Friday, February 20, 2009

The Hidden Power of Kindness

Carlo Maratti ( 1625-1713) Rebecca and Eliezar at the Well

The Hidden Power of Kindness by Lawrence G. Lovasik (Sophia Institute Press, 1962).

This is a wonderful book, packed full of kernels of truth that are immediately accessible and easily translated into action, but also worthy of quiet contemplation over days or months.

For example, a sampling of Father Lovasik’s comments on kind words:

“Kind words put an end to quarrels: One simple word of love is enough at times to bring about a reconciliation.”

“Kind words soothe and comfort: Daily you come across anxious, excited, sad, and fearful people to whom you may speak a kind word….Do not let your indolence, reserve or selfishness keep you from opening your mouth.

“Kind words encourage: To praise your neighbor is an act of charity that brings joy. God Himself fashioned so fashioned the human heart that it needs praise, for the same reason that it dreads contempt….We nourish the bodies of our children and friends. But how often do we nourish their self esteem by giving them the hearty appreciation that they crave?

“Happiness follows close upon kind words: The double reward of kind words is the happiness they cause in you and others…. In your everyday life, you are at times confronted by problems and weighed down by trials. Your heart is gripped by worry and sorrow. Life becomes almost unbearable. Yet, if you still greet others with kind words and a cheerful disposition, the effect will be to put your own worries to flight and to lift up your spirits….”

This book should be on the New York Times best seller list!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Top Ten Recipes: The Perfect Party Cake

Under a lemony layer of buttercream, guests at my son and daughter-in-law's recent wedding rehearsal dinner found dense layers of chocolate sour cream cake and chocolate orange ganache.

I’ve been inspired to put together a list of my top ten favorite recipes of all time, and I’m starting—as wise men have so often advised—with dessert. I have found the perfect chocolate cake recipe, and tested it on numerous different auspicious family occasions. This was the cake at my daughter’s 18th birthday party, my husband’s 60th, and most recently, at the rehearsal dinner held before my older son’s wedding.

This cake:

  • Is easy to make; just follow the recipe carefully
  • Can be made up to a month in advance, fully frosted, and stored in the freezer, with no effect whatsoever on its flavor; the layers may be baked in advance and stored for longer
  • Is delicious, without being cloyingly sweet
  • Feeds a large crowd (up to 30, easily)
  • Looks better than most professionally made cakes, and tastes better than anything made outside of a home kitchen
  • Produces leftovers that taste good for two weeks or more.

    The cake consists of three sour-cream based chocolate layers; a filling of dark chocolate ganache flavored with orange zest and Cointreau, and a lemon-curd-based butter cream frosting. The ingredients, which include three pounds of butter and more than a pound of high quality chocolate, are expensive, but the end product is worth it. I first baked it following its publication under the headline “Three Tiers! The Perfect Party Cake” in the June 1991 issue of Gourmet magazine. Unfortunately, the complete recipe is not on line at Gourmet’s Epicurious site, but I will send it if requested.

    Kitchen equipment you need to create this wonderful dessert includes three 9- or 10-inch cake pans, a candy thermometer, a citrus zester, and a pastry bag with several size tips (numbers 21 and 32 suggested). You may also choose to add colored dragees, as shown in the photograph, but just the butter cream will do quite nicely.