I usually have a great big Oscar party every year about this time. And by great big, I mean in the production, not the amount of people I invite over to watch the Academy Awards ceremony on television. I happily invite the same small handful of special gal pals every year — women I’ve known for years, women who have seen good and bad times, sad and happy days. The lives and personalities of these people wind pleasantly through each other like a cozy knitted sweater from a favorite relative.
There is one friend whose daughter attends the same elementary school as the granddaughters of another invitee. Two of the attendees were work buddies for years, and two have known each other since high school.
Because I put so much effort into them and get so much enjoyment out of them, I like to think my Oscar parties are legendary — if only in my eyes and, hopefully, in the eyes of my attendees who walk not a red carpet but a gray cement pathway to a special night.
I plan and plan for weeks ahead of time. I make list after list; I research recipe after recipe; I recollect and reinvent. And I have an absolute ball decorating the small living room with the big TV.
Days ahead of the big event, I release my inner arts & crafts diva and painstakingly construct ballots and matching envelopes, and I shop store after store for just the right (inexpensive) gifts for those who choose the winners in six Oscar categories. I poke around out-of-the-way specialty stores and a few tried-and-true neighborhood drug stores for small and sometimes silly gift items to fill my blinged-up goody bags designed exclusively for each distinctive party goer.
When it comes to the menu, I stew and fret to find just the right buffet mix, perhaps in keeping with a gala theme. Then I change my mind again and again. Sometimes I do a spread of appetizers and a signature cocktail, sometimes a big lasagna or spruced-up entree salad and very chilled bottles of (cheap) champagne. Sometimes we dress up, sometimes we dress down. But we always, always have fun.
This year, I’m not having an Oscar party. It isn’t the only year I’ve missed, but it’s a biggie. This year, I can’t have an Oscar party in that small but festive living room because I’ll be busy moving — for the first time in 20 years. Yes, Fannie Mae has asked me to leave the house I no longer have a claim to (big sigh here). Though it’s a sign of the times, which makes it only a tiny bit comforting, it is still not the way the world should turn.
But, that’s life. And life isn’t about surviving the storm, but learning how to dance in the rain. (I recently read that somewhere on Facebook, but I don’t know who wrote it.) It’s a known fact, or so the almightly Internet and Dr. Oz tell us, that a positive attitude goes a long way toward a healthier, longer life. And, what the hell, now that I have a bigger place — with closet space that would make the Kardashians giddy — life has the potential to be rosy again.
I had many good years in that very old, very tiny house: days, weeks, months of parties and dinners and barbecues and holidays, so many happy times that if recorded on paper would make for a book so thick with memories the binding would creak in valiant effort with every turn of a page.
As Dr. Seuss once said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
So, after I’ve unpacked the gazillion boxes in my new place that boasts an extra bedroom and an extra bathroom (big cheers here), I’ll try to get my life back on track and back to some sense of normalcy. Which means it won’t be long before I’m googling recipes and party ideas in preparation for next year’s Oscar celebration.
Maybe I’ll feature this boxed cake mix reinvention I came up with on a day when I should have been packing up my many cookbooks. Sure, it was blatant procrastination. But like losing yourself in a good movie on a rainy Sunday afternoon, it was worth it.
PINEAPPLE BUTTERUM CAKE
There aren’t many homecooks out there worth their salt who don’t know how to take a boxed cake mix to a new level. Like a ball of pizza dough or a just-baked empty pie crust, a packaged cake mix is really just a blank canvas, a shortcut to whatever you’re in the mood for. Like a film director with a list of great actors in one hand and a prize-winning script in the other, have fun with it!
- 1 French vanilla boxed cake mix — (if you can’t find French vanilla, a white cake mix will do fine)
- 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- One 8 oz. (small) can pineapple tidbits or chunks (in its own juice), drain and reserve juice; if using chunks, chop them up a bit
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup dark rum
- 1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur (if you don’t like this almond-flavored liqueur, try Frangelico, which is a hazelnut-flavored liqueur; if you prefer no alcohol, try 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla or almond flavoring instead)
- 1/4 cup reserved pineapple juice
- 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed orange juice (about the juice of one-half orange)
Topping for the Bottom (Say what?)
- 2 – 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 3 – 4 tablespoons chopped, toasted almonds (if almonds aren’t your thing, pecans would do nicely here)
- 1/3 to 1/2 of the can of drained pineapple (if using chunks, chop them up a bit)
Preheat oven according to the cake mix package directions noted for a bundt pan (usually 325 – 350 degrees). Lightly coat sides all around the pan with non-stick cooking spray.
For the topping: Pour the melted butter into the bottom of the prepared bundt pan; sprinkle the brown sugar over the butter; then sprinkle the chopped almonds and pineapple tidbits over that. Set aside.
For the batter: In a large bowl combine the dry cake mix, softened butter, dark rum, reserved pineapple juice, Amaretto (or other flavoring), and orange juice. Beat at low speed just to blend ingredients; add eggs, one at a time, beating to fully blend after each. Beat batter at medium speed for another minute or two. Fold in the remaining 1/2 can of drained pineapple, and pour into prepared bundt pan.
Bake for approximately 35 – 40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan for about 10 minutes. Before the cake has cooled completely and the topping has hardened to the bottom of the pan, gently ease the cake away from the sides of the pan using a butter knife. (You want to loosen the pan’s grip on the cake so that it will fall gently out of the pan when you invert it onto your serving plate.) Holding the plate securely over the bundt pan, covering the bottom of the cake, turn it upside down so the cake falls onto the plate. Remove the bundt pan to reveal (hopefully!) your glistening, sweet golden topping of carmelized pineapple tidbits and almonds. Replace any bald spots with topping that may still be in the bottom of the bundt pan. Let cool completely and serve at room temperature. This cake is even better the next day — especially with your morning coffee or tea. Refrigerate leftover cake — if you have any!