Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fireworks & Hamburger Cakes

When I was a teenager, 4th of July was my favorite holiday. The hot weather, the fireworks, warm nights spent out on our quiet street in Thousand Oaks. So quiet, in fact, that on summer nights, me and my friends used to lay down in the middle of the street and look at the stars, which were easy to spot on our hill, away from bright city lights. At some point in my late teens, me and my friends began planning car rallies--which are, essentially, elaborate scavenger hunts that we would set up all over town--on the night before 4th of July, and people would fill their cars with friends and drive from point to point, hunting for clues. At one stop, you might have to dig around a playground until you found the next clue taped to the underside of a swing. At other stops, you might be greeted by one of the planners, who would make someone in your car draw a picture of a pirate. My favorite was the time we made it so you couldn't get your next clue until you gave our friend's mom, Mrs. Reisser, a cigarette. So if no one in your car smoked, you had to go buy a pack and circle back around! We were so very mean. The winning car of the rally always won something really terrible--like, a bunch of stuff from someone's junk drawer, or maybe a mug from Denny's. But the loser always won what we called The Hamburger Cake, which was a prepared cake that you could buy at Albertson's that was made in the shape of a giant hamburger with frostinged-on beef, lettuce, and ketchup. Alongside the cake, of course, were golden cakey fries and a dollop of ketchup-colored frosting to dip them in.

And so it was in a moment of 4th of July nostalgia and passion that I decided to make these cookies. I saw them a few days ago--Martha Stewart's Fireworks Cookies--and I thought to myself, now there's something that I could really make look terrible. As much as I knew I should not attempt to make these cookies, I couldn't help myself. You see, we're going to Morgan's lake house tomorrow, and she's an old friend from back in the car rally days. And, well, there's a little piece of me that enjoys taking something that Martha Stewart perfected and photographed beautifully, and giving it the old Liana spin (i.e., effing it the eff up.)

And so I rolled up my sleeves and made the sugar cookie dough, recalling as I started to roll it out that I don't even really like sugar cookies. I mean, I'd rather have a chocolate chip cookie any day of the week! But still, I carried on, reminding myself that no one ever wanted to eat the hamburger cake. It's more about making a spectacle than making something delicious.

As I manhandled the frosting and coerced it into pastry bags, I also recalled that I don't have much patience for frosting things. And so I hurriedly squeezed out my frosting and ran my toothpick through the concentric circles, and sort of counted the seconds until it was all over. When the cookies were all frosted, however,  I looked at them all together and decided that I LOVE them. They're not so much "patriotic" or "firework-esque" as they are groovy psychedelic hippie cookies, with flower and spiderweb motifs. Totally fine by me. God bless America...these cookies are ridiculous.

In honor of the hamburger cake (i.e., making something weird out of a confection), I used the leftover dough to sculpt what started out as a pig, and then turned into a bear, but eventually became a sheep, all precariously held together with icing that gooped in drips and drabs on its way to becoming hardened.

But I love him all the same. Perhaps we will come up with a game tomorrow at the lake where the pig/bear/sheep will be the last place prize?

And finally, because it's July!!, I thought it was high time to give you a wee garden update. The pole beans and snap peas are my favorite new arrivals. Each morning I go outside hunting for them. They grow inches each day, I swear! And the more you pick them, the more they grow. I spend quite a bit of time internally debating whether each one is long enough to pick, if I should let it grow just a bit longer, or if it's better to get it off the vine. And once I do, what shall I cook? Are there any recipes that only call for six pole beans?

The tomatoes are at my favorite point in their growth--vibrant healthy green with rich and earthy smells that cling to your skin, eau de tomato. And best of all, the plants aren't yet out of control. They're tall--about up to my waist--but aren't yet falling over onto each other, weighed down with fruit, twelve plants turned into a singular mass of unruly tomato monster. It happens every year, and you'll see it this August, but for now, I'm enjoying these little yellow flowers and petite green tomatoes. They're perky, right?

Last and decidedly weirdest, the cucumbers. They have started their awkward climb to pickledom. The plant produces these big yellow flowers, and then the cucumber starts to emerge from behind the flower, literally pushing it away from the plant on its tip. I think this is the most ridiculous looking life-form in the garden. It's like if Pinocchio not only had a long nose, but a giant flower on the end. Or it's like  some sort of sexy get-up, like a cabaret dancer wearing pasties...but just on one boob. And yet, and yet! When the cucumber is all grown in a few weeks and I'm eating it on my sandwich, I'll no longer be thinking it's so ridiculous. Though, now that I've said that thing about pasties, I might be thinking about bad.

Either which way, happy summer everyone. Thanks for reading along with my summertime nostalgia and my present revery. May you all find your equivalent of fireworks, hamburger cakes, lake swims, and warm evenings.


  1. It's kind of like you made pastel Halloween cookies -- for kids who scare easily, maybe? I approve! I also approve of the dog-sheep-bear creature.

    As for the cucumbers, once you brought up pasties, all I could think about were male cabaret dancers. They'd only need the one pastie...

  2. Liana! You never told me that you participated in car rallies! On the 4th? and you were giving Teri Reisser cigarettes?

  3. Mom, I think you and Dad were out of town camping the years we did the car rallies. Guess where we had the "Closing Ceremonies" after party?

  4. OK, that explains a lot. I never did find my favorite pair of flats-