The most delightful aspect of Tico culture is the average Tico's cheerful willingness to drop what he or she is doing to enjoy a cup of coffee and a little piece of cake, usually around three. Now, my very own Tico outgrew his enjoyment of coffee early in life, but replaced the coffee with tea and kept the cake. Since I grew up in the US with our amazing Work Ethic and its accompanying tenets of Self-Denial and the delay of pleasures, I often forget to supply the tea and cake and have to be reminded with a gentle, "Ai, I wish there were someone here who loved me enough to give me tea with cake."

Interestingly enough, obesity among Ticos is rather less prevalent than it is among citizens of the US.

Anyway, I must keep a steady supply of cake available. In past days, I searched the internet and the E2 recipes for something new and interesting to serve. This proved to be time wasted. Nothing fancy, complicated, different, funny looking or too acidic made The Pollito happy. He wanted plain cake, defined as a yellowish looking object with a brownish crust, unadorned, un-tainted and able to be picked up in the fingers and munched standing up.

The only cake The Pollito liked was my mother's cinnamon cake, which is a single layer sheet cake with cinnamon and sugar on top. Coupled with his open preference for my mother's eyes over mine (Ai, mami, why don't you have such pretty eyes as your mother?) and you have one irked wife. The cinnamon and sugar would get tapped off and the slab would be consumed and the missing pieces blamed on non-present people. Mom found it amusing that her sister-in-law was capable of stealing cake from a mile away.

"Mom," I said, "how do you make that cake? Christian doesn't like any other kind."

"It's your grandmother's One-Two-Three-Four Cake. Did I ever give you that recipe?"

"No. Why the numbers?"

"The numbers are the recipe. You mix ONE cup of BUTTER, TWO cups of SUGAR, THREE cups of FLOUR, and FOUR EGGS."

How about that?

That's it. That's the recipe. Of course, you've got to use self-rising cake flour. Presto is a good brand to use. Naturally, you cream together the butter and sugar. Give them a good whipping so that there's plenty of air in the recipe. Then you add the eggs. If you want to slip in some vanilla, that's good too, and you'd do it just before the eggs. One more ingredient to go. Always sift the flour three times, which bakers do regardless, and gradually add that in to the butter-sugar-eggs. Add a few tablespoons of water to the batter to make it a little thinner. You'll use your judgement.

Always bake a cake in a 350 degree fahrenheit oven. That's the rule. 350 for cakes, 375 for most cookies, unless you want them crisp, which means a 400 degree oven, but then you have to watch. You'll be able to tell when they're done. On occasion, you have 325 degree baking cookies, and those need special care to come out right.

But I digress.

When I notice there's nothing to munch with the tea, I grab my butter and my sugar and my eggs and my flour and between one load of laundry and another of dishes, I get this cake into the oven. Save the dishes for after the mixing, so you can load the mixing bowls into the dishwasher and have them clean when you go to turn the cake out of the pan. Also keeps you from eating too much cake batter, which isn't good for you.

Now that I've made this cake several times, I realize that this was the secret of my Grandmother's housekeeper. Not the grandmother who had the recipe, the other one. My father's mother. Betty Lee, the housekeeper, used to keep us supplied with cake, which we could enjoy after dinner. My grandmother, an educated woman who overthought and bullied everything and everyone, browbeat Betty Lee until the crafty little lady confessed that the cake took "A good sized lump of shortening, some handfulls of flour, enough sugar and eggs to keep things together..."

Perhaps things like keeping lean, and making a nice sweet to munch, and understanding a recipe, require a little less philosophy and a little more simplicity.

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