I had one hell of a shower for my first born. Numerous gifts were given. I had been to my fair share of showers, both for weddings and babies, and now I wanted a big, fancy one of my own. Kimme had the best house, so she threw it for me with my other BFF, Kimberly. Robin made the unforgettable-to-this-day desserts.
Two of the gifts were what seemed at the time like simple, not-too-much-thought-put-into-it gestures. A white stuffed bear. And a brown stuffed bear.
By the time Oliver was only a few months old, he clung to those two bears — they had become his best friends, his security bears. Before the age of one, he would never leave the house without white and brown bear.
I was hired for a small part in a small movie, on location in Texas. I would be gone a week. Oliver, white bear, brown bear and I boarded a plane. I hired some random local girl to watch my baby while I worked on set. Things went well and I hired her for the following day too. But when I came back to the hotel, brown bear was missing. We went into panic mode, though the teenaged girl seemed way relaxed. I grilled her. “Where were you when you last saw brown bear?” She did seem to recall something about the pool area. It was now evening, dark already and we all went down to comb the pool area. No brown bear. As we were about to give up, I looked into the trash and there he was looking very forlorn, ready to take a trip to the local dump. He would never have been seen again had I not peeked into the trash can. What a relief. Separation anxiety averted.
When Oliver was about two years old, we (Oliver, his dad and I) took a trip up to San Francisco to see my mother-in-law, Gourmet Grandma. Always a fun visit, because she would take us to the grooviest, newest restaurants. Like Jeremiah Tower’s Stars, or Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse. Both were credited with developing California cuisine that relied on fresh grown produce from local farmers. As Gourmet Grandma had done PR in San Francisco for Chuck Williams of Williams Sonoma, she always got VIP treatment. Not to mention, she also made us amazing meals. Nothing I like better than a well-fed vacation.
We arrived back in Los Angeles unaware that we were not travelling with the even more loved white bear. If we were to lose one, I would have to “Sophie’s Choice” brown bear. We phoned to alert Gourmet Grandma that Oliver’s favorite bear had gone AWOL. Would she please look around? She did and came up with nothing. Weeks went by and Oliver was inconsolable. I gave up on ever again seeing his most loved, balding, not-so-white-anymore bear.
And then we got the call!!! He was spotted!!!!! Deep, deep in the bowels of Gourmet Grandma’s closet, where Oliver had gone on some secret mission only a child understands, he had left him behind. She would fly white bear down for us (first class mail).
Next B-movie I got hired for (also in Texas) I took no chances and brought my best friend Libbie along to help babysit. She managed to keep an eye on Oliver and both bears.
Those bears survived a lot, including an ugly divorce, though somehow they did manage to get lost in one of our moves. But Oliver was older and no longer requiring their love.
During my speech at Oliver’s Bar Mitzvah, I did present him with two new white and brown bears, to symbolize his moving from childhood to manhood. But they were just stand-ins. There will never be a replacement for those two priceless animals. Thank you to whoever gave them to us at my shower.
Where they all are today:
Oliver lives in San Francisco where he runs the arts & culture magazine Autre and the blog Pas Un Autre.
Gourmet Grandma, now in her 90’s, is still cooking (in every way) and lives in Los Angeles.
Stars closed its doors in 1999.
Chez Panisse remains open and is my favorite restaurant in the world.
White & brown bear live, I assume, in a landfill somewhere. I hope they still dream of their fun-filled adventures with Oliver.
Robin is a treasured nurse in a Beverly Hills doctor’s office. She has an amazing husband Gene who cooks for her each night. She still bakes unforgettable desserts.
Kimme is loving life with her fiancé, my childhood friend Michael.
Kimberly lives just a few blocks from me with her wonderful husband Jason and they have two amazing kids (my God-children) Dylan and Miles.
Libbie and I are reconciled after a 15-year hiatus. We will be travelling soon to New York sans Oliver and his bears.
One of the cakes Robin made for my shower was the Blums Coffee Crunch Cake. I actually just go out and buy a sponge or angel food cake and then make the rest. Or at least I used to. I had this amazing candy thermometer that I lost and now I screw making the candy up. I was once able to pull this off and I should try it again.
Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake
1 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup water
1 cup (7 to 8) large egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Unflavored vegetable oil
1 tablespoon baking soda, sifted
1/4 cup strong brewed coffee
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
For the cake: Adjust rack in lower third of oven; preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, 3/4 cup sugar and the salt onto a sheet of wax paper; set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add water and beat until
thickened, about 4 minutes. Whisk egg whites in bowl of a heavy-duty mixer just until frothy. Add cream of tartar; whisk until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a steady stream, whisking until thicker, stiffer, glossy peaks form — about 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest. Pour yolk mixture over whites. Fold together with a rubber spatula. Using a metal spatula, scoop up a third of the flour mixture and sprinkle over mixture; fold in with a rubber spatula. Repeat two more
times just until ingredients are incorporated. Gently pour batter into an ungreased 10- inch round tube pan with
removable bottom (such as an angel food pan). Level top with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until top springs back slightly when lightly touched. Invert pan over a long-necked bottle to cool for about 45 minutes. To remove cake from pan, slip a flexible metal spatula down one side of pan; slowly trace perimeter to release the cake. When sides are free, push up on bottom to release cake. Tilt cake, with
removable bottom still attached, and gently tap bottom against counter to loosen cake. Rotate cake, tapping a few
more times,until it appears free. Cover cake with a rack, and invert; remove bottom of pan.
Coffee Crunch Topping: Generously oil a large baking sheet; sift baking soda onto a sheet of wax paper; set nearby. Combine coffee, sugar and corn syrup in a heavy, 4-quart saucepan. Place over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. When mixture is clear and begins to boil, increase heat to medium- high; cook until mixture reaches 290 degrees on a candy thermometer. Toward end of cooking (around 270 degrees-280 degrees), stir occasionally to prevent mixture from scorching and becoming too foamy). Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (mixture will foam up fiercely). While still foaming, pour out onto oiled baking sheet. Do not spread; let cool
undisturbed for at least 1 hour. Crush into very small pieces. (Place between 2 sheets of wax paper and tap or roll with rolling pin.) Store in an airtight container.
For the frosting: Combine cream, sugar and vanilla; beat until cream holds sturdy soft peaks.
To assemble: Slice cooled cake into 3 equal layers using a serrated knife. Spread whipped cream between each layer,
carefully stacking layers. Spread remaining whipped cream over top and sides of cake. Refrigerate.
Just before serving, generously sprinkle top and sides with the coffee crunch.
Fredrica Duke shares how she discovered her love of food while growing up in Los Angeles on her blog Channeling the Food Critic in Me.