Baking therapy

I am furious. I am so furious I could spit. Only I won’t spit, because I have no knack for spitting. I only have a knack for drooling. And I don’t want a damp chin.

Here’s what I am furious about: AT&T. Yes, like countless other people, (“It’s not as if AT&T horror stories are anything new. Those old enough to remember Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine the Operator can recite her mantra: “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company!”) I am engaging in a little joy ride I like to call My Own Personal AT&T Nightmare. A nightmare so many other people enjoy that AT&T made it to the 2006 “The 10 Best (and 10 Worst) Companies for Customer Service” list as one of the worst customer service companies around.

Here’s the short version: About two months ago, we added a service to our existing service. Jack up the bill and Bob’s your Uncle, right? Complications ensued, including the fact that they neglected to tell us we have to stop paying the old AT&T account we had paid for years and start paying a new AT&T account. So when we paid our bill, on time, and in full as usual, to the old AT&T, the new AT&T sent us a disconnection letter for non-payment.

No biggie, just transfer the funds, right? Oh, my sides ache from laughing.

Multiple calls later (and I’ve got names, dates, and confirmation numbers for them all, fat lot of good that does), and now I’m talking to Fran Debrowsky in San Diego (g’wan, give her a shout out: 888-958-3030). After multiple telephone conversations, she has yet to accomplish anything. But she does assure me she is on top of it. Indeed. And I say, you go girl. Go on wasting my time. Go on adding to my frustration. In fact go straight to ...

Cleansing breath. Breathe, breathe, breathe.

Well, that helped not at all. Let’s bake.

Last month - December 2006 - Martha included a recipe for a sweet little orange-yogurt cake in Martha Stewart Living. It called for just over half a cup of sugar (bear in mind, most cake recipes call for twice, or more, of that) and best of all no butter (the fat comes from a quarter cup of oil - I used olive), so it looked promising.
Orange-Yogurt Cake, sans embellishments
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon grated orange zest, plus 1 tablespoon orange juice
1 large egg
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Stir flour, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, salt, yogurt, oil, orange zest and juice, egg and vanilla in a bowl. Pour into pan. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

Her embellishments were a topping (dusted confectioners’ sugar) and a side (orange segments), but I was too annoyed with AT&T to bother. In fact, because oranges can sometimes be bitter, even when I’m not pissed with AT&T I might go for some berries instead (especially raspberries - I never met a raspberry I didn’t like). I once read a Nigella Lawson recipe where she suggested you splash the berries with a bit of balsamic vinegar and a light sprinkle of sugar (I use about a teaspoon each for a pint or so of raspberries) and let it sit for an hour or two. Then plop those around your cake. Num num. (Tip: If your balsamic is good enough and your berries are sweet enough, then you can skip the sugar. I generally do.)
As for the cake: It came out quite nicely, rose nicely and was moist with a light orange scent. It wasn’t special, but it was easy to do, fast to bake, and because Martha’s recipes can be so unpredictable, a relief that it worked.

And as for the cooking, I had two Learn-from-Me moments.

Learn-from-Me moment number one: I panicked when it came time to add the orange juice. There I was, zesting an orange taken from a bowl overflowing with oranges and lemons, and panicking because we had polished off the carton of juice last weekend and never got around to replacing it.

Zest, zest, panic, panic, look down and, well I never, there was a real live orange, home of the very thing I needed, right there in my hands. So I juiced it. But I am so supermarket-acclimatized that it took forever for it to dawn on me to get the juice out of anything other than a carton. I have been brought low.

Learn-from-Me moment number two: So there I was stirring and stirring with a wooden spoon, keeping the spatula handy for the big pour. Thought: If I had only stirred with the spatula, I would have one less item to clean. Not a biggie. But I don’t have a dishwasher so every less thing to clean means a sliver of saved time. Add those slivers up and you might get, erm, more time to spend on the phone with AT&T.

Never mind.