Kasparov and the Cake

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If your second-grader discovered something other than soccer and a swimming pool that would pry her away from TV, you'd throw a party, too.

Chess, the 7th century game of India, has become the unlikely rage of the summer in Malibu. Chess clubs run by dedicated teachers have kept the game alive for years. But in 1994, Eric Hicks, a high school dropout from Hawthorne who found direction for his life when he took up chess in a serious way (he even went on to graduate with honors from UC Berkeley), started organizing after-school Academic Chess programs in schools in many parts of Southern California.

In Malibu, at the Knights by the Sea summer day camp, Kate Crocker is pied piper to the Academic Chess players, including my own 7-year-old Melanie. The soft-spoken "chess lady," as the kids call her, starts with the form and function of each piece. "This is ashtray head; he's also called the rook," she tells the kids. Her presentation is packed with rap, rhyme and disco moves. It's hard to say who's more enthralled, parents or program participants.

By the time the program is in its final weeks, several parents are ready to reward the kids with an end-of-camp chess costume party.

Our opening move is the menu. Malibu moms Annie Donnellan and Gabrielle Harris have just launched Indigo Cafe at Kanan Road and Pacific Coast Highway, and the chef there, Trudi Reynolds, has three kids and gets the concept. They will take care of a big portion of the feast, and we gather an army of possibilities, prepared to surrender pieces along the way. The Queen's Pawn Salad is banished from the buffet. A Marshmallow Moat sinks before the drawbridge. Ditto the Gingerbread Castle. Bishop's Havens begin as stuffed pita pockets and become turnover hats.

Scepter Satay (chicken wands topped with paper crowns a la rack of lamb) changes to Sweet and Sour Scepters when it's discovered that peanut and plum sauces aren't to kids' tastes. And the crowns don't seem to affix easily. For the Bishop's Hats, adults do well with puff pastry, but for the kids we decide to go with pizza dough.

Reynolds takes on cake tactics. Of course, it has to be a chessboard cake. Reynolds comes up with a plan that combines white cake with brownies, which provide a nice chewy contrast to the fluffiness of the cake. The problem is getting the brownies and cake pieces to stay in place, but frosting works wonders as glue.

I ask a friend to coat a "treasure box" with candy coins and hard candies and sugar-coated fruit jellies in the colors of rubies, emeralds and amethysts. This will be filled with black, white and red candy delights.

Only a few days before the party, everything seems in place. Then, two days ahead, parent volunteers cancel commitments for a vegetable platter and game prizes.

No problem. Eric, the deli manager at Ralphs, offers a brochure. I ask if he'll skip the greens and alternate colors--red radish, jicama, black olive, cherry tomato, cauliflower and red bell pepper. He suggests white enoki mushroom and adds purple cabbage dividers. I pick up the platter four hours before the party.

As for the prizes, toy stores are short on Camelot. I try the Game Keeper, found in most larger malls, and gather chess puzzles, castle puzzles and more.

Setting up is a challenge. Other activities are going on at the camp here at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, and the summer weather has camp and party competing for the same shade. But two moms show up an hour before the party with babes, brie, crackers, cookies, candies, cheesecake and a willingness to help out. My best pal brings five little ones and amazing clean-up stamina.

As the kids begin arriving in costume--child knights and damsels, pint-size pawns and rooks--we're ready. There are tables set up for chess and, even better, a larger-than-life lawn chess game whose pieces reach above most of the kids' knees.

We herald a costume parade and set the mood with baroque hit-meisters. Handel and Vivaldi are good, but we try not to overdo it and switch to Spice Girls when the kids seem as if they're starting to fade.

We give awards--Best Dressed Younger Knight, Most Improved Player--based on the kids' costumes and their performance during camp.

A trivia quiz follows, with children divided into two teams. Questions came from the chess teacher: How many pieces go on the chessboard? Who's the world champion? What's the least number of moves possible for checkmate?

In the end, we have to trust the power of play. Damsels give chase on the lawn. Knights are bold in mock swordplay. A neighborhood dog adds to the frolic. And all the players are winners.

MENU

Bishops' Hats

Sweet and Sour Scepters

Checkmate Cake

Pawn's Punch

CHECKMATE CAKE

Trudy Reynolds of Indigo in Malibu make her white cake from scratch. The recipe required more than two dozen egg whites, too many for most busy moms, especially when the cake is to be consumed by kids in a hurry. This recipe, then, is a compromise version of her cake. If you prefer, you can make the 2 (13x9-inch) pans of white cake yourself as well. The brownies are still made from scratch; the recipe is simple. But if that's still too much pre-party work, you could also make the brownies from a mix and even skip the frosting recipes by decorate the cake with packaged white and dark chocolate frosting. This recipe will leave you with 1/2 of a white cake to do with as you will.

2 (18 1/4-ounce) boxes white cake mix

White Icing

Brownies

Dark Chocolate Frosting

Bake white cakes according to package directions in 2 (13x9-inch) pans. Frost tops of both white cakes with white icing and the brownies with the dark chocolate icing. Ice sides of white cake with remaining dark icing.

Cut brownie and remaining white cake into 2-inch squares. Arrange frosted brownie and white cake squares on top of cake in chessboard pattern. Using pastry bag, pipe remaining white icing into cracks between squares.

21 servings. Each serving:

663 calories; 461 mg sodium; 80 mg cholesterol; 29 grams fat; 103 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 1.22 grams fiber.

WHITE ICING

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

4 cups powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 to 1/3 cup whipping cream

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in salt and vanilla extract. With mixer running, add whipping cream just to stiff, spreadable consistency.

BROWNIES

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter

1/4 pound unsweetened baking chocolate

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup flour

Melt butter and chocolate together. Beat in sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract. Fold in flour. Pour into greased and floured 8x8-inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees until brownies appear dry on top and are slightly firm, 30 to 35 minutes.

DARK CHOCOLATE ICING

3 tablespoons butter

9 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces

3/4 cups whipping cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups powdered sugar

Melt butter and chocolate in microwave about 4 minutes. Add whipping cream, vanilla and sugar and beat until smooth.

SWEET AND SOUR SCEPTERS

5 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Salt, pepper

Oil

2 (7-ounce) bottles Major Grey chutney

1/2 cup orange juice

1 cup apricot jam

1 tablespoon honey

Soak 32 wooden skewers in water for 1 hour. Cut chicken breasts in strips. Toss with salt and pepper to taste and just enough oil to keep from sticking. Thread strips on skewers and either grill or broil until done, about 10 minutes. Keep warm in oven until ready to serve.

Combine chutney, orange juice, apricot jam and honey in blender or food processor and process until smooth. Warm in microwave 3 minutes before serving. Serve with chicken kebabs.

16 servings. Each serving:

221 calories; 309 mg sodium; 62 mg cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 23 grams carbohydrates; 25 grams protein; 0.32 gram fiber.

BISHOPS' HATS

10 (10-ounce) packages refrigerated pizza dough

1 pound shredded Monterey jack cheese

2 (1-pound) bags frozen broccoli florets, thawed, drained and chopped

Spike or other all-purpose seasoning mix

2 eggs, beaten with 2 tablespoons water

Carefully stretch dough into 14x10-inch rectangle. Cut in half lengthwise, then cut each half into thirds. Place 1 tablespoon of cheese on each square and 2 to 3 tablespoons broccoli. Sprinkle with seasoning. Fold sheet into triangle, moistening edges with water and pressing tightly to seal well. Place on greased baking sheet. Brush with beaten eggs. Bake at 400 degrees until browned, 12 to 15 minutes.

60 pieces. Each piece contains:

160 calories; 387 mg sodium; 14 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 23 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 1 gram fiber.

INGREDIENTS

SHOPPING LIST

2 (18 1/4-ounce) boxes white cake mix

1 pint whipping cream

1/4 pound unsweetened baking chocolate

9 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces

5 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts

2 (7-ounce) bottles Major Grey's chutney

1/2 cup orange juice

1 (8-ounce) jar apricot jam

10 (10-ounce) packages refrigerated pizza dough

1 pound shredded Monterey jack cheese

2 (1-pound) bags frozen broccoli florets, thawed, drained and chopped

3 (64-ounce) bottles red punch

PANTRY

Butter

Powdered sugar

Salt

Vanilla extract

Eggs

Flour

Pepper

Oil

Honey

Spike or other all-purpose seasoning mix

COUNTDOWN

Up to 1 week in advance: Make sheet cakes. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Seal tightly in aluminum foil. Freeze if making ahead. Make brownies. Wrap tightly and freeze.

2 days before: Make sweet and sour sauce. Cover and refrigerate. Make frosting. Cover and refrigerate.

Day before: Prepare but don't bake Bishops' Hats. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Grill or broil chicken breasts. Wrap in foil and refrigerate. Remove cakes and brownies from freezer and thaw in refrigerator overnight.

8 hours before: Remove frosting from refrigerator and bring to room temperature on counter.

6 hours before: Assemble cake and frost. Store in cool place or refrigerate.

2 hours before: Bake Bishops' Hats. Warm foil-covered chicken in oven.

1 hour before: Place sweet and sour sauce in serving bowl and warm in microwave.

On site: Arrange chicken skewers in porcupine fashion on cabbage half. Garnish platters. Arrange chess pieces atop cake and finish with a few red candies. Set out punch.

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