The bishop of our diocese comes to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church once a year. Baptisms are always on the schedule and, this year, confirmations were as well. By the way, there is a killer chocolate cake recipe coming so don’t give up on me here.
Of course, the women of St. Paul’s whip themselves into an absolute frenzy several weeks before the bishop’s visit, making sure the gala reception (and we often call them “gala” receptions, although I don’t know why) after the morning’s services is absolutely perfect. You have to remember that the bishop leads the service at a different Episcopal church each and every week, and every congregation tries to impress the bishop at the reception, although I am quite sure he is sick of all the tea sandwiches by now. So it is extremely important that St. Paul’s stands above the rest. Not that we’re in any sort of competition. That is such a lie.
The first thing that makes an Episcopal gala reception stand out is the wine. It’s incomprehensible to not have wine at a gala reception. It is frowned upon at funeral receptions for reasons I cannot fathom because that is when the grieving family could probably use a little nip. When I was a new member of St. Paul’s I was invited to a newcomers reception at Father Bob’s house. A lapsed Presbyterian, I was expecting punch and cookies. However, when I saw the bar fully stocked and ready for business I knew I had found my new church home. To our parish’s credit, I have never seen a member of the church get even remotely tipsy. We do have some sense of decorum. But we also know how to have a good time.
The food, as always, is of paramount importance but so is the service. Wine glasses, glass plates and proper silverware are always used. Paper products, except for cocktail napkins, are frowned upon. Flower arrangements on each serving table are impressive, executed by the women’s unofficial, but undisputed, leader, Wanda Woolen. Linen table skirts with table toppers are required. This year, we had a moment of brief heart-stopping anxiety when, after everything was arranged, Julie Reinhardt noticed that there was a faint chirping in Otey Hall. Chirping that we are all now unhappily familiar with: the cicada invasion. Somehow two of them had found their way to the bishop’s reception. Do you know that Julie found them hiding in a potted palm, picked them up by their wings and escorted them out the back door? Now, that’s a devoted Episcopal woman for you.
I will admit that there is a sordid underbelly to the preparations and I will, with threat of excommunication, reveal it now. The kitchen crew is not immune to the temptations of the table. This year, we saw the brie and olive tapinade canapes arrive. Ditto the chocolate chess pie and spinach-stuffed phyllo pastries. I’m sorry. I believe that there were slightly too many canapes crowding the plate. We should remove some of them to the kitchen for the sake of symmetry. Oh, dear. A piece of crust fell off the chocolate chess pie on the way to transferring the slices to a serving platter. We cannot possibly serve that and remove it to the kitchen as well. The worst deceit occurred when Mike Gengler arrived with his homemade chive and chile biscuit tea sandwiches filled with ham, cheese, honey mustard and sliced avocado. There wasn’t nearly enough room on one of the serving tables and Margaret Brown and Katie Faulkner insisted on rectifying that by moving the sandwiches to a smaller platter. Once again, oh dear. There appeared to be three or four biscuits that the new platter would not accommodate. There was really no other choice than to sequester them in the kitchen as well.
As usual, the gala reception was a huge hit. The massive post-reception clean-up was helped along by a few glasses of Chardonnay. Everyone removed their high heels in favor of more sensible shoes, and Wanda allowed as how her feet didn’t hurt because they were already completely numb.
O.K., so ya’ll have been patient with me. One of the biggest hits of the day was Susan Cowperthwaite’s chocolate cake, which is
Brie and olive capanes and THE chocolate cake
really more a cross between cake and fudge. It was so impressive that we are considering it for the English Tea this year and, let me tell you, a recipe faces excruciating scrutiny for that to happen. She got the recipe from her cousin, Sharon Hartman, but possession is nine-tenths of the law and Susan executed perfectly.
THE Chocolate Cake
In mixing bowl combine:
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 sticks butter
1/3 cup cocoa
1 cup water
Heat until boiling. Pour over dry ingredients and mix together.
Add 2 eggs (1 at a time, mix after each) and ½ cup sour cream (mix).
Pour into jelly roll pan sprayed with Pam. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.
In saucepan, melt 1 stick of butter. Add 1 box of confectionary sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, 4 Tbsp. cocoa and 5-6 tablespoons of milk. Stir together until smooth over heat. Add 1 cup of pecans if desired. Pour over hot cake.