Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sheath Cake

I can't remember where I got this recipe. I have had it in my recipe box for years, written on an index card by my own hand. I haven't made it in ages and decided to pull it out yesterday for my daughter's 15th birthday. It was a hit! So I thought I would kick off this new home and hearth blog by posting it here.

I don't know why it's called a "Sheath" cake. I remember wondering about it years ago and thinking that maybe it had to do with the definition of "sheath" as a covering. The icing on this cake is more like a poured on blanket than a frosting. But I did a little research and discovered that the phrase "sheath cake" may be simply a mispronunciation of "sheet cake" as in "Texas Sheet Cake." Okay, that works. I'm from Texas so it makes sense that I would have a traditional Texas recipe in my possession. I still wish I could remember where I got it.

Anyway, without further ado, here's my recipe for "Sheath Cake."


2 c. flour
2 c. sugar
1 tsp. soda
1 stick butter
3-4 tbsp. cocoa
1 c. water
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix sugar and flour and set aside. Do the same with buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Heat butter, cocoa, water & shortening to a boil. Pour over dry mixture. Add buttermilk mixture and soda and stir well. Bake 20-25 minutes in a greased & floured 13x9x2 pan. Let cool.


1 stick butter
3-4 tbsp. cocoa
6 tbsp. milk
1 box (1 pound) powdered sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
1/2 c. nuts
1/4 c. coconut

Heat butter, cocoa, and milk to a boil. Add sugar, vanilla, nuts & coconut. Mix well and spread on top of cake.

Some of the people in my house like their chocolate smooth and unadulterated. So I covered half of the cake with plain icing and the other half with chunky icing (I like the latter). I love coconut, so I used 1/2 cup and I also used the full amount of nuts even though I was only covering half a cake. I would follow your own preference on this one.

Here's the finished product!

My husband pronounced it one of the most delicious cakes he had ever tasted. The cake itself is not terribly sweet, but the icing is quite rich, so together they amount to a perfect level of sweetness. Add some vanilla ice cream on the side or a tall glass of milk to round out your eating enjoyment. Whatever you decide to call it, it still tastes the same!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Little Things

A few years ago I read the book Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher. The book grew out of Dreher's wildly popular article "Birkenstocked Burkeans" written for National Review in 2002. My husband and I strongly identified with Dreher's description of himself and his wife: "In some respects, the life we live and the values we share have more in common with left-wing counterculturalists than with many garden-variety conservatives." Dreher is talking about what he calls a "healthy suspicion . . . of mass culture." "Crunchy Cons" place a lower priority than some of their fellow conservatives on the values of efficiency and utility and economy, embracing instead those things that add beauty and uniqueness and authenticity to life. So food is not just for eating, but for relishing. Homes are not just for shelter, but for enriching our days. Education is not just about turning out effective workers, but about feeding the mind and the soul. And the pursuit of something that goes beyond mere effectiveness takes time and care and attention to detail.

During his research for the book, a crunchy conservative friend of Dreher's told him, “Every single thing that comes into my house, down to the salt shakers, has to first pass a test of being persuasive, winsome, original, odd — ‘authentic.’" I love that philosophy, but I don't have the funds or the wherewithal to make everything in my home pass that sort of test. We live on a church worker income and Target is our friend. But one of the things that Dreher's book crystallized for me was the impact little things can have on adorning our days. I may not be able to afford to decorate my entire home according to the vision I have in my mind's eye, but I can make at least a few select corners of it something special.

Speaking of corners, here is one of my favorite in our house:

Pictured is a rolling wooden cabinet that was one of the first pieces of furniture my husband and I ever bought together. It wasn't expensive, but I think it fits the test of uniqueness.

Mounted on the right side is a bottle opener with the Coca-Cola logo. The metal plate on the top middle of the left side has the words, "Trademark White Clad Registered Simmons Hardware Co. St. Louis, MO U.S.A." Sitting on the cabinet is my small collection of houseplants, which are actually thriving right now! (I have a complicated relationship with growing things.)

The large lily on the floor is a refugee from my father-in-law's funeral. It came to us this spring, a year after the funeral, and has lived on our front porch until now. I just brought it inside and am hoping and praying the move doesn't have a deleterious effect on it.

Also pictured are the salt & pepper and cream & sugar pieces from our recently purchased new set of everyday dishes (Gibson "Royal Rooster"). I looked for many months for dishes that we could afford to replace our aging set, and one of the requirements was that it have matching peripheral pieces such as these. The Royal Rooster pattern is discontinued and I wasn't able to find the extra pieces in the store when I bought the dishes on clearance, but I did find them online at Replacements, Limited.

In the lower shelves of the cabinet we keep our Bibles, hymnals, and materials for home devotion. What this corner says to me is, "Come in. Have a seat. Soak in some sunshine and take in God's Word while enjoying a cup of your favorite drink." It's a message I need to hear repeatedly, because I have a hard time not letting the Tyranny of the Urgent govern my days. This corner, for me, is a concrete reminder of that message.

As a Christian I believe that my life is ultimately not of this world. A friend puts it this way: "It's all gonna burn." But at the same time, I am a physical creature living in a physical creation, one that was very good in God's eyes before it was sullied by human sin, and that still reflects much of that goodness and beauty. Bound as I am to this world, I take both pleasure and comfort from things of beauty. I like the way Dreher puts it:

"The Granola Conservatives I know tend not to be wealthy, but labor in the creative and intellectual vineyards as writers, professors, and artists. They also tend to be religious. It’s foolish to go too far in metaphysicalizing questions of taste, but a big part of it, at least for those of us who are part of older Christian traditions, comes from learning to see the world sacramentally. In the sacramental vision . . . the spirit world is mediated through the material world, which is another way of saying we experience God in creation. To someone imbued with a sacramental vision, qualities inherent in things — from the food we eat to the buildings we live in — matter in profoundly spiritual ways."

I hope to make this blog a catalogue of some of the little things that add beauty and enjoyment to my family's daily life. Hope to see you again!