Crazy Cake (vegan chocolate cake)

Wacky cake, crazy cake, depression cake. Different names for the same tasty, inexpensive, vegan cake.

[Note from Serene: I’m so glad Carin is sharing this cake with us. I make it now and again because it’s easy and vegan, but I didn’t grow up with it. It does make me want to dig out a few of my mom’s recession-friendly recipes, though. Times are tough all over.]

Dessert wasn’t an everyday occurrence when I was growing up.  We were poor, and while Mom made sure there was enough to eat, there wasn’t always room in the budget for extras.  Special occasions warranted special foods, of course, but every once in a while Mom would put together a treat just because.  If it was something that could be made cheaply it was likely to make more than one appearance in our home.

Crazy Cake (aka Wacky Cake and Depression Cake) was one such treat.  Requiring no eggs, butter, or milk, it relies on a chemical reaction between baking soda and vinegar for leavening.  “Vinegar!?!?” I hear you exclaim.  Yes, vinegar, but you won’t taste it at all in the finished cake.  All you will taste is a lovely rich chocolate cake.

cake and milk

Traditionally, Crazy Cake is mixed by hand right in the baking pan, reducing the number of dishes to be washed afterward.  The dry ingredients are sifted together, then the wet ingredients are poured into depressions made in the dry stuff.

sifter, measuring cups, pansifting flouringredientsbatter

Like many folks these days, I’m poor again, and living with Dad.  The silver lining (aside from spending time with Dad) is that I get to use the very measuring cups, sifter, and 9” x 13” baking pan with which Mom made this cake when I was growing up.  They’re old and beaten up, not pretty at all.  In other words, they’re perfect!

mom's pan

There are dozens of recipes online for Crazy, Wacky, or Depression Cake.  Some of them include coffee, stewed raisins, or other fruit, but none of that went into Mom’s Crazy Cake.   If you want to try the recipe I use, you can find it here.  Taste the cake without frosting, first.  You may decide it doesn’t need any.  A dusting of powdered sugar is a nice optional finish.


Another nice thing is that the cake is vegan if you use beet sugar.  Your non-vegan friends won’t know the difference, and your vegan friends will thank you for your thoughtfulness.

cake slice

Waldorf Salad

Waldorf Salad with baby marshmallows. Serene’s favorite holiday food.

[Note from Serene: Carin makes this salad most holidays, partly because it’s her mom’s traditional salad, and partly because I’m not too proud to beg, plead, or cajole in order to get her to make it. I love this stuff.]

Waldorf salad

Wikipedia says of Waldorf salad that it “traditionally consists of raw Knob celery (celeriac) ‘julienne’, apple ‘julienne’, grape or pineapple if desired and walnuts, dressed in mayonnaise.  It is usually served as an appetizer or a light meal.”  My mom, not being given to airs, never julienned her apples or celery ribs and preferred halved grapes over pineapple (though I think the grapes were only halved as necessary to removing the seeds.)  Her addition of miniature marshmallows just might have made Oscar of the Waldorf roll in his grave.  But my family loved it, and they still do when I make it now, for family holiday dinners.  Below is Mom’s recipe, with a couple very minor alterations of my own.

Waldorf Salad
I think Mom used all sweet red apples, but I like the little spark of flavor that the occasional bite of tart apple gives.

2 large sweet red apples
1 large tart green apple
3 Celery ribs
Seedless grapes, any color
1/2 cup or more Walnut pieces
2 ounces (more or less to taste) Miniature marshmallows
Mayonnaise to moisten

closeup of waldorf salad

Before I start cutting the apples, I try to prepare as many of the rest of the ingredients as I can.  I don’t want to leave the apples cut and exposed to the air any longer than necessary, to avoid browning.  The sooner they get coated in the mayonnaise dressing, the better.

Wash the apples, celery, and grapes, and trim the celery as needed.

Cut in half lengthwise any celery ribs or parts of ribs that are more than an inch wide before slicing them. Slice the celery into quarter-inch slices.

If the grapes are bigger than about a half inch, go ahead and slice them in half, even though they’re seedless.  It makes it easier to eat them with a fork.

Roughly chop the walnuts.  Try not to have any pieces bigger than a half inch, or about one quarter of a walnut half

Core the apples, cut them into eighths, then slice the eighths crosswise into quarter-inch slices.

Toss all the solid ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.  Add the mayonnaise and mix well.  Chill and serve next to the candied yams at Thanksgiving dinner.

Be aware that the marshmallows in any leftover salad will slowly disintegrate over the next day or two.  This doesn’t bother me, but it is a distinctive texture that you may or may not appreciate.

Happy Holidays!

Holiday Mom Foods: Popcorn Balls

It takes balls to celebrate Hallowe’en the way Mom did. Popcorn balls, that is.

[Note from Serene: Carin and I have been doing some Mom Food dates (see the Contribute page for more details), and this time we tackled her mom’s popcorn balls. Basically, when we do a Mom Food date, I make the recipe from her description of what her Mom Food was like, and she writes the post. I used this recipe from Paula Deen, but I made a mistake and put the vanilla in before cooking the syrup. The balls turned out well nonetheless. The orange color was made with 5 drops of yellow food coloring and 1 drop of red.]

It takes balls to celebrate Hallowe’en the way Mom did.

Popcorn balls, that is. I remember helping Mom mix the hot Karo corn syrup mixture into the big roaster full of popped corn, then forming the balls with buttered hands. We made them with orange colored and brown syrup; I think the brown was probably made with dark Karo.

popcorn balls
Photo by Carin Huber

Sadly, both Mom and her recipe box are gone, so I can only guess at some of her recipes. Fortunately, there is no shortage of popcorn ball recipes on the internet, and I have only to find one using corn syrup to bring back a taste of Mom’s Hallowe’en. As with any sugar candy, you’ll have better results if you make this on a dry, sunny day. If you think they’ll last beyond the day you make them, you might want to wrap the individual popcorn balls in lightly buttered wax paper, to keep them from melding into a single mass of candied popcorn.

popcorn balls
Photo by Carin Huber

Happy Haunting!

Mom’s Macaroni & Potato Salads

[Note from Serene: In this guest post, Carin shares some of her Mom Foods with us. I hope you’ll be inspired to do the same. To find out more about contributing to the Mom Food Project, see the Contribute page.  It was really fun to share the cooking and reminiscing with her.  Especially fun was comparing our mothers’ canonical summer salads, which were completely different from each other, but evoked many of the same emotions. Carin’s mom was well-loved by us all, and I wish she were still here to see how much joy this simple dish has brought her family, even now.  Rest in Peace, Trish.]

both salads

When I was growing up, summer meant Mom’s macaroni and potato salads.  One or the other (and sometimes both!) made an appearance at every barbecue, picnic, and potluck.  I am forever spoiled for 90% of store-bought versions, because they all taste of vinegar, which, to my mind, has no place in a proper mac or potato salad.

I mention them together here because they are virtually identical save for the obvious main ingredients:

1 lb. salad or elbow macaroni


2 lbs. russet potatoes

For macaroni salad, cook the macaroni according to package directions, then drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside. For potato salad, boil the potatoes whole in their jackets until soft (a knife should pierce all the way through fairly easily; 20-30 minutes), then drain them and set them aside until they’re cool enough to handle, but not cold.

There’s a trick to peeling cooked potatoes.  With the potato in your off hand, hold a paring knife as if you were going to slice into the potato, but, instead, scrape toward you against the skin until you scrape up a tab of skin.  Carefully use your thumb to hold the tab against the knife blade and pull a strip of skin off.  Repeat until the potato is naked. Cut the potatoes into roughly one-inch cubes.


Toss the macaroni or potatoes with the following, all chopped to about 1/2 inch or so:

5 or 6 hard-boiled eggs
1 bunch green onions (scallions), around 6 individual onions
3 ribs celery
2 medium carrots
3 dill pickle spears
5 or 6 radishes

If memory serves me correctly, Mom’s macaroni salad also had:

1 small can (4 ounces) sliced black olives, drained

but I don’t think they went into her potato salad.


Finally, dress the salad with:

1 1/4 cups mayo
5 teaspoons prepared (yellow) mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together well, so that all the bits are coated with the dressing, which gets a very pale yellow hue from the mustard and egg yolks.

bowl of macaroni salad

The first small dish of salad, yet unchilled, right from the mixing bowl, was always a special treat.  Each bite brought a different flavor; the sweet crunch of carrot, the tang of pickle, the spicy bite of radish.  By the time the salad was served up with the burgers and corn on the cob, the flavors had melded into a cool/sweet/rich/savoriness to which the grocery store delis have never even come close.

Mmmmm, macaroni salad and potato salad.  It must be summer!

the salads

About the guest blogger: Carin is the Mad Craftwoman, the craftiest person I know, and a member of my family.  She is always an enthusiastic contributor to my projects, and I’m grateful for that.