The best Valentine’s day I ever had was spent at a gay sports bar in Chicago with two of my best friends watching the NBA All-Star game. You probably wouldn’t have known it was a gay sports bar, save for the fact that there were figure skating Barbies adorning the display cases and what looked like high school boys wrestling in spandex unitards on the flat screen televisions. My guy friends weren’t particularly interested in the game beyond critiquing the tragic business casual ensemble that Alicia Keys chose to wear during the half-time show. (In case you’re wondering, the more appropriate outfit to wear would have been a sparkly basketball jersey with “KEYS” bedazzled on the back and some bitchy high heels. Duh.) About an hour into the show, my boyfriend Romeo showed up and I was in heaven, surrounded by the people I love, the sport I love, watching my favorite basketball player Derrick Rose perform dazzling feats of athleticism.
My conversion to basketball zealot happened quite abruptly, with a swift violence about four years ago. More specifically Game 6 of the first round of finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics. Prior to that game, I doubt I could name any basketball players beyond those prominently featured in the movie Space Jam (i.e. Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Bill Murray.) I don’t know what compelled me to watch that game. I like to think it was fate. The next morning, I woke up a changed person. I was like one of those people who undergone some sort of brain trauma, but instead of the urge to compose music or paint images of my childhood home in Pontito, Italy from memory, I was feuled by desire to consume anything and everything NBA.
The best thing about basketball is my emotional well-being for the greater part of the year is completely dependent on the outcomes of games that I have no chance of ever affecting. It’s great! I love basketball with such an intensity of feeling my body is an insufficient vessel to contain it all. I’m sure I have annoyed and will continue to annoy friends who weren’t as tardy to the basketball party as I am, with all the “obscure” basketball facts continually parrot out Rainman-style every chance I get.
Fact: Did you know that Chicago Bull Bill Wennington had a limited edition sandwich at Chicagoland McDonald’s restaurants named after him? They dubbed it The Beef Wennington (this shall be a future post if Lucy allows it). When Bill would enter the locker room, his teammates would chant, “Beef! Beef! Beef!”.
Fact: Ron Artest, in his rookie year with the Chicago Bulls applied for a part-time job at Circuit City. On his application, on the line for current employer, he wrote, “Chicago Bulls”. Artest wasn’t hurting for cash, he just liked hanging out there!
Fact: Derrick Rose once knifed himself in bed whilst eating an apple!
Fact: The always slightly-balding Carlos Boozer showed up one season with painted on hair! Amazing!
I could go on but this is supposedly a cooking blog, so I should get to the food part before the three readers that have not already clicked away lose patience with me.* I think I was rabbit holing down YouTube after exhausting all the Chicago Bulls videos I could find and clicked on a clip of Ron Artest ecstatically thanking his psychiatrist for helping him win the NBA championship. Curious as to who this delightful Ron Artest character was, I came across this GQ article from 2005, which I highly recommend to basketball fans and non-fans alike. In it, a reporter watches as he bakes an ice cream cake alone in his kitchen, while his entourage parties in another part of the house.
“It’s an ice cream cake,” says Ron Artest.
He pads over to the oven in socks with holes in them to check on his creation. “You never had an ice cream cake? See, first you make this…” He proudly shows me the empty box from the Pillsbury Moist Supreme Lemon cake mix that he whipped up this morning. “Then you put this…” Lined up on the counter is an array of cans: cream-cheese frosting, raspberry spread, pineapple spread, vanilla frosting. “This all goes in the middle, with the ice cream. I got strawberry ice cream, but then I put extra strawberries in it. Here, I’ll show you.” He opens the freezer door to show me the mashed-up ice cream he made, in a tinfoil pan. “Then you put the other cake on top, and more vanilla frosting, until you make it look real nice, and then we’re done.”
Is this a…recipe?
“Um, I guessed it.” He smiles shyly. “This past Valentine’s Day, for my wife, I just guessed it. Usually, every holiday or on birthdays, we get an ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins.” But then he figured, Why spend all that money at Baskin-Robbins? “So I just tried to make it. And everybody said they liked it. They asked me to make it again, so I said okay.” He giggles. “I hope you like it.”
Every year, the NBA schedules the All-Star weekend conveniently around Valentine’s Day, the most romantic, sexiest, sportiest day of the year. And what better way to celebrate than by baking this mythical cake? If you want the truly authentic, Ron lays it all out for us in the article, so I suppose you can stop reading now.
Still here? I decided to complicate things by attempting to bake the mythical Ron Artest Ice Cream cake from scratch. I did run into a few problems when trying to reverse engineer this cake. First off, it’s an ice-cream cake. Ice cream cakes from Baskin Robbins were a regular fixture at my birthday parties throughout my childhood. Even though in my heart of hearts, I knew that the ice cream was never very good and the cake part tended to dry out from sitting in a freezer for who knows how long, I requested one every year. I’m older and wiser now and though they work well as two separate entities, or even as symbiotic elements of a well-formed dessert plate, an ice-cream cake can never be as good as the sum of it’s parts. My version would just be a cake, with ice cream on the side, the way God intended it.
Then there was the question of the pineapple spread. Namely: what is it? No clue here. I hypothesized that replacing some of the fat in the batter with crushed pineapple would be a suitable nod to the original while also keeping the cake moist. There were some glorious Meyer lemons at the market, and I’m a food blogger, so of course I was required by law to incorporate them somehow. A bit of zest and juice from the Meyer lemons and then my two 9” round cake pans were in the oven.
After an hour or so in the oven, my cakes were done. I put them on a rack to cool for about half an hour. Then I spread a thin coat of raspberry jam on one of the layers before stacking another layer on it and artfully frosted the outside with the cream cheese frosting I had whipped up on my stand mixer. It was gorgeous. I even called my boyfriend over to admire my culinary prowess and then I benevolently offered him the first slice. He declined politely as he does not particularly like cake, and was skeptical of the recipe’s origins.
So I cut myself a slice, arranging it artfully on a plate before snapping a pic to send to Lucy with the words “Success!” in the subject line. And then I lifted the fork to my mouth and…had to resist the urge to spit the contents out. I swallowed that first bite and thought to myself, “This is…not so bad.” Nodding. A second bite, and then another and I had to admit defeat. It was disgusting. By far the worst thing to ever come out of my kitchen. Despite my careful baking math, the cake was paradoxically dense and dry at the same time, with creepy, fibrous, chunks of pineapple to punctuate just how appalling it was. It went something like this: chew, chew, fail, chew, this is gross, fail, swallow. I sent another email to Lucy with “Failure.” in the subject line.
The moral of the story is, don’t take cooking advice from Ron Artest? Or maybe do take cooking advice from Ron Artest? Perhaps where I went wrong was thinking I knew better. If it’s good enough for a famous, frugal, award-winning basketball player, than it should be good enough for me.
RON ARTEST ICE CREAM CAKE (adapted from Ron Artest)
1 box Pillsbury Moist Supreme Lemon Cake mix
1 jar raspberry spread
1 jar pineapple spread
1 can cream cheese frosting
1/2 gallon of strawberry ice cream ( like Ron, you can add additional fresh strawberries if you prefer)
1 can vanilla frosting
*Please let us know if the comments if you would like Pen & Palate to transition to a Cooking/Illustration/Basketball blog!