footprints in front of it. (There’s a picture I should have taken.)

Also, note to self: If you are taking a picture of something that has reflecting glass on it, don’t park right in front of it. Dope.

Many of the Little Free Libraries around town are hard to get to because of all the snow, but since mine was anchored close to the shoveled sidewalk, access is pretty easy. People come and go, leaving stuff and taking stuff. Funny how certain books leave for a while but come back and get taken again. Every day is different.

My dear friend Rick sent a box of books at Christmas time, so those will be going in soon. My other dear friend (they’re all dear, aren’t they? We’re so lucky to have them!) April sent me home with several books to add to the Library, too.


So this week at the Gilliat Street Little Free Library, you will find something good for everyone:

• My Name is Aram, by William Saroyan

• Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

• The Lost World, by Michael Crichton

• The Body Farm, by Patricia Cornwell

• I Know This Much is True, by Wally Lamb

• Heaven Is For Real, by some little kid

• Moon over Madeleine Island, by Jay Gilbertson

• A Balcony in the Forest, by Julien Gracq

• Sizzle, by Jane Anne Krentz

For the younger crowd:

• Magic Window Book of Games & Puzzles

• Mister and Me, by Kimberly Willis Holt

• When I Grow Up

• The Wurst Seller

• Finding Nemo (VHS)

There’s lots more, including some medical journals and oddball cookbooks. Come and see!

(Corner of 43rd Ave East & Gilliat Street in Lakeside)