Many of my food memories are pure fiction. The smell of a new paperback or a dusty old leather-bound book brings to mind things like Turkish delight and birds'-nest pudding. Black print on a crisp page does for me what that infamous and over-quoted cookie did for a certain French writer.
Although it was flat, dreary-hued, and completely inedible, I could taste the tomato sandwich Harriet M. Welsch took to school every single day. Her mother offered peanut butter, egg salad, and even cream cheese and olive (fancy!), but Harriet remained faithful to the tomato. Upon my first reading of Harriet the Spy, I had yet to experience a tomato sandwich, but the notion of it sounded so wonderfully simple and perfect that I understood her lunchtime tunnel vision.
The real highlight of the book for me, however—aside from the dumbwaiter—was cake:
Every day at three-forty she had cake and milk. Harriet loved doing everything every day in the same way. 'Time for my cake, for my cake and milk, time for milk and cake.' She ran yelling through the front door of her house."
For years I've pictured Harriet sitting down to a tall glass of chilled milk and a hefty square of deep, dark, dense chocolate cake. I picked up the book last night and for the first time realized that Louise Fitzhugh only had the cook give her "cake." Plain old cake! Huh.
But never you mind, let's all pretend the cake was like the one I baked for you this week: made with cocoa powder, melted bittersweet chocolate, sour cream, and brown sugar, it is rich, moist, and a treat for the hungry school kid in you. Oh, and, since I'd already veered off course, I elaborated on my fudgy figment and gave it a thick coat of cream cheese frosting that's laden with pulverized Cocoa Puffs cereal.