Let’s Cook: Attic cleaning, letter reading, and other pursuits

There is a significant link between family treasures and memories. But the key to enjoying these treasures is in the way they elevate your feelings.

With COVID-19 hanging around, we continue to spend most of our time at home. We have made a list of things we need to do around the house, such as cleaning our attic. Now this is a hard thing to spring on people who are savers.

The recommended process takes a few cups of coffee, a bike ride down University Avenue, and watching a classic black and white movie to ease one into this process.

I have found that nothing breaks the tension of starting a new task like thinking about the conclusion of the effort. Are you with me on this one? You feel better knowing that the energy put forth will be a step in the right direction toward better organization. The thought of being able to locate my pinecone collection from 5th grade with ease puts me on board.

Things that departed the attic with ease were ordinary clothes that no longer fit, shoes that hurt my feet, lamps that I had plans to rewire, and old newspapers (but only after I read them-some were dated back to 2009) These and several others items needed to move on so that the pinecone collection and former prom streamers could be fetched effortlessly.

Naturally in the process of sorting we came across many things that had to be saved. Jan’s hot pink dress with matching purse and pumps, Lydia’s doll house, my grandparents pink depression oil lamp and so much more. Conceivably the items that we enjoyed viewing most were not those of great monetary value but sentimental value-like correspondence from loved ones and friends through the years. Rereading these letters and cards from family members who have passed away brought back wonderful memories of them. This written correspondence recalls their way of life, events of joy, their caring and loving ways. It reminded me that saving correspondence is legendary, and they were neatly repacked.

When my mom passed away, I placed her recent clothes in a suitcase. That suitcase is now empty with most of her twin sets donated to good will. That season in my life has passed but seeing these garments again before letting go of them caused me to stop and think about her and all that she gave to our family. That felt good. Had I quickly gotten rid of these earlier, that would have been a mistake for me. Growing up she had encouraged me to always follow my instincts “don’t let other people tell you what to do,” and she was right. Listening to our own voice is often the key to overcoming a loss and so much more.

Placed in a flat, cardboard apple box were many recipes with a label that read “recipes I want to try.” I knew it would be worthless to try and sort this out because I would still want to make them all. On the top of the pile was a recipe that I had picked up several years ago for Pave’. Jan and I first enjoyed Pave’ while on our honeymoon in Maine at a quaint seaside restaurant. It was apricot pave’ with chocolate curls resting on top of a cloud of real whipped cream. Sorting can in inspirational and opening this box inspired me to make pave’. Would I make it again? Yes, and next time I would try another flavor.

Pave’ is French for “paving stone” from its rectangular or square shape. The word “pave’ “can actually be applied to several food preparations done in the shape of a block such as cheeses. In French pastry, pave’ generally refers to a rich cake based on layers of genoise filled with butter cream and sometime fruit. Pave’ is similar to tiramisu.

Once I read this recipe, I knew that it was one that could still perform a kitchen cartwheel. When neatly layered, frosted with whipped cream topping and finished with a garnish, these cakes are impressive. The assembly of this cake reminded me of the method used for ribbon sandwiches. First the sponge layer is cut into three equal portions, sprinkled with a small amount of Grand Marnier and strawberry juice, buttercream is spread between layers and topped with strawberries. Next whipped cream is spread over the whole cake and the cake is then garnished with more whipped cream, fresh fruit and chopped nuts. The real joy comes when the cake is cut and reveals beautiful buttercream paired with ruby red strawberries, the cake’s texture and pattern.

Strawberry Pave

Basic Sponge Cake

A classic sponge cake with no chemical leavening, just air beaten into the eggs. Folding (stirring without deflating) is an important factor. You are not whipping up pancakes, so be gentle!

This makes 1 layer (about 18x12x1 inches). I used a large roasting pan that I lined with parchment paper for easy release.

8 eggs, separated, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup sifted cornstarch

1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter baking pan and line bottom with parchment; lightly butter parchment and dust with flour. Beat egg whites and salt in a large mixer bowl on medium speed. When soft peaks appear, beat in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition and continue beating until very stiff peaks form.

Whisk egg yolks and vanilla in small bowl until blended. Fold one fourth of beaten egg whites into yolks until thoroughly blended. Next pour yolk mixture over remaining whites. Mix cornstarch and flour in small bowl. Sift half of dry ingredients over egg mixture. Fold gently with a rubber spatula until no trace of the egg whites can be seen and dry ingredients are incorporated. Repeat with procedure with remaining dry ingredients gently.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth surface with a rubber spatula. Bake until cake is very light browned on top and edges begin to pull away from sides of pan, 8 to 10 minutes.

Sprinkle a small amount of cornstarch on clean kitchen towel rub in slightly. Place towel, cornstarch-dusted side up, on a large wire rack. Remove cake from oven; loosen edges with small rubber spatula and immediately invert onto prepared towel. Gently peel off parchment. Cool cake completely before cutting cake crosswise into 3 equal rectangular layers, each measuring approximately 12×5 inches. If need be, trim off edges.


2 pints fresh strawberries

3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier plus three tablespoons reserved to assemble cake. (This is a French brand of orange liqueur which is available in mini sizes perfect for this baking)

Rinse strawberries and dry with towel. Save 4 to 5 full strawberries for garnish. Hull remaining berries and dice them into ™ inch pieces. Place berries in bowl and sprinkle with sugar and Grand Marnier; toss, cover and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes. Drain strawberries in strainer over bowl saving juice and berries.

Vanilla Buttercream

Prepare this after cake is cut and strawberries are ready

1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

4 egg yolks, at room temperature

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

2/3 cup butter

Whisk together sugar, egg yolks, cream and vanilla in small heavy saucepan until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly over low heat until mixture thickens about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cook in a bowl with ice cubes and water until cool to touch.

Beat butter in bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in co cream mixture until buttercream in light and fluffy.

Assembly of Cake

3 tablespoons of reserved Grand Marnier

Reserved Strawberry juice

Place sponge layer on serving tray, sprinkle evenly with 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier and 1 tablespoon of reserved strawberry juice. Spread half the buttercream evenly on cake nearly to edge. Spoon half the drained strawberries in a single layer over buttercream. Place second sponge layer on top and repeat above process. Place the third sponge cake on top and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier and remaining strawberry juice. Wrap cake in plastic wrap and gently press top and sides to compact cake. Refrigerate at least 4 hours to develop flavors.

Whipped Cream frosting

1 1/4 cup heavy cream, cold

3 tablespoons confectioner sugar

Reserved whole strawberries and 2 tablespoons finely chopped pecans for garnish

An hour before serving, beat cream in chilled bowl with chilled beaters until soft peaks form. Add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream in a thin even layer over top and along the sides of pave. Spoon remaining whipped cream into pastry bag and decorate top of cake. Garnish with reserved whole strawberries and finely chopped pecans.


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