Friday, June 22, 2012

Desserted Reads

Ideas are funny things. One person says something, then another adds something on to it, growing the idea. Before you know it you've got a Full Blown Good Idea on your hands. And what do you do with Full Bowl Good Ideas? Well you blog about them, of course!

I was had a recent conversation with Jenny Martin and P.J. Hoover about cake. Yes cake. Authors talk about cake a lot. Well, we talk about any sort of sweets a lot, it's like our weakness. Our kryptonite. Before you know it you're swapping recipes and foaming at the mouth at your keyboard because so OMG HAWNGRY. Well, Jenny, PJ, and I got to thinking... what if we turned this into a THING? No, we have no idea how often we'll do this THING, or if we'll do it again. But the idea is to blog about a sweet treat of our choice (Cake, pie, cookies, who cares?  Does it have sugar in it? Does it contain butter? Good enough!) as well as a little mini spotlight on a book. We decided to use the name Desserted Reads and talk about a book that is, well, deserted. Not deserted in the sense that it's a terrible book and no one reads it anymore, just deserted in the sense that it's an older book. Sometimes in all the fluff and fuss of newer books coming out, the older ones get left behind, struggling to keep up. So today, we're helping out the strugglers. Oh and talking about cake.

First, my book. I chose Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin. This is particularly ironic to me because Zevin's newest book, All These Things I've Done, chocolate and coffee are banned. Can you IMAGINE? Check out the cover and synopsis of Elsewhere below.

 Welcome to Elsewhere. It is warm, with a breeze, and the beaches are marvelous. It’s quiet and peaceful. You can’t get sick or any older. Curious to see new paintings by Picasso? Swing by one of Elsewhere’s museums. Need to talk to someone about your problems? Stop by Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatric practice
Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to Earth. But Liz wants to turn sixteen, not fourteen again. She wants to get her driver’s license. She wants to graduate from high school and go to college. And now that she’s dead, Liz is being forced to live a life she doesn’t want with a grandmother she has only just met. And it is not going well. How can Liz let go of the only life she has ever known and embrace a new one? Is it possible that a life lived in reverse is no different from a life lived forward?
This moving, often funny book about grief, death, and loss will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

Elsewhere was first published from Macmillan in 2005. I'd seen it on the shelf for years and always admired the pretty snowglobe on the cover, but had no idea what the book was about. One day while shelving books in the YA section during my shift at Borders (RIP), I saw the book and thought, why the heck not? I picked it up without even reading the synopsis and began to read it on my lunch break. The first sentence in the book (from the prologue) intrigued me almost immediately. "The end came quickly, and there wasn't any pain." I think I read about half the book in my hour lunch break and couldn't wait to get home to devour the rest. And devour I did. I can remember lying on the couch while my husband was playing a video game when I reached the final chapters of the book, and I wept. No, I didn't tear up, I didn't cry, I actually wept. (Yes, my husband thought I was nuts. He kept asking me what was wrong, but I couldn't find the words to answer him through the huge lump of tears lodged in my throat.) I wept for the characters and the loss that they suffered, but I also wept for selfish reasons. I wept because it was hard to tell these characters goodbye. And as weird as this is to say,  I hope one day I can make people weep. I hope that the words that I put down on paper are so emotional, so moving, that it causes people to weep. (Writers are mean like that, we enjoy watching you cry.) If you haven't read this book yet, go out and pick it up ASAP. I promise it won't disappoint.

And now... THE CAKE. Just as Liz eventually finds her way back home (though through an odd means), this recipe reminds me of home. In a lot of ways it is the southern cake. No, I'm not talking about red velvet or coconut (though both delicious), I'm talking about the Coca-Cola cake.

Coca-Cola Cake
Mix the following ingredients and set aside:
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon

In a saucepan, mix the following ingredients: 
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup coca-cola
1/2 cup buttermilk*

Take off heat and add to flour mixture. Then add 2 eggs and 1t. vanilla. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes (it always takes me a little longer than 30 minutes)

When the cake is almost done, start to work on the icing.
In a saucepan, combine:
1 stick butter
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup cocoa cola
slowly whisk in 4 cups powdered sugar

Once boiling, remove from heat and add about a cup of chopped pecans (optional, of course). Pour directly on top of cake as soon as you pull it out of the oven. As hard as it may be, it is better if you let the cake set for at least an hour before diving in. That way the icing has had time to harden and settle. 

*I never have buttermilk on hand. Mix 1 tablespoon vinegar per 1/2 cup of regular milk and let sit for 5 minutes and viola! Buttermilk!

I've had people ask me before if this cake can be made with Diet Coke. And my answer to that is a resounding NO, the artificial sweeteners aren't conducive to baking. Plus, really, come on guys. The cake has two cups of sugar and 3 STICKS of butter. If you're really trying to watch your calories, I just wouldn't make the cake. It can, however, be made with any regular cola of your choice: Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, RC Cola, etc. Though I prefer just regular old Coke. 


  1. OMGOODNESS! I loved ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE (your cake really DOES go perfectly with that novel), and now I'll have to read ELSEWHERE, too.

    Thanks for being the true inspiration behind this whole idea, Steph! It's been so much fun doing #DESSERTEDREADS

  2. Great Post!!! The cake look delicious so I need o try the recipe. I LOVE Elsewhere I cried like a baby when I finished reading.

  3. I've never had Coca-cola Cake. And I've lived in Texas almost my whole life--does that count as the South??

    Must try it now! :)


  4. Yum! I need to read Elsewhere and by the way I love your baking dish!

  5. AHHH, the proverbial coca cola cake!! Served at all pot-lucks south of the Red River!!